While we may sometimes give them nicknames like “love handles” or “spare tires,” medical science calls them lipocytes or adipocytes, and the tissue they bond together to form is called adipose tissue. Their main function is to store energy for the body to use when it needs it.
How is Fat Stored in Our Bodies?
When you consume more calories than you need (more calories than you burn throughout the day), your body automatically stores those extra calories in your fat cells. It doesn’t care where those calories come from—carrot cake or carrot sticks, lettuce or linguine—all those unneeded calories go straight to your adipose tissue and repose there.
When your body needs more energy than it has calories to provide, it uses the stored energy in the fat cells. That is why when you eat less and exercise more, or are just generally more physically active than you used to be even without changing your eating habits, you can lose weight. The fat cells release their stored energy, shrinking in size, and in the process, shrinking the size of you.
Do Fat Cells Multiply?
It was once believed that the number of fat cells a person had in their body didn’t change from birth to death. It was believed you were born with X number of fat cells and you died with X number of fat cells. Medical science now knows that this isn’t true. When a fat cell reaches maximum capacity, it can and will divide, creating more fat cells. These, in turn, can create new cells if they reach their maximum capacity. So fat cells do grow, but once they can’t grow anymore, they divide.
How Do We Lose Weight?
When you or anyone else goes on a diet and/or exercise program, you can shrink the size of your existing fat cells by creating a situation where your body needs to release the energy stored in them to function.
Calories provide the body with the energy it needs, and by cutting back on your calorie intake or ramping up your energy requirements through increased physical activity, or both, you place a demand on the body for more energy. The fat cells will release this energy and this will cause them to shrink.
However, you will never lose any fat cells—the ones you were born with nor ones you may have gained over the years, unless you have them surgically removed through invasive liposuction. When you lose fat, the cell itself will still be intact, but the contents will be reduced. This is why it is so easy for people to regain the weight they lost if they stop their healthy eating and exercise program. Those cells can be refilled once more.
So, perhaps you can feel a little better about your fat cells by knowing that the magazine-cover supermodel in the grocery store checkout line probably has just as many as you do—and that with a healthy exercise and eating plan, you can take any extra weight off and keep it off, too.