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Issue 200: Feed Me!

Feed Me!

If you’ve ever seen the 1986 movie Little Shop of Horrors, then you most likely remember the demanding, giant man-eating plant saying, “Feed me!” Well, it’s a similar story with our fat cells—which can result in their own form of a “little shop of horrors” for our health—since fat cells can drastically increase in number and size.

In the past, it was thought that fat cells in adults could not increase in number, but that only the size of the fat cells could increase. However, we now know that fat cells can gain ground in number and in size. Here’s what happens:  when a fat cells reaches its maximum capacity, then it can divide, which, of course, increases the number of fat cells. As a result of fat cells expanding to their maximum size and/or dividing to make more fat cells, a person can become overweight or obese

It depends on how overweight the person is, but the number of fat cells in an overweight person can be more than 10 times the amount of fat cells found in a person who has a “normal” body composition. Additionally, an overweight person’s fat cells can be up to three times larger than fat cells of a healthy, normal weight person. And the more fat cells you have and the larger those fat cells are, the more stubborn they can be for losing body fat.

What’s more is that scientists also used to believe that fat just “hung around”—basically inert—but all that has changed as well. They now know that fat is highly active, acting as a poisonous chemical factory that secretes hormones and other substances with significantly harmful effects on metabolism, weight and overall health.

Fat can pose its share of health problems, too. Not only is it unsightly from the outside, but it also typically gathers around vital organs such as the heart, liver or pancreas—making it dangerous to one’s health. And belly fat can be the worst. Studies suggest that waist circumference, not overall weight, is the most important indicator of mortality related to being overweight—and belly fat is the most dangerous fat you can carry due to its proximity to your vital organs.

Fat also lives in the blood and is absorbed via the intestines through what is called the omentum—a fatty layer of tissue located inside the belly that hangs underneath the stomach muscles. The omentum can store fat that is quickly accessible to the liver, causing bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels to rise and can take insulin out of circulation, making blood sugar rise. It is close to vital organs and subjects them to damage. The more omentum fat there is, the more abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high [bad] cholesterol and other risks associated with coronary artery disease.

In fact, biologists now call fat an “endocrine organ,” comparing it to glands such as the thyroid and pituitary, which also release hormones directly into the bloodstream. A major difference, however, is that the thyroid and pituitary can’t grow like fat can. Fat has the uncanny and unhealthy capacity to grow almost limitlessly. Too much body fat, unsurprisingly, can contribute to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and other health anomalies, including some cancers.

Now back to those pesky fat cells. . . a lean adult has about 40 billion fat cells, while an overweight person can have at least two to three times that amount, while obese folks have much larger fat cells than lean people do. What’s worse is that the body can always make more fat cells—and those fat cells are extremely long lived, compared to other cells in the body.

So, don’t listen to your fat cells when they insistently say, “Feed me!”

Instead, keep them as lean as possible through proper diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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