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Have you ever seen a fat Elf? I haven't, and I think there's an unexpected reason.

You see, Elves aren't really the best workers or at least working the land and cultivating food is not something they do. There isn't such thing as Bob the elf farmer with 14 children which he forces to work on the farm.

Elves are powerful mages, they teach the art of using magic and creating powerful artifacts to humans in exchange of money. Therefore elves don't consume much energy during the day, and also most Elves are nobles.

Only in the past few centuries meat became industrialized, but before meat used to be something only fishermen, hunters and nobles ate... the rest of the population were farmers who didn't have the money to eat meat more than once in a blue moon.

But nobles were usually filthy rich, which means they could buy any type of greasy food, for example beef is 54% fat by kilocalories or a steak sits at around 64%. That's why nobles and kings were usually overweight.

Does it means that Elves were just fitness addicts who paid a lot of attention to their health? Probably not, at the time there were no gyms and nobody knew anything about nutrition. I have a better theory, that Elves simply don't have fat cells.

IF my theory was right, how would it be possible for elves to survive without any fat cell in their body?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm waiting for someone to say Santa Claus. Oh, wait... :) $\endgroup$ – Tumbislav Oct 31 '18 at 6:49
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    $\begingroup$ More seriously, no subcutaneous fat means no (or restricted) lipid energy storage, only carbohydrates. Glycogen is 6x less efficient per volume for storing energy than fat, so no long-lasting strenuous activity for your elves. Aragorn and Gimli get to Rohan, but Legolas collapses about two hours into the run. $\endgroup$ – Tumbislav Oct 31 '18 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Tumbislav, please don't post answers as comments. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Oct 31 '18 at 8:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Tumbislav "You have my axe!" "And my bow! ... assuming I can lift it this time... it's so gosh darn heavy." $\endgroup$ – Neil Oct 31 '18 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ Noble is pretty much the same as rich. You can't have a society where everyone is rich. I mean, Germany is a rich country, so every german is rich... comparing to say, a somali. But among them there are rich people and poor peaple (including homeless and beggars). A noble is someone who has a nobility title, but in a medieval-like scenario they would also need land and serfs or other kind of subjects to rule over. You can't have a society where everyone is a king and nobody is subject to anyone. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Oct 31 '18 at 9:54

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Instead of fat, elves store energy as ethanol.

Fats are the most dense form of food calories. Ethanol is a close second. From https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/28511/what-is-the-most-condensed-form-of-stored-energy-used-in-biology

food calorie storage chart

Rather than pack on bulky fat, elves convert calories to ethanol and store it in their blood spaces and contractile spleen, replacing a portion of the volume that humans waste with more water. Elf blood is about 20% ethanol. This habitually high blood alcohol has the side effect of making elves essentially immune to getting drunk, or possibly always drunk and is why elves prefer mushrooms for their recreational drug.

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    $\begingroup$ Instead of going out for a drink after a hard day guarding the Mines of Moria, cave trolls go out for an elf. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Nov 2 '18 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ Note that if you play any Majesty, one of the drawbacks to allowing elves in your settlement is that they automatically cause to be built and spend a lot of time hanging out in seedy gambling taverns. Its tough to induce them to leave and do anything productive either (but woe betide the monster that attacks their tavern). $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Nov 2 '18 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ Pushing this further, Elves who imbide too many calories might "leak" Ethanol, which they can capture use later. This external energy storage of alchohol-rich urine might be traditionally done with a plant-based storage, in symbiosis with the Elves. $\endgroup$ – Yakk Nov 2 '18 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ When you know how it is produced, it completely spoils the taste of 'elf red wine'. $\endgroup$ – Jan 'splite' K. Nov 5 '18 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ I feel sorry for the elf that catches on fire. No wonder in some stories they hate when humans have campfires in their woods! $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Nov 5 '18 at 15:15
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Fat or adipose tissue carries out some very important functions, so if the elves are anything like humans—or like any sort of mammals—they need fat to survive. Long term energy storage is just one thing, but fat also produces hormones, contributes to thermoregulation and other good stuff.

