How do we store fat?

How do we store fat?

How does our body store fat? Fat, (adipose tissue) is found in several places in the body, generally underneath the skin (subcutaneous fat). There is also some fat surrounding your vital organs for protection. An adult man tends to carry body fat in his chest and abdomen, producing an “apple” shape whereas women will carry fat in their breasts, hips, waist and buttocks, creating a “pear” shape. The difference in fat location comes from the sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone.

Generally there are three fat layering periods when the body is much more inclined to convert excess energy from the diet into fat cells. These periods are: during the third trimester of pregnancy as the foetus is developing; between nine and eighteen months of age; and at onset and duration of puberty. If there are significant excess calories present during these “layering periods”, then more fat cells will be produced (hyperplasic adiposity) and this means more fat cells for life!

It was always thought that following these fat layering periods, the number of fat cells was set for life, and that as we overeat, these fat cells simply get bigger (Hypertrophic adiposity). However, we now know that continued overeating will lead to new fat cells emerging even in late adulthood, and it is this new fat cell growth that is more difficult to counter.

Hope is now emerging for people that have always been overweight (people with excess fat cells). Just as we believed that once these new fat cells developed they were with you for life, it is now thought that if fat cells can be reduced to a certain size for a period longer than 9 months, they are programmed to die off. The significance of this finding is that hyperplasic adiposity is reversible, which was previously thought impossible. This is also why diets don’t work – they are too short-term and only shrink your fats cells, which simply leads to adiposity rebound – and you know what that means!

Set point theory suggests that following 9 months at a particular weight our bodies will re-set the “set point”, linked to the current number and size of fat cells. In other words, if you can lose weight and maintain it for at least 9 months, you have a good chance of long-term maintenance of the new lower weight. (Conversely if you are overweight for more than 9 months, this will become your new set point, and losing weight will be more difficult.) This is seen as the “ratcheting” effect of continual weight gain through life – or chronic hyperplasic adiposity.


Behavioural Change

You’ve always suspected it, but we can confirm that behavioural changes are the only way to successful long-term weight management. In order to achieve your goals, three things are required:

  • Identifying and accepting your personal negative or counterproductive behaviour
  • Developing meaningful strategies and systems for ensuring that you can change
  • Maintaining the motivation to make those changes become a permanent feature of your life

Try not to make too many changes all at once, and celebrate each small change as they will conflate to make an enormous difference. Take one step at a time, and never underestimate the importance of the goals that you have set yourself.

Identifying weaknesses

How often have you started a healthy eating regime, or an exercise programme, only for something to happen to scupper your progress? Or perhaps your best intentions just fizzled out?

Write down some issues that have defeated you in the past, and start a plan to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

Why do I buy the foods that make things difficult for me?
I will shop smarter and this is how I will do that:

What are my weakness foods?
I will avoid these by:

When am I most vulnerable?
I can combat this by:

My resolve collapses when
Next time this happens I will:

I overeat when
I will ensure that:


Diets don’t work

Get thin fast remedies are on every page of every magazine it seems, and there are a whole host of “quick” or “pain free fixes” on the market. On top of this you could add any number of the latest fad diets, and the  unlimited supply of slimming snacks, drinks and even get thin gum, just waiting to take your cash! Slimming and diets are big business, however sadly they don’t work, and often there’s a hefty price to pay.

“Lose ten pounds in a week!”

Next time you see one of these claims, just ask yourself ‘ten pounds of what?’ It is only physically possible to lose a maximum of 1kg of fat in a week, and you don’t want to lose anything else! If you adopt a crash diet, and suddenly cut your food intake dramatically, your body may assume there’s a famine on the way and start saving your fat stores by burning muscle instead.

Added to this, you will probably lose a lot of water and glycogen (sugar stores), making your weight drop dramatically, and making you think everything is just fine. However, things won’t be just fine at all. In fact, the combination of the water loss and the muscle tissues that you have lost, is very bad news indeed. The reason is simple; you only want to lose fat! And since your muscles are the most efficient fat burning machinery in your body, why would you want to shrink them? During crash dieting you will lose 1lb of muscle for every 1lb of fat, and following several weeks of crash dieting, you will almost certainly “hit the wall” and weight loss will become more and more difficult to achieve.

