Where Does Fat Go?

Dear Matthew: I just lost about 100 pounds. Where exactly did all that fat go? -- Skinny Sheree, via email

Wow! Good thing you didn’t have to haul it all out in garbage bags. Lucky that nature has a way of getting rid of all that fat in its own magical way.

So, back in the day, when you were snacking on cinnamon buns and a whole pizza for dinner, all the fatty acids were being stored as triglicerides in your body fat. The triglicerides were sitting there, alert to the first call from your muscles for energy. But, of course, it doesn’t take much energy to click the TV remote, so the fat just sat around. And around and around. But one day you perked up and decided that enough was enough. You ate smarter, exercised more. Your energy requirement went up, your fatty acid intake went down, so those triglicerides got the call and charged into action. Released into your bloodstream, they were taken up by the cells that need them. In the process, oxygen and enzymes convert the fatty acids into carbon dioxide, water, and something called adenosine triphosphate, ATP. That’s the stuff your body cells need for energy. So, the water and CO2? They leave your body in the form of breath, sweat, and pee. So, that’s where it all went and how it got there.

Hey, Matt: I left some toenail clippings in the sink, and when I got home later there was a stream of ants trying to carry them off. Usually they go for things like Popsicle sticks and honey. Why would they possibly want toenail clippings, and what were they planning to do with them? -- JB, San Diego

What a charming picture you paint of hygiene in your household. I’d say you were lucky the ants stopped by to help clean up. But since you asked, we dialed up the UCSD Cooperative Extension. They gave us a peek into the minds of your ants - likely the ubiquitous Argentine ants - about an eighth of an inch long and black. Usually they head for the Popsicle sticks, but all ants need sugar, grease, water, and protein to keep on truckin’. It’s likely they were out foraging for whatever was lying around, and they just happened upon your stack of toenails. They didn’t really have toenails on the shopping list. Nails are keratin, a protein, just the thing for chewing up and feeding to ant larvae. If you’d had a few dead animals around the house or a pile of flies, they would have liked that, too.

Hi, Matt: I’m confused. What’s the difference between an earthquake and an aftershock? Sometimes we have an earthquake only to be told later that it is an aftershock of an earthquake two years ago. How can they tell? -- Shaken, via email

Hey, you forgot foreshocks. Don’t leave them out. For us civilians with crockery falling on our heads, the difference is meaningless. But this is the kind of thing that keeps seismologists off the streets and out of trouble. So, here goes. Say we have a 4.5 (Richter) quake at a particular point on a particular fault. Earthquake, they call it. Time goes by, la-di-da. Nothing. Nothing. Then there’s a 5.4 quake at the same point on the same fault. Now our old 4.5 is reclassified as a foreshock to the 5.4 quake because it’s smaller than the most recent one. Time goes by, la-di-da. Then there’s a 3.0. Same point, same fault. That’s an aftershock to the 5.4 biggie because it’s smaller than the one preceding it. So, classifying earthquakes depends on where it happens, how big it is, and how it fits with the history of quakes from that location. Sometimes that requires relabeling an event. Got it? Hope so.

Heymatt: One of my family members is on the school board. Why is such a group called a “board”? Is it political? Social? -- PW, Poway

No, it’s furniture. The board in question is what they all sit at, in the o-o-o-olden days, probably a big, long piece of wood that served as a table. They might just as easily have been called the plank as the board. The guy who ran the meeting got to sit at the head of the table in a chair instead of a stool or bench. (Chairs were scarce in early Colonial America.) He, of course, became the chairman of the board.

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So Matt, it sounds like what you're saying is that, in all of time, there can be only ONE earthquake at any given point on any given fault--because any other less-intense movement at that location would be classified as an foreshock or an aftershock, depending on whether it happened before or after the "earthquake". And any more-intense movement at that location will instantly become "the earthquake", making all previous shocks of lesser intensity become instantly reclassified as foreshocks. Isn't there some time limit to all this? I would think that after a year or two, we could consider any significant new rumbling to be a new earthquake, not another aftershock... But geological time does move more slowly than, say, daylight savings time, doesn't it?

Still, it seems like there out to be more of a cause-and-effect link between earthquakes and their fore- or after-shocks.

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