Skinny Daily Post


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.

MSNBC covers the story

NIH covers more on body fat ranges

5 thoughts on “Fat Can Hurt

  1. Bron says:

    Actually, this is hardly a comment! More like a letter! Sorry about that, but…

    You know, I’ve been wondering for some time now about Fat and the Over 50 Woman. We all seem to pack some on at that point. Our mothers and grandmothers simply accepted it. but we Baby Boomers are determined to Remove It. Banish It. Look like we did at 30, dammit, or starve trying.

    There are quite a few teachers at the school where I teach who are losing weight, exercising, etc. We (I’m one of them) are all 50 or near it. And 3 or 4 of us are beginning to worry me. They are SO thin. Their tummies and hips and backsides look great, granted, but their faces and necks look…ravaged. And I am beginning to worry about their health. They don’t look as good as they used to, to tell the truth.

    And then there is that business I keep hearing from the long-term dieters about “I can’t reach goal.” Or “I can’t lose this last 5 pounds!” Well, I think the body has a SetPoint. When you hit that healthy weight, your body gets stubborn. Real stubborn. I truly think we need to pay less attention to the fashion mags and more to our bodies.

    Stop already. Exercise, yes. Eat healthy, yes. Try to lose past the point where your fat serves a natural function? NO.

    Let’s see what the scientists say in the next ten years. Me, I’m stopping where my now-mature body says “STOP”.

  2. LibrarianOnTheLoose says:

    If 35% is an acceptable level of body fat for a woman, I now don’t feel quite so bad having 41%. That 35% seems like a manageable number to get down to.

  3. JuJu says:

    Metamorpheus sent in a link to the New York Times article by Denise Grady titled

    Fat: The Secret Life of a Potent Cell
    Search for it at: and give it a read. It’s really fascinating.

  4. JuJu says:

    Ooops regarding the above note. The article is dated July 6, 2004.

  5. JuJu says:

    “The more scientists learn about fat, the more intimidating it becomes. Because fat is so vital to survival, nature has created a complex system of overlapping feedback loops that make it very difficult to override the body’s imperative to store energy.

    “‘What we’re trying to do is do like the physicists do: Build a theory of everything about fat tissue,” Leibel said. “We’d really like to understand not only what the signals are but how they are integrated. There’s so much that we simply do not yet understand about this.'”

    This from Rob Stein’s July 12 Washington Post article on the topic:
    “Decoding the surprisingly active life of fat cells:
    New insights show staggering array of crucial bodily functions”

    Find it at:

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