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Dietary Adventures Part 2: How we get fat

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I realized after my last post that glossing over the details of what I'm doing and why in a few paragraphs and recommending people read a book or watch a documentary to better understand what I'm doing is a silly way to go about things. So I'm going to talk a bit today about how the body stores fat, and why I'm choosing specifically to go with a low carb diet (or more accurately for me at the moment, extremely low carb). I realize that all of my talk of aiming for so many grams of this or that with little consideration for calories in minus calories out is outside the conventional wisdom, so it warrants some more explanation so everyone can follow along. To keep things a little more concise I'll tackle how we store fat today, and why low carb works later this week if not tomorrow.

Now I'm going largely from memory here so it's going to be a bit of a simplification, but I can recommend some sources for anyone looking for more detailed information about all of this. I'm also willing to put in some research to try and answer questions anyone may have if I don't know the answer.

To start, we need to understand how the body stores fat. Most people think it's a simple matter of eating more than you burn. Eat too much, you can't burn it all so you store the excess as fat. The problem with this notion, aside from not being accurate, is that it's at best an oversimplification of some complex metabolic processes.

Fat storage is actually hormonally driven. The hormone which is most directly involved in, and has the largest impact on, the process of fat storage is insulin. You know, the stuff diabetics need to inject so they don't die because their pancreas doesn't work properly anymore.

Insulin's primary role is to shuttle glucose, sugar, in the blood stream to where it can be used. This means sending it to the muscle tissue to be burned for fuel or stored there a glycogen if you're lucky (which is important for any kind of endurance exercise), or storing it in fat cells for later use. The more glucose in the blood, the more insulin the pancreas has to produce to remove it so bad things don't happen (ie: you die).

Now here's where things get problematic. The muscles can only make use of glucose so quickly. If blood glucose gets too high, we release more insulin than normal but the muscles can't burn it quickly enough and it has to be stored as fat because that's the only other real option. But to make matters worse, if blood glucose is spiking very high on a frequent basis, we actually become insulin resistant. What this means is that the muscle and other tissues are less responsive to the signals insulin sends them so for the same amount of insulin we burn less glucose, forcing us to store more of it as fat. High blood glucose also has the problem of overworking the pancreas to produce more insulin which causes permanent damage, and in the long term, can result in diabetes.

So that's it in a nut shell. Spike blood glucose, increase insulin in the short term, insulin resistance in the long term, and store more fat as the end result. There are other problems which spin out from this as well which I'll get into next time before getting into what we can do about this.
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  1. Peegee's Avatar
    this is the rationale behind keto? no spike in insulin bc keto = burn fat easily