“Why are you recommending that I eat so much fatty food?” an overweight prediabetic patient of ours recently asked us. “I can’t shake my fear of fat. I think all this food is going to make me gain weight.”
You’re not alone if you have a healthy fear of eating fat. We were told by the authorities of the day: “A Calorie is A Calorie is A Calorie.” Fats have more calories per gram than any other macro-nutrient. So eating fat makes you fat, right? End of story.
Dietary fat contains nine calories per gram, versus the four calories per gram for carbs and protein. If you eat less fat, you will eat fewer calories and you will lose weight — Full Stop.
Unfortunately, that theory doesn’t work for many reasons. All calories are the same in a test tube. When you burn a food grain in a vacuum, you get energy. It’s a simple reaction.
However, your body is not a test tube. It is an intricate, interconnected organism that simultaneously juggles thousands of duties.
The food you eat is NOT just a source of calories. Think of food as containing an intricate set of signals. Eating one type of food sends signals to your genes. Eating another changes the signal. It also changes the way your body reacts. In other words, food literally turns on health genes or disease genes. It tells those genes to store or burn fat. Food influences your hormones, your brain and appetite, your immune system, even the bacteria that grow in your gut.
Eating Fat Helps You Burn MORE Calories
Kevin Hall, from the National Institutes of Health, studies mathematical systems and biology. He found that when you measure every ounce of food, every movement, every breath and every calorie burned, you find that those who ate more fat compared to an identical amount of carbs burned over 100 more calories a day. Over a year, that amounts to about a 10-pound weight loss from doing no more exercise.
Hall also reported studies on brain imaging and brain function that found eating more fat actually shuts off your brain’s hunger and craving centres. Eating healthy fats improves things like food intake, taste preferences and even your metabolism.
Dietary fat, again higher in calories per gram than carbs or protein, can positively impact the whole calorie-burning process. It’s a mind bender, isn’t it?
Harvard professor Dr. David Ludwig (published in JAMA) lays out the case for a very different view of obesity and metabolism. Ludwig argues that we don’t get fat from eating more and exercising less. Instead, it’s the reverse – being fat makes you eat more and exercise less. Essentially your fat cells get hungry and drive you to overeat.
How We Gain Weight: Hungry Fat Cells
Here’s how this plays out in your body.
The initiation of weight gain is when we eat concentrated amounts of sugar/carbs and remember, all processed carbs including wheat bread turn to sugar. The sugar spikes your fat-storing hormone, insulin.
You don’t even have to be overweight at this point. Insulin then drives all available fuel in your bloodstream into your fat cells. It’s an energy-saving mechanism for the body. It evolved millions of years ago when we didn’t have access to that much sugar in our diet.
The sugar-to-fat deposition seems to happen especially around your middle, which we call visceral fat, organ fat or most commonly, belly fat. This particular type of fat releases a hormone (another signal) that stimulates your brain to make you hungrier, leading to a loop. Eat sugar, make fat… get hungry, eat more sugar.
The second thing is when you try to restrict calories and exercise more – the typical solution to lose weight – your body becomes scared, fearing you’re starving. Your body lowers its own internal thermostat and decreases your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).
Evolutionarily, this makes sense: Until you find food, your metabolism slows down so you don’t die. That was important at one point in human history, however, it’s clearly not a problem today because we are surrounded by food.
Speed Up Your Metabolism with a High-Fat Diet
In human experiments, those who ate high-fat diets had a much faster metabolism. Low-fat, high-carb diets spiked insulin, subsequently slowing their metabolism and storing belly fat. The higher-fat diet group had a faster metabolism, even eating the same amount of calories.
Another human study, also conducted by Dr. Ludwig and his Harvard colleagues, compared high-fat, low-carb diets with high-carb, low-fat diets in a controlled feeding study (where researchers provided all the food). Again, the high-fat group did better.
The take-home here is that there is mounting evidence that your fat-cell biology is controlled by the quality and type of the food you eat, more than the amount. This logic brings us to the idea that we should eat a quality fat, wholefood diet that’s lower in refined carbohydrates, low-glycemic and high in fibre. That plan would include healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds and eggs.
So the next time you add a little extra olive oil to your salad, enjoy it.