The Skinny on Fat, Podcast Ep. 44


Episode 44: The Skinny on Fat

Description: Reframe Fat and Its Role in Your Body

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Katy spends some time helping reframe “fat” as we discuss fat and the roles it plays in our bodies, and how the fat we have is simply a response to input—just like everything else in our body.


KATY: It’s the Katy Says podcast, where movement geek, Dani Hemmat, joins biomechanist, Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA for discussions on body mechanics, movement nutrition, natural movement, and how movement can be the solution to modern ailments we all experience.


DANI: And it’s Groundhog’s Day today! Not when you’re listening to this, but while we’re talking.
KATY: It’s the Katy Says podcast, where movement geek…


DANI: I got you, Babe.


KATY: That’s a joke. That’s a joke.


DANI: Yeah.
KATY: That was a joke for people who spend a lot of time watching movies.


DANI: Yes.


KATY: With Bill Murray.


DANI: That’s actually one of our family rituals on Groundhog’s Day is we’re going to roast up a nice groundhog and then watch Groundhog’s Day tonight. So.


KATY: I like it.


DANI: All right. So today’s show. Fat and metabolism. A while back, you and I were tossing around show ideas and this was one of them. You just kind of mentioned casually that a person can spot reduce and then we moved on in our conversation, and I have not been able to have this – I mean, it’s been running around in my head over and over. Let’s talk about that today: spot reduction and other fat & metabolism stuff, because we get a lot of questions about this. I want to know – a lot of people want to know – want to talk about fat?


KATY: Yeah. And you know, to clarify – well, the whole show will clarify. So what do we mean by spot reduction? I think fat in general could use a whole book about fat that’s not a diet book, but a mechanics-based understanding of fat. So let’s talk about it.


DANI: All right. All right. There’s different kinds of fat, we know: there’s brown fat, white, subcutaneous, visceral, belly fat. What role do the different kinds of fat have, and are they deposited differently? Do we make them differently? What’s it all about, Katy?


KATY: Well, there’s a lot of physiology there, which is not my field. But I think I can speak well to kind of the physics of fat? Fat physics and the mechanics of fat, which are probably the least represented perspectives of fat that you will find. You will find all sorts of good references on fat as it relates to diet, and then, of course, there’s the general understanding of fat as it relates to movement in terms of calories in/calories out – bleh. Sorry – did I suddenly vomit?


DANI: Did you burp a little bit? What was that?


KATY: I did, just because it’s like – there’s so much more going on, so. Let’s do a little primer.


DANI: Okay.


KATY: So, what is fat for? We have, I think, the perspective that fat is just there to make us miserable – like, that it’s not a valuable, physiological thing. So let’s reframe how we think about fat – and fat, what it does is it stores energy. It produces hormones. It can generate body heat. It’s part of your thermal regulation system. It can be cushion, it can be a connective tissue. It can be padding. All of those things are things that you want, should you need them, and if you thought of the body fat – the shape of your fat, if you will: where it’s located and how much of it is there and where – I guess it’s almost like robusticity. Robusticity would be the clinical word for shape and mass distribution. So your fat robusticity: it’s going to match your behaviors.


DANI: Ohhh.


KATY: And those behaviors are not how much you eat, or aren’t limited to how much you eat. Fat is only framed dietarily, I think, most regularly. Luckily, we’re seeing more stuff with brown fat vs. white fat, so –


DANI: Yeah.


KATY: One of the – I wrote a blog post and I think it’s called – It’s Not Different, It’s Just More. And it was a whole list of – we talked about this in another show, too, I think. It was a whole list of factors that have been identified in obesity research. More than it’s just, “hey, these people are just, like, eating out of control.” And it’s like, really? No. There are a lot of people who are eating perfectly in control and dealing with a particular lipid profile that they’d like to change. So it’s like, well, let’s give some more information. So there are two groupings of fat: there’s white fat, which is your energy storage, hormone production. And it can also be part – it can be like the padding that we were talking about, and connective tissue. But then there’s brown fat. Brown fat has more mitochondria. It’s more active, and I’ve read things where –


DANI: Wait, I’m sorry – did you just say it has more mitochondria?


KATY: Yes.


DANI: Oh, cool.


