Twenty-two years ago I was giving a lecture on nutrition and when I started talking about fat and how fat is a good thing for the body most people in the room rolled their eyes at me and went into full blown fear mode. Twenty-two years later just about everything I was talking about twenty-two years ago has now been proven to be correct.
If you are interested in being lean and keeping the excess fat off the body then there are a couple of things you need to know: 1. You must eat good dietary fat, and 2. You need to activate the brown fat reserves in the body.
Since I have discussed the importance of eating dietary fat in past blogs I will not discuss it in this blog. Instead I would like to talk about a topic that I lectured on back in 1992, brown fat.
We all know that excess body fat is detremental toward good health. However, the body still needs an adequate amount of fat for the sytems of the body to function properly. There are different types of fat that the body utilizes for fuel, vitamin transport, insulation, and nerve protection. But did you know that we have a certain type of fat that actually has its own capillary network that produces heat within the body? This type of fat is known as Brown Fat. Brown fat is found in the back of the neck area of infants, and also in the areas near the heart and shoulder blades in adults. Brown fat is a high metabolic compound that actually is more active than any other tissue in the body. This high octane metabolic fat can burn up to 200-500 calories a day, depending on the individual. People who are lean through out life tend to have more brown fat activation than those that are constantly battling with their weight.
Brown fat in babies is much more active during this stage of life then the later stages. This is because the brown fat is necessary to protect the heart, brain, and spinal nerves, in addition, helps keep the baby warm. The problem develops when the baby is clothed and is forced to be extremely bundled up going into cold temperatures. As the baby grows up the brown fat phenomenon wanes. This is because children are always told to wear jackets and multiple layers when going into cold temperatures. Bundling up will reduce the brown fat metabolism. Adults will always turn up the heat in their house, and wear sweaters and jackets avoiding the cold at all costs. By eliminating the body’s internal furnace will reduce caloric output and keep fat stored in fat cells.
To activate brown fat it is important for the body to have a need for it. One of the best ways to reactivate your brown fat is to be cold. Get use to living in colder temperatures. Turn down the thermostat in your house and learn to adapt to the colder temperature. Your body will actually turn on its own internal furnace (brown fat) and keep you warm. It will take about a week for the body to learn to adapt to the new temperature change. But during this time when your brown fat is activated you will be burning more calories. It is the same as the furnace in your house. When the house is cold the thermostat signals the furnace to turn on and then oil is burned to fuel the furnace. The furnace produces heat that radiates through the house. When the body gets cold the hypothalamus (thermostat) signals the brown fat (furnace) and fat (oil) is burned.
So the key to activating brown fat is living in colder environments. I recommend trying to get use to wearing light clothes in the winter in the house. Avoid cranking up the thermostat past 58-62 degrees. You want to make the body use its fat stores to keep you warm. Wear a light jacket outside during the colder months. But don’t be silly and stay in extreme cold temperatures for hours on end, that would be foolish. I am only suggesting wearing light clothing in temperatures that do not increase the chances of hypothermia or frost bite.
Exercise can also help activate brown fat. In fact, those that exercise tend to have a higher percentage of active brown fat than those that don’t exercise. The best is exercising in cold weather. People who work and exercise in colder temperatures tend to be leaner than those who live and work in hot climates.
People think that exercising in hot temperatures will create a greater fat burning affect than exercising in the cold. This is not the case. Exercising in hot temperatures produces a lot of sweat which shuts down the body’s brown fat metabolism. The body is actually over heated and the body is trying to cool itself down with the sweat. This is why exercising in intense heat is not beneficial for burning fat. So if you think you are going to burn a ton of fat in a hot yoga class, think again.
The biggest reason why people gain weight in the winter months in cold climates is not because of the cold but because of the decrease in serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that boosts brain activity. When serotonin levels are low the cravings for sugar increase. Excess sugar intake causes fat storage. People think that in the summer months they lose weight easier because the temperatures are hot. It’s not the hot temperatures that change the body, it is the increase in serotonin levels, because the sun is closer during the summer months and this increases serotonin levels.
So take advantage of the cold temperatures during the winter months and activate natures most incredible fat burning process — brown fat metabolism.
Daryl Conant, M.Ed.