Tom Venuto answers a question about fat cells

BURN THE FAT Questions & Answers

"Do I Need Liposuction
to Reduce Fat Cells?"

QUESTION: More Fat Cells?

Dear Tom,

I was obese as a child and have been so through adulthood (I'm now 27.) I have weighed as much as 300 pounds and am currently 285. There have been numerous times I have binged to the point of nearly being sick. Add up all these factors, and from what I've read about increases in the number of fat cells that can occur during adulthood due to bingeing, I'm likely to have many times more fat-cells than the average person. In fact, according to one web site I read, I may never be fully able to reach my ultimate goal of ripped abs even if I reduce the volume of the fat-cells to their minimum.

Is it safe to say that once I reach my minimum through fat loss that I would still need to undergo liposuction and/or abdominoplasty to get ripped abs? Even if that were true, I wouldn't necessarily decide to do that and may instead scale back my ultimate goals given the risks associated with cosmetic surgery. I would, however, like to plan ahead for when the time comes so that not only can I make an educated decision but can also plan ahead financially if that decision includes surgery or some other approach.

Cory (last name & address withheld by request)


Why don't we review the facts about fat-cells first and then we'll translate that to what it means to your potential for getting lean and even getting "ripped" abs.

We are all born with a genetically pre-determined number of fat-cells. Some people are predisposed to have more fat-cells than others and women have more 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.

It was once believed that the number of fat cells could not increase after adulthood, only the size of the fat cells could increase. We now know that fat cells can indeed increase both in size (hypertrophy) and in number (hyperplasia) and that they are more likely to increase in number at certain times and under certain circumstances.

Existing fat cells increase in SIZE when energy intake exceeds energy expenditure and the excess is stored in the fat cell. The average size (weight) of an adult fat cell is about 0.6 micrograms, but they can vary in size from 0.2 micograms to 0.9 micrograms. An overweight person's fat cells can be up to three times larger than a person with ideal body composition.

Fat cells tend to increase in NUMBER most readily when excessive weight is gained due to overeating and or inactivity during the following periods:
  • During late childhood and early puberty
  • During pregnancy
  • During adulthood when extreme amounts of weight are gained
Normally during adulthood, the number of fat cells stay about the same, except in the case of obesity. When the existing fat cells are filled to capacity, new fat cells can continue to be formed in order to provide additional storage - even in adults.

A typical overweight adult has around 75 billion fat cells. But in the case of severe obesity, this number can be as high as 250 to 300 billion!

Because of these facts, many people believe, "Well, I have more fat cells than other people, so what's the use, I'll never reach my goals". Some people argue that obesity is genetic and/or that once you're obese and your fat cells have multiplied, it's an uphill battle you can't ever win.

It's easy to search for "legs" to put under a "table" of self-limiting beliefs in order to hold those beliefs up. It's easy to justify current circumstances and low future expectations by seeking out seemingly logical and scientific facts and explanations.

Here's the reality (well, at least it's my two cents):

People who say it can't be done (like on the website you mentioned) are just loser pessimists or they are simply selling pharmaceuticals or surgical procedures.

Once you've developed new fat cells, it's true that the only way to get rid of them is with liposuction. However, liposuction not only has risks, it also won't help you if you don't change your lifestyle because your fat cell number can increase AGAIN! Yes, you can "suck it away" as many times as you want, but the fat can come back!

As much as some people desperately want to believe in a magic pill or surgical procedure, getting a lean body always boils back down to nutrition and exercise. You can't change the number of fat cells you have (without surgery), but you CAN shrink every one of them by changing your lifestyle.

The number of fat cells you possess - either through genetic predisposition or through fat cell hyperplasia during childhood or adult obesity - will certainly influence how difficult it will be for you to lose body fat. It's one of the reasons why some people have a more difficult time losing weight than others and why some people seem to gain weight more easily than others if they're not very careful and diligent with their nutrition and exercise programs.

However, it does NOT mean that it's impossible to get lean or that surgery (liposuction or abdominoplasty) will eventually be mandatory. Until you've made permanent changes to your lifestyle, it doesn't make sense to even consider surgical intervention. Surgery should always be a last resort.

Don't "scale back" your ultimate goals! If anything make them bigger! Just be sure to set realistic time frames for achieving them.

Set your long term and short term goals as if you knew you couldn't fail and get started. Re-assess your inclination towards surgery later, not now while you're at 285 and just starting. Cross that bridge if you come to it.

If you have a difficult time doing that and you still harbor doubts about your ultimate potential to get lean because of genetics or fat cells, here's a question you might want to ask yourself:

Has anybody else who was obese as a child and throughout young adulthood - even 100 pounds or more overweight - lost it ALL and kept it off?

After doing some research that can easily be done online. (You could even start here: See Testimonials page.) After giving it some deep thought, the answer you must come to, if you're being honest with yourself, is "YES! Others have done it, so I can do it too!"

Look for inspiration from people who have done it. Look away from the pessimists and from those who have ulterior motives. Avoid books, articles, websites and people who even remotely suggest that "It can't be done" and instead hold on to your dreams, chart your course, and expect the best case scenario. Then back up that expectation with lots and lots of action. And be sure that a LOT of that action revolves around exercise and building muscle. Dieting alone just doesnt do it (and might even make things worse).

Finally, remember that decreasing your body fat and reaching your goals will not be acheived with a "diet", a "12 week program" a "6 week transformation" or by "trying" another program, you will only achieve your goals with a permanent lifestyle change.

Begin to make those changes and expect the best. I don't care if you have 20 billion fat cells or 200 billion, you can only become what you expect to become.

If you need help with the nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes you'll need to make in order to reach your ultimate goal, you'll find the Burn The Fat program an invaluable tool. Go here for more info:

Tom Venuto, NSCA-CPT, CSCS Certified Personal Trainer

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist Fat Loss Coach

BurnTheFat.Com is a member of the New Jersey Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the BBB online reliability program


I noticed that in his answer, Tom does not promote a quick fat loss scheme. He says: Don't diet, make a lifelong lifestyle change. This is sensible and practical advice that Cory can follow. Cory has nothing to lose by following Tom's advice. I don't know if she can achieve the "ripped" look she wants, but I believe that if she follows Tom's advice she can improve her body composition for fitness and health. In the process, I am certain she can avoid or mitigate chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Fred Colbourne