You know that friend of yours, the one that can eat anything and never seems to put on a gram (or an ounce, depending on location)? Well, that friend just has slightly different levels of hormones that regulate the synthesis and storage of lipids, the lucky bum! Mayhap your elves are just genetically predisposed in that direction?

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Because they convert any excess energy directly into mana. As stated they are powerful mages, and as such are deeply linked with magic, and it's fuel, the omnipresent Mana.

Thus they - or at least the more magier ones - eat A LOT of calories. It's just converted to astral energy which surrounds them on another plane. Thus they do get fat - just not in this world.

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    $\begingroup$ This. I think I wrote an answer about elven metabolism way back with the same idea. You should add a mention about the process working in reverse. Elves can also absorb energy from ambient mana and use it to replace the energy providing part of food. They probably could live by eating grass and shrubs with too low energy density to support humans. This is important to mention because otherwise they will still need to use fat to store energy for times when food is short. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 1 '18 at 7:47
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A comparative perspective on lipid storage in animals is a pretty serious article but it might give you some ideas.

To pick out a few gems for your further development:

The fat-accumulating organ is much more developed and specialized in arthropods, especially in insects. Here, a specialized organ, often called adipose body or fat body, simultaneously exerts both liver and adipose tissue functions, suggesting that a separation of these metabolic functions to different organs occurred later during the evolution of vertebrates (Arrese and Soulages, 2010). The insect fat body coordinates metamorphosis and reproduction mainly by storing and secreting compounds that regulate developmental processes (Arrese and Soulages, 2010).

That sounds like an amazing thing to have in your elves, but maybe that's just me.

In fish, amphibian and reptiles, adipose tissue is mainly found in intra-abdominal regions and subcutaneous fat tissue is mostly non-existent.

And you don't need to make them freaky insects, if you really don't want to.

There's much more in the article to follow up on if you're so inclined.

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As you say, Elves are powerful mages. They are intrinsically, and instinctively magic. Thus, they need energy stores to convert to Mana for their spells.

But, rather than storing their excess energy as fat on the outside of their bodies, they may be using some magical storage mechanism - perhaps an internal organ that functions as a biological "bag of holding" for so long as the Elf is alive. So, they do have fat cells, they are just not somewhere that they can be seen.

This is similar to why some "naturally skinny" people have higher cholesterol than average. Cholesterol is a form of fat that is stored inside the veins and arteries - this means it is not visible like "normal" fat on the outside. If you have 2 people with the same body fat, but one of them stores most of it as cholesterol (and the other as normal adipose tissue), then they will look slimmer and "healthier" - but actually be less healthy, with a higher risk of heart disease.

As requested in comments: This "real life example" is an aspect of ectopic fat storage (to which some people are more genetically predisposed than others) and a Nature article about the impact it has on Cardiovascular disease can be found here

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have a source you could share for "some naturally skinny people have higher cholesterol" and the related claims? I think the answer is fine without one, but I find that interesting and want to read more. I couldn't find anything on the linked Wikipedia page, but I might have just missed it. $\endgroup$ – Kamil Drakari Oct 31 '18 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ I will do my researches but I think it makes sense, usually most underweight individuals have poor eating habbits... most teens spend their entire days in front of a screen and they waste so much of their day that they don't any spare time to eat, therefore they abuse quick snacks filled with saturated fat and cholesterol this makes them incredibly underweight with arms as skinny as spongebob's. $\endgroup$ – user56803 Oct 31 '18 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ You can go a step further and say that all the extra food energy gets stored directly as mana. This has some interesting knock on effects: tired elves can't cast spells, but elves with lots of mana could also run/fight for highly extended periods of time. They'd make for rather scary battle mages. Casting powerful spells would also leave you physically exhausted, which is seen in various degrees in fantasy settings. $\endgroup$ – mbrig Oct 31 '18 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ @mbrig The other way around would be interesting, I think. They use magic power to compensate for the lack of fat, so beware of fat elves, because they have more magic power (not needing it to compensate physiology) $\endgroup$ – ChatterOne Nov 2 '18 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ @mbrig The problem I have with "they store it as Mana" is... How do they store the Mana? $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Nov 2 '18 at 8:26
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Elves do not get fat because they really cannot EAT more calories than the amount they burn. And I mean they eat really really caloric dense food. Remeber lembas? It's the most caloric dense food that elves can consume. Of course for other races it's not filling and becuase something like "calories" don't exist they could eat many lembas breads and get fat.

