Are we doomed by our genetics to gain fat? Is your inner caveman causing your waistline to expand? What can we do to work with our ancestry and not against it?
It is important to know why we get fat. Once you know the underlying reasons behind fat gain, you can take that information and apply it to fat loss. Knowing why something happens is the first step towards changing the result.
The one major reason we get fat is that we put in more than we burn off. This may be an overly simplistic view but it's also a very liberating one. It shows you that if fat gain is not that complicated, fat loss is not necessarily that complicated either.
But what are the origins of our body's amazingly efficient fat storage mechanisms? In a nutshell, why do we gain fat so easily?
Your Inner Caveman
Our earliest ancestors did not go to the supermarket to hunt for food. They didn't point at a cave drawing with a Big Mac on it when they were hungry. They did not sit at a desk all day. They didn't drive everywhere they went. In fact, fast food had to be chased down before it outran you!
The daily life of the earliest humans, whom we owe our genetics to, was consumed with getting enough food to survive. In order to eat, they had to either hunt it or gather it. As you can imagine, this burned a lot of calories.
With the start of agriculture, people no longer had to hunt down or forage for their food. They could stay in one place and grow it. Animals were domesticated. They could sell this produced food to others in return for other goods or services. This is known as the Agricultural Revolution and it was the start of our society as we know it.
Agriculture became the primary means of food production in the world. The story changes during the 1900's, however. As we progressed as a society, manual labor was no longer required of most people. Machines were starting to take over more of the hard labor jobs. This led to less and less physical activity by a growing number of people. It was the start of the modern overweight epidemic.
To sum it up: these days food is plentiful and easy to get and physical activity is no longer a part of daily life.
Thank Your Ancestors
The human body of 50,000 years ago when we were hunter/gatherers is exactly the same as the human body of today. Our body had successfully adapted to continuous cycles of feast and famine. How did it adapt? It adapted by developing extremely efficient fat storage capabilities.
By storing large amounts of fat whenever possible, the body would protect itself against the inevitable famine to come when food was scarce. By storing up large amounts of energy, our ancestors could survive the harsh conditions and thrive. In winter conditions, it would often come down to survival of the fattest, not fittest.
Our bodies are still programmed with this desperate need for storage even though, due to highly available food supplies, we don't really need it anymore. This is the reason you can often put on fat quite easily but have a hard time taking it off. Your body is protecting itself against the famine that it thinks is coming.
Compound this need for storage with reduced physical activity and readily available, calorie-dense foods and you have the recipe that has resulted in rampant overweight problems in our society today.
Diet = Famine
If you've ever been on a diet you've probably experienced that quick weight loss when you first start then the gradual slowdown and sometimes complete stop in progress that comes after a few weeks.
You can thank your ancestors for this one too. When you dramatically reduce your calories, such as when you begin a diet, your body starts using up the stored fat quickly. Your metabolism is still high and you are losing weight.
The trouble is, your body can't distinguish between the lack of available food known as famine and the voluntary reduction in food known as dieting. To your body "diet = famine." After a short period of time, your body will go into a panic state. You are losing your energy stores too fast and your body will do everything it can to slow down or put a stop to it.
- The first thing that will happen is that your metabolism will slow down. You won't burn as many calories during the day, regardless of how much you are eating or exercising.
- The next thing that will happen is that your body will step up its burning of muscle tissue. Muscles are very metabolically active and require a lot of calories to maintain. Your body knows this and, in its effort to reduce the drain on its energy supplies, will start destroying muscle tissue. Your body will metabolize your muscle into energy in order to hold onto its fat stores.
This vicious cycle will continue every time you further reduce calories in order to compensate for a slower metabolism. Your body will slow your metabolism down even more and destroy more muscle tissue to reduce energy usage.
How do we avoid this problem?
There Are A Number Of Ways To Approach It:
- Reduce your calories slowly. If you are trying to lose fat, don't slash your food intake rapidly. This will throw your body into a panic, causing it to grind your metabolism to a halt.
- Mix up your caloric intake. Don't eat the same things in the same amounts every day. Eat a little more on some days and a little less on other days. It's what you do in the long term that will really affect your results.
- Exercise. Since most people don't actually have to exercise as part of their daily life, you must take the initiative and make it a point to exercise regularly. It helps by burning calories and giving your body the stimulus to preserve muscle mass (it's the old principle of "use it or lose it" at work).
- Reduce your intake of processed foods. Your body is not readily equipped to efficiently process Twinkies. Try to stick to foods that are closer to their natural state, such as whole grains, lean meats, etc.
Remember, your body is an extremely efficient fat-storing machine but, with the right knowledge, you can very easily work with your biology and not against it and get the results you want.
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