When you think about body fat it’s likely in the negative – wanting to avoid, lose, or rearrange. But body fat has a positive side as well. Here are some facts to help you feel better about the fat you have, regardless of how much or how little.
#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 considered one of our essential organs, just like our heart or liver.
Fat has multiple roles throughout the body, providing an insulating layer as well as surrounding and protecting our 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 our intelligence. The fat in our brain and nervous system facilitates our thinking. In fact, our brain is mostly made of fat. Without fatty sheaths surrounding the myelinated nerves, our brain and body wouldn’t be as efficient at coordinating communication.
#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 our ancestors to flourish. It kept them warm during cold winters and kept them alive during times of famine.
We actually have several types of fat. In addition to white fat which stores energy, there is brown fat which burns energy for heat. It used to be thought that only babies produced brown fat, but we now know that it’s created throughout the life span in response to exercise.
The ability of our body to store fat also allowed our energy-hogging brain to keep working during times of famine. 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 us.
#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 on our lower body may help us stay balanced during pregnancy and those curves make women more attractive to potential mates as well. The omega-3 DHA fat stored on the hips and thighs is important to our brainpower but also to that of our growing babies as it can’t be made by the body.
#4 Stomach fat in women after menopause has a benefit
After 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 belly and waist 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 our bones.
#5 Fat isn’t under our total control
While our actions toward eating less and moving more have some influence on our 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. Our tendency to be thin as well as to be fat is genetically controlled. Overall, genetics explains up to 70% of body mass index (BMI), almost as much as for height at 80%.
Additionally, our bodies have evolved powerful methods to maintain 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 us. Knowing all this, why not look down and say “thanks?”
View this article on YourTango: Stop Freaking Out About Body Fat and Learn These 5 Fascinating Facts About It Instead
Lisa Newman, MBA, 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 WomenEat.com.