The 'fat' puzzle

The 'fat' puzzle

Margie GanderJun 24, '19

We've all heard the summer bodies are made in winter, so this winter you may have started jogging again or following a new diet that helped your friend shed some unwanted kilograms. This is good! But it shouldn't be too hard. And here's why. 

In my coaching practice, I see lots of people who're struggling to lose weight. I always start off by explaining to them that weight gain and weight loss is a little more complicated than just "nil per mouth". In fact, it is more like a puzzle where you need to find the 4 corners pieces first, then build the border, put similar pieces into piles and then start finding the pieces that fit together. Having this type of approach makes weight management a lot easier. 

The world we live in

The world has gotten fatter. Our environment is obesogenic (and estrogenic)  - we've access to cheap, processed food too easily, and too often. If we look at our genes together with our ancestry, we know that our genes have not changed over the centuries but our environment has changed dramatically. Our ancestors would use energy to hunt and produce food and would eat only when there was food available. Today the picture is very different! The most startling aspect is that the BMI has been adjusted to accommodate a super morbid category. 

The problem with this is the direct correlation between diet, being overweight and chronic diseases such as certain cancers, inflammatory disorders, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's and type 2 diabetes. We're eating ourselves into a disease. 

What is body fat?

One of the most interesting findings from The Nurses Cohort Study in the U.S is that consuming monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat doesn't make you fat. Eating the wrong fats and carbs do. However, we are not all the same when it comes to this. Research into our genome has revealed that we are all unique in how we metabolise macronutrients and how we store fat. 

It's important for us to know what fat is and how it is distributed throughout our body. There are 5 types of body fat, namely:

 Type of fat   Function 
Brown fat

This is the 'good' fat which provides cellular energy. It actually feeds on droplets from the white fat, so helps keep your weight down. Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue (BAT), is responsible for our core temperature and is found in the back of the neck and chest areas. As well as being a 'fat burning' fat, it may also help keep diabetes away. The good news is that we can increase the healthy brown fat by eating healthily, taking the right supplements and making lifestyle changes. And other elements, such as being exposed to cold temperatures stimulates the transformation of white fat to brown fat.

Beige fat

This is a combination of white and brown fat and is found along the spine and collarbone. With exercise, the hormone, irisin is released, which converts white fat to beige fat. Certain foods, in particular grapes, can also help with this 'browning' process.

White subcutaneous fat

This fat stores calories and produces adiponectin, another hormone, which helps the liver and muscles to manage insulin. (Insulin is the glucose or sugar-controlling hormone that’s super important for our energy levels.) It keeps blood sugar stable and keeps white fat stores in check. A problem arises when there is so much of this white fat (and subsequently adiponectin secretion) that the metabolism slows down. When this happens, we start to gain excess weight - especially around the hip, thigh and tummy area - which is often the most difficult to lose.

Subcutaneous fat

This is just under the skin and is the fat that's measured to determine body fat percentage. It's found all over the body, but particularly on the back of arms, thighs, and bums. You want to avoid excess SF around the belly to prevent long term health risks like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. This fat also produces estrogen hormones in both sexes, and if there is excess estrogen it becomes the dominant hormone, causing toxic weight gain that increases the risk of obesity, CVD disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Visceral fat

This is the more 'dangerous' deep fat found around abdominal organs. It may feature as a 'big belly', or more seriously as an enlarged liver - caused by the blood draining from the visceral fat around the organs, getting dumped there. This causes an increase in overall blood cholesterol, along with inflammatory chemicals that may lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. This is why abdominal fat - fat around your middle - is a worrying sight of excess visceral fat in your body. However, in healthy proportions, it’s an essential fat for overall health, to cushion and protect our organs and help keep our core temperature stable.


So how did we go from the good body fat to the unhealthy belly and visceral fat? Did we just eat our way there or are there other things going on? If you have hormonal imbalances, are stressed out, are inflamed, have poor GUT health or have a high toxic exposure; you'll find it very difficult to shed belly fat. It is important for you to do a health check of these before starting with your weight loss goals. I see this as the 4 corners of your puzzle!

