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The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body's Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You Hardcover – December 27, 2016
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“Finally, a book that sheds some light on understanding body fat―specifically, its role, why it is so difficult to fight, and how it works differently for different people… This genuinely enlightening book will be a revelation to those engulfed in self-blame and shame about their weight.”
- Publishers Weekly
“Body fat is so much more than a passive calorie storage depot, as Sylvia Tara brilliantly shows. Read The Secret Life of Fat to make friends with this misunderstood and critically important organ.”
- David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, Professor, Harvard Medical School and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Always Hungry?
“For years we presumed that body fat is just a depot for energy, but current science is proving that it is actually the largest endocrine gland in our body. This enigmatic organ conveys many paradoxes and surprises; depending on its location, color and genetic makeup it might be either dangerous or protective. Sylvia Tara dove deeply in science of fat and adeptly explains it all in this fascinating book.”
- Osama Hamdy, Medical Director of the Obesity Clinical Program at Joslin Diabetes Center and author of The Diabetes Breakthrough
“You can outsmart your body fat, but first you must understand it! With the right lifestyle, eating, and exercise approach you can lose weight and keep it off. Learn how in this engaging and informative masterpiece.”
- Michael Dansinger, MD, MS, founding director of the Diabetes Reversal Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston
“Dr. Sylvia Tara addresses important concepts related to the development, prevention, and treatment of obesity. This book will be a very interesting read for lay people interested in fat and obesity, as well as for many in the scientific community―I really enjoyed reading it!”
- Carl Lavie, MD, author of The Obesity Paradox
“A refreshing change to the conflicting advice and opinions about food that we are subjected to every day.”
- Philippa Matthews, Chemistry World
“A useful primer on the biology of fat…. Illuminating.”
- Jerome Groopman, The New Yorker
“Powerful… [Tara’s] research and insight is deeply perspective-shifting.”
- Melissa Wuske, Foreword
“Like comfort food for anyone carrying around a lifetime of guilt for eating an extra cookie.”
- Carol Saline, Hadassah Magazine
“Biochemist Tara gives readers the skinny on fat in a lively discussion that incorporates sumo wrestlers, a bloated diet industry, [and] genetics… Readers will discover that, regardless of body size and shape, fat does some heavy work on our behalf.”
- Tony Miksanek, Booklist
“[Tara] ably combines an accessible explanation of how the body’s metabolism works with a clear survey of the latest research on obesity. [The Secret Life of Fat] should have wide appeal, not only to those fighting the battle of the bulge.”
About the Author
Sylvia Tara holds a PhD in biochemistry from the University of California at San Diego and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She was a consultant with McKinsey & Company and has worked at the world’s largest biotechnology companies. Tara lives in the Los Angeles area.
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Tara has a lovely description of fat: glucose is like cash, glycogen (chains of glucose) like a checking account, and fat is a certificate of deposit. There are three kinds of fat – white, beige and brown. White is the classic, energy store. Beige waits for signals to change to brown, which is saturated with mitochondria and burns energy instead of storing it. This, for obvious reasons, has become an obsession for research.
-Like any other organ, fat will fight for life. Constant diet changing, losing and regaining a few pounds, only makes it tougher. It has the communication and receptor tools to keep itself in control. It manipulates the brain and participates in brain signals.
-Fat signals the body for angiogenesis – it orders up new veins and arteries to approach it, in order to feed it, just like a tumor.
-Fat knows when there is too much of it and signals the body to manufacture cytokines – inflammatories – the usual first line of defense.
-Fat is an endocrine organ – it produces hormones (leptin) that latch onto the brain’s hypothalamus and tell it to be hungry – or not.
-By reducing leptin levels, remaining fat makes people feel hungrier than they were before reducing.
-Fat circulates adiponectin which helps clear the blood - of fat. Those with high levels can be very fat and perfectly healthy. Hard exercise increases levels.
-More than 50% of cells in the fat of the obese are immune cells, vs 5% in the fat of the normal or thin.
-Fat resurges by lowering energy levels, so dieters have to work harder than normal to keep weight off. Only consistent, hard exercise overcomes the return of fat - even following liposuction.
-Half a pound of fat can contain 50 million stem cells, used to rebuild muscle, bone and organs throughout the body. Doctors are quickly learning to repurpose them.
-Hard exercise overcomes genetic predispositions to fat and weight in most cases.
Chapter 8 is all about how women’s bodies deal differently with fat. Their fat is a better kind (subcutaneous vs visceral), but there is more of it, and it takes them disproportionately more effort in the gym and less at the table to achieve the goals men see more easily.
There is a fascinating analysis of sumo wrestlers, those hugely fat men whose sole job in life is to push other obese opponents out of the ring. The surprise is their blood levels are excellent, and they are extraordinarily healthy – as long as they keep to the training regimen and diet. Once they retire, they quickly slide into fat hell.
Oddly, the chapter I was expecting – how do people with no fat and extreme, reduced calorie diets – fare – is missing. In animal studies, such diets extend lifespans and energy levels dramatically. So is fat really necessary, or are we better off without it altogether? No mention in The Secret Life of Fat.
Tara’s book is a lovely combination of the emotional and the scientific, the personal and the universal, narrative and science. It is lean and muscled and terrifically readable.
What this book helped me realize is that weight gain/loss is really simple math. Calories in (food eaten) minus calories used (increased by exercise). The type of food/drink doesn't really matter. I find that I can only diet for so long as my body fights back against weight loss by stimulating appetite as fat sheds. The first part of the equation then kicks into high gear and all the lost weight gets put back on soon after my diet ends. I once lost 35 pounds on the Atkins diet. Two year later, most of it was back. I've yo-yo dieted many times since. But this book has resulted in a lifestyle change that I find easy to live with, so much so, that I had to tell my story in this review. Good luck to all who are trying to shed pounds.
Sound good? Then get the book. However, if you are looking for a quick fix to lose fat or something to tell you the "secret" then maybe get a book on Paleo, Whole 30, Atkins, Keto, to IIFYM. I'm sure there is one on the New York Times Best Sellers list each month.