When you think about body fat, you’re probably thinking that you want to avoid, lose, or rearrange it.
It’s time for all of us to stop freaking out about body fat. It has a positive side as well.
Regardless of how much or how little you have, body fat helps you survive, and it doesn’t always mean you’re unhealthy.
Stop freaking out about body fat and learn these 5 fascinating facts about it, instead.
1. Fat is one of your essential organs.
Body fat regulates metabolism, hunger and fullness, and even immune function. In fact, it’s an important part of our endocrine system and is considered an essential organ, just like the heart or liver.
Fat has multiple roles throughout the body, providing an insulating layer as well as surrounding and protecting the cells.
Body fat doesn’t just sit there — it’s full of blood and lymph vessels as well as nerves and supporting fibers. This is why it’s dangerous to remove more than a small amount at a time.
Additionally, body fat is essential to your intelligence. The fat in the brain and nervous system facilitates your thinking.
In fact, your brain is mostly made of fat. Without fatty sheaths surrounding the myelinated nerves, your brain and body wouldn’t be as efficient at coordinating and communicating.
2. Body fat is an evolutionary miracle.
You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for body fat. The evolution of body fat allowed your ancestors to flourish. It kept them warm during cold winters and kept them alive during periods of famine.
There are actually several types of fat. In addition to white fat, which stores energy, there’s brown fat, which burns energy for heat. It used to be thought that only babies produced brown fat, but it’s actually created throughout the life span in response to exercise.
The ability of your body to store fat also allowed our energy-hogging brain to keep working when food was scarce.
It was the ancestors who were most efficient at the storage of fat who were able to survive and reproduce, thus passing on their fat-storing genes to you.
3. Fat on your hips and thighs doesn’t negatively impact health.
Fat is distributed throughout the body but is mainly stored in two places: subcutaneous (below the skin) and visceral (around the other organs).
It’s primarily the fat around the organs that can become the cause of health concern
The fat that sits under your skin on your hips and thighs can even be beneficial. Various studies have linked higher levels of fat in these areas to reduced heart disease and reduced overall mortality, especially in women.
Fat in these areas is also essential for fertility. When a woman’s body weight drops below a healthy level, menstruation ceases and pregnancy cannot be sustained. Not having a period also has negative health effects on the heart and bones.
Fat deposits in the lower body help women stay balanced during pregnancy, and those curves make them even more attractive to potential mates as well.
The omega-3 DHA fat stored on the hips and thighs is important to brainpower but also to growing babies, as it can’t be made by the body.
4. Stomach fat in women after menopause is beneficial.
After going through menopause, many women find that fat formerly stored on the hips and thighs starts moving into the belly. Even women who don’t gain weight often find their bellies and waists expanding.
While too much can be dangerous, some extra belly fat can be health-protective. This is because fat plays a role in hormone production.
After menopause, when a woman’s ovaries are less active, having some belly fat provides additional estrogen. This estrogen reduces the effects of aging and protects the bones.
5. Fat isn’t under your total control.
While eating less and moving more have some influence on body weight, there are many other factors.
There are multiple known genetic variations that make some people more likely to hold onto fat, as well as to maintain health in the presence of high fat.
The tendency to be thin as well as to be fat is governed by genetics. Overall, genes explain up to 70 percent of body mass index (BMI), almost as much as for height at 80 percent.
Additionally, our bodies have evolved powerful methods of maintaining weight. Food restriction triggers a reduction in metabolism and an increase in hunger. This predictably leads to the regain of any weight lost.
In fact, one of the strongest predictors of weight gain is having been on a diet. Luckily, except at statistical extremes, weight is only weakly correlated with health as the Healthy at Every Size (HAES) movement has demonstrated.
You may be surprised to learn that people categorized as “overweight” by BMI have the lowest all-cause mortality. This may be because having some extra body fat helps us survive through illness as well as famine, especially in middle and older ages.
That’s why there’s no reason to feel bad about your body weight. After all, you don’t feel shame or guilt over not being able to grow taller or shorter. Neither do you hate your heart or liver when they don’t work optimally.
A better strategy is to accept the body you have while focusing on developing habits for keeping it strong and nourished.
These are just a few of the amazing things body fat does to help us survive, thrive, and reproduce. From staying warm to living longer, fat is there for you. Knowing all of this, hopefully you can stop freaking out about body fat.
Instead, why not look down and say, “Thanks”?
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Lisa Newman, MAPP is a positive psychology practitioner and health coach specializing in eating behavior and body acceptance. She is a certified mind-body eating coach and certified intuitive eating counselor. You can find out more at Women Eat.
This article was originally published at Women Eat blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.