The Basics When we eat, we stash the calories we don’t use in tiny storage containers called fat cells, which was very handy back when food wasn’t available 24/7. “A healthy-weight woman can survive for a month just by drawing on the energy in her fat cells,” says Michael D. Jensen, M.D., a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist who studies body fat distribution. But thanks to our desk jobs and Uber Eats, our fat cells tend to stockpile extra calories, which means they may start bursting at their seams.
This is when the problems start. Not only do overly puffed-up fat cells puff us up, but they also begin to malfunction. Fat cells help regulate hormones and immunity, but when they get too big, they react differently, disrupting insulin regulation (leading to type 2 diabetes) and causing chronic inflammation (tied to heart disease and cancer). And when the cells are at max capacity, fat collects in and around our internal organs, causing major issues.
But fear not: “While it can take a while to get rid of excess fat, you can make it happen,” says Aaron M. Cypess, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Here’s the deal with body fat and the best ways to scale back your stores if you feel you need to.