Facts About Body Fat
By: Megan Perez, dietitian at Nourishing Minds Nutrition
Fat gets SUCH a bad reputation. Before you stop me with “What about keto??” I’m actually talking about body fat. Please don’t get me started on the ketogenic diet.
Everywhere I go, I constantly hear people talking about disliking the fat on their bodies. It may be their thighs or their love handles or their arms. Trust me – I’ve been there, too! For far too many people, the fat on their bodies is a source of shame. They think of fat as being unlovable. Oftentimes, fat is associated with a lack of self-control or low self-esteem. This is not to say that everyone feels this way. If you love your fat, then I’m so happy for you! This post is primarily meant to help those who feel anger or embarrassment related to their body fat.
Internalized Dialogue on Body Fat
Before we begin, I’d like you to first think about why you dislike your body fat. What are some pros and cons you can come up with for having fat? What do you believe about fat and what do you believe about yourself for having body fat? Now, are any of these assumptions true? Does having body fat actually mean you have no self-control? Does having fat on your body make you unhealthy or unlovable? Are these statements really true?
Just because the media does a poor job of showcasing bodies of all sizes, this does not mean there is only one “right” size. I will say this over and over again: our beliefs are our thoughts that we repeat over and over. Just like we practice reframing negative beliefs about food and about ourselves, it is possible to change our beliefs about body fat. And to make this an even easier process, I have some great facts about fat!
Facts about Body Fat
The truth is that fat is simply an organ. Yes! An organ in our body that we all need. Fat is actually a part of our endocrine system, which is a chemical messenger system that regulates growth and development, metabolism, tissue function, reproduction, mood, and sleep. Some may argue that it’s just as important as our heart, lungs, and GI tract.
Many of you probably know that fat is used for energy storage, which was vital hundreds of years ago when our ancestors would increase their fat stores for the winter, not knowing when they would have access to food again. Body fat literally saved lives for those who had it. Those who did not have it did not survive the winter. Today, most of us have access to food throughout the winter, but fat still does an amazing job of storing nutrition. Without fat, nutrients such as glucose and cholesterol would stay in the bloodstream and eventually form deposits in places they shouldn’t be, like the heart and liver.
Even as an embryo in the womb, our body starts to manufacture fat very early on, at about 14 weeks gestation (we are BORN with it!). Fat also houses leptin, a hormone that regulates our appetite by sending signals to our brain. Without leptin, we would have a never-ending hunger, which could leave us constantly feeling unsatisfied. Leptin plays a role in our immune system, as well, and it affects the behaviors of our immune cells. This is why people with very low body fat often have compromised immunity. Fat has even been shown to enhance our brain size! Fat and leptin loss from starvation was found to reduce brain matter, while leptin replacement therapy has been used to grow brain tissue.
What I find to be most important about fat and the population we typically serve here at Nourishing Minds Nutrition is the role it plays in our fertility and bone strength. Estrogen is made in both women’s ovaries and in their body fat. The fat in women’s bodies actually works to convert androgens into estrogens. Women need fat for reproduction and for the start of our monthly cycles. Dietary intake and body fat are important considerations when investigating the cause of a client’s missing period or infertility. Fat’s production of estrogen is also important for bone strength in women, because insufficient estrogen can cause weak bones. This can lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Let’s Get Empowered
Now that we have touched on some of the amazing features of fat, let’s get empowered. Honestly, when I was researching body fat, I looked at some of my own and smiled! Just like we practice gratitude and positive affirmations when learning to accept and love ourselves, we can use these tools in reframing our beliefs around our body fat. Repeat after me (fill in the blanks however you choose):
I love my body fat because… (it keeps my immune system strong, protecting me from sickness)
I love my body fat because… (it helps my body produce estrogen and will help me to ovulate and have a regular period)
I love my body fat because… (it protects me from weak bones, which help me stay active by going on walks and lifting weights)
Great job! And congratulations for taking a powerful step towards body acceptance and self-love!
Tell us: What are some reasons you love your body fat?
Thank you Megan for this amazing blog post! You can learn more about Megan and work with her at Nourishing Minds Nutrition.