To put that in some sort of sizes. Human could eat 12 oz steak with a side of potatoes and veggies. While Elf could only eat a sirloin the size of a palm and just couldn't stuff more. Their stomach are adjusted to eating small rations, rarely and with high caloric count.
Now for some pseudo science to back it all up a little. We know that insulin is secreted after you eat. We also know that growth hormone is spiking up when insulin level are going down after a meal. From that we can say that Elves consumption is tied to how they look in general. Rare meal allows them to be so tall because growth hormone is secreted in much larger quantity.
What happen if you try to stuff small elves with smaller portions but just more frequent? You get humans. Not so tall and much more muscular and FAT.

That's why Elves are nobles and see don't like humans in general. They know that this what happen if you try to fight with tradition.

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Elves can only form brown fat which (from the article I cited) is "found in weird spots". So their necks and shoulders are a little thicker than you'd guess, but it's not a place you normally look for fat, so they don't read as fat.

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Alternatives:

A) Magic storage: Elves store their extra calories in a magical internal reservoir, that gets charged, like a wand.

B) Smart digestion: elves don't metabolize calories they don't need.

C) Actually, elves are pretty hefty.

You're writing from your industrial-society, post-scarcity worldview. For medieval protagonists, an extra 3 stone on a lady would just indicate prosperity. You and I would see an eating disorder; elves and their admirers just saw lots of healthy non-famine. enter image description here https://images.vogue.it/imgs/galleries/magazine/frontbook/000938/03-412500_0x440.jpg

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They just has a few fat

Have you seen a thin human? Yes, of course. And does that means he doesn't have fat? No! They just have only the minimum (and healthy) amount of fat in their bodies, elves too!
In real life, there are some people with a different metabolism than another, you can note that some people can get fit easier than other, that is because of some bodies can absorb, produce and store more fats than others. Elves have a very little absorption and storage of fats on their bodies.

That fuels their mana

Instead of store excess of energy in fat, they "transmute" it in mana. Mana is just magic, it can be stored in an extremely small amount of space, in your soul, or even in another plane of existence (pocket dimension).

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Elves are generally described as being athletic and capable of great feats of endurance and often portrayed as needing little or no sleep.

It is possible that they are able to consciously adjust their metabolism according to need so the can make the most of the food energy available to them, varying from high intensity bursts of energy to great efficiency to near hibernation.

So rather than storing energy as fat they can adjust their rate of calorie consumption according to availability.

Elves are a very old race with low birth rates and so may have had time to evolve significantly in an environment where food supplies are reasonably stable so the cost vs benefit of storing fat is diffident for them

It could also be cultural. Perhaps in eleven culture over-consumption is frowned upon and their tastes are less inclined towards calorie dense foods.

Equally you can look at their lifestyles. They don't seem to go in much for farming and seem to have more of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, again supported by the fact that they have low population densities in large territories of mostly forest. If you look at human hunter-gatherer societies they tend to be fairly lean and generally follow a pattern of fairly constant, low intensity activity. You don't see many fat Kalahari Bushmen.

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So this may be somewhat redundant to some of the other posts, but I really enjoy the concept of Elves storing internal energy fundamentally differently. Specifically storing excess energy as some sort of magic/mana/whatever. This could have developed a number of ways, if you're imagining some interface between traditional biology and magic.

