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Can You Lose Fat Cells?

fat cellsThe mainstream consensus of whether or not you can lose fat cells is that you can’t. Many believe that you can increase the number of them, but you can never lose them. The theory is that as your fat cells are filled with fat over time, they become so large that they eventually divide and increase in numbers. Common wisdom also says that unfortunately, once you gain those fat cells, you can never lose them. Instead, they just shrink in size. Is this really true? Well, yes and no. Let me explain.

Can You Shrink Fat Cells?

Yes, you can shrink fat cells. You can also enlarge fat cells. Once you reach adulthood, the number of fat cells you have more or less stays the same. When you put on a large amount of weight, these fat cells enlarge in size. The opposite holds true when you lose a lot of weight – they shrink.

Believe it or not, our body needs fat. When we reduce the amount of fat in our cells to low levels (low body fat percentage), our fat cells send out signals to be filled again. This is one of the main reasons why it is so difficult to maintain a low body fat percentage.

Hormones such as leptin and estrogen are released from fat cells, and they tell the body to eat – eat food and fill me back up. While it will always be a battle to maintain those low levels of body fat, you can still shrink your fat cells and be lean, however, if you want to lose fat cells, that’s a whole different story.

Can You Lose Fat Cells?

This is the part that many get wrong. Yes, you can lose fat cells. There is one big caveat though. You are not born with a certain number of fat cells. Instead, your fat cells increase throughout childhood until early adulthood. Once you reach adulthood, your number of fat cells more or less stay constant. A study on the dynamics of fat cells turnover shows:

the number of fat cells stays constant in adulthood in lean and obese individuals, even after marked weight loss, indicating that the number of adipocytes is set during childhood and adolescence

This is not to say that you have the same fat cells that you had since childhood. The cells in your body are constantly dying off and regenerating. If we were to never lose fat cells, and had cells that were still around since childhood, we would have basically found the fountain of youth. Unfortunately, our cells die as they age. When it comes to fat cells, they simply regenerate, making the number of fat cells lost and gained practically equal out.

Approximately 10% of fat cells are renewed annually at all adult ages and levels of body mass index. Neither adipocyte death nor generation rate is altered in early onset obesity, suggesting a tight regulation of fat cell number in this condition during adulthood.

What can we take from this information? If the number of fat cells increase through early adulthood and then stay the same from then on out, it stands to reason that we should be focused on preventing obesity at a young age. Unfortunately, childhood obesity is becoming a huge problem, and that will only cause bigger issues as they get older.

Here is your clean eating guide for kids that will help them make the switch.

The more fat cells you have, the more difficult it is to lose fat. Don’t let this discourage you though. Anyone can shrink their fat cells and get lean if they work hard and eat right. Remember, fat is what fills the fat cells. You can still lose the fat and shrink the cells.

What do you think? Have you found it more difficult to get lean once you’ve put on some weight?

  • Caa2kids


    I have a 13 year old who is over weight. Can he still loose the fat as a child or does just shrink as in adults?

    • Coach Calorie

      I’m sure he is still young enough. Regardless, just because he won’t be able to lose the fat cells, it doesn’t mean that he won’t be able to shrink them down to next to nothing. He will still be able to get lean as an adult if his diet and exercise is right.

  • Chubby childhood


    I was obese between the age of 9 and 14 (roughly) and no matter how hard I train (fitness is an important factor for my job) or healthily I eat I can’t shake off the excess chub all over my body (puffy nipples being the worst remainder).
    I’m taking from your article that theres no way of getting rid of the fat cells left over from my childhoo. Is this right?

    • Coach Calorie

      That is what the science says. However, getting rid of fat CELLS is not the same things as getting rid of FAT. Fat fills the cells. You can shrink the cells down to next to nothing (ie get lean).

  • once fat

    I have yo-yo dieted all my life. Once I would lose the weight and go back to my regular habits, I would gain twice as much back. Then I would have to start with a deficit to try and lose the weight again and try even harder with gimicky weight loss supplements and diets. I finally had bariatric surgery at 326 lbs. It has worked for me. I have lost over 100 lbs and don’t have the cravings I once struggled with. Those diets and pills should be illegal!

    • Coach Calorie

      Congrats on the weight loss! Sounds like the surgery encouraged new healthy habits in your life.

  • annie

    What do you think about people who are slender all through childhood and adolescence and then go to college or get married and gain tons of weight…that seems to happen quite a bit. So, have these people only just increased the size of their fat cells without producing new ones? Some of the weight gain that I’ve seen in these folks can be a good 30-50 pounds or more: a few of my female relatives come to mind.

    • Coach Calorie

      The science would suggest that they just enlarged.

  • Doug Sauvage

    Very interesting. I’ve always been against liposuction, but I was naturally lean into my mid 20’s. For someone who’s has been obese as a child and struggles to stay lean do to a higher number of fat cells created during childhood sending the brain messages to eat, maybe removing some fat cells would be a reasonable addition to a healty diet and excersise program.

  • Tony Schober

    Impossible for me to know. It’s not a big deal though. You can still shrink them to close to nothing.

  • Tony Schober

    You eat in a calorie deficit. Shrinking fat cells just means you’re losing body fat.