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How do we get fat?

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

Before we're gonna jump into a debate about which diet is better, whether carbs are good or bad and how to successfully lose/gain weight. Let's look at the question we commonly think of but very often are afraid to ask. Understanding the processes and mysterious ways our body works will benefit our present as well as future endeavors.

When our energy intake is high our body packs and stores fat. We eat more than we "burn", so we put on weight. Simple, right? Well, let's look at it closer.

Our infamous "fat" is made of smaller building blocks, called fatty acids. Their synthesis, in other words, their creation, happens when our body receives way more energy than we actually need.

Why? This question would have to be directed to the Fathers of Thermodynamics, as the First Law explains that "that total energy is conserved", which pretty much means the food we just ate won't be going, or rather "disappearing" anywhere unless we transfer that consumed energy someplace else via movement, or some other metabolic activity.

Unfortunately, if the above won't happen, our body will store everything in its favorite form, the adipose tissue, known as fat. We do have different types of fat, so it not necessarily has to be stored in the form of subcutaneous fat, the one hiding under the skin. Also, the good news is, our body actually really needs fat. The problem begins when there is an excess of it.

This synthesis (building) of fatty acids can come from either excess dietary fat, or excess dietary carbohydrates, or in some cases, from dietary protein.

In simple words, the body tends to follow these three rules:

  1. Excess dietary fat is directly stored as body fat.

  2. Excess dietary carbohydrate increases carbohydrate oxidation (the breakdown of carbohydrate molecules), thus impairing fat oxidation, and causing more dietary fat to be stored as body fat.

  3. Excess dietary protein increases protein oxidation, thus impairing fat oxidation, and causing more dietary fat to be stored as body fat.

This means that no matter what combination of macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, proteins) you eat, the total amount of it is what matters the most. At least if we look at nutrition in a very generic way.

Other factors which can affect how our body processes nutrients:

- exercise and daily-life movement;

- body composition;

- hormones;

- genetic programming;

- age;

- our gastrointestinal microbiome; and

- the type of food we eat.

More on the above will be discussed in upcoming articles on our blog.

Now, going back to the amount of food you eat. Some of you might think, "OK, it's simple, I will just count my calories so I won't cross the daily "energy limit"." Initially, and in theory, it might seem like a good idea, but in practice not only this method will not be sustainable (trust me, you will give up or go crazy after a few weeks of frustrating process of measuring every ounce of food you eat), but also... Outside of the lab, we will never know exactly how many calories we are taking in or expanding. We already established that energy balance does matter, whether you want to lose weight or gain weight. We also established that complicated "calorie math" won't help us much. So, if you are not a professional athlete equipped with a team analyzing and prepping your meals, or you do not have access (or even interest) to a lab, what do you do?

Not to panic, although you won't know for sure how many kcals there is in that last cookie you ate, it's just enough (at least at the beginning), to simply start tracking your food. Food is the meals you eat, not the energy inside of them. Grab a notebook, excel spreadsheet, or even your super smartphone (with a lot of cool apps in it), and start tracking your intakes and outputs. I can guarantee that after a week of simply having a Food Journal you will notice some things you could easily work on and/or improve.

After all, what is the point in counting all those "calories in" and "calories out", if we constantly close one eye on all the junk food, sugary drinks, soda, cookies, desserts (...)?

The last piece of advice, be patient and look at long-term results. You want the outcome to be sustainable and lifelong, not just a summer body from June till August.



Berardi, J., Ph.D., CSCS, Andrews, R., MS, MA, RD, Pierre, B. S., MS, RD, CSCS, Dixon, K. S., Ph.D., Kollias, H., Ph.D., CSCS, & DePutter, C. (2019). The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition(3rd ed.). Precision Nutrition.

Wolfram, S. (2002). A new kind of science. Champaign, IL: Wolfram Media.


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