Personal Fat Threshold
What is the personal fat threshold? It comes out of the medical literature and it basically refers to how fat you are capable of getting.
We ingest most of our energy in our diets from carbs and fat and then store energy in the form of triglycerides in cells called adipocytes aka fat cells. All of this fat we are carrying around we can use to run our metabolism whenever we don’t have access to food.
Watch the video below:
When you eat fat, most of it is stored in your fat cells as mentioned above however some is burned along the way from ingestion to storage. Basically most of the fat you ingest is stored in your fat cells.
When you eat carbs, you are slowly down regulating the burning of fat and up regulating the burning of carbs. So basically you are sparing fat isocalorically (meaning for the same amount of calories) and burning more carbs during the period of time that the carbs are more available. We are going to get into the weeds a bit in this video, but bare with me.
Consuming fat contributes to your fat mass by being stored in your fat cells and eating carbs preserves your fat mass isocalorically by burning glucose aka sugar instead of fat. So either way, when you eat fat or carbs you are contributing to your fat mass and you are storing extra fat in your fat cells or sparing the fat that’s already stored in your fat cells in the case of when you consume carbohydrates.
Now your fat cells (adipocytes) can expand in diameter. They can be as small as 20 microns or as large as 200 microns. As your fat cells get as big as they are going to get, you signal to your body to undergo adipocyte hyperplasia where you sprout baby fat cells if you genetically can. Some people can do this quite well whereas others can’t, its all based on your genetics. For those that cannot make new fat cells, once the fat cells have expanded to their maximum size, your body has now run out of space to put new fat.
Initially fat is stored in the subcutaneous tissue underneath your skin and this is relatively harmless. Once these fat cells reach their maximum capacity either your body will make more fat cells as described above or if it can’t, it will start storing more fat in the visceral area in the peritoneum, the are around your organs. This now becomes dangerous. Once this begins to happen, it’s a sign that you are becoming insulin resistance as you are running out of space to store additional fat. Additionally when this occurs, fat circulates in your bloodstream longer as it doesn’t have any place to go. Also your insulin will be chronically elevated as its trying to clear the bloodstream of fuels/energy.
Now once all your subcutaneous and visceral fat stores are full, the body lastly starts storing fat ectopically within the organs themselves such as the liver, where you develop fatty liver disease, and the pancreas. This is extremely dangerous. At this point you have reached your personal fat threshold which is as fat as you can get. Essentially you have sprouted as many new fat cells as you can and have filled them to their maximum capacity. Now in this case, you don’t have a good place to put fat and so your triglycerides are always high as that’s fat energy in the blood with no place to go and also maybe your glucose is high because all your cells are refusing any form of energy so the glucose just circulates around. Danger zone!
Hitting your personal fat threshold is when you spill over into type 2 diabetes which is basically uncontrolled amounts of fuel in your bloodstream and you have no place to put them as your fat cells are all full. Usually at this point all your muscle glycogen levels are full and you are not doing a ton of exercise to deplete them so you ran out of storage in either your fat or muscle cells. Typically both fat and muscle cells need to be full to have type 2 diabetes.
An interesting thing about storing and losing fat is that you store it in this order: subcutaneous first (under the skin), visceral second (around the organs) and ectopically third (within the organs), but you lose it in the reverse order as shown through Professor Roy Taylor’s work. Where he showed through MRI scans that after only 8 weeks on a low calorie and low fat diet, the ectopic fat cleared out. So the body started with the pancreas and liver fat first then visceral fat and lastly subcutaneous fat.
Whether its done through a low fat or low carb diet doesn’t seem to matter objectively however subjectively may make a difference such as how hungry you are, how you feel, blood sugar and energy levels as well as other subjective factors that are difficult to measure. The bottom line is is that you can accomplish this reversal of fat stores through either a low fat or low carb diet (such as the keto or carnivore diets) or a combination of the two as in the P:E Diet by Dr. Ted Naiman (click here) where protein, minerals and nutrients are prioritized over energy calories from fat or carbs.
Now the personal fat threshold is a very genetic thing. For instance, typically individuals from Southeast Asia have a low personal fat threshold where they cannot sprout many new fat cells and are highly limited in the number of subcutaneous fat cells that you have. As a result they may be only 10 lbs overweight but its concentrated in their abdomen as either visceral or ectopic fat and they are immediately diabetic. The reason for this is, is these individuals have filled up all their fat cells at 10 lbs overweight and therefore pushes them into diabetes.
The larger your fat cells, the more insulin resistant you are and its because you are reaching your personal fat threshold where you have maximal fat storage happening. You can’t necessarily just look at someone and know whether they are insulin resistant, pre-diabetic or diabetic, because due to their genetics, you don’t know if they have reached their personal fat threshold.
So how do you know if you are approaching your personal fat threshold? One of the best measurements is the waist to height ratio. You measure your waist at the belly button with your abdomen fully relaxed and you divide that by your height. Make sure you measure both in the same units for instance inches or centimetres. Ideally this ratio should be less than 0.5, meaning your waist should be less than half your height. For instance, if your height is 70 inches then your waist should be less than 35 inches. Now if your ratio is above 0.5, there’s a good chance that you have more visceral fat accumulation than you should and that you are overweight and are exceeding your personal fat threshold.
You can also check your fasting lipids specifically your triglyceride to HDL ratio and this is linearly related to adipocyte size (i.e. fat cell size) and how overfat you are. You want this ratio to be less than 2. Fasting triglycerides is another good measure to check, you want this below 150 but ideally below 100. Another good measure is fasting insulin which you’d want below 5, ideally 3 or below. Fasting glucose is not the best measure because once your glucose is too high, you know you are really really over your personal fat threshold.
One of the best examples we have of the personal fat threshold is persons who have Lipodystrophy which is a genetic condition where you have very very little subcutaneous fat where you might look really lean on the outside, but all your fat is being stored viscerally around your organs. These people have incredibly high rates of hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels), metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes even at low bodyweights and relatively low body fat levels because they don’t have any place to put that fat. There are animals modes with lipodystrophy as well and it’s fascinating as they’re almost instantly diabetic. Interestingly enough, if you transplant some subcutaneous fat into these animals with lipodystrophy, you cure their insulin resistance overnight because now they have a place to store the fat.
So bottom line is you don’t want to be anywhere close to your personal fat threshold. If you are at your personal fat threshold, what can you do about it? You want to go on a low energy diet. I recommend a low carb diet, p:e diet, keto diet or carnivore diet where you are keeping your carbs low, protein high and fat low to moderate. Also incorporating strength and conditioning training is key to burn additional energy and speed things up.
Hopefully this was helpful on what the personal fat threshold is, how we reach it, how to treat it once reached and what can be done about it.
If you know of anyone that may benefit from this, please consider sharing it anywhere on social media as you may help them resolve their health issues or at a minimum, drastically improve them.
Happy fat loss,