Our popular culture is currently obsessed with questions of fitness, fatness, dieting, and obesity. Much of what we think we know about fat is based on decades-old hypothesis about “calories in, calories out” – the idea that if we burn more calories than we consume, then we must be burning fat from the body and keeping it out.
Yet, as anyone who has ever tried this method as a means of fat loss has learned, what works in the short term doesn’t always work in the long term. In fact, most diet plans fail because they presume that “calories in, calories out” is all there is to long-term weight loss.
“Calories in, calories out” has a certain appeal. It’s simple: with just a few basic tools, anyone can make a pretty good estimate of how much they ate in a certain day and how much they moved. It also makes it easy for us to treat obesity as a personal failing – and, in fact, many people believe that fat people are fat only because they aren’t trying hard enough to be thin. But research into how fat tissue works within the body and why bodies create and store fat tissue has revealed what many dieters already know: reality is more complicated than this simple equation.
Fat is not just extra “baggage” in the body. It’s actually a body organ. Fat is part of the endocrine system, and as a result, it plays an active role in the body. Fat is affected by the body’s metabolic functions, but it also interacts with and changes those functions.
When fat is treated as an organ in the body, and obesity is viewed as a problem with that organ, new methods for regulating body fat start to suggest themselves. For instance, according to an article in Nature, viewing obesity as a problem with hormone regulation implies that the problem is not merely “calories in,” but which type of calories are being consumed. Changing the balance of carbohydrates to other forms of food in the diet, for instance, may help to correct the metabolic imbalance.
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