If you are like most Americans, then you probably have a health club membership, a few pieces of exercise equipment at home, and you try to eat right. You maybe buy organic fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and cook healthy meals at home. You avoid sugar and processed foods and maybe you even supplement, get your 8 hours of sleep a night, and do other things to help beat stress in your daily life, like meditate and do yoga occasionally.
But in spite of all these measure (all of which are good), you still find yourself with a few extra pounds in places that you just can’t seem to get rid of fat in places like your belly, hips, and thighs no matter how extreme you get with diet and exercise.
There is a good reason for this. Mother nature wants you to have this fat because it is what I called ‘protected’ or ‘genetic’ fat tissue, and it is generally different than other types of fat around your body.
One of the misconceptions people have about fat tissue is that fat tissue throughout the body is the same. Indeed, some medical professionals also hold this to be true. But in fact, fat is very different throughout the body, and much like the old adage in the real estate business goes, it is really about location, location, location.
Although most fat tissue throughout the body can be addressed effectively through diet and exercise, other fat is regulated by genetic and hormonal factors which are not so easily affected by diet and exercise. One need not looks further than the example of breast tissue, which can go through a marked transformation during pregnancy, independent of how much weight a woman gains or does not gain during pregnancy.
So is the case with ‘genetic’ fat, which is women tends to accumulate around the tummy, hips, and thighs, which many women, who have been pregnant, know is not always so responsive to trips to the health clubs, various diet plans, and endless amounts of abdominal crunches.
Why is it there?
One of the things I try to reinforce as part of my general philosophy regarding health and fitness is that your body is ultimately much smarter than you. Before the time of convenient stores, restaurants, grocery stores on every corner, our ancestors had to work pretty darn hard for their food. They had to forage for it, hunt for it, or work to grow it, and as you might guess, this was not a totally reliable a source of getting daily calories, and certainly, before the advent of many agricultural and farming techniques and technology, calories were not as readily available as they are today.
This meant that our ancestors, in all likelihood, had to many times go without food for long periods of time. And as a result, our bodies had to be able to utilize a source of calories for the times when they had little or no food at all. And the source that was largely used was our fat tissue.
But our bodies, being the smart creations that they are, also devised an ingenious little plan, so to speak, to ‘think ahead’ and didn’t give up all of their fat simply to survive, but tried very hard to preserve some fat, especially in the case of women, for the purpose of childbirth as well. After all, survival is not only dependent on individual survival, but the group as well, and part of this process is actually having the ability to introduce new individuals for the group to survive.
Imagine being not able to feed a child that you had brought into the world. Not only is this tragic for the individual but it is also harmful for the survival of the group as well. And in the case of our ancestors, it is likely that this type of scenario was not uncommon.
But of course, our bodies seem to have found a way to protect certain stores of fat, so that in the case of a child being brought into the world with little or no food available, that the stores of genetic fat would be available to be used for an energy source to provide milk for a nursing infant.
Although it is not totally clear from a scientific perspective why certain stores of fat seem to be protected in this manner and if they are protected solely for the purpose of providing a source of energy for nourishment for a nursing child, we do know that people who undergo extreme starvation diets and are able to tap into ‘genetic’ fat for a source of energy, often lose their ability to reproduce. Women frequently stop ovulating and lose their menstrual period (eg the case of bulimia and anorexia) and men, who are increasingly afflicted with eating disorders, have low sperm counts.
Once again, your body is smarter than you, and it seems that part of the purpose of having ‘genetic’ or protected’ fat is to save up for a situation like childbirth.
That being said, as plastic surgeon, I am aware of many cases, both personally and in the literature, where when genetic fat is removed surgically via liposuction or tummy tuck, patients have significant improvements in their triglyceride level, their insulin requirement (if they are diabetic), and continue to lose weight after having been at a significant plateau for a long while, which is one of the reasons that they have come to me seeking a consultation for plastic surgery.
The fact is fat metabolism is a highly complex process, and though we don’t know all of its intricacies from a scientific perspective, it seem that if you want to not only look great but also feel great, this requires a combination of good nutrition and a good lifestyle. And for those who have stalled in this process, they may want to also consider a consultation with a plastic surgeon.