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Last Updated on February 27, 2018

Fat Cells Used to Be Our Friends, Now They’re Enemies

Fat Cells Used to Be Our Friends, Now They’re Enemies

Fat cells and muscle cells might look nearly the same from the outside. They’re both part of your body and just below your skin. They both even can be clenched with your fingers. The muscles might be a little bit harder to clench – but this isn’t too much of a difference, am I right?

Yet, it is. I remember back when I first started working out, with an obsolete, rusty barbell at my friends place. I was sixteen years old. Back then I told my friend: “I don’t want to get any skinnier. I just want to convert my fat cells into muscle cells!” I was being serious. Me and my friend both thought it was a reasonable goal. It wasn’t.

I’ve wasted countless of hours on trying to build muscle mass while simultaneously losing fat. It wasn’t worth it. Here’s the unparalleled reason why.

Fat Cells: Old Friends – New Enemies

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    Fat cells used to be our friends. Back in the days of our ancestors, when food were scarce, we had to be able to massively store energy. Nobody in the tribe knew when we had to go weeks without food. That’s the reason why our body is inclined to store fat and minimize muscle growth. Our body is conditioned to be an energy storage machine and not an energy waster.

    Nowadays fat cells are our enemies. Most people want to lose a couple of pounds of fat. Not only because obesity, due to our sedentary behaviour and our eating choices, is contributing to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and artheriosclerosis. But also because being overweight resonates neither with our feminine nor masculine ideal of beauty.

    How To: Fat Cell

      The fat cell is divided into multiple parts. There is the purple nucleus, the green mitochondria, the blue Golgi apparatus and the yellow, gigantic, fat storage unit. The last part is what makes the cell full of lipid unique. The fat cells are your body’s energy storage.

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      Fat cells participate in hypertrophy. Which means they increase their fat storage until they can’t physically increase in size anymore. Then your body creates more fat cells. You want to keep the amount of fat cells close to the optimum in your body. Because the fat cells in your body are yours to keep for a lifetime. The storage inside your fat cells can be lost. But fat cells, after they’ve been created, immediately get replaced after their death.

      Even worse: Fat cells produce a protein, that inhibits your body from breaking down the fat storage. Your organism creates a set point. This means that once you’ve been overweight it’s far easier to reset into your old, unhealthy habits again. That’s the reason why 40% of obese children become obese adults.[1]

      If we apply this knowledge to dieting, we know that it’s crucial for you to keep your diet sustainable. Because if your diet isn’t, your body is more than happy to keep adding the lost fat again to your organism. This is called the Yo-Yo effect, which has been shown to increase all-cause mortality.[2]

      Fat cells also have other crucial factors. They’re turning androgens into estrogens. They’re contributing to the production of estradiol. This is not only bad for men, as we want to be full of testosterone. But this is also bad for women, as it’s a major risk factor of infertility.[3]

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      How To: Muscle Cell

        Muscle cells look quite differently than fat cells. They’re also quite different in their functioning. Muscle cells are the individual contractile units within a muscle. A muscle in your body, like your biceps, contains hundreds of thousands of muscle fibers.

        The contraction of your skeletal muscle fibers (muscle fibers are a synonym to muscle cells) lead to a movement in your joints. The main task of your muscles is to move your body. In comparison to fat cells, muscles don’t store energy, they need energy for their functioning.

        When muscle cells are contracting, they’re releasing myokines.[4] This is the way muscle fibers communicate with the rest of your body. Myokines affect most organs, but are famous for their interaction with the glucose and fat metabolism. Which means the muscles are communicating with your liver and your fat cells, to release glucose and fats in the blood stream. This is energy for the muscle cells to use. This effect of the myokine regulates glucose and lipid metabolism and therefore counteracts inflammation. This may help slow down aging.[5]

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        The Starting Point

        The anatomy and the function of fat- and muscle cells are vastly different. Due to this reason, it’s physically impossible to convert fat cells into muscle cells.

        Don’t waste your time on improving both. Trust me, I’ve tried this before. I was following a rock hard diet, I maximized my protein intake (don’t do this!) and trained up to 10 days a week. I didn’t see results. Sustainability is the holy grail. Eat healthier every single day and don’t go into a massive calorie deficit.

