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What Breaks Down Fat In The Body? (From A Nutritionist)

Anthony Diaz
Published by Anthony Diaz
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

I had an interesting conversation with a client and my nutritionist a few days ago about how the body has amazing processes to store and retrieve excess energy.

It’s a very complex system, but understanding it allowed me to better explain to athletes and regular weight loss clients why they have to follow certain instructions to effectively lose weight.

So, I decided to put that research and feedback from my nutritionist into a simple-to-follow post that will give you a solid understanding of what happens to body fat cells.

Let me start with the basics.

Quick Summary

  • Fat storage is a natural evolutionary process that allows the body to store energy for later use.
  • When the body doesn’t have enough blood glucose to fuel muscles and organs, it has to resort to fat cells to generate energy.
  • Multiple hormones are involved in breaking down fat tissue into fatty acid molecules and delivering them around the body.

What Helps Your Body Break Down Fat Cells?

Woman showing her weight loss

A combination of hormones and enzymes helps your body break down fat cells into fatty acids.

And these fatty acids are then released into the bloodstream, where muscles and organs can pick them up to fuel different functions [1].

It’s kind of like refining crude oil into gasoline before it enters your car engine.

If the raw adipose tissue were to enter your bloodstream, it would cause immediate life-threatening health risks.

Just like your car engine would seize up if you put crude oil in the tank.

Different glands and organs in your body can trigger the release of various hormones (mainly thyroid hormone and growth hormone) and enzymes under certain conditions.

For example, if you suddenly perform strenuous physical activity, but there’s no blood glucose left, then those hormones release fat cells from storage [2].

Enzymes then take over and break each released fat cell into fatty acids, which are then transported to muscle cells and organs as fuel.

Background To The Body’s Energy Storage

The human body stores fat cells in the form of loose connective adipose tissue (white fat and small amounts of brown fat). These fat cells serve the purpose of providing energy for a later time as well as insulation from the cold.

From an evolutionary perspective, fattening up in the fall helped to provide enough energy for the winter when less food was available, and it protected humans from cold.

Unfortunately, these days people don’t go from fat to lean with the seasons and ultimately end up with ever-increasing fat stores [3].

What Can You Do To Break Down More Fat Stores?

Pinching tricep fats

There are three things you can do so that your body will break down more body fat.

Diet

I tell all my clients that 70% of their cutting and weight loss efforts will come from their diet. And to burn off more fat, you need to eat fewer calories. That means a balanced diet with complex carbohydrates, lots of protein, and healthy fatty foods.

Some argue for a high-protein or high-fat diet, but I suggest you start by cutting out all simple carbs and sugar and reduce your calorie intake [4]. You can check our article about the best fat loss diets.

Exercise

You will also have to burn more calories than you’re taking in in order to target subcutaneous fat. The extra energy to fuel the exercise will have to come from somewhere, and your metabolism will kick into target fat [5].

One thing most obese individuals have in common is that they don’t get at least 30 minutes per day of aerobic exercise or HIIT exercises for weight loss. Not only will it help you avoid gaining more weight, but it can seriously reduce the risks of cardiac disease [6].

Related Articles:

“Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It helps cut your chances of getting heart disease. It's good for your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, energy level, and mood, too.”

- James Beckerman, MD, FACC, WebMD.com

Supplements

Different supplements on ground

Whether you’re on a high-fat diet, keto, Weight Watchers, or any other restricted diet, you can burn fat more effectively with a few supplements.

There are natural fat burners for men and women that can help to trigger thermogenesis that will target energy stored in fat in a completely natural way [7].

These aren't magic pills to get you slim on the couch, but if you’re eating a healthy diet and regularly exercising, these fat burners can get you to your weight goals faster.

Avoid Bad Lifestyle Choices

The obvious mistake obese individuals make is eating way too many calories than muscles and other organs need on a daily basis.

That excess energy can only go into fat cells. And the problem often comes down to highly processed, high-calorie foods.

These also tend to contain a lot of sugar and other simple carbs [8].

On the other extreme end, some people resort to eating too few calories [9].

In this case, your metabolism can resort to breaking down protein from muscle mass instead of your fat reserves.

So, make the healthy lifestyle decision of eating less but not going to extremes either.

FAQs

Do You Poop Out Fat When Losing Weight?

No, you don’t poop out fat when you lose weight. What happens is those fat molecules break down into energy, water, and carbon dioxide. And you get rid of those by sweating, urinating, and breathing.

What Burns Fat While You Sleep?

Some natural ingredients like capsaicin can burn fat while you sleep. They activate thermogenic processes that raise your core temperature slightly by burning off more calories. It’s completely natural, and certain foods and supplements can help with it.

Get Your Body To Burn Fat Effectively

If you have a certain healthy weight goal in mind, or you’re going through an aggressive cutting phase, then you have to take the right approach to allow your metabolism to break down fat.

That means a calorie-restricted diet of healthy food and plenty of exercise.

And if you want to fast-track that progress a bit with natural fat burners, then I suggest you try some nighttime fat burners.

They can speed up your fat loss enough to make it noticeable within a few weeks so that you get to your goals faster.


References:

  1. https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/cellular-microscopic/fat-cell3.htm
  2. https://bnrc.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s42269-019-0238-z
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424456/
  4. https://time.com/4021985/simple-carbohydrates/
  5. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/fitness-fat-burning
  6. https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/heart-disease-prevention-exercise
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/thermogenesis
  8. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/3/e009892
  9. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/a19939245/habits-making-you-lose-muscle/
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