Eat fat to lose weight? It sounds crazy, I know. That’s just one of the mental barriers to losing weight I had to overcome. Here’s what I discovered during my journey.
Eat Fat to Lose Weight?
“That looks like a heart attack on a plate,” Pedro observed as I sat down to breakfast with a cheese omelet and two vegetarian sausage links on my plate.
I looked over at his healthy, whole-wheat waffle with peanut butter and fruit jam and shrugged. “We’ll find out,” I challenged. “We’ll have our cholesterol checked tomorrow morning. Mine has been over two-hundred for the past three years.”
“You can thank your dad for that,” Pedro replied.
I cut another bite of omelet and watched the cheese drape over my fork and reach for the plate. I wondered if my high cholesterol came from heredity, or if something else fueled it.
Eating more healthy fats on a daily basis did not come easy to me. I grew up in the era where everyone from the pastor to the press to the president warned about the evils of fat in our diets. Everyone seemed to believe the ‘Eat fat, get fat’ mantra.
Likewise, conventional wisdom dictated that the more you ate, the more weight you gained. But I had started to doubt conventional wisdom. After all, I ate about half of what Pedro ate, and exercised three times more, but I kept putting on the pounds.
He would proudly put on his five pounds of ‘winter fat’ each fall and lose it within three weeks each spring. Grrr. Men.
Maybe the onset of menopause and changing hormones played a role in my weight gain. Perhaps the extra pounds came from eating desserts with impunity. I figured that since I made low-fat desserts, I could eat twice as many, right?
The Hefty Price of Sloppy Habits
But for the past four years, I paid a hefty price. Literally. Ok, twenty pounds of extra weight isn’t THAT horrible. I noticed the extra most in photos where I looked like the grumpy overweight middle-aged woman. As I started training for a half-marathon back in February, I felt the extra weight each time my feet hit the pavement. I didn’t want my knees to give out halfway through my training program.
When I tried on my favorite pair of shorts in April and couldn’t even zip them up, I knew the time had come. For the next four weeks I’ll share how I lost 20 pounds in three months (and how I plan to keep the weight off).
Before you make any drastic changes in your diet or exercise, you should consult a physician to ensure that you are in good health.
Believe it or not, weight loss doesn’t start with joining a gym or starting an exercise program. Weight loss starts in your head. I’ve discovered that these six mental exercises helped me just as much as any change in my diet. Because without eliminating mental barriers to losing weight, we will struggle to form new, healthier habits.
1. Examine Your Narrative
One of the narratives I told myself for years was that I couldn’t lose weight. It started when a close male friend in college called me svelte. For some reason, I never looked the word up and just assumed it was a kindly synonym for ‘plump.’
According to Dr. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility,
“We crawl into these fables and let a sentence or a paragraph, which may have originated thirty or forty years ago and never been objectively tested and verified, represent the totality of our lives.”Dr. Susan David
My friend’s comment (and my misunderstanding of the word), formed a narrative about myself that I used for over twenty years. While not exactly fat, I saw myself as a plump woman who had a difficult time losing weight. Having children exacerbated the problem. My kids started school before I lost the baby weight.
After Pedro’s bout with cancer and my sixty-pound weight gain, I decided that I needed to lose that weight for my health’s sake. I set out to do so, and found a low-carb diet plan that really worked for me. Within nine months I went from 190 to 130.
I now had a new and contradictory narrative. I COULD lose weight—but it had required tremendous self-discipline and at times my family worried about me. Most likely because of my irritability and unhappiness.
My weight loss also had one unintended effect. By keeping my journey to myself, I inadvertently set a bad example for our daughters. They, too, have struggled with having a healthy narrative about food and its place in our lives.
Take time to examine your narrative. What do you believe about yourself and your weight and is your narrative true?
2. Know Your Why
All too often we initiate changes in our lives without first examining our why. Why did I want to lose weight? What do I believe about myself? Why do I sabotage myself in my efforts to remain healthy?
When you initiate positive changes in your life, having a firm understanding of your motivation makes it much easier to follow through on your intent.
I wanted to lose weight because I feel most comfortable in my skin when I weigh around 135 lbs. and have a BMI between 20-22. I have more energy and I can play for countless hours with my grandson.
My best-self physical identity involves a vibrant, healthy woman who has the physical resources to step up to challenges without breaking down.
Examine what you want your best-self physical identity to look like. Take time to write it down. This guide may help.
In her book Emotional Agility, Dr. Susan David talks about how we need to know our why in order to make sustainable changes.
“Engaging our autonomy—the power of want to rather than have to—is the second prerequisite for tweaking your way to significant change.”Dr. Susan David
3. Don’t Follow Every Fad
Between my 20s and my 30s, I tried many fads to lose the baby fat. I went on the cabbage soup diet and after three weeks of deprivation and more cabbage than anyone should eat in a lifetime, I lost a pound. More fodder for my ‘can’t lose weight’ narrative. After all, other people I knew lost 5-15 pounds in the same amount of time.
Next, I tried using ephedrine. After one very expensive bottle of diet pills, I lost nothing but money from my bank account. I started hearing horror stories about the dangers, and decided to ditch the fad fast.
Other fads include the ‘calories in must equal fewer than calories out.’ If you just eat less and exercise more, you’ll lose weight. Maybe. But not likely. I slavishly kept track of every calorie I consumed and worked hard to burn more than I ate. Without any fitness tracker, I had no idea if I had actually achieved my goals, though.
After six months of near-starvation, I lost five pounds.
I remember the Atkins diet, the grapefruit diet, and the sleeping beauty diet, the South Beach Diet, and the Beverly Hills Diet. Fortunately, I didn’t try any of them.
Not every diet will work for every person. Some fads can cause lasting harm to your body.
