Thursday, April 9, 2009
The Brown Fat Furnace
I’ve had success in weight loss on three separate occasions. My junior year in college, the year before my wedding and this past year. In all three cases, I was physically active and ate carefully. But that behavior was not exclusive to those periods. I’ve had just as much success with dieting and exercise programs as failure. In some cases, I would gain weight as a result of a particular strategy.
I caught a segment on NPR this morning about new research on a substance called brown fat. The New York Times ran the same story. Brown fat is tissue in the body that has the simple function of turning calories into heat, basically a body furnace. It was previously believed to be used by infants, who can’t shiver or throw on an cardigan for that matter, and then it would dissipate. Hence the notion of “losing one’s baby fat”. However, new scanning technology shows that it stays in the body. And may be significant in preventing and controlling obesity.
When I step back with this information in mind and try to find a common thread in my periods of weight loss success, I see one: being cold. In the first two periods I lived in crummy apartments with sketchy heating. In fact both times it was hard to sleep through the night in the winter because I would wake up freezing. Also, my particular exercise regimen in all three instances included being outside, early in the morning. The first time it involved jogging to and from the gym first thing in the morning. And the latter two involved walking or biking to work in the morning. In fact, as the weather got colder, my weight loss accelerated.
Scientist are theorizing that turning down the thermostat a few degrees might be beneficial to weight loss. And while I’m not sure that would be a magic bullet. I can testify that exercising in the cold, like outside, early in the morning, might be your best bet for turning calories into heat instead of yellow or white fat. And maybe even turning that fat into heat as well.