KATY: That’s why it’s active, you know, mitochondria are like the cellular engines. So it’s – it’s active. It’s full of engines, it’s working. And so I’ve heard brown fat – I’ve heard arguments to re-classify brown fat as more of an active tissue like muscle, because they both have the same – similar chemistry – which is, you know, so this is about classification systems. When you classify thing by how they look, you might get one classification of, like, this is fat and this is muscle. But if you classify things by how they work, then fat – brown fat and protein – would be in the same column and white fat would be out.




KATY: So classification systems, they’re all valid based on how you’ve set them up. So brown fat, or brown adipose is another way that you might see it written about – is part of your thermo-regulation system. And so it’s there working to keep you warm. And people who do not expose themselves to a variance in ambient temperature, if you live in a place where you are always outsourcing your body’s work to heaters and clothes and whatnot, then you will not have as much brown fat. Everyone’s got a little bit of brown fat –


DANI: Mm-hmm.


KATY: But they have much less than people who are exposing themselves regularly to a variance of ambient temperature. To cold, right? Because now you’re adding more parts to your body, it’s like, these are your working parts. So anyway.


DANI: Well, doesn’t – didn’t you read that Wim Hof has more – I mean, he has, like, a really high amount of brown fat?


KATY: Does he?


DANI: Yeah.


KATY: I would – like, that makes sense. I think swimmers, too, when I was an undergrad, that was – there was a lot of research; that was in the early ‘90s – going on about how swimmers tend to have more body fat is that the exposure to the water, you know, where you’re taxing. I mean, there’s a lot of different reasons that it could be, but that was one of the potential theses. So, anyway.


DANI: Babies, I read, have – they’re born with a lot of brown fat. But that’s weird, because they’re in a warm womb, so that must just be there to help them create that heat when they come out until they –


KATY: Sure. I mean, there are things that are modifiable, and then there are things that are genetic, so you know, you don’t – when you’re going to come out, the fact that you come out to a place that’s heat regulated, and blankets, and a ton of stuff, barely new for the human, you don’t have the muscle mass and the movement capability, really – like, movement is going to do a lot of heating for you: shivering, all those things. Babies don’t have the ability to move as they will as often or as they want, or they just don’t have the ability to have the full movement yet, so they have more brown fat to do the work of their heat regulation early on. It’s interesting.


DANI: That is interesting. So that means – I mean, with all these different roles that fat plays – all fat isn’t bad, then, right?


KATY: No, and I would say that really you can reframe it to no fat is bad. No, like, there’s nothing bad or wrong with fat. Like, it’s a wonderful thing. You might have a distribution of it or a robusticity of it that you would like to change. But if your distribution and robusticity of it matches your input, then the good news is that all you have to do is change your input for a different shape or distribution. What you have to do is understand: how is it serving you? Your body fat is serving you right now. So to hate it as it’s of service is futile, you know. Understanding it, I think, and then going, oh, okay, so I get it. You know, x, y, and z, and here’s how I’m going to modify it. And it gives you more options to modify your body composition rather than, “eat less, exercise more.”


DANI: Wow, that’s cool.


KATY: See what I mean?


DANI: Yeah.


KATY: Um, okay. So, I think there’s a study – there’s a section in Don’t Just Sit There, which is my favorite section, which is what they put in the Dr. Oz magazine. So we talked about it last episode, where –


DANI: The Office A$$. (Bleeped.)


KATY: Fat has been looked at extensively through its chemical properties. You know: how it performs chemically, but I, of course, am interested in, what are the mechanical laws that are affecting fat distribution and fat type? And if you are interested, you can – I don’t have the name, any names of the particular studies, but if you go to Google Scholar or PubMed and you search “adipose mechanotransduction” or “adipose sites and mechanotransduction,” there’s a lot of new research looking at if you take an adipose cell – or really, a clump of cells or a tissue – and you do static – which is kind of meaning that you’re, it’s static stretch – if you’re doing this static stretch for a long period of time, that triggers more adipose. So this, mechanically, this is very similar to why your muscle lengths fluctuate and change. If you think of a fat cell as doing something like, you know, we sit in chairs. We sit on hard surfaces a lot.


DANI: Mm-hmm.