I find this table useful when working with clients as it clearly illustrates the link between health and weight gain. 

Area Impact on weight Test
Hormones help to regulate metabolism and body weight. Lower levels of estradiol may lead to weight gain. After menopause, women tend to gain weight around their mid-section and abdomen. This type of fat gain tends to build up in the abdomen and around the organs, where it is known as visceral fat.
The DUTCH Complete
Weight gain or loss is generally an issue both during and after times of elevated stress. Heightened stress levels tend to cause imbalances in hormones like cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline. Increased stress stimulates our adrenal glands to produce excessive and inadequate amounts of these hormones.
The DUTCH Complete
Weight increases are associated with inflammation.  This relationship between weight and inflammation suggests by reducing chronic inflammation; we will find it easier to lose weight.
CRP blood levels
Toxins like heavy metals affect hormones and create hormonal imbalances that lead to weight-loss resistance. ... Leptin is a hormone that tells the brain to burn fat for energy. If the brain is not receiving the correct message from this hormone, due to toxic overload, then the body will not be able to burn fat for energy.
The Parabens & Phthalates Test
GUT health 

The GUT microbiome on insulin resistance, inflammation, and fat deposition in the body. They also show that gut microbiota responds to weight loss.

The GI Map

Is there a fat gene?

There is no one gene that makes you predisposed to weight gain and body fat but more like a profile that indicates which type of diet would be ideal for you based on how you metabolise and store macronutrients. When looking at your genotype it is important to look at all your genetic variations across these genes to get a better idea of your predisposition to weight gain. 

Gene Function  Support
The PPARG gene is believed to be involved in fat cell differentiation.
Monounsaturated fat
MC4R is a receptor that is critical to weight control. Activation of MC4R leads to weight loss and blocking it leads to weight gain. The major driving force behind obesity in modern society is overeating, which is largely coded in genes that are responsible for appetite and satiety regulation. Appetite is the desire to eat while satiety refers to the sensation of fullness after eating.
Appetite control
The FTO (fat-mass-and-obesity-associated)  gene is present at high levels in several metabolically active tissues, including, heart, kidney, and adipose tissue, and is most highly expressed in the brain, particularly in the hypothalamus which is concerned with the regulation of arousal, appetite, temperature, autonomic function, and endocrine systems.
The PLIN gene proteins were discovered in the adipocyte (fat cells), where they regulate lipid storage and lipolysis. This gene's main area of function is the regulation of lipid storage and lipolysis in adipocytes (fat cell). It influences how you lose weight and can result in insulin resistance and poor triglyceride metabolism. 
Healthy body composition 
APOA2 plays a complex role in lipoprotein metabolism, insulin resistance, obesity, satiety regulation, and atherosclerosis (the build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on the artery walls) susceptibility.
Blood sugar balancing
POMC (proopiomelanocortin) makes a protein that is cut into peptides that have different functions in the body. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is produced from the POMC protein and it helps maintain blood sugar levels, protects the body from stress, and stops inflammation.
Glucose control
The LEPR gene provides instructions for making a protein called the leptin receptor, which is involved in the regulation of body weight. The leptin receptor protein is found on the surface of cells in many organs and tissues of the body, including a part of the brain, called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls hunger and thirst as well as other functions such as sleep, moods, and body temperature. It also regulates the release of many hormones that have functions throughout the body.
 Protein support

Eating for your DNA

Could I be overweight and undernourished or could I be a perfect weight and malnourished? Absolutely. Not all calories are created equal and that is why being mindful of the type and amount of macronutrients is important. Simply counting calories may not lead to fat loss and improved health outcomes. It's important to note that BMI and weight loss aren't the only indicators of malnutrition. A person can be overweight or obese and still be malnourished. This can be due to having a diet consisting of food and drink that's high in fat and sugar but low in essential vitamins and minerals.

