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The Brown Fat Secret to Weight Loss

“If I continue to follow the TKS food plan once I’ve reached my goal weight, will my metabolism slow down due to the calorie intake being lower than that of a ‘standard’ diet?” This is a question I have often been asked over time. Well, it is definitely a very valid question, with so much misinformation around ketogenic eating and how it affects metabolism circulating on the Internet. 

Let me assure you: The answer is a definite “no”! To maintain at a healthy weight long term, it is important to keep a healthy lower-carb, higher-healthy fat balance. There are plenty of options to achieve this on a program like TKS once you’re reached your goal weight, by cycling in and out of keto and including higher-carbohydrate and lower-fat days.

To explain how this process works, let’s talk brown fat for a bit. This cutting-edge field of science is currently under a lot of investigation worldwide, and is not yet fully understood. But it is becoming more and more evident that brown fat has many ground-breaking benefits when it comes to our health, including weight loss and our metabolism.

Previously, we used to believe that there were only two types of fat: the adipose tissue or visceral fat around our organs – the bad, toxic fat that causes health issues – and then the subcutaneous fat that coats our skin. What we now know is that there are two types of fat within the subcutaneous fat. The one type is called white fat, which are the holding lipids or fat cells stored as energy for later use, such as that accumulated when you’re on a sugary, high-carb diet. Have you ever watched one of those horrible medical shows where they perform liposuction? The white or yellow fat that’s extracted is the stored white fat I’m talking about! 

The other type of fat found in the subcutaneous layer is brown fat. Brown fat has the miraculous effect of burning energy fast; in fact, it will burn twice the intake of carbohydrates. This is why once you are fat-adapted, carb cycling has no impact on weight gain. This is due to brown fat. 

Brown fat is packed with mitochondria (the powerhouse of our cells) and also so-called ‘uncoupling proteins’. What these do is they take energy from the food we eat and go through an uncoupling process with the mitochondria, which then creates heat in the body. So each time we eat our body temperature rises and, rather than converting energy into white fat cells for later use, it burns the energy straight away. So essentially, brown fat is the fat that burns fat; it’s a bit like a little energy machine!

If you’re eating a ketogenic diet and feel hot when you’re having a meal, this explains why! You’re most probably in brown-fat burning mode! I’ve had to shed a layer of clothing each time ever since I’ve started eating a ketogenic diet 20 years ago! If you can relate to this, remember it’s only normal! 

But wait, there’s more! There’s actually another form of fat within the subcutaneous layer called beige-ing fat, which promotes the browning of white fat into brown fat. You can promote this by upping the ante on omega 3 fatty acids (such as those included in TKS), like salmon, fish oil and coconut oil, thereby stimulating uncoupling proteins and activating fat-burning heat in the body.

Looking at some of the science around brown fat I have a theory which is heavily backed by anecdotal evidence within our TKS community: that during plateaus where we see reductions in our waist circumference, it could be due to a shift from white to beige to brown fat! Hence our waist shrinks while the number may remain the same on the scales. So keep taking your measurements ladies! 

With all this in mind, the lower our body weight gets, the more brown fat cells we accumulate, which then increases our fat-burning capacity and metabolism. Kids are the best example of this. They naturally have high amounts of brown fat in their bodies, and so can eat a lot more as they burn fat straight away. 

What I have experienced, as someone who’s been doing keto for a long time, is that this uncoupling process is working extremely well for me. When I went to Fiji with my daughter (a long time ago now), I ate and drank whatever I liked, including pinacoladas! I laughed to myself at the time, thinking I was going return home 5kgs heavier, but found that I was exactly same weight as before I’d left. Keto really is the secret to increasing brown fat and keeping that little fat burning machine running!  The same thing happened a few years ago when I spent a week in Rome enjoying pizza, pasta and Aperol Spritz. It seems I am immune to weight gain these days!

Nutrition aside, there are a couple of other interesting key factors to keep in mind when it comes to brown fat. One is that people who live in or are exposed to colder climates, naturally start producing brown fat cells. That excludes obese people who already have good insulation and so don’t require brown fat to heat up their bodies. 

In addition, there are two ways that can quite significantly increase our brown fat production other than maintaining weight that scientists have looked at. The first is to decrease temperature in our home. One study reduced the home temperature from 24 to 19 degrees Celsius and found it resulted in weight reduction of the people living in this environment. So this means, we can literally lose weight by living in a colder environment! 

The second way of increasing brown fat production is to turn our shower from hot to cold. There a many health benefits to this such as improved lymphatic and oxygen flow in the body, increased mental clarity and better mood, but exposing our body 2 to 3 minutes of cold water per day regularly can also produce brown fat production. Ice baths and cold water plunges are great, too; in fact 5 to 10 minutes is optimal. Our body remains cold for up to 5 minutes; then it begins to regulate. Think Wim Hoff here, as combining conscious breath work into our regime regulates the nervous system. Shivering is GOOD for brown fat production!

If you don’t want to freeze your butt off to increase your brown fat production, milder temperature-reducing methods will do the trick. One is to reduce your heating around the home in the colder months and also in bed. Keep your room cool at night, use blankets instead of a heater and don’t sleep with an electric blanket on! Also don’t be one of those cooped-up people who are afraid to go for a walk on a brisk winter’s day! My family and I love to sit wrapped up outside in the cold at night watching the moon and stars… and it works wonders for the soul, too!

Another trick to kicking those brown fats into action is by including the equivalent of one jalapeño, 1/3 tsp cayenne pepper or half a tsp chilli flakes in your daily meals. This will create thermogenesis (heat production) in the body, stimulate the uncoupling process and serve as a browning tool for white fat into brown fat. Curcumin and turmeric also help turn white fat into brown fat, while arginine-rich foods such as seeds and nuts are worth including, too, as they contain uncoupling proteins and can increase brown fat production.

Remember, self-preservation has very little to do with calorie intake. If we give our body the required nutrients, it’s not starving. This is why I don’t like the whole ‘calorie in, calorie out’ argument and believe we need to take a paradigm shift around it! 

If you give your body the nutrition it needs, combined with the little tricks I mentioned above along with a bit of cold shock therapy, then you’re well on your way to keeping our metabolism in good working order and maintaining your weight long term. Go the brown (and beige-ing) fat!

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