KATY: And so if you kind of reach back and feel your ischial tuberosity, your butt bones, you’ve got this heavy skeleton that is going to sit on something firm underneath it for a long period of time. And the tissues between the ischial tuberosities and the seat are going to get stretched and thinned out, and so when you take those adipose sites, at this point they’re cushioning, right? They are – they’re bending and thinning underneath the weight of your body. Think of a balloon. If you sit on a balloon, it’s going to go from round and high and it’s going to get thin and short, just because you’re deforming it. Well, that – think of that happening, but in thousands, hundreds of thousands, I guess it depends on how much fat you have on your butt – for me, hundreds of thousands of cells in there, and they’re thinning out. And if you looked at that cell being squashed, its ability to do its job is going to be less should you add something more on. And so it grows more. It increases in number, so you become more fat in that area as a protective mechanism. So just another reason, if you’re interested in changing your fat robusticity, the shape and location of your fat, look at how you’re asking fat to protect you in different scenarios, you know? So it’s not all about metabolism in the sense of how much you’re moving, it’s also the geometries of what’s going on. There’s a bigger picture.


DANI: If you’re sitting on the floor, you’ve transitioned to floor sitting, typically when we sit on the floor there’s a lot more movement, you know? You don’t just veg out. I find I’m constantly moving around and changing positions. So would that just kind of be more like a whole-hand callous if I’m moving around? Would I just even out that robusticity of the deposits?


KATY: Sure. That’s an excellent way to look at it in terms of if you’re thinking of it as a callous. You sitting on the floor – it’s also, though – let me go back for a second. If you just swap – if you just swapped your chair sitting for floor sitting, they would still be almost identical. What is so cool about floor sitting, though, is that floor sitting tends to lend itself to using 10 different postures to sit on the floor, and that is what makes floor sitting more dynamic. It’s not as comfortable. You don’t have things to support you. So if you’re fatigued, you just naturally shift, and so that would be enough to – you know, you’re deforming different balloons. You’re deforming fat in different areas, so it’s not – it’s not just deformation. It’s long-term, static, high magnitude deformation of the adipose sites that would require more of them to protect that particular area. But it’s also important to say, that’s why moving in general is so – sitting less. Like, you can sit better by floor sitting, but sit less, you know, and I don’t mean just standing or only standing.


DANI: Right.


KATY: Changing your life where you’re just not in any one position all of the time.


DANI: Yeah, well, there’s so many to get into and that kind of makes me think that we should have a little butt movement break.


KATY: I know, right? If you’re sitting down, it’s like, ack! Why don’t you stand up, everyone? Reach back behind you and put your cheeks in your hands…and I don’t mean the ones on your face.


DANI: Well, because that was easy.


KATY: All right, so you’re going to hold your backside and what’s the best way to do this? I think you’re going to need to cup the lowest part of your cheek so that you’re actually holding, like, a balloon in each hand. And I’m actually going to have you experience finding your ischial tuberosities, which are what people – it’s the word for the sitting bones. So you’ll bend forward. I have to go forward to be able to teach this. And as you bend forward, you can kind of see if you can move your fingers around and really find those bony protrusions, and you’re just going to go forward and you’re going to shift to the right and to the left and you’re going to come down, and you’re going to be experiencing that movement of your ischial tuberosity and the fat and the muscle over it as you’re moving. I’m going to go do it for just a few seconds, because it feels really good. And I don’t know, I think it’s really nice to tune into how your skeleton is moving, and not just the part of your body that you can see?


DANI: Yeah, it’s fun.


KATY: – the stuff that you can’t.


DANI: It’s kind of fun to like, touch your muscles when you’re stretching in different positions and feel all around.


KATY: And when you’re sitting, you know, hey, when I’m sitting, everything between that part that you’re holding onto, that ischial tuberosity, you can feel it more when you’re bending over and shifting side to side. Everything between that bone and the surface that you sit on is deformed. So if you can think, okay, that’s going to make a callous in one particular area – I love that analogy that you just said, that was great – so can you shift around so that you are constantly sitting on more parts of your body? Sitting on your legs folded underneath you, or one hip and then the other, lots of different ways to be still that don’t require the deformation of your butt flesh that sitting in a chair does. So, anyway. You’re welcome.


DANI: That’s good. And if anyone’s watching this and they don’t know what you’re doing, well, you’re just going to have to explain yourself later. All right.


