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Eat fat, lose fat

I’m currently reading Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Mary Enig was a key scientist in the fight to get trans fats listed on our nutrition labels. She was actively opposed by the Institute for Shortening and Edible Oils (ISEO). This is an organization that pulls political clout to prevent the funding and publication of research intended to study the harm of vegetable oils and shortening. This organization was incensed about the fact that Mary Enig’s initial paper on the subject had gotten published at all. They have industry watchdogs to prevent such an occurrence, but somehow the paper managed to slip through their scrutiny. Doctors and scientists had been questioning the use of vegetable oils and trans fats since the 1920s when they were beginning to come into popular use. Myocardial infarctions (what we know of as heart attacks) were unheard of prior to the advent of the use of these fats. But their concerns got drowned out by the proponents of the cholesterol theory of heart disease, which would include organizations such at the ISEO and the pharmaceutical industry since they stand to gain from it.

According to Mary Enig and Sally Fallon, lack of healthy fats contributes to several diseases including chronic fatigue, low energy, anxiety, depression and mood swings, hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, food cravings, gallbladder ailments, bacterial infections, fungal issues, viral infections, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, gas and bloating, eczema and dry skin, sagging and wrinkled skin, dandruff, and cellulite. They propose a diet that has coconut oil and cod liver oil to correct these issues that they believe to be the result of lack of healthy fats. They also say that dietary cholesterol is important for maintaining the health of the intestinal wall and preventing leaky gut. Their list of sources for healthy fats: coconut oil, butter, cream, nuts, meats, and eggs as well as cod liver oil.

What are the healthy fats, really?

According to Catherine Shanahan MD in Deep Nutrition, eating damaged fats such as trans-fats and mega-trans-fats from damaged polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) encourages the storing of fat in the abdomen (omental fat) and under the chin. So if you’ve got fat there, it’s a sign that you need to change the type of fat you’re eating.

Avoid: hydrogenated fats (Crisco and margarine), vegetable oils, commercial salad dressings and mayonnaise, and anything fried in a restaurant since they likely use the wrong type of fat. NEVER cook with vegetable oil. This damages the PUFA in the oil, which in turn encourages oxidative damage of the cells.

Consume: olive oil, coconut oil, butter, and other animal fats. These fats contain mostly monounsaturated and saturated fats that are safe to cook with and protect cells against oxidative damage.

Healthy dietary fat is not something to be afraid of. Fat is a major component of the membrane of every cell of your body. Fat is needed for the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins. Fat is needed for bone formation. Low-fat diets are associated with osteoporosis. Fat is also needed for healthy nerve function.

I can vouch for this last one since low-fat diets including NutriSystem followed as directed have led to depressive episodes that required medical intervention. These coincided with dangerously low cholesterol levels. Once I figured out that connection with the help of my psychiatrist, I understood that my weight-loss efforts could not be based on low-fat diets. That is why my modified NutriSystem plan is not low-fat.

Choosing dietary fats

Dietary fats are not all the same.  Some can be harmful while others are quite healthy. Some contribute to inflammation, some ease it.  Omega-3 in particular is noted for its anti-inflammatory properties.  I definitely would NOT recommend vegetable oil such as from soy or corn.  It contains too much omega-6 fat, which causes inflammation.  That type of fat will also suppress your immune system and contribute to cancer.  I don’t tend to eat much of those at all, unless I’m eating in a restaurant that prepares the food with vegetable oils.  I don’t use them at home.  Animal fat from pasture-raised meat and dairy, olive oil, and coconut oil don’t contain much omega-6, so they should all be fine.  In fact, these kinds of oils can help the immune system and protect against cancer.  The type of fats you choose will make a difference in weight as well.  Pig farmers tried using coconut oil to fatten their pigs.  It didn’t work.  The pigs stayed lean.  Then they switched to vegetable oil, and the pigs got fat.

Rethinking dietary advice

What if popular dietary advice was just plain wrong? Mainstream dietary thinking tells us that the number of calories in must balance the number of calories out. They tell us that the best way to make sure that the number of calories in is less than or equal to the number of calories out is to decrease our fat intake. They tell us that we should balance our diet with a certain amount of complex carbohydrates. They tell us that exercise can also alter the equation of calories in versus calories out. So what if all that was just plain wrong? What if the real cause of overweight was metabolic disturbance caused by an imbalance of hormones?

I am currently reading Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health by Gary Taubes which proposes exactly that theory. I am further inclined to believe that metabolic disturbance theory given my own anecdotal experiences. Firstly, I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and have consequently been prescribed various medications to treat that. Fortunately, these medications have been effective in controlling the bipolar disorder, but they have also led to side effects, most notably with some of the medications, weight gain. The worst of these medications for me was Depakote, an anti-seizure medication. I gained crazy amounts of weight on this medication without corresponding dietary alteration, so much so that I told my doctor to change the medication or he would have a noncompliance problem on his hands.

More recently, our dog was diagnosed with epilepsy, and Phenobarbital was prescribed to her. Before her seizure episodes and consequent prescription, we were able to feed her as much food as she wanted without her gaining weight. After she started her medication, she started gaining weight on much less food. At first, we cut back on her food to the level prescribed on the back of the bag. When she continued to gain weight, we consulted her vet and decided upon an amount of food that was even less than is typical for an active dog like her at her weight. We have since been able to control her weight at this lower consumption. Given that she is still an active dog and yet must eat less than her peers, we must assume that her medication causes some sort of metabolic disturbance.

In the book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes puts forward the theory that overweight is caused by excess insulin. Excess insulin, in turn, is caused by excess carbohydrate in the diet. When carbohydrate is restricted, weight loss occurs even when calories are not restricted. The author cites studies in which carbohydrate restricted diets exceeded 3,000 calories a day and yet weight loss still occurred. Actually, they had difficulty getting their subjects to eat this amount of non-carbohydrate food, not due to boredom as has been postulated, but because the subjects had no appetite for higher consumption. Modern dietary advice tells us that all calories are created equal. Gary Taubes puts forward that this is not the case. Carbohydrates are uniquely fattening because they increase the secretion of insulin. Insulin drives the blood sugar into adipose tissue, often depriving the muscle tissue of that energy. This leads to increased food cravings, which are often satisfied with additional carbohydrates. This leads to a vicious cycle in which carbohydrates are consumed to offset an energy deficit that is redirected to the fat instead.

So let’s go back to my medications, particularly the Depakote. So why did Depakote cause such weight gain even though my dietary intake had not increased, and in fact, I was trying desperately to control my weight? As it turns out, Depakote is associated with hyperinsulinemia, which is an overproduction of insulin. Phenobarbital is likewise associated with changes in glucose metabolism. Given these effects, it is not surprising that both I and the dog would gain weight when prescribed these medications.

Recently, Woman’s World published an article promoting the use of coconut or MCT oil for weight loss. I did a little research to look into this further and found out that MCT oil is most effective for weight loss when associated with a ketogenic diet. This is a diet severely restricted in carbohydrates and high in fat. I did a little bit more research and found out that a ketogenic diet is often prescribed to epileptics. I found this particularly interesting because anti-seizure medications are often prescribed to bipolar patients. I wondered if maybe the ketogenic diet had been found effective in treating bipolar disorder. Particularly, I wanted to know if there was any contra-indication advising against a bipolar patient following a ketogenic diet. I found out that the ketogenic diet had been effective in animal studies of bipolar disorder, but that human studies have not been done. Stanford University wanted to conduct a study of the ketogenic diet for bipolar patients, but was unable to find participants for its study. Given what I have read and given my experience, I am ready to be a guinea pig for such a study.