        If you’re just starting out and aiming for a better body, do this: Eat one extra portion of vegetables for dinner and go for a 10-minute walk afterwards. This is easily doable – and that’s a huge advantage. The average gym-goer quits after 3 months. The reason: He didn’t build a fundament of healthy habits.

        Don’t have enough time to go for a walk and cook? No excuses. The average American watches more than 4.5 hours of television a day.[6] You have to create healthier habits.

        If you don’t have 10 minutes, you don’t have a life. – Tony Robbins

        Once you’ve got into a habit of doing this, you can slowly try to increase the volume. This will make the whole journey of eating healthier and exercising a voluntary, fun decision. If you’ve got the financial means, you can hire a competent personal trainer or an online coach. The accountability, knowledge and guidance of the trainer will vastly speed up the process.

        Reference

        [1]NCBI: Obesity in Children
        [2]NCBI: Medical, metabolic, and psychological effects of weight cycling.
        [3]Green BB, Weiss NB, Daling JR: Risk of ovulatory infertility in relation to body weight. Fertil Steril 50:721, 1988
        [4]NCBI: Skeletal muscle as an endocrine organ: PGC-1α, myokines and exercise
        [5]NCBI: Skeletal muscle: an endocrine organ
        [6]Business Insider: The average American watches so much TV it’s almost a full-time job

        More by this author

        Florian Wüest

        Qualified and experienced fitness trainer and online coach.

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        Last Updated on December 2, 2018

        How to Flow Your Way to a More Productive Life

        How to Flow Your Way to a More Productive Life

        Ebb and flow. Contraction and expansion. Highs and lows. It’s all about the cycles of life.

        The entire course of our life follows this up and down pattern of more and then less. Our days flow this way, each following a pattern of more energy, then less energy, more creativity and periods of greater focus bookended by moments of low energy when we cringe at the thought of one more meeting, one more call, one more sentence.

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        The key is in understanding how to use the cycles of ebb and flow to our advantage. The ability to harness these fluctuations, understand how they affect our productivity and mood and then apply that knowledge as a tool to improve our lives is a valuable strategy that few individuals or corporations have mastered.

        Here are a few simple steps to start using this strategy today:

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        Review Your Past Flow

        Take just a few minutes to look back at how your days and weeks have been unfolding. What time of the day are you the most focused? Do you prefer to be more social at certain times of the day? Do you have difficulty concentrating after lunch or are you energized? Are there days when you can’t seem to sit still at your desk and others when you could work on the same project for hours?

        Do you see a pattern starting to emerge? Eventually you will discover a sort of map or schedule that charts your individual productivity levels during a given day or week.  That’s the first step. You’ll use this information to plan your days going forward.

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        Schedule According to Your Flow Pattern

        Look at the types of things you do each day…each week. What can you move around so that it’s a better fit for you? Can you suggest to your team that you schedule meetings for late morning if you can’t stand to be social first thing? Can you schedule detailed project work or highly creative tasks, like writing or designing when you are best able to focus? How about making sales calls or client meetings on days when you are the most social and leaving billing or reports until another time when you are able to close your door and do repetitive tasks.

        Keep in mind that everyone is different and some things are out of our control. Do what you can. You might be surprised at just how flexible clients and managers can be when they understand that improving your productivity will result in better outcomes for them.

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        Account for Big Picture Fluctuations

        Look at the bigger picture. Consider what happens during different months or times during the year. Think about what is going on in the other parts of your life. When is the best time for you to take on a new project, role or responsibility? Take into account other commitments that zap your energy. Do you have a sick parent, a spouse who travels all the time or young children who demand all of your available time and energy?

        We all know people who ignore all of this advice and yet seem to prosper and achieve wonderful success anyway, but they are usually the exception, not the rule. For most of us, this habitual tendency to force our bodies and our brains into patterns of working that undermine our productivity result in achieving less than desired results and adding more stress to our already overburdened lives.

        Why not follow the ebb and flow of your life instead of fighting against it?

          Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

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