As diet culture continues to feed us the idea that thinness will lead to happiness, many of us get sucked into a tireless (and fruitless) pursuit of weight loss, and we may even develop a hatred of body fat or a self-loathing for being anything but skinny. But what if I told you that having a healthy amount of body fat is good? Yes, GOOD!
Not only is body fat good, but it serves an important purpose in our bodies – a purpose that we would perish without! – and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. In fact, understanding why some body fat is beneficial can help us love our bodies a little bit more.
(I say a little bit more because most of us that are stuck in self-loathing can’t magically jump from hate to love. It’s a gradual, stepped process.)
If you’re ready to enhance your capacity to love your body, read on! You’re about to discover the surprising benefits of body fat, and they just might surprise you.
Why Should I Care About Fat? I’m Trying to Get Rid of It!
One again, here’s the unfortunate truth: most of us hate body fat. We want out. We wish our arms didn’t jiggle and we wish our bodies didn’t wiggle when we walk. A culture that worships thinness has caused us to absolutely loathe the bodies that we LIVE in.
But some body fat is good! Body fat, formally (and fancily) known as adipose tissue, is a type of connective tissue that stores energy. That’s right, fat is extra energy that we carry around with us. (How convenient is that?) Although we don’t want it to be there, it’s there for a purpose.
Please know that I’m not overlooking the other truth, which is that too much body fat can lead to health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease. But most of us already know that, and we’ve been trained to be afraid of fat – all fat, whether it’s a healthy amount or too much.
That’s why I am making a strong, evidence-based case to convince you that having some body fat is good and essential for your health. My hope is that, by appreciating the role that our body fat plays, it can help us ease into a little more self-compassion and a lot less self-loathing.
Sound like something you want? Let’s get to the good stuff then.
10 Evidence-Based Reasons Why Body Fat Is Good
I acknowledge that most of us want to have less body fat, and if that’s you, I promise to share some personal tips on how to stop overeating near the end of this post. (I call them personal tips because they’re not rooted in diet or gym culture. They’re rooted in psychology and spirituality, which is my jam.)
But first, I want to help you appreciate healthy amounts of body fat a little more by listing some incredible and evidence-based reasons why body fat is good — why it’s doing us a world of good when we have moderate amounts of it.
Here are some of the wonderful reasons why body fat is good:
1. Energy Storage
One of the primary functions of body fat is to store energy. When we eat, our bodies convert the food into glucose, which is then used for energy. Any excess glucose that isn’t needed immediately is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. Once those storage sites are full, any additional glucose is converted into fat and stored in adipose tissue. This fat can then be used for energy when our bodies need it, such as during times of fasting or exercise.
2. Necessary Insulation
Body fat also serves as insulation for our bodies. It helps to regulate our body temperature by trapping heat and preventing it from escaping. This is especially important in cold environments, as body fat can help us stay warm and avoid hypothermia.
3. Organ Protection
In addition to insulation, body fat also provides protection for our organs. Subcutaneous fat, which is the fat that’s stored under the skin, helps to cushion and protect our muscles and bones. Visceral fat, which is the fat that’s stored around the organs, helps to protect them from damage and trauma.
4. Hormone Regulation
Body fat plays a key role in hormone regulation. Adipose tissue produces hormones that help to regulate our appetite, metabolism, and immune system. For example, leptin is a hormone that’s produced by adipose tissue and helps to regulate our appetite and energy balance. When we lose weight, our levels of leptin decrease, which can make us feel hungrier and less satisfied with our meals.
5. Brain Health
Believe it or not, body fat is also important for brain health. The brain is made up of about 70% fat, and having enough body fat is essential for the development and maintenance of the brain.
Specifically, the brain needs fat because it’s a great insulator of electricity, and neurons communicate with each other by means of electrical impulses. Without the fat that covers the axons of the neurons (called myelin), the impulses that transmit information would be dispersed and wouldn’t reach their destination.
In other words, we wouldn’t be able to think without fat!
6. Strong Bones
Body fat plays a key role in bone health. Without healthy amounts of body fat, we cannot maintain healthy levels of bone mineral density. This can increase your risk of osteoporosis, a condition where bones become brittle and fragile.
One study looked at bone density in 1,767 premenopausal women and found that 24% of women that were underweight had low bone density while only 9.4% of participants with a BMI higher than 18.5 had low bone density.
Furthermore, severely restricting food intake (as many of us do when we diet) and being underweight weakens bone density in both men and women. This is just one more reason why a healthy amount of body fat is good and why we shouldn’t fat shame people into starvation diets (I’m I looking at you, gym culture).
