I have a real ‘thing’ about my tummy. It’s a relatively recent revelation and one that has emerged since my recent, second foray into weight gain. I, of course, am at peace with the eventuality of being a bigger body and am very logical and realistic about the necessity of the situation. I need to gain weight in order to achieve optimum bone health and ensure that my reproductive system is ticking over for long enough before I decide to start popping mini-Eves out everywhere. Despite this, every doctor’s appointment is followed by a lingering sense of nervousness. For the rest of that day, with everything that passes my lips I adopt a simultaneous hand-to-stomach move. It’s almost as if I am checking to see if my chicken sandwich has made it through my system and settled on it’s permanent home in my lower abdomen. The more I think about it, the more I notice that I’ve always been somewhat stomach-centric. Whatever qualms I may have with my (lack of) boobs or upper arm saggy bits, my eyes are immediately drawn to my belly button as soon as my reflection registers.
Funnily enough, it’s not only during mealtimes that one of my hands can be found gingerly making its way to my stomach area – ensuring it’s not expanding beyond unacceptable parameters (whatever that may be). Anger, sadness and anxiety act as emotional signals; a catalyst for the fallout between my body and mind. This phenomena is especially odd given that when I actually DID put on a substantial amount of weight, I witnessed the process right in front of my eyes which never once involved a sudden multiplication of belly fat.
Instead, much of where our excess calories (i.e weight gain) end up on our bodies are a result of something utterly uncontrollable; genetics. Not only that, but the very process of how food metabolises means that you’d have to eat a considerable amount of surplus calories, for a prolonged period of time, in order for an enlargement of fat cells to occur. This is because our body is constantly burning the calories we take in – not packaging them up into wobbly balls and shoving them into your stomach. There are three ways in which your body uses the ‘fuel’ it gets;
- Digestion and body functioning
- Energy for physical activity
- Energy saved for a ‘rainy day’
Our bodies require AT LEAST 1,800 calories per day (depending on body mass) just to fuel all of its functions – and that presumes you’re literally just sitting in a chair all day. I’m pretty lazy, but I take that number up to 2,000 calories just by walking a single journey to the tube station. Physical activity obviously relates to anything that requires your body to work a little bit harder; including your brain. Then we come to the next bit; the extra bit. Think of your body a little bit like a car. When there is little to no fuel for a long time, every single drop is immediately sent to the engine in order to keep the car running – with none left over to see the car over for another few weeks. If, on the other hand, the car is always getting plenty of fuel, it never needs to touch the reserve tank – and can even go that little bit faster when the foot is on the accelerator. Weird analogy I know, but what I’m essentially saying is that just like a car, your body will store the extra fuel for a time when you might be driving for long distances without access to a petrol station…
The amount of energy your body converts into these rainy day stores (i.e body fat) depends on your metabolic rate which is largely determined by your genetics – and your gender, sorry girls. According to Scientific American, women are more likely to have a higher percentage of natural body fat (especially in the baby-making area hips, legs e.t.c). Despite what you might think, the body doesn’t just use fat to make your clothes tighter. There are many ways the body uses ‘adipose tissue’ – some goes to the top of the kidneys, some to the liver and a small amount is reserved for the protection of skeletal muscle. People with more muscle are able to consume more calories without it being stored as fat. This is because muscle tissue is denser that fat tissue and therefore needs more ‘fuel’ to maintain it, hence the extra energy will be used up by the muscle tissue, says Live Science.
Let this be said: WE NEED FAT TO SURVIVE. It allows our brains to function; it provides the structure for our cells; it protects vital organs; it insulates the body from the cold – it allows us to push another human out of our body. It’s pretty fucking cool. Yes, too much of it – especially around the visceral (middle) area – is linked with an increased risk of heart disease and some cancers, but there’s also lots of other factors that could be responsible for such diseases too. Smoking, stress and alcohol intake, for instance. Also, if you’re listening to your body and eating a varied, balanced diet, your body fat level is probably fine.
Now, for the detailed part for which, I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’ve called on the help of my wonderful Registered Dietitian friend, Rachel Clare. How does the weight gain process actually work?
‘When we eat or drink anything,’ Rachel says, ‘it passes through our digestive system and is either absorbed – at some point – into the body or comes out the other end. Enzymes in the mouth called amylase break down starch. The rest is broken down in the stomach where hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes are released. Once it is broken down into different nutrients, it passes into the small intestine where most of the absorption process takes place. Anything that’s not absorbed, mainly fibre and bacteria, continues the journey to the large intestine where it is either combusted (gas) or made into, for want of a better word, poo.
Once nutrients are absorbed into our body either as glucose, fatty acids, amino acids or micro nutrients such as; vitamin c or folate – the body begins a very intricate process of transportation and utilisation. Different nutrients are taken to different parts of the body, for example; glucose is taken into our cells to provide energy and fatty acids are used to provide structure for our cells. We currently know very little as to the exact reasons one body might store fat more readily, or less readily, than another person. This level of ‘excess’ is different for everyone and the process of storing adipose tissue is also different – some tend to carry more weight around their middle while others store more on their hips – some store in relatively equal measures. Different DNA sequences influence people’s metabolism and areas of fat storage, as well as several hormones that are involved in the process. Whilst this science is developing, we still know very little in terms of manipulating biological processes to manipulate weight – contrary to the teachings of some diet regimes.’
IF GODDESSES CAN EMBRACE THEIR BELLY ROLLS SO 👏 CAN 👏 YOU 👏 Take a little scroll 👈 these are just a few examples of body types that were the IDEAL of beauty at different points in history. Even in the last 100 years our body ideals have changed over and over again – from flappers binding their breasts to look straight and narrow, to Marilyn Monroe’s famous hourglass figure, to Kate Moss’ heroine chic thinness, to Kim Kardashian’s curves. WHAT OUR CULTURE IDOLISES AS THE “PERFECT” BODY CHANGES NEARLY EVERY DECADE. Why can’t we see cultural body ideals for what they truly are: meaningless. Made up. And not even close to being a true representation of all of our unique kinds of beauty. Why should we hate our bodies for not matching up to a standard that changes constantly? Most of the time, that standard is more about making money from our newly dictated ‘flaws’, than it is about truth or beauty. Forget fitting today’s beauty standards, they won’t be around for long anyway. But the value that you have, the kind that’s so much more than appearances, that lasts a lifetime. Don’t be tricked into forgetting your value. 💜💙💚🌈🌞 #BodyPositivePower
The way I see it; such bodily processes are intricate, complex and astounding; so much so that even some of the top molecular biologists don’t fully understand them, so there’s little chance that I am going to work it out based on the overhang of flesh over my skinny jeans. Much better to do as science suggests and think LESS about the food you eat and MORE about accepting your unique, incredible body just the way it is (see Megan for inspiration). And that’s doctor recommended.