KATY: It’s fun to do it in a big window. Yeah, never mind. Okay, let’s move on.


DANI: Let’s. Okay. Fat. None of it’s bad, it all has purpose, just depends on how we look at it. Let’s talk about this thing that I’m just dying to talk about, and it’s something that we’ve all been – I mean, most of us have been raised in the fitness world or in our adult life of the Fat Fact, which isn’t really a fact of you can’t spot reduce, right?


KATY: That’s definitely a mantra, right?


DANI: Yeah.


KATY: You can’t spot reduce.


DANI: I’ll just tell you right now, I’ve actually said that.


KATY: Sure.


DANI: When I was an aerobics, step-aerobics instructor and somebody asked me, I’m like, “oh, you can’t do that.” Sorry, everybody. I didn’t know!


KATY: Well, let’s talk about it, because…


DANI: Yeah, because I don’t understand…


KATY: Sure.


DANI: …the mechanics of it, why and what.


KATY: It’s going to be a semantics issue; it’s going to be mechanics. Semantics and mechanics. So, let’s start with the term spot reduction. It refers to localized fat loss as a result of exercising a particular part of the body. So that’s what spot reduction means. Another term, lipolysis, and I’ll spell it: it’s lipo and lysis, it means to cut or break open. Lipo is fat. So lipolysis is the mechanical breakdown of fat. Where does that, ‘you can’t spot reduce’ come from? I think that it’s a most important – it’s trying to make sense of a – let’s say this is a law of exercise. I mean, I have read scathing commentary of people going, ‘you’re an idiot if you say that you can spot reduce.’ I mean, I just – it’s always scathing, right? Because it’s the Internet. So let’s talk about where it comes from. So there’s probably about 5 or 6 published research articles that have ever investigated this. So the first most popularized one was from the ‘70s and it was on tennis players – and I’m going to do my best to read the names of them, so you can go read them yourself if you want to. So the first one was, ‘Thickness of subcutaneous fat and activity of underlying muscles.’ And that was looking at tennis players who had a dominant arm and a non-dominant arm of their tennis. So you’re either a right-handed tennis player or a left handed tennis player, so the arms that they didn’t swing that much, they did not find a difference in subcutaneous fat from the dominant arm compared to the non-dominant arm. So that was the first piece.


DANI: So it was about the same on both arms.


KATY: It was about the same on both arms.


DANI: Okay.


KATY: And so that was the first piece of evidence that, clearly, if you have a dominant arm, it should have less fat because you’re using that arm more.


DANI: Mm-hmm.


KATY: Theoretically. At least when you’re doing major athletics, right? So even though you’re using it – so already there’s some problems with that design. But even if we just accepted it as-is, that’s fine. The second round of research on spot reduction comes from the early 2000s – isn’t that weird to say the early 2000s?


DANI: I know.


KATY: So these are going to be – I think it’s interesting to know what period these come from, like, if you’re using evidence from the ‘30s, it’s like, okay.


DANI: Definitely.


KATY: All right, so then the next two studies were, like around 2005/2008, somewhere in there, I think. So this was ‘Subcutaneous fat alterations resulting from an upper body resistance program.’ So this was 100 people who were given upper body exercises for 12 weeks, 2x a week, for 45-60 minutes. The exercises they did were the preacher curl for the biceps, overhead tricep extension, bicep concentration curl, tricep kickback, and standing bicep curls. So they worked their biceps and triceps, kind of like the first time you do when you ever go to a gym, right? You’re just like, lifting things up. So it was a couple muscle groups; you know, they’re always thinking, like, if we use the major muscle groups, then what should happen is, the whole area should go down in terms of fat.


DANI: Right.


KATY: So this was 12 weeks, but it was like, okay, so they used their arms 90 minutes to 120 minutes out of – it sounds like a lot, but when you put it in the context of out of 10,080 minutes for 12 weeks. So I don’t know what the numbers are; you have to divide 120 by 10,080. Can you do that for me real fast so I can have a percentage just for effect?


DANI: Oh, you know what? She just stepped out, so let’s just keep going. What do you want? No, really, what do you want?


KATY: Okay, the assistant. Dangit! What’s 120 divided by 10,080? So while you’re doing that, then you can just give me the percentage.


DANI: Okay.


