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Body fat

Body fat
Without doubt, body fat is the biggest issue for the majority of people who are looking to go on a diet and/or workout. The subject has been researched by many and over a long period of time. This article, will help you understand more about the human body in relation to its stored body fat.

White fat

This is basically your body fat (adipose/subcutaneous fat) that is mainly stored, either under the skin or around organs as visceral fat. It produces the hormones leptin, estrogen and secretes adipokines. Although the body likes to get fat for long term survival and use it for insulation and energy, nowadays we end up with too much fat, as we are less active and food is too easy to get. This excess fat accumulation creates too much visceral fat and is the main cause of most fat related health problems. As a side note Adiponectin is a protein that is created from adipocytes from adipose tissue, it can be said to be another fat burning hormone and can help with insulin sensitivity and suppress appetite. Obese people tend to have low levels of Adiponectin. To increase this hormone, try eating more monounsaturated fats and omega 3 and eat less saturated fats. Exercise also helps.

Brown fat

This fat is normally found in babies and the very young, but it has recently been found that adult have it also, having been thought to be lost as you get older. However it is only reduced not gone completely. This is important, as brown fat actually burns calories for heat generation and it can be increased with exercise, sleep and melatonin and being cold.

Belly fat dangers

Belly fat is the most dangerous areas for fat to accumulate. Body fat isn’t just on the surface, but also surrounds many of your internal organs. The outer fat is called subcutaneous fat, while the inner fat surrounding the organ is called visceral fat. Having excess fat in these areas, especially the visceral fat can lead to:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • arthritis
  • certain cancers
  • high blood pressure
  • sleeping disorders
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • appetite and metabolic problems
  • Stress and depression problems

As you age, the bodies tendency is to slow down and so it stores more fat. Hormonal changes also contribute to this additional fat accumulation and so does muscle loss, as you burn less fat cell with less muscle.


Becoming more of a problem, is an increase in people suffering from diabetes. There are various reasons for people suffering from diabetes, but many people are becoming diabetic with type 2 diabetes due to their poor diets and inactive lifestyle.

There are two types of diabetes:

Type 1:

Type 1 diabetes is where the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin due to the body’s immune system thinking the insulin is a foreign body and attacking them (autoimmune disease).

Type 2:

Type2  diabetes is most commonly associated with a poor diet and namely from when their body no longer creates insulin or reacts inappropriately to it and becomes insulin resistant. Insulin manages glucose levels in the blood and helps convert glucose into energy. When you become insulin resistant it can lead to increased hunger, tiredness, headaches, thirst, itching, slow healing and blurred vision.

Those with diabetes may also suffer from Hyperglycemia where they end up with too much sugar in their bloodstream, which can lead to serious health issues, such as kidney damage, cardiovascular damage and neurological damage if not kept in check. Doing regular glucose tests helps them monitor their diets and medication.

Getting your nutrition in order is a huge step in either avoiding diabetes or helping with its symptoms for those suffering from it. A balanced diet with a mix of all three macros can help greatly, using foods that keep blood sugar levels nice and even.  See the carbohydrate article and about insulin in the food and hormones article.

What makes us fat

The short answer is excess calories. Whether you have a predisposition to putting fat on or are just simply eating too much. Essentially if you consume more calories than you use up, then your body will store those extra calories or use less fat for energy – keep reading.

Many overweight people tend to have a metabolism that can’t keep up with the food they consume, hormonal processes such as high cortisol levels and a genetic predisposition and other factors that hinder their body composition. Another issue is people often under estimate the amount they eat and therefore can’t work out why they are putting weight on. However that does not alter the fact that if you use less energy than you consume, you will store that extra energy (calories).

So does it matter where those calories come from? Well as I have stated in my nutrition series of articles, different foods will have different effects on how they are consumed, used and stored by the body.

However there is one macro I would like to pick on here and that is carbohydrates. You need to ensure you are eating complex carbs and not simple ones. Try to eat a good proportion of fibrous carbs also. But just as importantly is to eat only enough for your body type. The reason is excess carbs can slow down the burning of body fat i.e. the more carbs you eat the less body fat is used for energy.

However don’t make an enemy of any of the macros, they are all needed by the body, low carb and fat diets can only work short term, the body can compensate for changes we make and these diets will eventually backfire. Also watch for increasing fat intake to compensate for any reduced carbs, as fat has 9 calories per gram while carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram. It’s a balancing act that will take some time to work out and adjust to.

Burning body fat

Let’s start off by saying your body uses a combination of both fat and carbohydrates for its energy source, you tend to use more fat cells doing normal day to day activities, but as you require energy for more intense physical work, your body will start to burn more carbohydrates for a faster energy source. This is where the idea that long steady state cardio will burn more fat, by not invoking the higher intensity carbohydrate burning workout. However, what it doesn’t take into account is what happens after the workout. When you have had a shorter high intensity workout, such as HIIT and even weight training and used a proportion of your carbohydrate storage, your metabolic rate will have risen and your body will move back to burning fat for its energy source at rest, but and here’s the thing, it does this fat burning at a much higher rate and for a long period of time (24hrs+). So much so that it has been shown to burn more fat cells than a long steady state cardio workout. Plus you will have burned more total calories with the burning of the carbohydrates on top, so when you do eat you refill your carbohydrate storage not convert it all to fat. Ideally doing both will be most beneficial for those really looking to shift that excess body fat. Also adding resistance training can help greatly.

Just be aware that if you are looking to keep and build muscle (which you should) you need to take in plenty of protein around your workout time, as depleting carbohydrate stores can make the body try to replace it with protein and if there isn’t enough, then it will breakdown muscle tissue to do so.

Finally your food choices comes first. You simply cannot burn the calories away from a fast food meal. Most peoples hourly workouts will burn between 150-500 calories, while a fast food meal will be around 750-1750 calories. No amount of exercise will compensate for excess calories from treats or high calorie meals.

How to calculate body composition

Calculating your body composition can tell how much of your body weight is fat. As you get older your body tends to store fat much more easily and the following is just a guide to where you need to be in terms of body fat. You want to aim for between 10%-20% for men and 16%-27% for women, although this depends on your goals and needs. You certainly want to keep it below 24% for men and 30% for women.

You can use either a Bioelectric Impedance Analyser (BIA) or body fat scale. But please understand these are not 100% accurate and can also give different readings depending on how hydrated you are, what your bone density and muscle mass are, but none the less they can give you some indication of your progress.

There are other ways, but they are expensive, such as getting yourself hydrostatically weighed and using infrared. Another cheap alternative are body calipers for skin fold testing. You really don’t need to go overboard with this, at the end of the day you are not a professional athlete or bodybuilder, you are simply getting into shape, reducing body fat is necessary and maintaining a good physique for the long haul.

I would also advice you to weigh yourself at the same time of day and maybe just once a week, keep records of your result to use as a reference only. Be realistic with your weight lose , most people should manage 1lb per week. However also be aware that your weight doesn’t necessarily tell you if you are losing body fat and gaining muscle and muscle also weighs more than fat per inch. Your mirror and waist size will ultimately tell you more in my opinion. Incidentally your waist to hip ratio is a good way to measure body fat and ideally your waist should be smaller than your hips.

I have incidently expanded on the subject of measuring body fat in this post here.


Don’t forget to check out all the various articles on exercise, nutrition and much more on this website.