4. Do More Research
Make sure that you adequately research any of diet fads or plans before you try them. When I decided to tackle my excess flab this spring, I spent an entire afternoon looking through my still-boxed-from-my-last-move book collection. I couldn’t find the book I’d followed back in 2003 when I lost 60 pounds on a low-carb diet.
eBay and Amazon didn’t help either, because I couldn’t remember the title. All of my low-carb diet book searches kept bringing up something called the keto diet, though. I decided to research it more thoroughly. It had many similarities to the low-carb diet I’d used before, with one important difference. Fat.
That’s right, the concept of ‘eat fat to lose weight’ got added to the low-carb diet I used before.
Not all fats are created equal, though. According to Help Guide,
Since fat is an important part of a healthy diet, rather than adopting a low-fat diet, it’s more important to focus on eating more beneficial “good” fats and limiting harmful “bad” fats.Help Guide
In order to remember the good fats, just remember the popular board game Monopoly. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated (Mono + Poly) fats form the bulk of the good fats. These come from plant sources and fish—good news for vegetarians and pescatarians.
- Peanut butter
- Soybeans, soybean oil, and soybean products
- Vegetable oils
Saturated fats and trans fats, aka the ‘bad guys’, include things that come from animals:
- Red meat
- Chicken skin
- Dairy products made from whole milk
The jury hasn’t decided on the long-term effects of coconut oil. I’ve eaten a lot more of it than I did before, and I’ll find it interesting to see what has happened to my cholesterol counts over the long term.
The bottom line on fat in your diet? Beware the kinds of fats you eat. Eating ‘low-fat’ products that manufacturers have filled with other unhealthy things won’t help you and might harm you.
Eating healthy fats from plant sources (if combined with other healthy foods) can lower your bad cholesterol, raise your good cholesterol, help your body absorb vitamins and minerals, and help you lose weight.
I struggled with the ‘eat more fat’ concept. Overwriting old information with new information doesn’t come easily.Struggling with the concept of eating more fat to lose weight? Yeah. Me, too. But it works. #keto #SelfCareSunday #selfcare Click To Tweet
5. Decide what’s Sustainable
Many people can’t sustain ‘diets’—especially radical diets or fad diets. Why? Because humans do better at making lasting changes when they make tiny tweaks to their beliefs and habits and experience small successes along the way.
I’ll use my experience with my weight as an example. When I went on a low-carb diet almost twenty years ago, I ended up making a lot of changes to my eating habits over the nine months. Changes that everyone in the family benefitted from. We started eating only whole grains and eating fewer potatoes. We ate more vegetables and fruits and fewer unhealthy processed foods.
Although I made those changes immediately, the rest of the family had time to change as I started experimenting with healthier versions of things we already enjoyed. When I transitioned off the low-carb diet, we had already made the changes that allowed me to sustain my weight loss (within a 10-pound range) for years.
I regained twenty pounds over four years because I made tiny tweaks to my thinking. Instead of eating well to run better, I started running so I could eat with impunity—which doesn’t really work for me. As I formed new eating habits (more sweets, fewer vegetables), I didn’t eat more—I substituted healthy things with unhealthy things.
Most ketogenic diet proponents agree that a keto diet shouldn’t turn into a life-long endeavor. First of all, making your body change its fuel source can give your kidneys an extra workout (make sure you drink extra water).
For the past three months I’ve not only reset my eating habits, I’ve tweaked my internal dialogue as well. Now I eat to fuel my body and my brain. My knees don’t ache after every run, my speed has increased, and I’ve discovered healthier alternatives to sugar.
6. Determine What Works Best for You
Some people can slavishly weigh every morsel that goes into their mouth, catalogue every macronutrient on their smart phone, or tally calories ‘til the cows come home. Not me.
Other people want a month’s worth of menus, shopping lists, and step-by-step instructions for when and where to eat. Not me.
Yet others only find success at group meetings, need counseling, or an online community to support them. These all work for some people. Not me. Online community support sounds tempting, but if I said yes to that, I’d have to say no to something else.
I’ll slavishly pay attention to my heart rate on my fitness tracker while I exercise, check my sleep stats every morning, and keep track of how much water I drink, though. We all have our quirks.
I chose a keto diet because I knew that the low-carb thing had worked in the past, and I wanted to incorporate new information about how to eat fat to fuel my brain. Every morning I check my ketone levels. Once a month I give my body a break from ketosis by eating more healthy carbs.
My rapid weight loss at the start of my journey (about ten pounds the first month), kept me motivated to continue. Staying on a keto diet while spending six weeks in Alaska and two in Montana challenged me at times. When everyone else enjoyed the world’s best rhubarb pie, I came up with a low-carb alternative.
If you want to find success, you have to figure out what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to tweak your plan along the way to fit your needs. Remember, many small changes create sustainable habits.
Who Won the Cholesterol Contest?
Pedro and I met at lunch the following day to compare the results of our bloodwork. After just one month of eating keto, my cholesterol levels had dropped. My kidney doctor has been after me for three years about my elevated triglyceride levels. Elevated triglyceride levels can lead to hardening of the arteries and a host of other unpleasant problems.
|Cholesterol||Optimal #s||Before||After one month of keto|
|HDL Cholesterol (the good kind)||>60||61||64|
|LDL Cholesterol (the bad kind)||<100||128||112|
Pedro’s cholesterol (especially his triglycerides and LDL levels) were higher than mine. I gently pointed out that perhaps my ‘heart attack on a plate’ diet was better for me than either of us would have thought a month earlier.
Weight loss (and weight gain) happens in our heads, first. Everyone’s journey will look different from mine, and everyone will have a different best-self weight. Some people will want community, others not so much. But we owe it to ourselves, and to the people we love, to strive for the best version of us.