KATY: This was what they researched to see if the working arm would have less body fat than the other arm. Because body fat – when you exercise, when you – when you – it’s not when you exercise. When you live, when you do anything that requires energy, really, fat’s the energy that you’re going to burn all the time. So you’re burning it, you’re using it everywhere in your body, because you’re never not – you’re breathing, right? Your ribs are going up and down. You’re using muscles all over your body all the time. And so you’re always mobilizing fat. But when you mobilize one – when you use one part of your body more so than the other, the idea that they’re trying to figure out is that really you should be pulling from the fat stores in that particular area. But what’s the percentage there?

DANI: It’s .01.


KATY: .01 is the number that you see, or it’s .01%? Did you move the decimal over?


DANI: .01 is the number that I see. Oh, no – so it would be 1%.


KATY: 1%? So 1% of a week was spent moving the arms, and they didn’t see a change, right? Just keep that in mind. Another one was – there was also one around that time, something similar with abdominal exercises. A small group of people this time, you know, did 200 crunches and then 400 crunches and then some different exercises, you know, 2-3 times a week. I don’t know the specifics on that particular study, but it was similar in design. And then they didn’t see fat loss. They saw strength improvement, but not fat loss of the area. So again, if we convert it into percentages of time of body used, that’s helpful. And then the most recent one was from 2013 – ‘Regional fat changes induced by localized muscle endurance resistance training.’ So this was leg extension – no, was it leg extension? I think it was leg press. And they were doing leg press –


DANI: Yeah, they were doing the leg press exercise.


KATY: They had like 1000 repetitions, 3 sessions a week, for 12 weeks. Which, again, seems like a lot – 1,000 of something! But it’s like, okay, but if you look at how much total amount of activity for the leg percentage wise of the time that you could be moving your leg, it’s still fairly small. And I have a point for continuing to harp on that. But again, changes – they noticed fat changes in all of these – or at least in some of these. They noticed changes in total body composition. So you’re losing fat because you’re using fat as a fuel because of these kind of low-intensity exercises that you’re doing. It’s just not coming off from any one particular spot. They’re not noticing a difference when they’re doing the body fat of one working leg vs. a non-working leg. They’re not seeing that difference. So in 2- oh, gosh – I wish I knew the year, but I don’t. So anyway, it’s – I think it’s around, again, back to the 2006-2007, because I think that this study was the one that kicked off the interest in spot reduction again. Which was – this is, again, an exercise study. But instead of using something like a DXA, or a CT-Scan, right, that’s looking at a 2-dimensional picture of your fat storage and estimating it from there. This actually – this study, and the study is called, ‘Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans?’ It just means when you work one particular muscle, are you using the fat in the area of that particular muscle, or is fat being metabolized evenly throughout the entire body? Like, does your whole body start kicking in when you start using one particular muscle? So this was – I think this one was leg extension. And they actually had in real time, they were drawing blood from the working leg and the non-working leg to measure the fat, the local fat that was mobilized in the blood during the exercise. And what they found was that the working leg was, indeed, had more fat in that particular area. It was mobilizing. You are spot reducing.


DANI: Mmm.


KATY: You are spot reducing, okay, so now that we have a more – it’s very hard, you know, like, when you’re looking at a DXA, and you’re doing 1%, like really tiny motions. They seem big in an exercise culture, in a sedentary/exercising culture; they should say that a lot of these studies are pulling athletes, because they’re being done in kinesiology departments.


DANI: Yeah, I noticed that.


KATY: You’re using people under the age of 40 who are already fit and active populations. I think the abdominal study was a sedentary population, but the rest of the time you’re dealing with athletes for the most part, which is most important to note. It’s not always noted in the abstract, but if you read the full articles it is. But what you have here is evidence that you are spot reducing, okay? So that is why everyone then, I think, started to do other, like, wait, I thought you couldn’t spot reduce? Well, then I’m going to go and I’m going to do 10,000 leg presses over a period of 12 weeks and I’m really going to beef up the amount of movement that I do, because 10,000 seems really big. But again, if we take a percentage, it’s going to be tiny, tiny, tiny. So what you have are you have 4-6 studies: 1 actually measured really a biological process. The others were measuring the effectiveness at exercise programming on spot reducing.


