- We’re taught to fear eating fat
- Eating fat is essential
- How to make eating the right kind of fat easy
This post explains why eating fat is part of a balanced meal that helps you lose weight.
When I understood why all my low-fat, low-calorie and processed food choices were setting me up to fail, it was easier to start eating fat.
Fat was the first thing I cut out of my meals and snacks when I gained weight. For 10 years I did my best to avoid it. And for 10 years I was a yo-yo dieter, never able to keep the weight I lost off for very long. I didn’t realize eating fat helps you lose weight. Or that eating fat was important because it performs vital jobs.
I wanted to write this post to explain how to make eating the right amount of the healthy kind of fat easy.
I thought eating fat made you fat
The first thing I did when I needed to lose weight was stop eating fat.
I thought eating fat made you gain weight.
All my diet information said to eat low-fat food. I figured if low-fat food was good, then no-fat food must be even better.
I was 100% dedicated to losing weight and willing to do whatever was necessary.
At first I did things like only eat the white of an egg. But still I couldn’t lose weight. So I kept cutting back on fat, until I was grazing all day on low-fat foods like rice cakes and pretzels, diet pop (that confuses your body) and fruit.
At the time I didn’t recognize a pattern developing: the longer I went without eating fat the more I craved it. I thought my desire to eat higher-fat food was further proof I was addicted to food. I didn’t know it was because I wasn’t meeting my body’s needs.
Why eating fat is important
Each type of food in the Eatwell Guide meets specific basic needs. That’s why eating balanced meals is so essential.
Just like your body needs nutrients from:
Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates
Fruits and vegetables
Dairy and alternatives
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meats and other proteins
Your body also requires fat in order to function properly.
- gives you energy
- protects your nervous system
- maintains healthy brain function (sharpens your memory & balances your mood)
- supports cell growth
- assists absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K
- aids hormone production
- lubricates your joints
- keeps your skin and hair healthy
- helps you reach and maintain a healthy weight (by stabilizing your blood sugar levels)
These are just some of the things eating fat does for your body. I was extremely preoccupied by trying to lose weight. Eating fat as part of a balanced meal also helped me break the starve, binge and purge cycle.
Whenever you find yourself worried about eating fat keep in mind:
Eating fat is part of a balanced diet.
Eating fat allows you to meet your body’s needs.
Eating fat helps you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Eating fat keeps you full so you can concentrate on the rest of your life.
One healthy choice leads to the next and sets you up for success.
Eating the “good” kind of fat can be easy
Once you understand why eating fat is part of a balanced meal and that eating balanced meals helps you lose weight, the next question is: What kind of fat should I eat?
There is tons of information that goes into great depth about which fat is which and what food falls under which fat and so on. However, I lost weight when I stopped getting lost in the details and made my food choices simple.
By sticking with what I already know: Whole food choices are usually the best.
When I’m building a balanced meal and deciding what higher-fat foods to include, I don’t worry about the name of the fat I’m eating. Instead I ask myself 3 quick questions:
Eating fat question #1:
Is this high-fat food a whole food or the most natural option?
Nuts, olives, eggs, avocados, meat, fish, milk, cheese and yogurt all contain fat. All these examples are either whole foods or pretty close to being in a natural state. When I choose higher-fat foods (and lower-fat foods) I just look for ones that have as little processing as possible. Then I cook them using other whole foods. For instance, I’ll choose:
- 2% milk instead of chocolate milk (now 3.25% milk!)
- raw nuts instead of roasted
- natural yogurt (like full-fat Greek yogurt) instead of low-fat and artificially sweetened yogurt
- broiled or BBQ’d meat or fish instead of breaded, deep fried meat or fish
- dark chocolate (1st ingredient: unsweetened chocolate) instead of milk chocolate (1st ingredient: sugar)
- homemade olive oil and vinegar salad dressing instead of low-fat, store-bought salad dressing
- water-packed tuna in a can (that’s dolphin safe) instead of oil-packed tuna in a can (water and oil don’t mix so when you drain water-packed tuna you get all the good fat)
- full fat cheese instead of psuedo cheese
I try to avoid eating higher-fat foods that have additives like sugar, salt, preservatives, artificial flavours and colours, etc. These are processed foods. They are stripped of fiber, etc. and their artificial ingredients confuse your body. They make you want to eat more than you need of food that has little nutritional value and makes you gain weight.
