While working against the stigma of shame so many of us must manage when we’re overweight — the shame society offers, the shame we heap on ourselves, familial shame, these three at least — I’ve often tried to make the argument that fat is just not so bad. It’s just stored energy, I’ve said. It doesn’t deserve to be demonized. It’s not out to get you.
And then along come a group of researchers whose recent work explains why I have been wrong. Well, and also not wrong. The reason fat should not be demonized is that it is far from inert. It’s busy generating all manner of chemicals your body uses to regulate many different processes. It’s not just sitting around waiting to be used, but has a function, or many. Functions, frankly, we don’t yet understand completely, but there are many concurrent studies yielding more and more clues every day.
In fact, these scientists now consider our fat to be an organ, our biggest, baddest endocrine organ. How about that?
Our fat organ produces many chemical messengers, several compounds critical to the balanced functioning of our complex systems. If your fat storage is too full, if you have become overweight enough to produce additional fat cells, these researchers believe you are over-producing these chemicals, throwing your system out of whack, and quite possibly giving rise to the host of diseases long associated with obesity.
On the other hand, one might assume that too little fat may result in different but similarly disastrous results. If your fat organ isn’t large enough, you may not be producing enough of these chemical messengers. And you’re probably too cold, and it may hurt to sit. You’d make a lousy pearl diver.
You can be too thin. You can be too fat. And most astonishing of all, there probably is such a thing as “just right,” and I’ll bet it doesn’t have much to do with our social preferences or trends. So size matters. That kind of makes you want to re-think lipo, doesn’t it? That fat’s got a job to do, pal.
There is a purpose for our fat, a function, and so it can’t be evil. Why, you wouldn’t think of recoiling in horror from your spleen, would you? Well, you might. Depends entirely on context, doesn’t it? But the point is, our fat organs are going to get lots of attention in the upcoming months and years. We can each attend to ours now. According to current understanding, a healthy size for your fat organ is 21 to 35 percent of your body weight if you’re a woman, and 8 to 24 percent if you’re a man. Let’s try to get sort of there and stay there. The closer we get, the more stable we are, the better we’ll feel.