DANI: I see the difference, yeah.


KATY: You see the difference?


DANI: Yeah.


KATY: So you’re looking at, you know, they’re very small n, you know, the number of participants are small – which is fine – it helps you gather data. But the bigger thing is that we have created a fitness mantra. We have created a mantra and a fact – or a myth, depending on how you look at it – about how your biology works based on really doing something measuring, like, how does this – is this exercise program effective? You have measured, like, the more correct statement was, doing exercise in this particular way does not result in an easily measurable, easily visual reduction of body fat in an area. Exercise. Exercises. 10,000 of this particular exercise. We’ve extrapolated an idea of how your biology works based on exercise research, and when you had someone do a – really a better study to measure a biological phenomenon – you saw that what came out of it is really more what you would expect to see based on – it’s called biological plausibility – based on how fat storage and things mobilize, and other things that are more well known or have been established. It’s how we expected it to play out, which was cool. It’s also fine if it doesn’t play out in the way that you expect it. But in this measure it did, but what you aren’t able to do is, through doing even high reps of an exercise – which again, if you look at it differently, is an extremely low quantity of movement. That, too, kind of aligns biologically. It’s like, you’re not moving all that much. You’re not mobilizing that much fat at all – as much as you think you are, there are ways to mobilize way more fat, which is to work your whole body vigorously, right, to move a lot of it. You’re moving a lot of parts to fuel that – but in the end, you are still pulling fat away from the areas that are working, more so than the areas that are not working, which I think, then, is an important part of the discussion about why you have fat in particular areas that maybe aren’t being worked very much over the course of your life – not necessarily over the bout of a 12 week exercise study. So, anyway.


DANI: Well, that’s a really interesting way of looking at it.


KATY: So can you spot reduce?


DANI: Well, yeah.


KATY: Yeah. So spot reduction – biologically, spot reduction is how it works. However, the frequencies of movement are so so slow, that even if you’re doing 2-3 workouts a week over a period of 4 months, that’s still quantitatively so low that you probably wouldn’t notice any physical reduction in the shape of your fat deposits. So anyway.


DANI: That is interesting.


KATY: I don’t even really think that’s a semantics issue. I think that’s actually not a semantics issue at all. It’s just using the language.


DANI: Right. Well, and kind of thinking about, you know, when most people are thinking spot reduction, they think you’re in quadruped doing donkey kicks trying to get rid of saddle bags, you know, and that’s what you’re kind of thinking, you’re not thinking about it as the actual what’s happening biologically inside the body.


KATY: The physiological process, yeah. And I think it’s also part of our sedentary culture – thinking that doing 100 of something is a lot. It’s like, you having 100 glute contractions seems like a lot. 100 is a big number. 10,000 steps is a big number, but when you put it into context of how much sedentary input – like, how much time were you pushing? How much time was the person, you know, sitting on their butts the rest of the time where fat was needed for some other reason, you know? And if you looked at, well, there were 827,000 signals of store and only 100 signals of release today, then the numbers are not in your favor.


DANI: Yeah.


KATY: So we framed everything to make our – you know, our exercise behaviors seem like a lot and significant, but they’re not. They’re small. They’re small, and that’s why I would expect people to not spot reduce visually, or even in a DXA, you know, which is still a visual, large measurement, because that’s – you’ve done almost nothing. So, anyway.


DANI: Yeah, it’s true. Well, tie it in with metabolism, then. Because that’s usually another thing that we think about is, oh, I have a low metabolism, I have a slow metabolism. And if I’m doing lots of more than my 100 donkey kicks, you know, my glute contractions, I’m moving around all day – more of my muscles are moving more of the time – would it stand to reason that my metabolism and that way of using – let me say, the lipolysis? Would my lipolysis increase if I were increasing my all over movement, and is that because I’m increasing my muscle mass, or just – I mean, all of it?


KATY: Well, people use metabolism – metabolism is all of the chemical processes, and mechanical processes which then result in chemical processes – that are occurring for you to be able to live. They all require energy to be able to do, so you have a basal metabolic rate, which is – there’s like, what is your basal metabolic rate, like, how much energy does it take to be you when you’re not moving, when you’re just still your baseline non-moving? Because when you then move, you’re going to add on your metabolic rates in addition to whatever your – basal metabolic rate, basal is your basic functions for living. Like, even if you just, you know, sat in a bed every single day and didn’t move, you’re still actually moving; you’re never still.