One of the easiest ways to determine good food choices is the packaging. Often packaging means a food has been processed. That’s why processed, “convenience” foods are also known as factory foods. Avocados, on the other hand, are a natural food. They are generally sold in stores without any packaging because they don’t have additional ingredients that need to be detailed. Avocados are good for you and the environment. Whole foods spoil with or without packaging because they’re full of powerful nutrients that are fresh. Processed foods are packed with artificial ingredients that give them a long shelf life. That’s why processed food is also called “fake food” and whole food also known as “real food”.
Next time you go into the grocery store, walk around the perimeter. You’ll find they’re lined with whole foods; fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy and the bakery, while processed foods are in the center of the store, stacked on shelves in boxes and bags and other long-life, airtight containers. Eat real food!
Eating fat question #2:
Does including this high-fat whole food add variety to my diet?
I won’t choose to eat the same high-fat whole food (or most natural option) over and over again. For example, if I’ve already had red meat once or twice that week I’ll cook chicken for dinner, then fish, followed by a vegetarian bean dish (perhaps enough for a few nights), then maybe a shrimp stir fry, before I have red meat again.
Whole foods are packed with nutrients that keep you healthy. When you eat a variety of whole foods, you’re consuming a variety of vitamins and minerals, naturally, that play different roles in your body. Variety also allows you to consume food you love (even if it’s not the best kind of fat) without overdoing it.
I also add lots of flexibility (something I never did when I was overweight). Like I’ll eat sausages and hamburgers once in a while. Or if I’m at a friends for dinner, I go with the flow and eat pizza, deep fried fish and chips or whatever’s going. It’s no big deal to eat foods that fall outside your regular routine.
Eating non-whole food choices occasionally, prevents you from being preoccupied by cravings and feeling deprived, which can lead to over-eating. It’s also makes life more fun when you can navigate social situations easily. Besides, you can usually improve a meal like fish and chips by adding, ordering or offering to bring some whole food side dishes, like a big platter of raw vegetables and a homemade dip. Then you’re including high- and low-fat whole foods and making your meal more balanced. Or if you’re preparing a hamburger, choose fresh-baked (preservative-free) buns, high-quality ground beef and include a salad with lots of vegetables and a homemade dressing.
Eating fat question #3:
Can I include this high-fat whole food in my meal or snack and keep it balanced?
When I’ve determined my high-fat food choice is the most natural option (Eating fat question #1) and I haven’t been eating it too often (Eating fat question #2), I put it on my plate in proportion to the other foods I’m eating. I do this by keeping the Eatwell Guide in mind.
Yes! I love the Eatwell Guide. It keeps eating easy.Instead of:
- counting calories
- measuring what you eat
- keeping track of nutrients
you just look at your plate! After checking your food choices are balanced and made mostly of whole foods, you’re good to go. Then you’ll get full naturally and feel satisfied longer. The result? You don’t eat more than you need and naturally reach a healthy weight.
Eating fat in a balanced meal
When I build a balanced meal or snack I usually add a little fat in one of the following 3 ways:
i) choose a high-fat whole food
Type of food: Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
ii) combine a low-fat whole food & a high-fat whole food
e.g. Baked potato and sour cream
Type of food: Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates + Dairy and alternatives
iii) dress a low-fat whole food with an oil or high-fat spread or dressing
e.g. Green beans with a homemade garlic-butter dressing
Type of food: Fruits and vegetables + oil and spreads
Keeping Questions #1 to #3 in mind has kept eating straightforward for me and made reaching and maintaining a healthy weight a non-issue for more than 18 years. This approach — which isn’t an exact science and doesn’t need to be — has allowed me to get and stay healthy and focus on the rest of my life.
Soon healthy choices become automatic.
When I was preoccupied by weight I had no idea I could eat meals,
much less balanced meals that included higher-fat foods and lose weight:
Eating fat: 5 examples of balanced meals made of higher-fat food
Chicken, Pork chop or Steak
Boiled potatoes tossed in a little butter [or mashed potatoes (made with butter and milk) or a baked potato with some melted cheese.]
Cucumber, tomatoes and onions cut up with an easy homemade oil & vinegar salad dressing and (if I don’t opt for the potato with cheese) a few cubes of cheese.
Pasta mixed with diced vegetables and some feta cheese, tossed with a homemade dressing. Then slice a broiled or BBQ’d chicken breast on top.
Bean Chili on brown rice (used to always eat white but now I love brown!) with broccoli on top and a scoop or two of cottage cheese.
Roasted chicken with a bit of gravy
Roasted potatoes and a Yorkshire Pudding
Steamed carrots and beans with a dab of butter (though I prefer raw vegetables without butter)
*You could add a glass of milk or have a bit of cheese and grapes for dessert. When I had this meal recently I left out the Dairy and alternatives food group altogether. Though I likely made up for it during the day as I like milky coffees.