The science of nutrigenomics has empowered you to choose food based on their nutrient profile and the co-factor relationship that they have with your daily genetic expression. Your daily food choices either support or place pressure on how your genes express themselves deep inside your biochemistry. You are truely what you eat. 

Are all diet plans created equal?

Genomics has indicated that about 80% of the population is best suited to a Mediterranean diet. I see this as the starting point for all my clients and then based on their genotype for fat and carb metabolism, fat storage, inflammation, detoxification, stress, and oxidative stress; I will modify the Mediterranean diet either to the left or right based on the infographic below. 


Any magic bullets?

I have had amazing results with the Functional Medicine Institue's Mito-Food plan and Ketoflex 12/3 plan coupled with intermittent fasting. The trick here is the increased plant profile in the diet coupled with good fats, quality protein, and low GI carbs (optional).

There is a lot of information out there about intermittent fasting. This table is how we recommend you adopting this tool:

 Profile Intermittent fasting time  Example
Cancer  16 hours including 3 hours fast before bedtime

Finish dinner at 6 pm with no more caloric intake before bed (usually 3 hours). Break fast at 10 am

Very overweight with chronic disease
16 hours including 3 hours fast before bedtime
Finish dinner at 7 pm with no more caloric intake before bed (usually 3 hours). Break fast at 11 am
Very overweight 
13-16 hours including 3 hours fast before bedtime
Finish dinner at 6 pm with no more caloric intake before bed (usually 3 hours). Break fast at 7 am
Overweight and inflammation
13-16 hours including 3 hours fast before bedtime
Finish dinner at 7 pm with no more caloric intake before bed (usually 3 hours). Break fast at 8 am
Weight loss 
12-14 hours including 3 hours fast before bedtime
Finish dinner at 6 pm with no more caloric intake before bed (usually 3 hours). Break fast at 7 am


My coaching tips for staying your ideal weight

  1. Genotype: Determine your unique genotype as it pertains to the metabolism of macronutrients, fat storage, hormone metabolism, and inflammation.
  2. Optimise your GUT health: Poor GUT can result in poor absorption of nutrients.
  3. Plan your meals and snacks: When you don't have the right foods available, then it is easier to choose foods packed with trans fats and refined sugars.
  4. Read labels: Reading labels empowers you to know the amount and type of fats and sugars in food. The less processed foods you eat, the fewer labels that you have to read!
  5. Exercise: Chose an exercise intensity level that will burn fat.
  6. Stress transformation: Managing cortisol levels is vital for a healthy weight as high, prolonged cortisol has been linked to belly fat. 
  7. Social networks: Harvard University's Department for Public Health has done extensive research into the relationship between being overweight and your social networks. Their research showed that if your spouse is overweight, you have a 70% chance of also being overweight. Similarly, if your best friends are overweight, then you have an 80% chance of being overweight too. That is why it is often a good idea to do weight management goals together!
  8. Avoid sweeteners as they 'trick' your taste buds and are known GUT disruptors.
  9. Mindfulness: Keeping a journal and being mindful of your daily food choices is a great place to start changing bad habits to new, better ones.

On a personal note, I struggled with maintaining an ideal weight during my late teens and after I went into surgical menopause. During my teens, I was ill-equipped with the right knowledge and starved myself to lose weight. This led to many unintended 'side effects' such as binge eating, guilt, and low energy. After I went into menopause at 36, I gained weight around my belly and this had a lot to do with hormonal imbalances. I did what most women my age do, I started running and although I became very fit, the belly fat stayed. This was very disheartening. Today, I've found that intermittent fasting has been the most effective tool for me in losing tummy fat with the amazing spin-off of reduced LDL cholesterol, a clear mind, and incredible energy. This is what a 'diet' should do for all of us - make us feel great!

Written by:
Marguerite Doig-Gander
BA (Speech, Hearing & Lang Therapy) Hons | FMCHC | ReCODE Coach 

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