Does Fat Make You Fat?

Short answer: nope!

Long answer: Dietary fat (the fat you eat), and body fat (love handles) are not the same thing. 

The medical and nutrition communities have been saying for years that saturated fat is linked to obesity and coronary artery disease.  The weight loss community, which is firmly rooted in Calories In/Calories Out, also shuns fat because of its caloric density.

Why does this notion continue to prevail, when study after study disproves it? A brief history:

More than 50 years ago, scientists discovered that saturated fat (especially that found in meat and dairy), elevated blood cholesterol levels.  They already knew that high cholesterol could clog arteries, leading to heart disease or heart attacks. They put this all together and concluded that consumption of saturated fat must contribute to heart disease.

But the research was inconclusive. There was never any proof in that initial research that directly linked dietary fat to heart disease.

Once doctors and the U.S.D.A. started preaching “fat is bad,” low-fat products became a huge industry. No one wants to get heart disease – and most people trust their doctors and leaders to a) know what to eat to stay healthy, and b) have their best interest at heart.

The truth:

Carbohydrates, especially refined flour and sugar, are the true culprits. Forgive my oversimplification, but here’s what happens:

When you ingest carbohydrates, they get broken down in your intestines to become glucose (blood sugar), which is energy for your cells. Your pancreas produces insulin, whose job it is to deliver the glucose to your cells.

Excess glucose (read: a diet high in carbohydrates) prompts more insulin production. Leftover insulin needs something to do, so it asks for more carbohydrate – often creating a sugar craving.

When insulin becomes disregulated, it wreaks all kinds of havoc. Insulin is greedy – once it’s out of control, it wants to store all your calories in fat cells. On the other hand, insulin prevents fat cells from releasing glucose – which explains why an obese person, working harder than ever at the gym, devotedly counting calories, will eventually plateau.

This vicious cycle continues without end, unless you can break the cycle by shifting your main source of energy from carbs (sugar) to fat and protein. The currently popular Paleo Diet is designed around this principle – it’s a diet free of carbohydrates, except those found in some fruit, natural sweeteners, and vegetables.

If this sounds suspiciously like the Atkins diet, it is. They are based on the same research. The problem with Atkins (and to some degree, with Paleo), is that they aren’t meant to be as meat-heavy as the general population tends to make them. It’s not the “bacon-and-eggs” diet; it’s the “kale-and-coconut-oil” diet, with maybe a little meat here and there.

You don’t have to go Paleo to reduce your carbohydrate intake. A day could look like this:

  • Breakfast: Plain, full-fat yogurt, with nuts, honey & blueberries
  • Lunch: Tuna (canned or fresh) with avocado, ginger, sesame seeds and soy sauce, served over brown rice
  • Dinner: Spaghetti squash with steamed veggies, pesto sauce & sun-dried tomatoes
  • Snacks: Nuts, nut butter, veggie sticks, apples, berries

If you jump straight from a standard, carb-filled diet to the above meal plan, you’ll feel awful. You’ve got to make gradual, step-by-step changes, and only do what you can handle today.

This is a huge change, and should be done under the guidance of a well-informed doctor (especially if you’re diabetic, insulin-resistant, or have a metabolic syndrome diagnosis). A nutritionist or health coach can guide you through day-to-day meals. Just do some screening and make sure he or she is open to the wonders of a higher-fat diet. (I know one health coach who definitely is, wink wink.) 


The Soft Science of Dietary Fat, by Gary Taubes, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (March 30, 2001)

Slim It to Win It starts this week! It includes daily nutrition guidelines to help you reduce body fat while staying satisfied. Check it out here.


Written by Sam

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