Understanding Fat Loss

Understanding energy balance in all its glory is the holy grail to fat loss and maintaining healthy weight. Yes, energy in vs. energy out. No magic, no fad, no-nonsense.

The first thing you need to know is your body needs a certain amount of energy for normal bodily functions, like breathing, digestion, thinking, basically existing. Fun fact, your brain needs at least 300 calories to think straight. It requires even more when you're utilizing brain power for things like learning a new language or figuring out a complicated puzzle.

So where do we get this energy, you ask? Well, from food! Yes, food has energy. That's what a calorie is. When you eat food, it provides your body with a certain amount of calories/energy.

There are three primary macronutrients that food can be categorized in. These macros are protein, carbs, and fats, and each macronutrient makes up your total caloric intake. It's helpful to note that every gram of carb and protein has four calories, respectively, and every gram of fat has nine calories.

Since we now know your body needs calories/energy to function, it's helpful to find out how much. That number is called your BMR or Basal metabolic rate. It's a measurement of the number of calories you need to perform your body's most basic (basal) functions. You can find endless online calculators to find your BMR. Remember, your BMR is the minimum amount of calories your body needs just to lay on the couch all day.

Once you know what your BMR is, you have to add some extra calories for activities like your job (if you're a construction worker), exercise, hiking, twerking, whatever else you do when you're not laying on the couch. This number is called Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). TDEE is an estimate of how many calories you burn per day when you account for exercise. It's essentially the number of calories you need to maintain your weight. Keep in mind both BMR and TDEE are estimates. Many nuances come into play when calculating all this, but it's an excellent place to start.

Your body uses macronutrients for energy by first digesting it and breaking it down into smaller subunits so that it can pass through the small intestines and enter the bloodstream, where it gets shuttled into the cells for further cellular respiration. The cells then use the nutrients to build, repair and use as energy.

The body's preferred energy source is glucose. The body gets glucose from the food you eat, mostly from carbs. Glucose is available for immediate use through a process called glycolysis. The neat thing about your body is that it's an efficient piece of machinery, and it will only use what it needs. If there is an excess of energy, it will get stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells for future use, like when you're lifting weights!

Once your body depletes its glycogen stores, it calls in triglycerides to help out! Triglycerides are made of three fatty acids, hence "tri". These fatty acids convert into more energy. And while fatty acid is a viable energy source, it has to go through a long process to convert into energy. It takes time and oxygen to turn fatty acids into energy for use. When there's no glucose or glycogen, your body will use fat for energy, which is what we want to happen when we're trying to lose weight.

Ok, let's review. Your body needs energy to perform essential functions. It needs more energy if you exercise and move. Energy comes from the food you eat. The food breaks down into smaller subunits to be shuttled into the cells for all kinds of things, mainly to use as energy. Your body likes glucose, and when there isn't any, it will use fatty acid. Using fat for fuel is a good thing! I should note that your body can also use protein for energy but only under extreme starving conditions when glucose or fat is not available.

Back to the main topic. How the heck did we get overweight, and how do we lose fat?! It should be evident by now.

When your body doesn't use the energy you feed, it hooks you up by saving it, yes, in your fat cells. As fat cells accumulate more fat, they get bigger. When the cells get bigger, YOU get bigger. When there's no more room for the extra fat in your fat cells, your body starts looking for other places to store fat, like your organs and other not-so-fun places, including your liver and heart.

When this happens, you start to feel tired, and everything takes so much energy. Your brain starts to get foggy, and it seems like no matter what you do, you can't lose weight. Your body's functions become out of whack because hormonal signals get downregulated, and all systems are no go. Your fat cells no longer accept the fat which insulin is trying to shuttle in. This means insulin can't do its job, and your body's ability to regulate blood sugar becomes super wonky, which sets off another cascading effect that compromises body functions - even more reason to lose fat!

Alright, so, the first step to losing fat is creating a caloric deficit. Being in a caloric deficit means you are not taking in more than our body needs OR you are using more than you are taking in. A caloric deficit is achieved by either adding more activity or by cutting your calories. If your body has more energy than it needs, it will never have a reason to tap into those other energy sources. By eating or using more than your body needs, your body can utilize the energy from the food you eat more effectively. But, being in a calorie deficit is only 1/2 of the solution. The other critical part is keeping your macronutrients in check and making sure you are eating the appropriate amount of each. Proper macronutrient distribution is key for body composition. Yes, you can lose weight by maintaining a caloric deficit alone, but you aren't going to feel good, or look great if you are not mindful of how to distribute your calories into appropriate macronutrient portions. Think "skinny fat".

Now, let's discuss cardio. Cardio is an effective tool in creating a caloric deficit AND an effective way to burn fat. Remember how I said, converting fatty acids to energy is a long, involved process? Cardio is a great way to get that party started. Once your body has signaled it needs more energy, the fatty acids get liberated from the fat cells. We like this. It then needs to be activated and go through a process called the KrebCycle before it can pass through the cell membrane to mitochondria and get used for ATP, which is the motherload of energy sources. Once ATP is created, it goes back into the bloodstream and gets delivered to the cells for energy!!! There's one caveat, all this needs to happen in the presence of oxygen. Yes, you need oxygen for the fatty acid to go through its thing and convert into ATP. Right about now, the fat-burning zone you're all familiar with is starting to make sense! Essentially, your body needs to be engaged in a prolonged period of steady-state aerobic exercise to utilize fatty acids for fuel and burn that fat forever!

One last note for us older ladies, as I mentioned, ATP is made in the mitochondria, and as we get older, we have fewer mitochondria, which is why we tend to feel more tired as we age. We just don't have as many powerhouses working for us. That's why it's so important that we develop ways to cultivate more energy and make sure that we use the energy that we do have as efficiently as possible.

Creating optimal health is key to any weight loss endeavour. When your body is working the way it should, you feel better, and when you feel better, you're able to make better choices that are aligned with the healthy lifestyle you desire.

Looking hot in a bikini is fun and all but, achieving optimal health is where it's at!

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