Fat Is Fat.
Hail Merry Chocolate Raw Almond Butter MIRACLE TART Made With Coconut Oil
On June 2, 2015 I started a little experiment. I decided to cut back on my healthy fat intake for about 10 days (or longer if I liked the results) to see if,
- I felt any differently e.g. lighter, less bloated, less sluggish; and
- If any physical changes occurred e.g. leaned out and/or weight loss.
As I post this, it’s been 22 days and I have learned a lot and made some permanent adjustments to my diet.
Why the experiment?
This was sparked by an email exchange I had with Don Saladino, Owner of Drive495 in New York City about diet and nutrition for another blog post I am writing and the topic came up, that even if the fat is a healthy fat, it’s still fat.
The amount of fat you consume, even healthy fat consumption because it’s still FAT, should be based upon your gender, age, body type, activity level, and fat loss goals.
In my opinion consuming healthy fats is very important, however I think that people have lost sight of the fact that even though it’s a healthy fat it’s still FAT. Subsequently, I see people justify that they can consume as much bacon, almond butter (and other nut butter concoctions), Hail Merry desserts, etc. because they are healthy fats without regard for the fact that they are still FATS.
Even if it’s a healthy fat, fat is fat and still has 9 calories per gram versus carbohydrates and proteins at 4 calories per gram AND your body recognizes it as fat whether it’s fat from a donut or fat from nut butter.
NOW, for those of you who know how I eat you know that as an active female with a mesomorph body type I am the queen of healthy fats. Therefore, I’m not saying don’t eat it, I’m saying be more aware of your fat intake and have it in moderation.
In fact, upon reviewing my own personal healthy fat consumption, I determined that my healthy fat consumption was a little out of control…
Daily, I was eating at least ½ avocado, a serving of almond butter (there was a point that it used to be more than a serving a day but I cut back because I didn’t like how it was making me feel), fatty meats like salami, pepperoni, and bacon (not all in the same day, but one a day!), and I use coconut oil and olive oil to cook foods and put on vegetables.
I was eating all of these excess healthy fats without taking into consideration the fat that I was also consuming from my protein meals.
Even though one of my goals is not fat loss, I was also committing one of the worst fat loss sins on a regular basis by combining carbs with fat AT THE SAME MEAL. I was eating almond butter with a banana (or even dates!), fruit in salads with avocado, coconut oil or coconut butter on sweet potatoes, olive oil on pasta, and eating 1-2 Lara bars a day, which combine healthy fats with dried fruit a fast digesting carbohydrate.
Why is combining carbs and fats at the same meal NOT good for fat loss?
According to Dr. John Berardi, Co-Founder of Precision Nutrition, carbs raise insulin levels, and a chronic elevation of insulin can increase the rate of transport of fats and carbs into fat cells. This is particularly important if your goals are to build muscle and lose fat. John Berardi wrote more about this in his T-Nation article Massive Eating – Part 2. Also make sure to check out Massive Eating Part 1 and Massive Eating Reloaded.
Therefore, based upon the goals of fat loss and building muscle, John Berardi recommends specific meal combinations, which I’m sure may be information that many of you reading this may already know:
Meals Combos AVOID
Avoid meals containing fats and carbs. e.g. Almond Butter with banana
Avoid meals high in carbs alone. e.g. A bowl of cereal, although you shouldn’t be eating cereal anyway… 😉 read more in Coach Pam’s post, “Should I Eat Cereal”?
Meal Combos to EAT
Eat meals containing protein and carbs with minimal fat, remembering that the protein you eat will contain fat.
Eat meals containing protein and fat with minimal carbs.
Despite my massive daily healthy fat consumption, and committing the fat loss sin of combining carbs and fats at the same meal, based upon my activity level, relatively clean diet, and genetics, I remained fairly lean. In addition, as I mentioned previously, one of my goals is NOT fat loss, so the fats and carbs meal combo was not on my radar. My goals are to maintain a healthy body weight and lean body mass to fat ratio, feel satiated after I eat meals, get stronger, not obsess about food, and confirm that I am eating the right things based upon my quality of sleep and digestive cycle.
However, even though I did not think I was not gaining fat and/or adversely affecting my energy levels from all of these excess healthy fats and meal combos, my conversation with Don Saladino made me think that I may want to re-evaluate my diet because if I stop and think about it, for about a year now I’ve been feeling more like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, bloated and sluggish, sometimes overly full, than my light on my feet, kung fu black belt self.
