Read an Excerpt
The Life and Death of Fall Cells:
When you think of a fat cell, picture a tiny plastic balloon holding a droplet of butter. Believe it or not, you have more than 40 billion fat cells in your body; if you’re obese, you have two or three times that number. These billions of balloon-like fat cells are responsible for two primary functions: storing energy and providing energy. When you take in more calories then you use, your fat cells store the extra energy for later. When you take in fewer calories than you need, your fat cells release stored fatty acids into your bloodstream. Even when no food is available, your bodily processes can continue without interruption until you’re able to eat again.
Fat cells can expand or shrink, depending on whether food is abundant or in short supply. Altogether, your fat cells are capable of storing hundreds of pounds of energy. When food is plentiful, the cells expand. If an individual keeps overeating, they grow and grow until they look as if they’re about to pop. When they reach their limit, they don’t divide the way other body cells do; instead, they send out a signal to nearby immature cells to start producing more fat cells.
Fat cells are also extremely long-lived. You might even have heard that fat cells never die. A 2008 article in The New York Times by Gina Kolata tried to get to the bottom of this myth, explaining that every year 10% of your fat cells do, in fact, die; however, they’re replaced by new fat cells, which means the total number of fat cells in your body remains the same. In general, if you lose weight, your fat cells shrink, but they don’t disappear. Liposuction reduces the number of these cells, but weight gain can still occur in other areas as the remaining fat cells expand.
The life and death of fat cells is a very complicated subject, but the important concept here is that fat cells, under certain circumstances, will give up their energy and shrink.
Whatever your weight may be, you can adapt the 10-Minute Total Body Breakthrough program to your specific needs:
- If you think you’re too skinny, you can put on muscle mass.
- If you’re the right weight but have the wrong percentage of body fat, you can shrink your fat cells and restore muscle, transforming your health and appearance without changing the numbers on the scale.
- If over time, you have accumulated some extra weight, you can use the principles of “traffic light” eating and the 10-minute workouts sensibly and gradually to lose the extra fat until you reach your goal.
Most people think of metabolism in terms of burning calories—in particular, how many calories they use on a daily basis. Some people seem to be blessed with a “good” metabolism that allows them to drink milk shakes and eat chocolate cream pie. But metabolism is not a fixed number. If you’re not one of those lucky people who can eat whatever they want, take heart. There is a great deal you can do to make your metabolism work for you.
Your metabolism is, among other things, a balancing act between constructive and destructive activities. All of the thousands of biochemical processes that are simultaneously occurring in your body can be lumped together under two main headings: anabolism (building up) and catabolism (breaking down). Molecules are built up so energy is stored; food is broken down so energy is released. Cells, tissues and proteins are built up; nutrients are broken down.
Three separate processes determine the number of calories your body needs each day:
1. Your resting metabolic rate, or RMR. This represents the number of calories that your body needs for basic functions such as breathing and is influenced by how much muscle you have. Men tend to have more lean body mass (muscle) then women, so in general they will burn more calories, even during sleep. Sarcopenia, or age-related loss of muscle mass, causes a decline in RMR—unless strength training is used to keep muscles strong. RMR accounts for approximately 70% of the total number of calories your body burns in a day.
2.The thermic effect of food, or TEF (also called thermogenesis). This is a fancy way of describing the number of calories your body uses to digest, absorb and metabolize the food you eat. TEF accounts for approximately 10% of the total number of calories your body burns in a day. It’s the reason celery is technically a negative-calorie food—you burn more calories chewing, digesting and absorbing the nutrients in the food than are found in the food itself. Ice water also uses up more calories than it provides, because your body derives no calories from water but must expend energy to warm it up. Unfortunately, this does not work as a weight-loss tip, because the number of calories required is minimal.
3. Your level of physical activity and exercise. Moving your muscles requires energy. The more you move, the more calories you burn. Physical activity accounts for approximately 20% of the total number of calories your body burns in a day—but this number can vary a great deal between individuals. This is why exercise is so important!
If you take in more calories than you use up during the day—that is, if you eat too much—you put on fat. Too much fat is unhealthy, but a little bit provides your body with an emergency supply of energy. In women, fat cells create the hormone estrogen. Women whose estrogen levels are about to plummet as they approach menopause sometimes develop a “menopot” (a small amount of belly fat), which is nature’s way of ensuring that the body still has some estrogen. Too much fat, however, may result in enough extra estrogen to cause hormone-related problems.
If you’re carrying extra fat, you can burn it off with exercise—but only if you take in fewer calories than your body needs so that it’s forced to dip into its energy reserves. Unfortunately for all the dieters out there, it takes a lot of exercise to burn off all the calories in a sugar cookie. If you’re looking at the calorie counter on your treadmill, you could easily get discouraged. (I could insert a table here that shows exactly how many minutes you would have to exercise to burn off a specific number of calories, but this book is about focusing on fitness for the rest of your life without an unhealthy preoccupation with calorie counts.)
Some athletes get in the habit of living large while they’re young and active—especially football players, who are encouraged to be big. When these athletes get older their level of activity declines, they may continue to consume the same number of calories. We’ve all seen what happens next. All those calories that are no longer getting burned are stored as fat. I’m thinking of a phys ed teacher I had when I was a kid. He was a standout athlete in his youth, but he had lost his muscles and put on pounds of fat by the time he came to our school. He cold still throw a football, but in class he just stood in the middle of the gym and blew his whistle while we did all the exercise.
While it’s true that extra calories will make you fat, it does not automatically follow that eating fewer calories will make you thin. Strange isn’t it? This is where it pays to know a little more about how to manipulate your metabolism.