Dealing with overweight. Part 9: Is a high fat diet really a problem?

The short answer is almost always, yes.  One of the biggest problems with fat in the foods we eat is its very high caloric density.  This means that gram for gram, fat is over twice as many calories as either protein or carbohydrates.  Many of us are used to eating until we get a certain amount of food volume in our stomachs.  If you eat this way with high fat meals, you will be getting almost twice as many calories per meal as someone who eats a very low fat diet.

Fat’s effects on us, in regards to weight loss are not all bad, though.  Fat slows the speed at which our stomachs empty and as a result we feel full and satisfied longer.  If you balance these two factors out, though, what it comes down to is that high fat diets encourage excess body weight while a reasonable amount of fat in the diet is probably not a problem for most people.  Before I get into what comprises a reasonable amount of fat in our meals, I will discuss the animal research with dietary fat and its effects on an animal’s body composition.  This is very similar to the research on dietary sugar in an animal’s food that we covered in the last article.

The results of research on the effects of fat in the food of a large number of different animal species is very consistent.  If you take experimental animals and let them eat and exercise as much as they want, and you give half of them a high fat diet and half their normal diet, what do you think you will find?  Yep, just like we find in humans, high fat diets cause the animals to build up excessive fat stores.  If you want to make these animals really overweight, give them both a high fat and a high sugar diet.  In many studies, the results are even worse than additive; it’s almost as if high fat and high sugar intakes multiply their detrimental effects when together.  Want to make the situation even worse?  Restrict the animal’s ability to get around.  I include these research findings to show that these effects are not just psychological; they have powerful effects on our metabolism.  They are part of the physiology of our animal body.

One more metabolic effect that is important.  Remember when I said that consuming carbohydrates always raises the insulin level in the blood stream?  Insulin inhibits the metabolism of fat.  This means we will always use up the sugar stores in our body before we start to burn fat.  This is why many overweight people are not very hungry in the morning.  While we sleep, our body switches over to burning fat after the carbohydrates we consumed during the day are cleared.  Our body will continue to be able to use fat for energy until we begin to eat some carbohydrates and protein, at which time they are burned in preference to fat.  In contrast to the advice that is usually given by nutritionists, I advise my patients struggling with controlling their body weight to not eat breakfast when they are not hungry.  If they find, however, that skipping breakfast makes them ravenous at lunch, I advise that they figure out how much to eat for breakfast to avoid an out of control appetite at lunch time.

Finally, we get to how to incorporate these insights into our way of eating.  In the southeast US where I practice, we are used to some of the worst food patterns that exist anywhere.  Just about everyone is raised on a lot of fried foods, bacon, sausage and other high fat meats.  If you cut these foods out, you have eliminated about 90% of the problems from too much fat in the diet.  Many of my patients do not want to hear it, but if they make these changes and eliminate the sugars too, many solve their problem right there.

If you add consuming more fiber to what I have said about making sure you have limited sugar and limited fat in your diet, you pretty much have the optimum food pattern for long term weight control.  Unfortunately, this does not mean that following these guidelines will bring everyone’s weight down to the best levels.  Some will succeed with this approach alone, but many will still not be completely successful.  They will certainly do much better than if they ignore what I have advised, but for these folks, other help is needed.

In the next article, I will bring up the topic of protein again as it has important effects that have a powerful impact on our weight control efforts.

For those who are hanging in there and following this whole series of articles, we still have a fair amount to cover.  There are more insights that can help you, especially if you have been using everything I have discussed already and you know it has not been enough.


About Chuck Gebhardt

I am a physician specializing in internal medicine. I sub-specialize in nutritional medicine. I am very interested in all areas of healing research, not necessarily limited to traditional medicine topics.
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