Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
6 Nov

Mark Sisson Is Not Afraid of Fat

Evolution is all about adaptation – to the environment, to circumstances, to stress and even (or especially) to food. In this context of adaptation, it’s truly amazing how “inventive” the human body has become in finding novel (and perhaps heretofore uncontemplated) ways to repair damage we do to ourselves through our diets and other lifestyle indiscretions. And most of these changes are less than a few hundred years old, which makes the adaptations even more remarkable.

Let’s use cholesterol as an example. Cholesterol is actually very beneficial. Among other duties, it’s a necessary component of every cell membrane and it’s involved in hormone production. The body makes about 1400 mg a day just to keep up!

Now let’s take a stressful lifestyle (show of hands, please), add in a bad diet and lack of exercise and we get an inflammatory process in the arteries that causes lesions. This inflammation problem is completely unrelated to amounts or types of cholesterol.

Nevertheless, the ever-inventive human body adapts to this inflammation sequence by using cholesterol as a band-aid to cover up the lesions until healing can take place – which, of course, almost never happens since the silly human continues to live the same pro-inflammatory lifestyle. Eventually, the cholesterol band-aids harden (sclerosis), narrow the arteries and sometimes break off causing a heart attack.

Of course, we blame the cholesterol for all this and embark on a national campaign to rid the body of this important substance instead of focusing on the foods (and other stresses) that promote inflammation in the first place!

Now let’s consider fat. For years we believed fat was nothing more than nature’s way of storing extra calories for some future famine. That would be a handy little adaptation in and of itself if that’s all it were. But when you do the math, you see that it doesn’t require a lot of fat to survive or even migrate for long periods. A 165-pound person with only 13% body fat has 21.45 pounds of fat. Being generous and assuming that you need a minimum 3% just to carry on basic survival functions, that leaves 10% or 16.5 pounds of fat to live off. At 3500 calories per pound of fat and 100 calories per mile walking, you’d theoretically have enough fat to survive weeks and migrate several hundred miles.

So maybe fat has another purpose, and this is where my friend Art De Vany’s description of fat as a toxic waste site (my words) comes in. Modern humans have so thoroughly altered foods to focus on simple carbohydrates (sugars) that we now consume hundreds of excess grams of it every day.

As Art has explained, the body recognizes excess sugar (glucose) as a toxic load – and remember, it doesn’t take a whole lot of it to be excessive – and the body starts the adaptive process of secreting insulin to take sugar out of the bloodstream and deposit it into the muscles.

Two problems arise immediately:

First, there’s not a lot of room in those muscles. Ask any athlete who’s ever tried to carbo-load for an event. Secondly, most people aren’t athletes and have lost significant utility of their muscle through atrophy, further diminishing storage. Furthermore, they don’t burn off the already-stored glycogen because they don’t exercise.

But here’s where the body has become so elegantly adaptive once again. It creates little storage facilities in the form of additional fat cells. Not because it’s trying to store calories for some future famine, as modern medicine might have you believe, but because it’s trying to find novel and effective ways to rid the body of this very toxic glucose excess.

And it’s a pretty good solution. Insulin allows glucose access to these fat cells which grow larger and more numerous over time. Problem is, it’s always one step behind, so the fat cells fill up just as the muscle filled up, leaving excess glucose in the bloodstream after the next high carb or high calorie meal until more fat cells can be made.

And so the spiral continues as 40 million Americans are headed towards type 2 diabetes.

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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. How much fat (such as olive oil) in grams or tablespoon is suppose to be ate in this way of eating?
    Please clarify as I need to know from Type 2 diabetic point of view?

    sandra wrote on July 13th, 2008
    • Eat all the healthy fat you want. If you’re eating right, you’re body will let you know when you’re full enough to stop.

      Zach wrote on May 3rd, 2011
      • +1

        Eat real food. That includes a lot of fat. Eat when you are full. If you are engaged in emotional eating then be patient. I was binge eating for about 5 months but got back on track due to engaging in a 30 day paleo eating challenge.

        Take a photo of all your food in take. Then post on facebook. You will lose weight this way.

        Eat fat. Eat protein. Eat veggies.

        Primal Toad wrote on July 7th, 2011
  2. wow, great info.!

    van wrote on August 30th, 2010
  3. First, I’d like to say I’m really enjoying this blog. I’ve been following for about 2 months now and read the Primal Blueprint. I’m not sure if this will get answered as this is an older article, but curiosity struck when i read the part of this article saying that converting the excess carbohydrates into stored fat was not a survival mechanism in the sense of storing for later use necessarily but a way to rid the bloodstream of a toxic substance. Not disagreeing, just wondering, why wouldn’t the body simply flush this substance somehow instead of continuing to store it?

    a.j. wrote on January 14th, 2012
    • Maybe it’s really a combination of both. We do make use of our fat stores when we need to (if we’re fat-adapted), so perhaps it was a way to remove the toxic excess AND turn it into something we could use later on.

      Jonathan wrote on November 1st, 2012
  4. Hi Mark,

    Awesome site first off! I was just wondering about your body’s ability to create additional fat cells. From my understanding, I thought only at birth and then again at puberty is our body able to increase the number of adipose cells. I understand adipose cells can grow or shrink in size but I thought the number remained constant. What are your thoughts?

    Thank you so much!

    Jules wrote on July 11th, 2015

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