by Mike Roussell, Ph.D. Jul 30, 2014
For years, decades even, we've been fed the lie that the best way to control calories and shed fat is to cut fat from our diet. Since fat contains more calories per gram than protein or carbs, it only makes sense that, in order to lose fat, you need to consume less of it, right? Wrong.
Though totally flawed, this low/no-fat dogma was once upon a time aggressively embraced by the bodybuilding community. Bodybuilders have likely been successful on these diets due to their stronger-than-average dedication to the gym and the increased levels of dietary indiscretion—otherwise known as cheat meals—that are allowed when accompanied by high volume weight training.
Regardless of past success with fat-restricted diets, lowering fat intake doesn't equate with dropping fat. A little fat could even help make your fat loss more successful!
1 EATING FAT DISPLACES EATING CARBS
When you look at the macronutrient percentages of your diet, everything needs to add up to 100 percent. Eating more of one macronutrient means that your intake of another macronutrient needs to decrease. Regardless of your goal—fat loss, hypertrophy, or performance—you should meet your protein needs first, then adjust your fat and carb intake accordingly.
Eating more fat means eating fewer carbs, and vice versa. From a fat-loss perspective, displacing carbohydrates by increasing fat in your diet sets the stage for an optimal fat-loss environment. Insulin, released by your body in proportion to the amount of carbohydrates you eat, is the major gatekeeper when it comes to nutrient partitioning—telling what nutrients where they can go. Lower overall insulin levels—achieved by reducing carbohydrates—allow your body to more readily access fat stores for energy while also allowing fat to enter and fuel your muscles.
2 EATING FAT ENHANCES YOUR BODY'S ABILITY TO BURN FAT
From a biochemical level, low-fat diets don't make sense. They don't condition your body to be efficient at burning fat. Instead, they ramp up the enzymatic machinery in your body so it becomes efficient at burning carbohydrates.
Lower-fat diets can also have negative impacts on adipokines which impact fat loss. Adipokines are hormones released specifically from your fat cells. One such hormone, adiponectin, is a true fat-burning hormone that works to enhance your metabolism and increase the rate in which fats are broken down, curbing your appetite. Lower-fat diets lead to lower levels of adiponectin.
3 EATING FAT MAKES YOU WANT TO EAT LESS
The hormonal and metabolic benefits of eating more fat are great, but one of the best benefits might be the satiating effects of fat. Nothing is worse than eating a lower-calorie diet that leaves your hungry all the time. This is traditionally a huge problem in diets which deny you foods with a higher fat content such as nuts, fatty fish, cheese, and avocado.
Satiating fat leaves you feeling full. When the fat you eat hits your small intestine, it sets off a cascade of signals which includes the release of hormones such as CCK and PYY. These two hormones play a major role in appetite regulation and satiety; they leave you feeling full and satisfied. The more satiated you are, the less likely that you're going to sneak in snacks between meals or pile on a second helping.
A WORD OF CAUTION: AVOID THIS BIG FAT MISTAKE
It's true, fat is good for you. That said, fat is not a calorie-free food. It's the exact opposite. Despite this rather obvious fact, many people have embraced adding ample fat to their diets with reckless abandon. While eating more fat—roughly 30-35 percent of your total calories, or more if you're low-carb dieting—is beneficial, these calories add up quickly, so be careful.
Even if you aren't counting your calories and macros, it's good to have some level of measurement control. I recommend that you always measure fats and oils before using them. Dressing a salad with olive oil can quickly escalate from two teaspoons to two tablespoons, and one eyeballed spoonful of peanut butter can actually be the equivalent of three servings. Fats are delicious and easy to over-consume so, even if you are making an effort to eat more fat in your diet, make sure your efforts are calculated.