I remembered there was a time that I was not making a point to have a healthy fat at every meal and/or for snacks, but that, a little over a year ago, I started to incorporate more healthy fats into my diet, because,
- I learned that as a mesomorph body type healthy fats were something that agreed with me (or so I thought); and
- Because I hated being hungry.
I was afraid of being hungry when I was teaching class or training a client.
I was afraid of becoming hungry when I was training myself.
I came to fear being hungry because when I get hungry I get HANGRY.
I am all of these but most of the time a combo of The Monster and The Broadcaster
Subsequently, I started to prevent the slightest possibility that I might get hungry by consuming excess healthy fats throughout the day.
So much so that I learned after this experiment that I had forgotten what it was like to wake up hungry on most days, and I forgot what it was like to really get hungry for a meal and really enjoy that meal, because I did learn that I was indeed consuming too much excess healthy fat and less than optimal meal combinations.
This was not due to lack of knowledge about nutrition but rather due to the fact that I started to go to healthy fats before any other macro for the quick snack fix or meal addition in order to prevent hunger.
It became habit so I forgot what I used to feel like prior to having a healthy fat at almost every meal and going to healthy fats for default for snacks.
I also learned that because I was consuming so many healthy fats throughout the day that sometimes I wouldn’t be hungry for dinner but that I would eat dinner anyway because I didn’t think it was a good idea to skip dinner.
This fullness, this lack of hunger, became my norm so I didn’t realize I needed to make adjustments until after this experiment.
Pre-Experiment Current State Of Meals
Before embarking on this experiment, a typical food day for me would consist of:
A Lara Bar before 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. which contains dried fruit, nuts and some have extra virgin coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil – fast digesting carbs and healthy fats combined.
Post workout/late morning a spinach salad with two to three whole eggs baked in coconut oil, plus turkey or ham or pepperoni or salami (amounts varied), plus more often than not ¼ avocado, and sometimes I would even have ¼ to ½ baked sweet potato, plus an apple.
Note: Sometimes I would have leftover dinner for breakfast like steak and broccoli or a hamburger or turkey burger and kale but more often than not I would also add avocado.
A banana with almond butter as a snack.
Afternoon meal would be protein, veggies, and sometimes another ¼ avocado.
Afternoon snack would be another Lara Bar usually a Coconut Cream or Cashew Cookie.
Dinner would be protein, veggies, and usually ½ baked sweet potato.
Holy fats and Lara Bars right??
Upon embarking on this experiment these are the changes I made:
I eliminated Lara Bars. I calculated that I was eating a minimum of 7 per week and up to a maximum of 10-12 per week. That is unacceptable. (Maybe I should call this post “Confessions Of A Lara Bar Addict”??)
I went back to hard boiled eggs. I had become lazy and started to bake eggs in muffin tins coated with coconut oil so that they would not stick to the tins because I did not want to go through the work of peeling hard boiled eggs. Therefore, I was eating a ridiculous amount of excess coconut oil from how I was cooking my breakfast eggs.
I eliminated fatty meats like pepperoni, salami, and bacon. I stuck to turkey, ham, roast beef, and Canadian bacon on the weekend if I wanted bacon.
I eliminated almond butter and nuts all together but especially the almond butter and banana and almond butter and dates combination.
Instead of a Lara Bar in the morning I ate a plain banana. Usually the first thing that I have to do in the morning is teach a class or train a client at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. or if I don’t have a class or client I train myself.
I was petrified that the banana would not be enough food and that I would become ravenous while I was training or teaching or working out.
This did not happen. I was fine. In fact I felt lighter, and less sluggish and I noticed that if the first thing I did was train myself I actually had more energy for my training session because my body was not working hard to digest the nuts and other healthy fats I had been eating with the Lara Bar.
Post workout I eliminated fatty meats and healthy fats like avocado and almond butter and stuck to a clean protein like eggs, a green vegetable and an apple and also packed ¼ to ½ sweet potato and some lunchmeat or leftover steak or hamburger or turkey burger in case I was still hungry.
Overall, instead of going to healthy fats as the default to fill me up I incorporated more animal protein meals and more starchy carbohydrates like sweet potatoes. As a result I probably started to consume more green vegetables as well but fruit consumption pretty much stayed the same.
