Learning that fat is healthy and that fat is our friend, has been liberating for many. No more eating flavorless margarine, egg white omelets or low fat cheese. But just because something is good for us, does it mean that the answer is eating lots of it? Maybe, maybe not.
Quite a while back, I was reading an article on the health benefits of avocados, and the suggestion was to eat a whole avocado per day. So I did that for several days and couldn’t figure out why I was having horrible stomach cramps. I did not associate it with the avocados. Nevertheless, I ran out of avocados and so stopped eating them and the stomach discomfort went away. A few months later, I tried it again with the same results. I started to research if others had similar problems with avocados and found a wealth of information. Some diets eliminate avocados due to their containing polyols that can cause stomach distress. I now have experimented with the amount of avocado I can eat and found that I can eat 1/4 to 1/2 avocado in one sitting, but not daily. Why am I telling you this story?? To make the point that…sometimes, even too much of a good thing isn’t always…a good thing.
Is there such a thing as eating too much fat? In my opinion, yes. How much is too much? That depends on the person. I say, look at the goals you are trying to reach and overall, listen to your body. Remember that when starting out on a low carb lifestyle, most folks have a significant amount of body fat to lose. While we can increase our fat intake when going low carb, we need to remember that if we keep giving our body large amounts of energy (including dietary fat) to burn, it will not need to burn stored fat for its energy needs.
Look at the following graph from the book “Art and Science of Low Carb Living” by Dr. Stephen Phinney and Dr. Jeff Volek. (These are not suggested caloric/macronutrient needs for you specifically, this is for example only.) Notice in early weight loss stages, our body fat makes up about half of our daily energy needs. In other words, we can get about half of our body’s daily “calorie” needs right from our own body fat stores. Then, as we progress toward the point that we want to stop any additional weight loss (maintenance) our dietary fat intake can be gradually increased.
How many of us out there have already reached the point where we need to STOP losing body fat? Likely, not many of us. Yet, there are many folks out there who still have significant weight to lose, who are consuming large amounts of fat, and wondering why they cannot reach desired weight loss results. They are most likely listening to the mantra “eat more fat, lose more weight.” What that MEANS is that a higher PERCENTAGE of our calories should come from fat. That is true. If you are REPLACING high glycemic carbs on your plate with healthy fats, yes, you can expect weight loss. But just to eat large amounts of fat indeterminately, not even related hunger? Come on folks! Eating unlimited amounts of ANY kind of food will not result in weight loss. Overeating is overeating. I’ve heard of folks out there who, at the end of the day, are eating spoonfuls of fat, munching down “fat bombs” and loading their coffee with butter or coconut oil, so that they can “get their fat in” for the day. Like if they haven’t reached their fat “percentage” for the day, they are forcing in extra fat. If you can pinch an inch or more of fat around the waist, you’ve “gotten your fat in” ;).
Here is another infographic that demonstrates how on a LCHF diet, AMOUNT of fat can be increased OVER TIME, as body fat depletes, but at first, large amounts of dietary fat are not needed, not if you wish to burn stored fat. Notice in all the graphs, about 70-75% of the diet is fat, but NOT JUST DIETARY FAT. (Once again, these are NOT caloric recommendations for anyone specifically. This is an example.)
Notice this plate that is shared in low carb circles. While it may be correct PERCENTAGE wise, will your plate really look like this? Will you eat 1/2 your dinner plate PORTION in fat? I doubt it…If you were to look at my dinner plate, you’d probably think it looked like 1/2 carbs and 1/2 protein. Because most often, 1/2 my plate is non-starchy vegetables, with the other 1/2 containing some source of animal protein. Where is the fat? Avocados, eggs, olives, bacon or cheese on my salad, butter on my vegetables, fat in the meat, and the rest of the fat FROM MY BODY. So my plate does NOT look like this, yet I am LCHF. My formula is low carb + moderate protein + moderate DIETARY fat + body fat = LCHF. (For more information, read my article “Macros vs. Plate Method” HERE.)
My point is this: don’t force fat. While it is liberating to know that fat is healthy and we can enjoy it, there is a big difference between using it liberally, and force feeding it to ourselves. Now if you need a little extra fat to be satiated, and to fight carb cravings, by all means, eat a little extra. (This may especially be true in the beginning, when becoming “fat adapted” and having to “detox” from carbs and deal with cravings. But once those issues are resolved, the body should naturally signal lower hunger and cravings. Listen to it.)
For a while, I wondered how I could be in nutritional ketosis, and either not lose…or sometimes actually gain weight. How can that be if I’m burning fat? Then I realized, I was just taking my old overeating habits and changing the source. So while I was keeping my carbs very low, and my protein moderate, I was overeating dietary fat. I was overeating period. I wasn’t listening to my body’s satiation signals, I was eating for enjoyment….low carb cheesecake…need I say more? Lol! I began to have the idea that because fat wasn’t raising my blood sugar, it was, in a sense, a “free” food. NO FOOD IS “FREE” when you have weight to lose! I truly believe that it is eating patterns like this that lead to long term weight loss stalls, of which I have experienced.
I like the teaching of Dr. Sarah Hallberg in this matter. She recommends 20-50g of carbs per day (depending on your metabolic profile), four “palm-sized” portions of protein, and FAT TO SATISFACTION. (Her video HERE.) That’s right, eat fat until satisfied, not until gorged. Big difference ;). She also recommends to “eat when hungry, don’t eat when you’re not.” So if at the end of the day, do you need extra fat? Well, are you hungry? If so, by all means, fat should be your food of choice. But if you are not hungry, don’t force the fat.
Lastly, I want to address one final misunderstanding about fat, ketosis and weight loss. Many are under the impression that as along as you are in ketosis, you will lose weight. That is NOT true. As I mentioned above, I have gained weight in ketosis. Yes, in ketosis, you are burning fat, but if you are eating all the fat your body needs, your body will not need to burn from it’s stores. So, ketosis is NOT NECESSARILY synonymous with weight loss, and guess what, even having higher ketones does also does not necessarily equal weight loss. Let me say this EATING MORE FAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU BURN MORE FAT. Let me repeat that…EATING MORE FAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU BURN MORE FAT. It is the lowering of carbs that causes fat burning, NOT the eating of excessive fat. Here are some fantastic quotes from an amazing nutritionist, Amy Berger.
“Even if you’re in ketosis, if you’re eating several hundred (or thousand!) extra calories of pure fat, all that food energy still has to go somewhere. With or without insulin, in or out of ketosis, it’s not just going to disappear.”
“It’s not the presence of large amounts of dietary fat that makes us burn fat; it’s the absence of carbohydrates.”
In other words:
“Ketosis is achieved by what is not in the diet, not by what is. It is the absence of appreciable amounts of carbohydrate that results in ketosis, not the presence of copious amounts of fat.”
For more on Amy’s great article, click HERE.
So while fat is not something to be feared, it is also not something to be gorged on…unless you need to STOP losing weight. That sounds like a good problem to have…I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it ;).
For more information on “The Art and Science of Low Carb Living,” see my recommended reading list HERE.
Please read my article: Can I Say It Again, Don’t Force the Fat HERE