August 5, 2017

Photo illustration by Marcus Varner
Martina Bevis holds up five pounds of fat.

Photo illustration by Marcus Varner Martina Bevis holds up five pounds of fat.

Several myths about fat continue to be passed around. Here are four of the most common.

• Eating fat makes you fat. It started to gain traction in the 1960s and 1970s and was promoted by an organization called the Sugar Research Foundation. They funded scientific studies that were designed to link unhealthy fats in our diet to heart problems and obesity, while taking the attention away from sugar. Much like tobacco companies being successful at hiding the truth about nicotine and cancer, the sugar industry convinced an entire generation of people that their main problem was dietary fat.

The reality is that fat can help protect your heart, when eaten in moderation. It’s also an essential trigger for our bodies that make us feel full, so we don’t overeat. Both fat and carbohydrates have to be eaten in moderation, and calories really do matter.

• Exercise can spot reduce fat. Fortunes have been made by companies promising to strip fat away from bellies, reduce love handles or blast away thigh fat. That’s just not how fat works. The number of fat cells in our body is relatively fixed. If you’re getting fat, the cells you have are expanding. When you lose weight, those cell shrink. But they shrink everywhere, not in specific locations.

The areas where you gain fat first, like bellies, thighs or butts, tend to be places where you have the greatest concentration of fat cells. With more cells, they show fat first as you gain and keep showing it last, as those fat cells shrink.

No exercise, pill or potion is going to reduce fat in a specific place. However, surgical procedures ‘DO’ spot reduce fat. There are just a few problems. Medical fat removal like liposuction is expensive, it can be dangerous and long-term studies show that when people remove fat through surgery it tends to collect even more aggressively in places where fat cells remain.

• Muscle turns into fat. This is a myth people believe because they think they’ve seen it with bodybuilders. People with large amounts of muscle who stop working out, then get fat after a year or two. But what’s actually happening is a problem with diet.

To get big muscles, you have to eat and exercise a lot. If done properly, the food is used to repair and grow muscles. The more muscles you have, the greater your metabolism and the more calories you burn. Which means, a really built person has to eat a lot of food, just to maintain their muscles.

When a bodybuilder suddenly stops working out, it’s important that they adjust how much they eat. Since they aren’t doing the workouts anymore, they won’t burn nearly as many calories. Also, as the muscles start to shrink, it slows their metabolism. If they continue eating the same amount of food, their muscles won’t burn it off and their exercise won’t burn it off.

Bodybuilders who quit store all those excess calories as fat. Muscles shrink and fat cells grow. One does not change into the other any more than a hand can turn into a foot.

• Muscle weighs more than fat. If I were to remove a pound of fat and put it into a bowl, I could measure how much space it took up. Do the same thing with a pound of muscle, and you’ll discover muscle takes up about 18 percent less space. A pound of muscle and a pound of fat weight exactly the same … one pound. But the muscle is 18 percent more dense, so it takes up less space.

The density of muscle is what surprises people when they do weigh-ins. After engaging in an exercise program for a couple months, fat often starts to drop away. But if you’re gaining muscle, the weight won’t drop as fast as you might expect. To see if the results are going well, measure your waist. If you’re losing fat while gaining muscle, things are getting more compact and inches will drop off.

 

Caution: Before beginning any exercise program check with your doctor first. For a free consultation with a WeBeFit trainer,
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