Trick Your Fat Cells Into Shrinking

Tuesday Sep 2 | BY |
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Shrink Fat Cells

Can you really get rid of fat cells?

If there’s one topic that many of us think about but don’t quite understand, it’s fat loss.

So let’s see if I can take this complicated topic and make it easier for you to understand and to put to good use.

What Happens to Fat Cells?

What really happens when body fat is burned?

When you “lose” body fat, the fat cell does not go anywhere. It stays right where it was just under your skin and on top of the muscles. That’s why you won’t see muscle definition no matter how much muscle building you do when your body fat is high.

You store your fat inside the fat cell in the form of triglycerol. To be burned, it must be released from the fat cell. When you release it, the fat goes into the bloodstream as free fatty acids, which are then transported through the blood to the tissues where the energy is needed.

We store calories of energy in body fat cells. So now we have to ask, what will trigger the release of all these stored fatty acids from the fat cell?

When Fat Cells Release Fat

In an energy deficit state, your body needs energy because you’re consuming fewer calories than you are burning. When this happens, your body releases hormones and enzymes that signal your fat cells to release your fat reserves instead of keeping them in storage. The stored fat or energy gets released into the bloodstream as fatty acids, and they are shuttled off to the muscles where the energy is needed.

If you do any reading about health and fitness, you’ve probably heard of mitochondria. This is the “cellular powerhouse” where energy production takes place and where the fatty acids go to be burned for energy.

The fat cell does shrink when the fatty acids are released. That’s why you look leaner when you lose body fat. Your fat cells are now smaller. A small or “empty” fat cell is what you’re after if you want a lean look.

Can You Grow New Fat Cells?

Years ago, science believed that the number of fat cells could not increase after adulthood—only the size of each cell could increase (or decrease). Now, though, we know that fat cells can indeed increase both in size and in number and that they are more likely to increase in number at certain times and under certain circumstances. These may include:

  • late childhood and early puberty
  • pregnancy
  • during times of weight gain

Some people are genetically predisposed to have more fat cells than others, and women have more fat cells than men. An infant usually has about 5-6 billion fat cells. This number increases during early childhood and puberty, and a healthy adult with normal body composition has about 25 to 30 billion fat cells. A typical overweight adult has around 75 billion fat cells.

Fat Cells are the Storage Bins

So think of it this way. Body fat is basically just a reserve source of energy and fat cells are the storage bins. An actual physical storage bin stays the same size, but your fat cells can expand or shrink in size depending on how full they are.

Another good analogy is to picture a balloon. When it’s not inflated with air, it’s rather small. It expands as you fill it. Your fat cells, when you are lean, are nearly empty. When your energy intake exceeds your needs, your fat cells inflate like balloons.

So you don’t actually lose fat cells, but you shrink and empty them out.

How to Think About Fat To Stay Fit
  1. Calories do count. The signal that triggers your body to release energy from fat cells is created during an energy deficit. Calories in versus calories out still counts.
  2. It’s best to reduce your caloric intake conservatively. A drastic reduction in calories does cause quick fat loss, but never works long-term. You’ll go into starvation mode. It’s better to use exercise rather than low calorie-crash diets to burn the fat.
  3. If you feel yourself gaining fat, decide to put a halt to it. Depending on your circumstances, you might actually be multiplying your fat cells and this will make it more difficult to burn fat in the future.
  4. Remember that your fat cells are not gone. If you’re happy with your weight, just keep this in mind. The cells have emptied out, but they’re still there. Keep up your health and fitness lifestyle!
  5. Genetics are only a minor factor. You have no control over how many fat cells you were born with. You do, however, control the major factors that determine how much fat you store: lifestyle, exercise, nutrition, and mental attitude.

I’m at a lean versus fat level that I’m happy with. I find it much easier to maintain this level than to be inflating and deflating my fat cells. I’m aware of what and how much to eat, as well as the movement levels I need to maintain my body composition and health. I imagine many of you join me in knowing this about yourselves.

It’s always good to review the basics, though, and understand how our bodies function and to stay in good communication with your fat cells!

Shelli Stein

Shelli Stein

Shelli Stein holds a Master’s degree in exercise physiology and has completed over 12 advanced certifications in the field of health and fitness. She coaches and teaches from her home base in San Diego, California. Her specialties include hormone health for women, run coaching, and helping her clients move from pain to performance. She offers free newsletters both weekly and monthly from her websites: and

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