Meat and cheese lasagna
Caesar salad with a homemade dressing
What about eating fat that is processed?
Be Flexible! When I eat higher-fat foods I aim for whole foods. Though I eat higher-fat foods that are not the most natural option once in a while. Occasionally I still eat higher-fat foods like chips, french fries, cupcakes with blue icing (!) and other processed foods that aren’t made of natural fats. I just choose fats that come from processed foods less often, when I’m building a balanced meal or snack.
It’s important to note, I also don’t desire unnatural high-fat foods like I used to when I was overweight, had low energy and only ate low-fat foods. Why? I eat a balanced diet (made mostly of whole foods) that meets my body’s needs and thus, makes me feel satisfied. So I don’t crave higher-fat foods like chips, french fries and cupcakes. I’m also not in the habit of eating high-fat processed foods so I no longer think about them or want them.
Building Healthy Habits
For 10 years I feared eating fat. Once I understood why we need to eat fat, I began to slowly incorporate it into my meals and snacks.
As well, I’ve focused on making small changes toward healthier high-fat foods. Now I prefer raw almonds to roasted almonds loaded with salt. As well, I love dark chocolate (used to hate it!) instead of milk chocolate.
I’ve done the same with lower-fat food choices too. Understanding how our bodies work has made me switch to steel cut oats instead of rolled oats and brown rice instead of white. And I really love these upgrades (!)
The great thing is all these choices get easier and easier as you build healthy habits. Experiment through trial and error and give yourself time to transition from what you do now to practicing healthier habits. Pretty soon you’ll find eating the right kind and appropriate amount of higher-fat foods second nature.
Unsaturated fats are “good” fats
There are 2 types of unsaturated fats:
1. monounsaturated fats: avocado, nuts, olives and natural peanut butter, etc.
2. polyunsaturated fats: sunflower, pumpkin & sesame seeds, tuna, salmon, sardines, etc.
There’s lots of debate around saturated fat
However as long as you choose natural, whole food options rather than processed, keep your choices varied and eat balanced meals (see Eating fat questions #1 to #3 above!) then saturated fat can be a healthy option. Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products like cheese, milk and meat.
The typical Western diet—filled with fried, processed food, packaged meals, and sugary snacks—is leading to higher rates of obesity and illness. Eating less manufactured and industrially-processed food and more “real,” natural food—fresh from the ground, the ocean, or small, local farms—is a sound place to start for all your food choices, including dietary fats.
Trans fats are considered “bad” fats. They’re found in commercially-baked goods, packaged snack foods like crackers, pre-mixed products like cake mix, fried food like french fries, etc.
When you eat a treat choose a whole food options, like cookies, cheese cake and other desserts baked from from scratch rather than processed options.
Build healthy eating and exercise habits. A healthy weight will follow.
Next Steps:Whether your experience is more or less extreme, eating fat is important. Work towards eating 3 balanced meals each day that include higher-fat whole foods. If you’re asking yourself: “How do I make it a habit to eat the right kind and amount of fat each day”? Sign up for my weekly blog post (below) and you’ll receive one of the best strategies I learned.
Why eating fat’s not bad for you by Nina Teicholz on The Social Put down that low-fat muffin and eat bacon and eggs instead.
Here’s a link to a comprehensive article that discusses the different types of fat in great detail. It has some really important information about red meat. If you don’t have a chance to read the whole article scroll down to the heading: Red meat vs. grass-fed red meat. If you love animals and the environment this will also be of interest to you.
Once you’ve normalized your relationship with food, and you want to go the extra step to choose even healthier options, here’s a link to an article that has more whole food suggestions for saturated fat.
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Sharing what I learned makes the 10 years I STRUGGLED worth it
Are you afraid of eating fat? What’s your first memory of choosing a low-fat alternative?
I totally agree about the necessity of fat in the diet! Years ago I followed the then popular F- Plan diet, low fat high fibre. It worked in that I lost weight but as I was including very little visible fat in my eating pattern, my skin became very dry and flaky and my hair became coarse!
It’s good you adjusted your meals and snacks after noticing a deficiency in your diet Carole! I was always so focused on losing weight I didn’t pay attention to warning signs.
Hi Kelly. As usual a very enlightening blog. I have printed off the healthy plate too and use it as much as possible. I was reading about french fries and chips which I used to buy prepacked and frozen. I now however make my own chips by cutting raw potatoes and cooking them in the oven in a little olive oil. It takes roughly 30-35 minutes at 200 degrees C and they taste absolutely delicious.
That’s such a good idea Marianne! I’m going to try that. Thank you!