When Fat Cells Lost Their Way

Long ago, at the dawn of human development, fat cells were honored members of the family of human cells.  In those days, fat cells were a rarity, being created only in the uncommon scenario in which the human host had food in abundance for a prolonged period and could splurge on extra helpings of whatever had been gathered by the tribe.

adipocytes_0It was understood, however, that the fat cells wouldn’t stick around for long.  When food became scarce again, as it inevitably did, the fat cells would promptly serve their important purpose and sacrifice themselves for the greater good, resolutely releasing their stores of energy, lipids, and vitamins, to help the human host and its other cells survive the lean times.  In the process, of course, the fat cells would vanish on the wings of the wind.  In short, fat cells manned one of the crucial lines of defense against death and starvation, and they were recognized for their service.

But over time, as homo sapiens thrived and multiplied and began to produce food in abundance, fat cells lost their way.  They looked around and noticed that there were more fat cells like them — in some cases, a lot more.  And none of them seemed to be doing much of anything, much less sacrificing themselves for the greater good.  Their mission for the human host became confused, and the overriding notion of noble selflessness that once motivated the fat cells was lost.

At that point, fat cells became some of the most stubborn and perverse cells in the human body, focused on hanging around at all costs and in the most visible, annoying places.  Fat cells gathered around the belly, under the arms, and in the posterior regions, holding meetings and recruiting other fat cells to their ignoble, selfish cause.  When the human host actually tried to shed a few of those fat cells for the greater good, the fat cells resisted with every pulpy, jiggling ounce of their being.  And if diets and exercise ultimately succeeded in knocking off a few fat cells, it was the stubborn fat cells girdling the waistline, or rear end, or upper arm that were the last to go.

Dieting and losing weight is all about getting the fat cells to remember their actual purpose, and to once again regain the self-respect and sense of self-sacrifice that they once had in days of yore.

The No Low-Carb Zone

Where’s the worst place to be if you’re trying to faithfully follow a low-carb diet in hopes of shedding a few pounds? Any American airport, basically. Airport concourses are probably the most carbohydrate-rich environment on Earth. You can’t navigate your roller bag even a few feet without encountering a Dunkin Donuts or a Pinkberry or something similar, and virtually every food option is served on a bun with a side of fries.

If you’re lucky, you might find something suitable in one of those “to-go” shops connected to restaurants, or in the refrigerated stands in a concourse. The other day I was in Salt Lake City, half-heartedly looked at the options offered in one of those places, and found a small packet of just prosciutto and cheese slices that was perfect for my stand-at-the-gate dinner. I felt like a prospector who found a few nuggets of gold in his pan.

Swearing Off Sara Lee

Recently Kish and I stopped at a Bob Evans for a cup of coffee.  As we waited at the to-go counter, we stood by the glass display case that offered all kinds of tantalizing coffee cakes, crumb cakes, and gigantic cookies.  It was a classic example of conscious retail design to encourage impulse buying:  as long as you’re here, picking up your order, why not go for one of these delectable items, too?

The coffee cakes looked awfully good, but we resisted the temptation and stuck with our lone cup of coffee.

sweetbreakfast-pecancoffeecakeIt reminded me of a kind of rite of passage during my early teenage years.  Mom used to buy Sara Lee pecan coffee cake that I found irresistible.  It was dense and moist and sweet and cinnamony, with swirls of icing and crunchy pecans.  Although it was sold in kind of aluminum dish so it could be heated and served hot, I always took my Sara Lee coffee cake cold, with a tall glass of cold milk as accompaniment.  And on some days, I’d have a second piece, too.  And maybe a third.

But after a while I realized that I wasn’t exactly maintaining fighting trim, and if I wanted to actually get a date with a girl I needed to do something about it.  It wasn’t just the Sara Lee, of course, there was the lure of Frosted Flakes, and Coke and all kinds of snack foods, and a lifestyle that involved too much TV watching and not enough exercising.  And, at bottom, the inability to enjoy things like that Sara Lee pecan coffee cake in moderation, rather than in gluttonous excess.  But I swore off the Sara Lee, and I don’t think I’ve had any since.

Could I enjoy a sliver of Sara Lee and a glass of milk, without promptly ravishing the entire cake?  I’d like to think so, but I’m not going to test that hypothesis.  Sometimes it’s more prudent to just avoid temptation altogether.

