Body fat is public enemy number one. Everywhere you look, you’re reminded of the growing obesity crisis and its link to diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
But in today’s modern world of 24-hour supermarkets, all-you-can-eat buffets, and long hours chained to a desk, it’s no wonder the battle of the bulge is busting your belt buckle.
Advertisements for fat-slimming shorts, supplements, and infomercial ab gadgets leverage on your fear of fat by reminding you “you’re not good enough” and “no one will ever love you unless you’re thin.”
But for as much as you may love to loathe body fat, it actually serves a number of biologically valuable life-sustaining purposes.
Here are seven ways body fat is good for you!
1) Body fat protects against famine (and stupid diets)
Body fat protects you against famine, be it a real famine or an artificial famine induced by one of the many available idiotic fad diets.
When you go on a quick-fix crash diet, it induces a simulated starvation response. This upshifts your body into fat-storing mode (protect itself at all costs) and downshifts your metabolism by breaking down muscle (rather than fat) so you need fewer calories to function.
Starvation-type diets make you a fat-storing machine at the expense of valuable metabolism-stoking muscle. Each turn of the starve/binge cycle trains your body to efficiently store fat to protect against repeated dieting attempts.
I commonly see this in clinical practice when I perform DEXA scans on clients before and after a phase of combined very low calorie eating, overexercising, and under-recovering. The end result? A small loss of fat but a comparatively large loss of muscle.
Bottom line: for as much as you may try to “fool” your body with fad diets, it’s no match for your ancient genome programmed to sabotage your efforts.
The best way to lose fat is to make small, slow, steady changes in diet and exercise that are sustainable over the long-haul. These are less of a shock to the system and will allow your body to gently shed fat without activating your famine response.
2) Cholesterol is a precursor to hormones and other important substances
While not the same chemical structure as stored body fat, cholesterol is a necessary lipid precursor required for the synthesis of hormones such as testosterone, oestrogen and other bioactive substances like vitamin D and bile acids which you need for digestion of dietary fats.
3) Subcutaneous fat adds shape to your body
Fat just below your skin (called subcutaneous fat) helps give your body its shape. It tends to round out the sharp corners where your bones stick out and, without it, you’d look quite haggard. After people lose a lot of body fat in a very short period of time, either through dieting or illness, you’ll notice their skin hanging off their cheek bones. Once they regain a bit of fat, they start to look more healthy and nourished.
4) Body fat provides padding inside and out
You probably associate fat with that unsightly stuff you see around your gut or back side. But it’s the fat deep inside you that you don’t see that offers a bit of cushioning for your internal organs, holding them in place, and protecting them against any trips, falls, and bumps (from contact sports or stumbling home after clubbing all night). Your external subcutaneous fat provides a bit of outward padding for your muscles and bones, giving you a built-in “bootylicious” seat cushion Beyonce would be proud of!
Check out my related article on how much body fat you should have for health and well-being.
5) Body fat keeps you warm
An added benefit of your subcutaneous and deep internal fat serve as a built-in bioblanket to protect you against cold temperatures. Most importantly, your internal organs require a stable internal temperature for optimal function and it’s body fat that helps buffer against the elements.
6) Body fat provides structure and function to your cells
Your cells contain fat molecules which form part of your cell membrane (cell wall). This fatty membrane, called your phospholipid bilayer, forms an impermeable barrier between the cytoplasm inside your cells and the external cellular environment. It helps regulate salt concentrations and pH by precisely metering the flow of ions in and out of the cell.
7) Body fat facilitates nerve transmission
Lipid makes up approximately 80% of the myelin sheath that covers your nerves and facilitates the transmission of neural signals. The myelin sheath helps increase the speed and quality of the signal, all of which contribute to your ability to perform activities like walking, talking, eating, or sport and exercise.