One of the most common misconceptions among Americans is that eating dietary fat will result in bodily fat gain. Fat is nothing more than a fuel source for our bodies, along with carbohydrates (sugar), and protein, although protein is not a primary fuel source.
The main culprit in fat gain has almost nothing to do with fat and almost everything to do with sugar. Any carbohydrate you eat will inevitably break down into glucose (sugar) and get absorbed into your bloodstream. When blood glucose levels rise, insulin is released from the pancreas to bind with the glucose and deliver it to the cells as fuel. This glucose is either used immediately as fuel, or it is converted to glycogen and stored in our muscles and liver to be used as fuel later. That glycogen storage system is the basis behind endurance athletes carb loading before races or long training sessions. Fat accumulation starts occurring when the body takes in more sugar than it can store, and it begins converting it to fatty acids for storage.
The human body has a finite amount of fat cells, and those cells will grow and shrink depending on the amount of fatty acids in the cell. Once inside a fat cell, three of those fatty acids will bind to an alcohol called glycol to form one triglyceride. While fatty acids flow freely in and out of fat cells, triglycerides are bound to the fat cell where they were formed until they are broken down. The accumulation of these triglycerides in fat cells is what translates into excess stored body fat.
Lipolysis is the breakdown of fats that involves the hydrolysis of triglycerides back into glycerol and three fatty acids. Lipolysis is induced in the body by a number of hormones including glucagon, epinephrine, norepinephrine, ghrelin, testosterone, growth hormone, and cortisol. When the body is fasted, there is an increase in lipolysis-inducing hormones, most notably norepinephrine, that jumpstarts lipolysis. The most common time for triglycerides to break down is actually while we sleep, which is one of the reasons so many different diets require you to not eat so many hours before bed. Another way to increase these hormones is through exercise. By exercising, you increase testosterone and cortisol levels therefore stimulating lipolysis and “burning fat” as most people will call it.
Education is the first line of defense to combat obesity. The cycle of carbohydrate consumption leading to fat storage is something that millions of Americans struggle with. Understanding how that cycle works and taking the steps to correct your diet will have your burning fat in no time.