DANI: Right.


KATY: You’re breathing, and your eyes and looking around and you’re thinking and your brain is monitoring. All those things take energy. But your lean mass – the amount of muscle that you have, you know, the classic argument is that it takes more energy to keep your lean mass healthy than it does to keep your fat healthy. Certainly your white fat to be healthy, right? So I don’t even know the delineation of like calories per kilogram, you know, what’s the difference of metabolic rate of white fat vs. brown fat? I don’t know; that came in after I was already out of school, because it’s relatively new. But you don’t get more lean mass without moving around a lot, so while you can take a snapshot comparison, the person who moves more overall – like, you can have a low metabolism, but you’re usually also not as much of a mover, right? So it could just mean that you just don’t do a lot of movement throughout the day. If every minute besides your sleep time is available for moving, what the percentage of – what you actually do in movement. And then there’s this other component, which is you could be moving – you could say, ‘I took a five mile walk today,’ but if your musculature has adapted so much to not moving, not all of you is moving.


DANI: Right.


KATY: So you can have large swaths of sedentary cells not contributing to, let’s say, your basal metabolic rate, or even your moving metabolic rate, you know, when you’re moving. It’s – that’s why we work so much on mobilization and finding these small muscles that, by nature, have been switched off through adaptation to a sedentary culture. So I don’t know if I answered your question there, but if you’re going to improve your metabolism, and utilize more of your fat stores if you’re not putting in food – a lot of times, you’ll want to feed your new movement, but it’s hard to work from your storage, right? If you – like, the storage is there in times when food is not available. But if you’re extra hungry and you eat your food instead of eat your fat stores; I mean, it’s not quite that linear, but you can get a general sense of – it’s hard to mobilize fat, but I think that it’s interesting, like, ambient temperature – exposing yourself to ambient temperature to convert; I don’t know if it converts. There have been some indication that white fat can convert to brown fat given the need.


DANI: Yeah, and I wanted to ask you about that, or I don’t know if you saw – I had found a little study and I didn’t read the whole study, I just read the abstract.


KATY: Oh, with the burn victims? Is that the burn victim?


DANI: Yeah. I thought about that further. There was a study in People – I can’t remember how many people it was; it was kind of a lot, considering their terrible situation – but they had some white fat that converted to brown fat after an extreme, what was it, an adrenaline dumping situation where they had like 50% of their body was burned. Of course, you know, then they’re saying, ‘we can make a pill!’ We have to figure this out and we’ll make a pill to convert our white fat to brown fat, but I was just thinking about that in relation to temperature, too.
KATY: Yeah, it’s so hard – like, a lot of times they’ll think, you know, with the study that maybe the first hypothesis – I remember seeing that a while ago in the last couple months. But it’s really hard to say, is it because they had a lot of adrenaline going, and they’re also trying to test what chemicals can we expose people to to make them, like, shrink their fat storage? But it can also be temperature. If you’ve burned up a lot –


DANI: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking –


KATY: If they haven’t delineated that yet, then that would be – there’s so many questions to ask. You could just go down a rabbit hole of investigating to find the direct mechanism, and then hope you never have a large group of people who are burn victims to do that kind of stuff on. But yeah, I think it’s all very interesting just to reframe fat. If we could do anything for you today, it would be for you to think about fat differently.


DANI: Yeah. This is really interesting to me.


KATY: Cool.


DANI: I feel about this whole brown fat thing kind of like you do about skin, like, I just want to know more!

KATY: Sure! Sure.


DANI: And how does it make it happen, and all you people have some kids and get them into the sciences so they can do this research.


KATY: Or just get into them yourself. Why wait?


DANI: Yeah. Why wait? Well, this was interesting. Um, well, there’s just so many questions to it, but I think that the point of this is, like you said, to reframe –


KATY: Yeah


DANI: Fat and how we look at it. Just – I had so many puns as I was reading through all this material and research, like, fat really has a lot of puns, but I was just too interested to even drop one of them.


