Eat fat to lose weight.
For any of us who were of a cognizant age during the 90's this is a very difficult concept to swallow. We grew up listening to Susan Powter screaming at us to “Stop the Insanity” and Dr. Dean Ornish telling us to “Eat More, Weigh Less.” The key to 90's dietary logic was that fat made you fat and that to lose weight you could eat all the carbs and protein you wanted - just cut out the fat. Only, we kept getting fatter.
Sure, I lost weight during the 90's on a low fat diet. I lost weight because my total caloric consumption went down. I lost pounds, mostly muscle mass.
I weighed less, but I wasn’t any healthier.
In 1996, I weighed 235 pounds. I wore size 38 pants. I did not exercise beyond Tai Chi and my job. I was an on again - off again smoker.
Today I weigh 271 pounds, five pounds shy of the heaviest I’ve ever weighed in my 44 years. I still wear size 38 pants and I train 6 days a week. I lift weights three days a week, train martial arts five days a week and manage some additional cardio and mobility work another three days a week (I know, that’s a 11 days, but most days I train twice in two different modalities).
My diet is rich in fats from various sources. I cook with bacon grease and coconut oil, I eat lots of nuts, other fatty meats (pork, lamb, and beef), and avocados. I also eat lots of fruit and vegetables and a moderate amount of starchy carbs, including rice and potatoes.
It’s unlikely that bare chested I will grace the cover of any magazine other than Big Bears Monthly, I’m still in better shape than I was at 24.
So why is that? Why is the me that eats bacon and welcomes dietary fat is in better shape that the me who didn’t? How is it that I eat more calories now than I did 20 years ago and, while I certainly weigh more, manage to maintain a better body composition and shape?
The key to weight loss, specifically fat loss, is to eat fewer calories than you expend. It’s harder to do that on a low fat diet. It’s true that fat grams contain more calories than carbs or protein (9 calories per gram of fat versus 4 for carbs and protein). But fat is more satisfying - literally.
There’s an article in the Telegraph from last week. A former UK surgeon speaking before the House of Lords pointed out that the last twenty years of dietary advice has had it all wrong.
“Fat enters the small intestine and greatly delays the emptying of the stomach,” he told peers.
"As the stomach emptying is delayed it gives the feeling that one has had enough to eat. Later when the fat has been absorbed the stomach then start to empty again. It's a beautifully balanced mechanism which tends to prevent us from eating too much and prevents us from getting obese."
Bam! that’s Science. Take that, Susan Powter.
When discussing diet with my clients I often use this thought experiment:
Imagine, if you will, that you’re sitting at my dining room table. I’ve just set before you a bowl containing a pound of butter and a spoon. “Dig in.” Even in your imagination you’ll have a hard time envisioning finishing the bowl. In fact, most of us can imagine just four or five bites before, “Ugh, I’m done.”
That’s because fat is so filling. Intuitively, we know this.
Yet if I took that bowl and added a pound of confectioner’s sugar and whipped it into an icing, most of us can see eating the entire bowl.
Fat and carbs in combination evoke a different response. You can overeat cake and cookies and other confectioneries, and quite easily, too. The mechanism that tells us we are full is over ridden when fat is combined with sugar.
It’s never as simple as we’d like it to be.
There are tons of diets out there claiming that if you eliminate this or that food or food group you can lose weight. And they’re right, mostly because by eliminating an entire third of your normal diet you can mange to create a calorie deficit - for a time.
As Dan John puts it, “Everything works...for about six weeks.” That’s because that’s around the amount of time your body needs to adjust to its new circumstances. Remember, the TED talk I posted about the hypothalamus and weight loss? Your body is always trying to get back to its sense of homeostasis.
I suppose you could constantly keep it guessing. Changing diets and programs every six weeks. Atkins for six weeks, then low fat, then Mediterranean, then vegan, but that just seems exhausting. I can’t imagine it being a lifestyle anyone would want to follow for long.
What makes more sense is to look at what all the various strategies have in common and finding a sustainable program there, one that allows for the variances of life and allows you to get enjoyment from it.
How about this?
- Expend more calories than you consume. Eat to support your activity level. Seek satiety with the understanding that you don't have to hate yourself after every meal. If you are looking to lose weight, a calorie deficit that allows for loss of one pound per week is sustainable.
- Eat Fruits and vegetables. Lots of them. Fruits and vegetables provide essential nutrients, both macro and micro, the body needs. They're high in anti-oxidants, essential compounds that help eliminate the cell damaging free radicals that are a by-product of your metabolism and the generation of energy.
- Avoid franken-foods. If your food has to be produced in a lab, versus being found in nature, it is not real food. Just because you can eat an electric blue rainbow slushie doesn't mean you should. Seek out foods you can eat in as close to their natural state as possible.
- Avoid boxes and bags. The healhtiest foods have the shortest shelf lives. When you eat, you are, in essence, transferring the life force of the food you eat into your own life force. A bag of Cheetos, with a shelf life of six months, is about as dead as you can get.
- Eat real fat. Real fat is the fat that does not need a chemical process to be made. Real fats either just exist, like animal fats, or can be rendered with the simple act of pressing, like olive and coconut oils.
There, that’s not so hard. Is it?
Eat the food that pleases you. Eat it in it’s whole, natural state. Allow yourself the occasional indulgence. I understand, some people really like Cheetos, but you’re much better off making it an every once in a while treat rather than something you eat every day.
To our perfect imperfection,