Dietary Fat

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Fat Is Not A Bad Word

Fat- the very name makes everyone from bodybuilders to supermodels cringe and yet truth be told fat is an essential part of the reason every single human being is here today. Fat is not evil- it has helped the human race survive two ice ages and countless famines. For those living in third world countries where food is scarce it continues to sustain life in the face of hardship. Fat is not metabolically active, in that our body does very little to keep it on us and yet it can hold an tremendous amount of calories (3,500 per pound to be exact). Calories that may be used to support the body in case of a shortage of food. Yet, for all it has done to help us through natureís adversities over the past 150,000 years, we still persist in the idea that it is unhealthy.

On the evolutionary scale of time human beings have only recently been in a position where the availability of food is the rule rather than the exception. Being able to eat and store food for times when food was not available was and still is a sign of good health. It is a sign that resources are plentiful and that the body is functioning as it should. The problem occurs when there is more fat stored than there should be. The extra fat can lead to obesity- the precursor to our nationís leading killersĖ heart disease, adult onset diabetes and hypertension.

There are many theories as to why we are plagued by obesity at this time in history in a way that we never have been before. Some argued that we are not as active as we once were and that the inactivity of modern life is responsible for our epidemically increased waistlines. It seems to make sense - less activity= less calories burned however as logical as this may sound it is incorrect.

Firstly if our energy expenditure was so great during physical activity our ancestors would not have had the energy to hunt and gather their food and would have all succumbed to starvation long before they found something to eat. The body always does its best to minimize energy expenditure, even during activity. But there is another important factor that invalidates this theory.

Anthropologists studying primitive societies have found that the hunter/gatherer lifestyle that sustained humanity for thousands of years is actually less physically active than that of modern man! Amazing isnít it? From the Amazon tribes to the Aborigines it has been borne out that hunter/gathers are actually a bit on the sedentary side when compared to our modern lifestyle. This is significant since it proves without a doubt that increased activity is not the solution to obesity. It makes sense in that I know and I am sure you do as well, dozens of people that spend hours of their working day on their feet, running from place to place and who are overweight and never lose a pound.

So what caused our increased girth? The answer is simple- the modern superabundance of food. It is not that we are inactive. No, the problem is that we simply eat more calories than we need. Thatís it. Biological set points and genetic predispositions are relevant to the extent of how easy it is for some of us to gain excess fatĖ but it still leaves the weight of the problem on our eating habits.

It would be nice if we could just walk it off but consider that the average man will burn about 600 calories from an hour of jogging. That same person can eat twice as many calories in ten minutes after ordering a hamburger with fries at McDonalds. In fact anyone can easily consume several hundred calories in under sixty seconds given some cookies, soda, juice, donuts, bread, ice cream, beer or potato chips. See the problem?

It would be wonderful if it we could eat the extra dessert and go right to the treadmill to relieve yourself of the extra 700 calories and the guiltĖ (Stairmasters have replaced the confessional as a place of absolution) but it isnít that simple. The more such exercise that you do the more likely you are to actually make fat loss harder. *(See the last edition for information the dangers of steady state activity.)

We also tend to eat to the point of feeling full and there is a big difference between being full and consuming too many calories at one time especially with refined foods. Many old traditions advocate always leaving a third of your stomach empty for good healthĖ which worked for hundreds of years. Unfortunately the refined foods of today evade that natural signal to stop stuffing our faces. So you can eat a lot of it without realizing that you are overindulging. Our bodies can easily regulate the intake of naturally occurring foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains and even fish and meats (when last did you OD on vegetables, steamed chicken breasts or plain baked potatoes?) Processed foods on the other hand, which are low in fiber, often high in trans fats and sugars present a problem since they are not naturally occurring. As a result our bodies just donít know when to stop eating them.

So whatís the answer? Well, many of us have pictures of a thinner, slimmer version of ourselves in our youth. Yet somewhere along the line something changed. Before may never have been an issue now as the years have gone by it is a struggle to keep your weight under control. The reason- muscle. Most people have significantly higher muscle mass in their late teens and early twenties and as we get older we tend to lose it. This loss of muscle causes a decrease in the bodyís metabolic rate (muscle unlike fat is metabolically active and calories must be burned to maintain them). The good news is that this can be easily reversed by proper exercise. A loss of 5 pounds of muscle means that your body will use 250 less calories each day. That may not sound like much but it affects your waistline over time. The way to prevent and remove accumulated body fat is to get back a youthful metabolism by building muscle. When you put on an extra 5 pounds of muscle the extra 250 calories a day will do much to help reduce your body fat. The increased muscle mass can then help you shed the unwanted pounds while allowing you greater freedom in food selection (which of course means that youíll have a greater chance of sticking with your diet long term, (something many dieters are unable to do.)

Now it is still important to have a realistic body fat goal. The cover model look may not be healthy or realistic for most of the population and the cut to shreds look sported by bodybuilders like myself is the result of years of hard and dedicated training and careful attention to food intake. Even then I donít look the way that I do in the pictures all year round (I wish!). Bodybuilders train and diet to reduce their body fat levels to negligible levels for contests or photo shoots- it is neither healthy nor realistic to maintain such levels for prolonged periods of time. Fat is necessary for temperature regulation, organ protection, energy production, proper hormonal function and menstrual cycle in females. Having 3% body fat may look great- but I can tell you that it isnít all that fun. The first thing that you notice when your fat levels are really low is that you donít sleep well. At that time your body perceives a state of starvation, (it does not know that you are trying to look good for the contest/photo shoot/beach/summer vacation.) It then slows down your metabolism to conserve energy and forces you to spend more time awake (in the hope that you will spend more time looking for food). The reduction in metabolic rate also makes you feel sluggish and tired all the time, (my wife says that I get a bit irritable as well).

That being said it is important that you find an acceptable middle ground. You donít need to have chiseled abs to reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your quality of life. Instead be patient and let your body find its own level through judicious food intake and by adding proper resistance training to build muscle. As time goes by I guarantee that you will be pleased with the results.

Kevin Richardson
copyright 2006

About The Author:  Featured on ESPN Radio and Fox 5 News, Good Day New York, Kevin Richardson, is one of America's most prolific personal fitness training gurus and the founder of the Naturally Intense System. You can get his new EBook for free here and you can read more of his articles as well as learn more about the Naturally Intense Lifestyle at

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