In addition to measuring out the starchy carbohydrates I was eating, which I have always done, e.g. sweet potatoes, rice, and rice pasta (and yes, I eat other types of carbohydrates outside of fruits and vegetables), I started to also measure out grams of protein per meal in order to ensure that I was not eating too much animal protein in one sitting and so that I could space it out over the day in order to stay satiated.
This probably sounds like a lot of work, but once you know how many grams of protein are in a slice of turkey, a slice of ham, and in an egg then it’s easy to add it up as you put meals together. It helps you to think about what you’re eating and how much and that is important no matter how active you are.
Here are some good guidelines about how much protein to eat per day from Precision Nutrition, “Limit Protein To 20kg Per Meal?”
I also paid attention to my meal combinations and avoided combining a healthy fat like ¼ avocado with a carbohydrate like fruit or a sweet potato.
Just like any food elimination there is a process that you go through during the first 7 days or so. It’s like an addiction, so when you eliminate foods that your body is used to consuming on a regular basis your body experiences withdrawal symptoms from not having them.
For example, days one to three were OK. No drastic symptoms or feelings of withdrawal.
Then by days three to six I became constantly cranky and hangry.
I found myself opening up the cupboard in our kitchen and staring longingly at the Lara Bars wishing I could have one and drooling over the pancakes on the Denny’s commercial on TV.
Pancakes from Denny’s, OK?
I have never eaten Denny’s in my life.
I was not perfect throughout the elimination (which is OK!), but shockingly, I did not miss almond butter, and in 22 days still have not had any almond butter. I also discovered that eliminating Lara Bars was the most challenging for me and I had my moments when I broke down and ate a Lara Bar, some dark chocolate, or was out to dinner for a work social and had a bunless bacon cheddar burger with sweet potato fries and a beer.
Despite those momentary lapses, overall this elimination experiment was a success. Not only did I discover that I was eating too many Lara Bars out of sheer habit, versus hunger, but that I was also over-eating healthy fats to the point that I had lost my sense of normal hunger. I also lost two pounds, leaned out and I am now back to my regular 115 lbs versus 117 lbs. Despite this weight loss, I have not lost any strength.
I also discovered that after I had reduced my healthy fat intake and then re-introduced a healthy fat like a Coconut Cream Lara bar or almonds that even though it felt good initially going down like it was going to be satisfying, that afterwards I was overly full and bloated helping me to realize that these healthy fats may not be the best choice for me for snacks or additions to my meals.
For me, changes that I see in my mid section are an indicator of how lean I am and if I am on track with my nutrition. This may not be the case for everyone.
The pic on the left was taken on May 4, 2015 and the pic on the right was taken on June 12, 2015 day 11 after I started my healthy fats reduction/elimination.
This pic was taken on June 16, 2015, day 15 after I started my healthy fats reduction/elimination.
Physical changes aside, I am hungry again for meals, a good hungry, and I am thoroughly enjoying my meals more. I am no longer afraid of becoming hungry because I am enjoying being hungry again.
I am also thoroughly enjoying replacing healthy fats with more starchy carbohydrates, like more sweet potato throughout the day, and I’ve found that so far it’s working really well for me.
I feel less sluggish, my digestion is better, and I am having better training sessions.
This does not mean that I will never eat a Lara Bar, almond butter, bacon, or avocado again, it just means that I will be more mindful of how much of those things I am consuming and what food combinations that I am consuming.
However, even though eating healthy fats is now widely accepted healthy fat is still fat and may not always be the best choice nor should be consumed in excess. It’s OK to be hungry and in fact enjoy satisfying that hunger.
Remember that finding an individual diet that is right for you is an evolving process. I’m sure there will be another time in my life that I will need to re-evaluate if my diet is still working for me but for now, I no longer fear being hungry and I know that I can live without Lara Bars, almond butter and banana and the world will not come to an end.
Do you want to learn more about how to find the diet that is right for YOU? Then I hope that you will join me for my half day workshop, Keep It Simple Nutrition & Conditioning coming to:
- New York City, New York on September 13, 2015 at Drive495
- Dulles, Virginia on October 4, 2015 at BSPNOVA
- Needham, MA on November 8, 2015 at Iron Body Studios
Read more and register HERE.
Also join me for my strength workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift!
Next I Am Not Afraid To Lift workshops coming to:
- New York City, New York on September 12, 2015 at Drive495
- Dulles, Virginia on October 3, 2015 at BSPNOVA
- Needham, MA on November 7, 2015 at Iron Body Studios
Read more and register HERE.