Understanding The True Motivations Of “Stubborn Belly Fat”

The diet ads all speak of giving you “one weird trick” to defeat “stubborn belly fat.”  Have you ever noticed that belly fat is always — always — described as “stubborn”?  That’s because it is, in fact, stubborn.  It’s like the mule of your body, digging in its heels and unwilling to respond to your heartfelt pleas that it quickly exit the premises and leave you looking slim and slender, just like you did in college.

Sun Tzu, the author of The Art Of War, counseled military commanders to know their enemy and understand his motivation.  That same advice applies to those fat cells that have been jiggling around your midsection since 1985.  Why do those pigheaded bits of flab want so desperately to remain part of your body?  (Although it’s kind of flattering when you think of it in that way, isn’t it?)

In reality, the motivation of belly fat cells isn’t hard to understand.  They were created long ago, when you had an extra-large slice of cake at your college roommate’s wedding or drank 16 beers and ate an entire bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken while watching New Year’s Day bowl games, blissfully unaware that your slowing metabolism meant that those bad decisions would saddle you with apparently permanent waistline companions that would require you to buy roomier pairs of pants.  Those new cells really liked the spacious midsection area, were joined by friendly neighbors, sank down deep roots, and started a family.  Now their children and grandchildren are there, too, all living together as part of one big, happy, ever-growing, increasingly ponderous belly fat cell community.  No wonder they want to stay, forever!

Sure, there are Johnny-come-lately fat cells that also have moved into the neighborhood over the last few years.  During the first week of your weight-loss effort, when you are still sticking carefully to your diet and are highly motivated to hit the treadmill, those latecomers may decide to immediately hit the road — but those new kids on the block don’t have the same sense of long-term commitment as the original belly fat cells.  The pioneers are made of sturdier stuff.  They live in the most upscale areas, like Love Handles Lane and Breadbasket Boulevard, and they are going to stay in their comfortable lodgings until the  the sheriff comes to change the locks.  They will fight the eviction efforts of The Man with every fiber — or, more accurately, lipid — of their beings.

So you may as well face it:  those belly fat cells won’t leave without a fight.  Don’t blame them.  If you were in their position, living in familiar, safe surroundings, you would do exactly the same thing.  You’re just going to have to force them out.  Sun Tzu would say that if you’re trying to lose weight, you just need to prepare for a long, hard campaign.

The Pseudo Science Of Self-Weighing

When you’re trying to lose weight, how often should you weigh yourself?  It’s a timeless question that every dieting person wrestles with.  You want to track how you’re doing, but you view stepping on to the scales with a mixture of anticipation and dread.  Will you receive news of happy progress, or crushing disappointment?

IMG_3037The experts give no clear answer.  The two choices seem to be daily weighing and weekly weighing.  Some say you should weigh yourself every day and then, at the end of the week, average your daily weight and track your progress on a weekly basis; others say weekly weighing, on the same day and at the same time, is the best way to go.  Either way, the expert guidance is full of hedging comments, like noting that your weight naturally fluctuates during the day and observing that your weight might not be the best evidence of dietary success, because you could be replacing jiggling flab with weighty muscle.

Dieter, know thyself!  Discouragement seems to be the greatest enemy of a person who is trying to lose weight.  Dieting isn’t easy; you’re trying to change ingrained habits and not eating what you would like.  If you’ve stuck to your diet but didn’t see any weight loss on the scales yesterday or today, are you going to say what the hell and indulge in a hot fudge sundae? If you’re easily discouraged, why expose yourself to the daily possibility that you’ll be disappointed?

I suppose there are some overweight nerds who would love nothing more than to create spreadsheets with their daily weights and weekly averages, but for normally constituted people weekly weighing seems like the best idea.  Let the accumulated work and sacrifice of seven days show weight loss progress and provide the positive reinforcement that you need to keep going.

And while you’re at it, why not give yourself a break and pick a time when you’re most likely to get happy news from that bathroom scale?  When I started the low-carb approach I resolved to weigh myself once a week, after I played golf on Sunday morning.  Sure, the results reflected water weight loss from lugging my golf bag around on a hot summer day, but what the heck?  It made me feel like I was really making progress, and as long as I was consistent in when I weighed myself, what’s the harm?