I always tell people that with some simple adjustments to your meals and habits, you can change your body’s chemistry so it’s working for you instead of against you. Obesity is running rampant in our culture because the added sugars in nearly all processed foods not only trains your body to store what you eat as fat instead of using it for fuel, but it also spikes your appetite so you crave more of it. You can try to fight these cravings with willpower and deprivation, but that will likely result in frustration and failure and your voice being added to the chorus of people shouting that diets don’t work. I never suggest dieting, I suggest changing your diet so you can correct your body’s broken chemistry and shed excess weight without suffering needlessly. Since most people looking to change their diets are hoping to drop body fat, I wanted to focus on a helpful starting point; retraining your fat cells so that they are:
- Less able to store fat
- More likely to release fat that you can use for fuel
- Able to burn additional fat, even when at rest
Shrink the container
Cows used to be grass-fed only. When cows eat grass, they produce a healthy fatty acid called CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid). This polyunsaturated fat has been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, it helps improve bone mass, reduce inflammation, and most importantly for this discussion, it protects against obesity.
I’ve previously written about CLA and you can read more about it here if you’re interested.
As government subsidies reduced the cost of corn, ranchers started feeding it to their livestock instead of grass. While this practice reduced the cost of beef, it also removed CLA from our diets. It’s an important nutrient with a ton of benefits, which is why I recommend it even to people that aren’t trying to lose weight. But for those trying to lose weight, it will retrain your fat cells and make your weight loss journey easier.
CLA is a fatty acid found in grass-fed beef and dairy. When added to your diet, it will train your fat cells to be less willing to store fat. CLA influences the enzymes that control fat growth causing the cells to be less likely to swell and grow bigger. It in effect forces the fat cells to maintain a healthy size so that they can’t experience run away growth as fat is consumed.
CLA also increases your body’s rate of fat burning. Since the fat cells become less capable of storing fat, your body sends signals to burn off the excess fatty acids in the blood. Studies have shown that consuming about 3.2 grams of CLA a day causes an increased energy expenditure (from burned fat) and a reduction of stored body fat. It has also been shown to help counter the metabolic slow down caused by dieting.
Increase fat release
As I mentioned above, refined sugar makes your body store any fat you consume. It also tells your fat cells not to release stored fat so it can be burned for fuel. The end result is hundreds of calories are simply locked away before your body can utilize them. So not only will you eat too much, but you won’t be satisfied and energized by those calories. Sugar is not the only nutrient that forces your fat cells to hold on to all that stored energy.
I’ve mentioned before that saturated fats have been wrongly blamed as the cause of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other ailments, but they do have a downside. When you exercise, your body releases norepinephrine to mobilize (release) fat from your fat cells so that it can be burned for fuel. Studies have found that your body can mobilize 50 percent more stored fat during exercise when your diet is composed primarily of unsaturated fats. This is a pretty significant difference. Your body is constantly releasing and storing fat throughout the day, and turning over the composition of your fat cells with unsaturated fats will make it easier to eventually reduce them in size. That same study found that fat cells that primarily contained saturated fats also tended to be larger.
Switching out saturated fats in corn-fed beef for the unsaturated fats found in plants like nuts, olive oil, and avocados and meats like fish and grass-fed beef will keep fat cells smaller and it will also improve the amount of energy available to you during exercise. Increasing the amount of fat you release during your workouts will make you feel more energetic and your workouts will be more effective fat burners.
Increase brown fat
Brown fat (unlike the more common white fat) is a more metabolically active form of fat tissue that is typically found in infants and hibernating animals. It’s purpose is to burn off the calories from white fat cells to produce heat. This way, a baby or hibernating animal can easily regulate their temperatures without shivering.
We previously thought adults lost all their brown fat as they developed, but after learning in 2009 that we do retain a small amount of this fat-burning fat, researchers have been hunting to find a way to increase brown fat activation in people to safely and effectively melt off body fat. It’s become a promising new target for a magical fat pill that will hopefully one day end the obesity epidemic. Scientists are even more excited now that it’s been discovered humans have about 3 times as much brown fat as we originally thought.
Since brown fat’s purpose is to help you regulate your body temperature when it’s cold, one way to activate it is with cold temperatures. Research has shown that adults can activate more brown fat cells (and increase the amount of calories burnt at rest) in as little as 10 days by living in temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s led to the rise of cryotherapy, ice baths, and other cold-induced tortures as a way to “easily” shed fat. I warned a while ago that this method may not be for everyone. Luckily it’s not the only way to activate brown fat or to create beige fat (which means to turn common white fat into a more metabolically active version).
Researchers have found that exercise releases a hormone called irisin which stimulates undifferentiated stem cells to turn into brown fat cells and bone cells. It also inhibits the process that would allow those stem cells to become white fat cells. This means that exercise not only increases the ability of your fat cells to burn additional fat while at rest, it also prevents new fat cells from forming. Another study showed that high intensity interval training (HIIT) released more irisin than moderate exercise. This could explain the mystery of why HIIT seems to result in more fat loss even though it burns less calories than longer, less-intense workouts.
You can also brown some of your white fat cells through diet. As I mentioned last week in the “Eat broccoli, live longer” article, one of the many benefits of sulforaphane is that it protects you from obesity even when eating a high-fat diet because it stimulates the production of brown fat. Ursolic acid, found in the skin of fruits like apples and cranberries and in herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary, and peppermint, has also been shown to turn white fat cells brown.
Creating and activating brown and beige fat is about more than weight loss. This fat cleans up your blood chemistry and improves your health independent of weight loss. Activated brown fat significantly clears out glucose and triglycerides from the blood and helps improve insulin sensitivity, lowers cholesterol and helps reduce your overall heart disease risks.
Not magical, just better
While scientists may be hoping to find a magic pill that melts body fat away, don’t think these suggestions will help you eat anything you want and lose weight. These tips will improve your odds of succeeding in your weight loss efforts, but ultimately it boils down to the same thing, eat better and exercise. Losing weight is a long slow process, but these tips will speed it up a little and more importantly, they will help keep you from springing back after the weight is lost. Keeping your fat cells trained will protect you from weight regain when you do indulge a little. No one said you need to eat perfectly all the time and getting your chemistry working for you instead of against you will make the consequences of eating poorly far less damaging.