Your body is smarter than you think…

…and in times of potential famine, it will slow down metabolism in order to avoid starvation. By reducing your lean mass and your basal metabolic rate (BMR – the energy required to simply make you tick over) your body can now survive on less food than it could before. Therefore the body has successfully adapted itself to require fewer calories, allowing it to maintain its stores of fat, and avoid potential starvation for longer. When a crash diet inevitably comes to an end, and you begin to eat normally again, your BMR will have considerably reduced, and your calorie requirement will be less than before. Returning to your previous eating habits will now create a larger energy surplus than before you started the diet. Severe calorific restrictions of this type can suppress the metabolism by as much as 45%. The more severe the restriction, the more the body will cling to its fat stores, and metabolism will slow further. Furthermore, after following a crash diet, there is a phenomenon known as “rebound binge eating syndrome” which is the body’s attempt to quickly get you back to your previous weight – most serial dieters instinctively understand this concept! For this reason people always pile on the pounds very quickly following a diet, and this is the start of the damaging cycle that is symptomatic of crash dieting. It is also where the phrase “Dieting makes you fat!” comes from, and clearly this statement has some justification.


Monitoring change in yourself

The measurements that we take are intended to provide an overall picture of the body composition and the changes that are occurring. Ultimately people will have their own indicators for success, and this may be dress size, number of belt notches or simply their appearance, which is entirely subjective. For this reason, do not get too hung up on any particular measurements, and treat them all as aids in helping you to progress.

Weight should be taken weekly and body fat and waist monthly, and the progress that we are looking for is gradual. The bodyfat bio-impedance machines are sensitive to hydration levels, and may vary from week to week – which is why this measurement is taken monthly.


A 1/2 – 1-kilo (1 – 2lb) weekly weight loss is an ideal target for long-term weight management. Attempting to lose more than 4 kilos per month will prove counterproductive, and could have a detrimental effect on your health.

% Body fat

A 1% – 2% reduction in body fat over a month is an excellent result.

Waist measurement

You may choose to take your own measurement at home. When taking waist measurements, the tape should be between the navel and first rib, or at the widest point around your waist.

A 2– 4 centimetre reduction in waist measurement in a month is a great result.


Why do we put on weight?

There are many issues involving weight gain, including environmental, biological and behavioural factors, many of which are complex and interrelated, some of which are not fully understood. The simple reason why we are all getting fatter is that we are eating far more calorie dense foods than ever before and are much less active.


We are all born with a specific body type or “somatotype”.



Long bones, slim, little body fat, low potential for muscle growth.


Heavy bones, broad hands, broad chest, triangular shape.


Small bones, short limbs, wide hips, generally “round” gain weight easily.

It is true that everyone is dealt a genetic hand of cards at birth. Studies of twins have demonstrated that even when separated and living in different environments, people will tend to retain the parental genetic shape, and are often inclined to put on weight alongside lean non-related siblings.

Often this can lead to resentment in overweight families at what they see as an unfair burden that they must carry through life. People will often use their perceived “bad hand” to abrogate their responsibility to make the right lifestyle choices, making things get progressively worse. It is essential to remember, that although we all start life with a set hand of cards, ultimately it is how we play those cards that really matters – no one has to be overweight.

It’s mainly environmental

The overwhelming scientific evidence that is now backed by almost all governments and health authorities, is that the major reason for the epidemic of obesity facing the western world, is a diet far too high in energy dense foods (fat and sugar) combined with a marked reduction in activity levels. This is demonstrated by the simple equation:

Calorie intake – calorie expenditure = calorie deficit/surplus

Although this equation is too simplistic to provide all the answers to successful weight management, it remains the foundation of maintaining a healthy body weight.