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How do we gain weight – Understanding the body fat mechanism

The most common question bothering humans in a variety of ways is how do we put on weight. We are flooded with remedies from various sources. Drink lots of water. Lemon and honey with warm water in morning is another popular solution floating around on social media. Cumin (jeera) and fenugreek (methi) soaked overnight is also magically supposed to help you lose weight. But first it is important to understand how and why the body gains weight.

Important Note – Body chemistry is the most complex process designed by nature and it happens right inside our body. It has taken years and years of medical studies to bring about a fairly good idea of what is happening. This article has not been written by a doctor. We shall also try to keep things simple so that you understand the mechanism first.

Understanding food

Whatever we eat can be divided in three types, carbohydrates, protein and fats. Food is broken down and mixed with digestive juices in the stomach. After that it moves to the small intestine where the absorption of nutrients begins.

Carbohydrates and sugars are broken down into glucose and released in the blood stream by the small intestine. Glucose is the primary source of energy for the body cells and tissues. Proteins are broken down into amino acids which are released in the blood stream and are used for repair of muscles and tissues. Fats are broken down into lipoproteins.

On a rough estimate, 100 gms of carbs are converted to 100 gms of glucose. While from proteins we get on 10 gms of carbs and for fats it is as low as 1 gm!

Once the meal is digested, glucose is released in the blood. This increases the blood sugar levels and it triggers the pancreas to release insulin hormone. It is the responsibility of insulin to carry the glucose from the blood to the hundreds and thousands of tiny cells all around the body. Once the insulin loaded with glucose reaches the cell walls, it acts as a key to open the cell walls to allow glucose to enter the cells and energise them. Once the cells are fed with glucose, the remaining is taken to the liver by insulin. The liver is like a refrigerator which stores excess glucose. Liver converts glucose to glycogen and stores it within itself. If there is any glucose still left in the blood, the remaining goes to the belly area as visceral fat.

With this brief explanation we can now understand the basics of body fat. It is accumulated in the belly area due to excess of glucose in the blood which comes from carbs and sugars. From the belly area the visceral fat can accumulate in many areas like waist, legs, underarms, etc depending on your body type. We can now move on to answering more complex questions.

What happens between meals

The body mechanism is designed in such a way that it always keeps the blood sugar regulated to say 80 mg/DL. It works very hard and quickly to keep it at that level. We saw how the insulin secretion by pancreas help bring down the blood sugar level after you consume a meal. A few hours after the meal, the blood sugar levels comes to normal while the cells demand more energy. This signals the pancreas to create insulin which takes the blood sugar to the target cells. This further reduces the blood sugar level in the blood.

This signals the pancreas to release another hormone called Glucagon. This hormone induces the liver to convert the stored energy in the form of glycogen back to glucose and release it into the blood. Thereafter insulin unlocks the cell walls so that glucose can be absorbed and used.

Why does your body gain weight or body fat

Till the time whatever glucose you get from food is consumed by the body cells you want pick up visceral fat. But that is a very delicately balanced situation. It can easily get disturbed by hormonal imbalance, stress, injury or medication. But the most common contributing factor for gaining weight is fatty liver condition or insulin resistance.

Fatty liver and insulin resistance

If we look around us, there is carbs everywhere. They have invaded our life and along with processed and refined foods. Carbs are cheaper, they are easy to grow, cook and feed. Multi national food industry literally advertises carbs as healthy option while fats and literally taken vegetables off our meal plate. We are consuming far too much carbs than we need. Sugar consumption makes us addictive.

All this carbs immediately converts to glucose and is released in the blood. Too much of blood glucose induces the pancreas to release insulin. So a carb rich diet will keep your blood sugar levels high with the pancreas creating too much of insulin. The body does not have a choice but has to get rid of the blood sugar. So after glucose is filled up in the cells, it is converted to fat and stored in the liver first and then as visceral fat all around the body.

For reasons not yet clear to scientists, insulin starts slowly losing its function of opening the cell walls to allow glucose to enter. This condition is called insulin resistance. The cells are starved for energy and they keep signalling the pancreas to release more insulin. This vicious cycle keeps growing till a time comes when the pancreas completely give up producing insulin and this is the onset of Type II Diabetes.

FAQ

How do I know that I have fatty liver condition?

There is a very easy way to know if you have fatty liver. Look down, if you see a belly, you have non-alcoholic fatty liver condition. That makes most of the population having this condition.

How long will it take for my body to move from fatty liver to insulin resistance?

Body can retain fatty liver condition for many years, even decades. Depending on your diet you can develop insulin resistance which can also last many years till your pancreas finally give up insulin production.

Why can’t our body burn stored fat?

If you are consuming too much carbs and sugars, there is too much of glucose in the body. This keeps your energy level high throughout the day and night. That is why the body never gets a chance to burn fat.

What are the other factors which increase body fat?

Stress triggers the release of cortisol hormone which further triggers the release of glucose in the blood by the liver. This spikes insulin levels. Many known medicines increase blood sugar levels. Finally alcohol and smoking reduces insulin sensitivity.

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