The big, fat question Leave a comment

The perennial issue of weight gain (the undesirable type) and weight loss (the same thing, this time the seemingly impossible type) has been a boon for thousands of fundis who appear in YouTube videos with ripped six packs, sleek and slim, telling you that for a mere $99, you too can look like this. Well, if you’re in the probably 0.01% of the global population who share that guy’s body type and metabolism, perhaps – and it’s still only a perhaps – you can, indeed, end up looking like that for $99, and a lot more effort than advertised. In fact, enough people do manage to gain something beneficial from all of the hype out there, which is probably why those sites aren’t shut down immediately as the supreme cons they are. But it’s marginal, the percentage of people who get to follow the 1-2-3 steps and achieve comparable results. As people, we are indeed all the same in more ways than one can count. Unfortunately, however, not in that way. One person’s ease of toning up is another’s impossible dream. Rather than kick off from a point of comparison with others, let’s look at a few hard and possibly relevant facts about fat and our occasional or constant battles to present physically as we wish.
Fat is a reserve! This is the standard refrain, that it has to be seen as such. It’s the result of a natural process hard-wired into us, that when berries and tubers and antelope were plentiful, we chubbed up on the boon time. But it’s also somewhat rare in nature, if one can still imagine (or visit) people chasing buck through the forests of the planet with bows and arrows. Rare in humans, that is. Rare as in we don’t generally see aboriginal humans gaining a giant belly before every winter, like a fattened Grizzly Bear, ready for hibernation. Like an elephant seal, spending much of its life at sea in some of the coldest waters on earth. This tells us that the connection between weight gain & loss and exercise – as opposed to a sedentary lifestyle – is clear. Indeed it is nowadays beyond dispute. Fat and civilisation have walked hand in hand ever since certain people were freed up from the pursuit of food and shelter, for whatever reason. Overweight people would never outrun hungry lions or giant bears. Or marauding Mongols, for that matter.

Yet while we can witness the accumulation of fat in a modern human being, it isn’t so much a storing of excess for some future event as much as it is a coping mechanism for the overfed (read: incorrectly fed) human body. Bombarded with foodstuffs that have become more refined and processed (and typically abundant in the populations where weight is an issue) the nature of the body’s manufacturing of fat is a product of more than just not having to outrun charging buffalo. It’s more nuanced than that. Persistent fat is a product of both a change in human locomotion and overall lifestyle (we drive cars around cities now, cities full of takeaway and processed foods) and, if we can get around the notion that fat is a reserve and see it rather for what it typically is – the inevitable result of an incorrectly fed body – it will go a long way in the quest for lean muscle mass.

Understanding the fat “reserve”

The lie of fat being a β€œreserve” (with the implication that you simply need to add a bit more exercise to your life to make it vanish) is best demonstrated by observing that in, let’s say, an endurance race of some kind – say a half marathon – the β€œreserves” are not tapped into when the body needs energy, no. The body eats away at muscle first, and the fundamental frame with its bone and muscle and tissues pays the price for that endurance event. If fat really was a reserve, ready and waiting for exertion to gobble it up, it would be the first to go, surely, in endurance events? Indeed, in any physical exertion. But the world is full of overweight people who jog, who exercise, who actively move, to no avail. Decades ago, millions of people were told that all they had to do was get off their butts and walk. Jog. Exercise. It’s your fault. The explicit implication was that you simply weren’t active enough.

Decades later, obesity is climbing globally and the same issues persist on the couch, in the gym and on the track.
What it all comes down to is, is that it stands to reason that your body will burn muscle first, before fat, when one looks at how and why the body makes fatty tissue. What the simple picture looks like is both the fact that we are all individual in body type and predisposition and, importantly, what we put into our mouths every day is often a giant secret. A huge unknown. Or, rather, the sugar content is most frequently either unknown or obscured. It’s a biological reality for the primate regardless of how you accrued the fat or what you do, that belly fat, for example, is not a reserve so much as a symptom, a triumph of the body’s ability to cope with what we throw down our gullets. If you want to manage your weight, start with cane sugar. When you realise just how pervasive sugar is as an additive in modern foodstuffs, you’ll get a handle on just how much sugar the average human ingests on a daily basis. And the body’s response to sugar overdose is, between the liver and the pancreas, to make insulin, the fat storage hormone. There. Problem solved. Except that we shouldn’t demand of our bodies that it engages such a last-resort coping mechanism. A single can of Coke will induce just such a reaction. With no fiber and so much sugar, the body’s digestion copes as best it can with something like a fizzy drink, panicking the liver as it’s besieged by a sugar influx. Insulin is generated – fat, basically – and the problem solved for now. The remnant of that β€˜attack’, however, is the slow accumulation of a gradually increasing fat layer, both visible normally on the stomach area as well as growing invisibly as fatty tissue that surrounds the organs inside.

Struggling with weight gain? Especially weight gain in really unwelcome places? There are three things available on this planet to sort that right out. Exercise (you do it). Elimination of cane sugar or corn syrup or any processed version of sugar you encounter (you do it). And patience (yep, you manifest that too)! Oh goodness! Patience. The body has a limited number of coping mechanisms and they roll in a limited number of ways. Once you’ve gulped that fizzy drink once, you’ve made your entire system aware of an environment, a potential, that it is very slow to accept has diminished and disappeared. It will take months and months of consistently good eating and persistent exercise to see results, especially the results you’re aiming at. Not for everyone. Sure, some folks are just lucky – that’s how it all pans out for them. They can eat like goats and laze around and they’ll always be slim and shapely. Never mind them!
For the rest of us, in an honest and genuine pursuit of looking and feeling good, keep on exercising and avoid sugar like the plague. Unless it comes locked up inside a piece of fruit! Looking at calorie intake and calorie burning capacity, almost every modern human should spend around 47 hours running non-stop to β€œburn” the calorie intake they consume on a daily basis. Clearly that’s impossible. Most of us consume sugar so way above the β€œrecommended daily intake” that it’s in fact remarkable that the planet isn’t saturated with obese people. It’s a testament to our bodies’ capacity to cope that many if not most still present in normal proportions.

Remember the words of Hippocrates: β€œLet your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” Thousands of years after his passing, it remains an unsurpassably succinct, commonsense statement on the issue.

There are two places you’ll want to focus in your bid to lose unwanted fat … The gym. And the end of your fork. Toss in patience, and the recipe’s complete.

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