What Happens to Fat Cells With Weight Loss?

Woman measuring waist
To lose weight, you need to burn more energy than you consume. (Image: Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images)

The average human can have between 10 to 30 billion fat cells. The amount of fat cells in a person’s body is set during adolescence and levels off into adulthood; however, if you are an obese child, you will add twice as many fat cells compared to a child of average weight as you mature. Regardless of weight, you replace about 8 percent of your fat cells each year. Your fat cells shrink when you lose weight because of an energy deficit and your body's release of waste products.

Fat Cells

Stomach of the woman
Subcutaneous fat is not as harmful as visceral fat, which is stored around your organs. (Image: 2002lubava1981/iStock/Getty Images)

Fat cells, referred to as adipocyte cells, absorb the storage form of fat, called triglycerides. Fat cells are able to store triglycerides when you are in an overfed state and need to store excess energy. Insulin, your energy storage hormone, regulates the flow of triglycerides into your fat cells.

Fat Cells Shrink

Fat Calipers
If your BMI is above 25, you are considered overweight; above 30, obese. (Image: Jim DeLillo/iStock/Getty Images)

If you begin to expend energy, your fat cells can be used as a source. When your body needs to burn energy, two enzymes -- hormone sensitive lipase and adipose glyceride lipase -- break down the triglyceride in the fat cells to help fuel items such as the heart or skeletal muscles. This process of breaking down triglycerides is referred to as lipolysis. Although, you lose triglycerides out of your fat cells in the short term, your fat cells will still be there. The fat cells just shrink as a result of this process. If you overeat in the near future, your fat cells can always expand to their original size and even grow larger.

Loss of Waste Products

Man lifting weights in gym
To manage your weight, exercise daily for 30 to 60 minutes. (Image: Siri Stafford/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

The main reason you lose weight is your body's removal waste products. As your body uses triglycerides for energy throughout the body, these processes create waste products such as carbon dioxide and water. You then breathe these items out or excrete them through sweating, urine or bowel movements.

Food Choices

Closeup of a Scale
To get the most accurate weight, weigh yourself once a week before breakfast. (Image: janischristieimages/iStock/Getty Images)

If you are interested in losing weight, the most beneficial change will be to focus on your dietary intake. Choose foods that you enjoy and make you feel full while still causing you to consume fewer calories in general. Great filling choices include whole grains like quinoa and steel-cut oats and other nutrient-dense foods such as nuts, beans, olive oil, lentils, plain yogurt, fish and chicken. Additionally, as you begin your dietary changes, use a calorie-tracking app to help monitor your overall energy balance. Track your weight weekly to see if you need to make changes.

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