KATY: Did you say drop one of them? That was good. That was good. It was interesting – you know, I was a long-term breastfeeder, for almost 5 years. And there’s interesting information about fat deposits. When you get pregnant there are particular fat deposits that go in particular locations, right? So your – yes, you are usually gaining a little bit more fat as necessary for the future physiological processes that need to happen, and the location of those fatty deposits seem to have a particular trend. So it’s not – there’s the extra fat, you know, just from other things that go along with pregnancy – perhaps abundantly in an abundant food culture. But then there’s also just the fact that you have a physiological need that’s coming up, and so it took – I stopped breastfeeding, it’s been almost a quarter, a quarter of a year. Four months.


DANI: Okay.


KATY: And it took my milk just dried up. I know everyone was excited to tune in to hear that. It took four months without any suckling, because mammals suck, to – I could still squeeze and get milk – but I just, like, and the kids were always like, can we just squeeze and let’s see? And there’s nothing else. It’s gone now, but only now, once it’s gone, was there an immediate – and I’m talking over a period, I mean, immediate in a long timeline of a year – like, over a period of 3 weeks – the storage of these particular areas of my body that just were holding on this particular fat. And I have never felt – ever felt the need to exercise the body fat off of my body because I – I know that there are physiological purposes for it. So to sit and try to reduce particular fat, I was like, that’s my milk supply. Don’t you mess with my milk supply! Especially when it’s – where is your milk mobilized from? Is it similar to spot reduction where the milk that you’re calling on is locally – none of that has ever been investigated, so I try to hold space for all of that in my mind. There’s so little we know about –


DANI: And so you noticed this shift, this drop-off as soon as suckling stopped or when it dried up?


KATY: No, as soon as my milk dried up.


DANI: Dried up. Okay.


KATY: I was still making milk. You know, there was definitely getting – there was a hormonal shift, there was a fat shift. I was in a transition for the last 4 months, and I – there was a tangible line now, that I can see that I can measure, you know, your appetite is going down. I just went through this process, and so I have a deep appreciation for my relationship with my particular fat. Like, I see it as a very beautiful thing, and if I can help anyone reframe their particular body for themselves as something that is working beautiful – it’s serving you – then if you desire something different, you can work with it in a more loving way, as opposed to trying to eradicate a part of you that you hate, that’s currently meeting some need. You know. So, anyway. That’s a good note to end the show.


DANI: Spot on.


KATY: Oh, gosh. I’m sorry. Is that not spot on? There is no spot on.


DANI: Oh, all right. Well, that was awesome. We done?


KATY: I’m done. Actually, I have one more thing to say: it’s the Katy Says podcast, where movement geek, Dani Hemmat….Happy Groundhog’s Day!


DANI: Sometimes I leave these little sessions with my mind blown, and then I spend the next 3 days just mulling over…because you often help reframe a way of thinking about things. And that’s something I appreciate about you as a teacher.


KATY: Reframe! [Freeze Frame cues in background.] You know that song?


DANI: Yeah, I do, I do.


KATY: All right. You get the puns, I will get the classics.


DANI: All right, thanks everyone for listening. For more information, books, online classes, etc., you can find Katy Bowman at You can learn more about me, Dani Hemmat, movement warrior and aspiring brown fat creator, at


We hope you find the general information on biomechanics, movement, and alignment informative and helpful. But it is not intended to replace medial advice and shouldn’t be used as such.




Thickness of Subcutaneous Fat paper:


Subcutaneous fat alterations resulting from an upper-body resistance-training program.


Regional Fat changes induced by localized muscle endurance resistance training


Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans?


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2 thoughts on “The Skinny on Fat, Podcast Ep. 44

  1. So interesting! And makes so much sense. For me, it really highlights just how different fat and muscle really are. Because muscle really is measurably, visibly, affected by effort change 1% of the time.

  2. I love this podcast! I wanted to weigh in on brown fat in babies… I’m a NICU nurse and teach a class on stabilizing sick or preterm infants. Brown fat is one of many mechanisms our newborns rely on to transition to extrauterine life successfully. It is the baby’s own blood warmer and helps maintain his or her temp while adapting to living outside of a 98 degree body which is the only environment they have ever known. Not all are successful staying warm and coping with all the other stressors and demands of life on the outside. It’s interesting that swimmers have increased brown fat. I know the Inuit population has more as well. Thanks for helping us all appreciate our fat in a new way!

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