  • They could easily have a differently-specialized cell distributed across their body that stores magic, but which is inherently more efficient than the chemical storage of fat cells, making their accumulation almost undetectable compared to a humans adipose deposits.

  • They could have a specialized organ which stores magical energy, I believe a previous poster referenced a bag-of-holding concept that could be very fun to play with (literarily, not physically handling the organ, mind you).

  • They could have an organelle in ALL of their cells, much like our mitochondria, which function to place magical energy into and retrieve magical energy out of some inherent "pool" or extra-dimensional space (magic in this case not having physical substance and being possible to thusly store).

This could result in a NUMBER of interesting side-effects. For example, Elvish cuisine could be fundamentally different due to a relative inability to process complex fats (a strongly vegetarian, light, herbal trend). And Elves turning their noses up at human foods full of fats, cheeses, and oils both feeds into the aloof manner of elves, yet could have perfectly understandable roots (the indigestion that could result might be truly unpleasant).

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Elf bones have a different composition that makes them supercapacitors.

The rapid charge and discharge rates of supercapacitors enables sudden magical attacks, while metabolism can store any amount of food derived energy as fast as it can be processed.

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Fat isn't the only way of long-term energy storage

From Wikipedia:

Glycogen functions as one of two forms of long-term energy reserves, with the other form being triglyceride stores in adipose tissue (i.e., body fat). In humans, glycogen is made and stored primarily in the cells of the liver and skeletal muscle. In the liver, glycogen can make up from 5–6% of the organ's fresh weight and the liver of an adult weighing 70 kg can store roughly 100–120 grams of glycogen. In skeletal muscle, glycogen is found in a low concentration (1–2% of the muscle mass) and the skeletal muscle of an adult weighing 70 kg stores roughly 400 grams of glycogen.

If elves can store more glycogen, then they don't need body fat as a long-term energy storage. Some magically enhanced form of it can store even more energy, in which case they simply store all their long-term energy needs within liver and muscle.

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Storing excess energy as fat is a human evolutionary advantage

Every animal has fat in their body. Life would be hard otherwise. However, humans are better at storing excess energy as fat than other animals. It allows us to endure longer periods without food.

So it's not that elves don't have fat. They simply haven't acquired the gene that makes their bodies store as much of it as humans do through their own evolution. Thus, you need look no further than the biology of animals other than humans to see how elves avoid getting fat.

Besides, female elves have breasts, right? Breasts consist mostly of fat.


Don't take my word for this, but I heard that the trait that we "traded in" for the ability to easily store so much fat was the ability to produce vitamin C in our bodies. It supposedly explains why we are susceptible to scurvy and other animals aren't. Again, this is third hand information, so look into it yourself if you're interested.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't know any other mammal that doesn't store fat as much humans when over-fed I think it's just calories in versus calories out. $\endgroup$ – user56803 Nov 2 '18 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Eries Yes, when over-fed other mammals also store excess fat, but humans are exceptionally good at it. We don't have to over-feed to the same degree to start storing surplus fat. It is often touted as one of the biological survival strategies which humans excel at. $\endgroup$ – Kapten-N Nov 2 '18 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ Evolution doesn't require a species to "trade in" one trait for another, and as far as I know fat storage and vitamin C production aren't related systems, so I'm skeptical of that claim. More likely is that during a portion of human evolution, vitamin C was abundant in our diets, so the trait to produce it for ourselves wasn't necessary, and its loss wasn't evolutionarily detrimental and therefore not selected against $\endgroup$ – Kevin Wells Nov 2 '18 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ Can we get some visual evidence on the female elf breasts claim there? $\endgroup$ – Sentinel Nov 4 '18 at 8:27
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Perhaps they just don't have any subcutaneous fat (i.e fat located just below the skin).

They could still have visceral fat (around their internal organs) or intramuscular fat.

There's a rare mutation that causes this situation in people in real life. They never 'appear' fatter no matter how much they eat. They still can get diabetes and health issues from too much eating though, particularly as visceral fat can damage your internal organs.

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