Is Food a Lazy Worker for Your Body?
You can’t really put a camera in your body to manage all of your cells and see what work food is and isn’t doing in your body.
That would be really time consuming and probably a little too much micromanaging like putting cameras in your office to watch your employees work.
If you want to have a great work environment in your body where the hormones, enzymes and cells are all working together, then you need to understand the process of how food works in your body with these players and some key principles in keeping your body operating like a well-oiled machine.
Fat’s Lazy Ride
Fat is constantly circulating your body in the blood stream to potentially be used for fuel. It almost looks like the hefty employee that ditched work and is now riding a tube going down the lazy river at the amusement park. If fat isn’t used for fuel (exercise for example), then it returns to the fat cells until needed. The body will keep storing calories as fat whether working out, eating a lot of food, or starved. This is a natural step it takes to prepare your body for when it needs to use that fat for energy.
So as we exercise more, our bodies tend to use more of this fuel as energy. The question is how do we get fat flowing like this to be used as energy instead of locked up in your fat cells. Let’s dig a bit deeper in the process.
A Day at Work for Your Food
As food enters your mouth, your body will separate the food into three different groups: protein, fat, and carbs.
Both fat and carbs provide energy, but your body burns the carbs first before getting to the fat. When carbs and fat come into your body, the fat is shipped off to the fat cells to take a pit stop while carbs are dealt with first because they require immediate action.
Carbs appear in the bloodstream as glucose, which is the sugar in blood sugar. Cells will use Carbs as fuel and use it to refuel their backup energy supplies. Unfortunately the more you have, then the cells can’t keep up with the rising tide of blood sugar unless they get some help.
This is where the hormone insulin gets involved. Insulin’s goal is to keep blood sugar under control. Like we have mentioned before, all hormones have a positive purpose in your body, but with the wrong foods things can go bad in a hurry. Insulin is so ready to shoot into action that it is secreted from the pancreas just by thinking about food. Think of it like human resources taking the action necessary to protect the employee.
More insulin continues to be secreted as (carbs) glucose touches the tongue, and even more as it finally enters your body. Insulin then tells your cells in the body, trying to be a good manager, to increase the rate at which it is pumping in glucose from the blood stream. Cells will then burn some glucose and store some for later use.
Muscle cells have different action items for their work. They store glucose in the form of a molecule called glycogen. Liver cells store some as glycogen and convert some as fat. Fat cells only store glucose as fat.
As sugar levels decrease, insulin decreases along with it. At this time as the tides recede, more and more fat will be released from fat tissue to take up the slack, back into the blood stream to be used as energy. The more time passes between meals, the more fat you will burn and the less glucose. This is where we talked about the benefits of intermittent fasting. Fat keeps your cells fueled during this time, such as when you are sleeping.
Can’t Avoid Giving Your Body Resources
Be careful about starving yourself. People think then the best action to take is to starve themselves and the more you do it, the more fat you burn. This is only true up to a certain point.
This is like trying to make someone work a double shift day after day without giving more human resources to help with the cause. They will get burned out. As time passes without food, for about an 8-16 hour window, this fat can be excreted from the body (sweat, urine, whatever). After that time the fat cells sense something is wrong and will retain fat at any cost, even if that means giving up lean tissue from organs and muscle.
Another side note is that hormones can go haywire in this situation. By not eating, you are putting extra stress on your body and can derail your hormonal work. Hormones and enzymes will get out of whack, namely cortisol that increases stress levels after not getting enough calories.
As Gary Taubes puts it, think of this whole process with fat cells more like a wallet, than a savings account. As soon as you get to some minimum amount of money in your wallet (amount of fat) you have to go back to the ATM and get more money to store in your wallet (get more food). You are always putting fat in and taking fat out.
To stay with the business analogy it is like the salesperson that expenses a lot of costs for travel, but brings in a lot of money by closing deals. Constantly cash is flowing in and out just like the fat cells in our body and as soon as it gets to a small amount the sales person either better get a paycheck or expense check cashed.
You get a tiny bit fatter after eating each meal, and a tiny bit less fat after each meal is digested and leaner still while sleeping. As you eat the right foods (protein, vegetables, and fat) consistently, your hormones and enzymes help your fat cells stay in line by having them exert the fat into the blood stream and use it as energy.
Two Different Fat Workers
The fat in our body is in two forms that serve two different purposes.
Fat moves in and out of our cells in the form of fatty acids as we mentioned (the wallet example). This is also the form we use for fuel. Think of this like the active employee that is getting out there kickin’ butt and takin’ names. We want more of these. As we eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise our hormones finds more of these type of workers or molds poor workers into good ones like this.
The other form of fat is called triglycerides. We store these big guys in our fat cells. A triglyceride sounds complicated, but is pretty simple to understand. A triglyceride is made of three fatty acids bound together by a molecule called glycerol. Triglycerides are too big to move freely in and out of the fat cells so they end up getting stored or locked up in the fat cells.
Triglycerides are formed in fat cells from scratch by glucose until it gets disassembled and flows back through the blood stream or is used for energy. As we start to form more and more of these we notice it as flub on our body. They make you tired, lack energy, and simply feel uncomfortable.
Think of triglycerides like the employee stuck in the break room by the water cooler with a couple co-workers. They are doing nothing, but talking about the football game yesterday. We obviously want less of these. As we eat more sugar, dairy, and grains, get less sleep, and have stressful lives we see more of these type of workers in your body.
This obviously becomes a pretty unproductive work environment.
So the question becomes, how do we get more of the active workers (single fatty acids) and less of the water cooler heroes (triglycerides)? In our next post we will talk more about how your hormones manage your cells and what you can do about it to make sure they are performing well.