7. Strong Immune System
Adipose tissue is also an important component of our immune system. It produces cytokines, which are proteins that help to regulate immune function and inflammation. Studies have shown that people with higher levels of body fat have higher levels of cytokines, which can help to improve immune function and protect against infections.
However, it’s important to note that too much body fat can have negative effects on our immune system. Obesity has been linked to chronic low-grade inflammation, which can impair immune function and increase the risk of infections and chronic diseases.
That’s why it’s important to maintain a healthy balance of body fat. And if that’s something that you struggle with, I highly recommend looking into the psychological blocks to weight loss instead of falling into the vicious, dieting-inflicted cycle of restriction and binge eating.
8. Better Reproductive Health
Body fat is essential for reproductive health, particularly in women. Low levels of body fat can disrupt the menstrual cycle and lead to fertility problems. In fact, women who engage in excessive exercise or have very low levels of body fat may stop menstruating altogether. And while many of us may actually rejoice at the idea of not menstruating every month, it can make it difficult to get pregnant, if that’s something you’re aiming for in your future.
9. Improves Wound Healing
Believe it or not, body fat can also help improve wound healing. If you’ve been afraid of fat because it’s “unsightly,” I hope this part changes your mind at least a bit.
Adipose tissue contains stem cells, which are cells that can differentiate into a variety of different cell types. When a wound occurs, these stem cells can migrate to the site of the injury and help to repair damaged tissue. So not only does body fat keep us alive, but it also can help our body bounce back. Amazing!
10. Better Mental Health (Not Always the Other Way Around!)
I know that many of us feel like our body fat is the reason why we feel depressed sometimes. And while that might be true in some cases and on some days, the other truth is that, without body fat, you would feel absolutely horrible on all of the days.
Studies have shown that people with very low levels of body fat are at a higher risk for depression and anxiety; likely because body fat plays a role in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and emotion.
Your body fat is actually working hard to make you feel better, not worse. But I know how hard it can be to feel optimistic when you really do have weight to lose.
And again, I’m not talking about someone that’s trying to be a size 2. I’m talking about those of us that know we are at an unhealthy weight and want to reach a modest and healthy size, like a size 8 or 10. (Or 6 or 14! No one size is perfect for any one body!)
Still Want Less Body Fat? Address Your Psychology Instead of Dieting
It’s important to note that not everyone needs to lose weight. In fact, some people who think they’re overweight are actually at a healthy weight but they don’t realize it because of diet culture or, in more severe cases, body dysmorphia.
This is why it’s important to focus on overall health and wellbeing, rather than just the number on the scale. For those who are actually overweight and looking to lose weight, there are some important things to keep in mind.
First and foremost, dieting doesn’t work. It doesn’t. It’s old and outdated and should be thrown out with last night’s garbage. All dieting does is cause short-term results and long-term binge eating in response to restriction, which makes us gain everything back (and then some). But if diets don’t work, what does?
My approach to weight loss — which I don’t even like to label as weight loss because it’s more of a slowly inching your way towards your natural weight — doesn’t use diets or exercise. My approach is psycho-spiritual because it digs deep beneath the iceberg into the subconscious reasons why we reach for food when we aren’t hungry.
It’s too much to summarize here, so instead I will leave some of my most useful guides to help you keep learning, if the psycho-spiritual stuff intrigues you:
- Unraveling the psychological reasons for overeating
- Why it’s so hard to leave food on your plate
- What is hedonic eating?
That will help you get started, if you actually need to lose weight. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been conditioned to believe that being thin is the ideal. But the truth is, there is no one “ideal” body type.
And, PSA: Being thin does not necessarily lead to happiness. In fact, one of my biggest “truth bombs” is that, when you reach your natural weight, life probably won’t be magically better; and we’re better off embracing that reality than denying it.
It will help so many of us avoid wasting decades of our lives fixated on weight loss, only to realize this hard truth later. Plus, when you look beyond weight loss as a goal and look at other areas of your life, you may end up with a better career, and improved relationship with your significant other, and many other amazing, wonderful things!
A whole life can exist beyond weight loss, and you don’t need to wait until you “lose the weight” to start living it.
Appreciating Body Fat Isn’t “Giving Up” — It’s Making Room for a Loving Path Forward
I hope this blog post reminded you that body fat is not an indication (or contraindication) of your worth. Body fat is not something to be feared, either. It serves many important functions in our bodies and is essential for our health and wellbeing.
Instead of striving to be thin, we should focus on the deeper psychological reasons why we turn to food when we aren’t hungry. That will point us towards the exact place where we are being called to expand, and it will be beautiful. So, so beautiful.