Why Fat Free does not equate Lean Me

(This post is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays, a day where bloggers come together and share their thoughts on returning to a more natural, wholesome diet. Check it out !)

The Fat Free Phenomenon has got to stop.

Seriously. As a nation, we have not gotten more svelte and lithe with the advent of Snackwell’s have we?

Instead, by consuming fat-free, sugar-free manufactured food, we have grown larger and larger. We are hungrier and hungrier. Why is this?

Simply put: fat has a place in the human diet.

Get used to it.

I have to relearn this every once in awhile. My formative years were in the fat-free 90’s and as a body-conscious adolescent, I sucked up the fat-free mantra like a thick milkshake. I ripped the cheese off my pizza, consumed fat-free, sugar-free Breyers by the gallon, and only had fat-free snacks like red licorice and pretzels. Because it was healthier, and it wouldn’t make me fat.

Lies. I gained weight eating a fat free diet. I also began suffering severe depression in my teens. Lack of essential fats play a HUGE role in mood instability. While there is no way to tell how much of my personal history was related to nutrition or environment, I can certainly say that staying on a fat-free diet for the entirety of my teen years was not in my best interest. But few people knew any better at the time.

I slowly began introducing fat back in my 20’s, when I found research that contradicted the fat free phenom and was aware that my phobia of avocados was seriously reducing my capacity for joy. The connection between low omega-3 fats and depression was surfacing. In college I learned about how difficult it is for the body to get omega-3s from flax and how much more effective fish oil is and I began to seriously consider my vegetarian diet (this was before algae-sourced DHA came on the market).

So I began, carefully, adding flax oil to salad dressings instead of making only fat-free ones. I started eating (and loving) avocados again and learned the joy of crunchy nuts on salad. I found the smooth creaminess of cashew butter to be a true delight to my palate. I also found that my weight did not increase because of it.

More recently, I branched out and tried whole milk yogurt. (I play with dairy on occasion with a few side effects, but I cannot make it a regular habit.) What have I noticed? I feel fuller longer. I feel satisfied on less.

And that is what led me to write this post. As yourself this: What if we have grown larger because we have been eating more mass of fat free, sugar-free, reality free foods? What if, in the narrow-mindedness of calorie control, we have neglected portion control and this has led to an increase in the amount our stomach can hold? If I can be satisfied on ½ cup of whole milk yogurt instead of 1 cup of fat free yogurt, what does that do to the capacity of what my stomach can contain? In the long haul, what would that mean for my body size?

What if real food was not just a composition of calories, fats, and proteins, but potent medicine to heal depression and heart disease? What if the answer to our health problems in this country was not more “nutriceutical” products with fancy endorsements from the American Heart Association and the USDA, but going back to real foods – real grains, real vegetables, real fruit and real protein sources? Can you imagine what would happen if we started eating like our great-great grandparents did?

Just a thought.

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  1. So, just my opinion here: I agree with this, but also think we can go further and stop with the carb-free or anything-free behaviors. Cutting any food out altogether is ridiculous if you don’t have an allergy to it, but at the same time too much of anything will be toxic for your body, even water. We need to start thinking along the lines of balance and, very importantly, start consuming less food volume altogether. I think we are under false impressions that our bodies need more than they really do, likely caused by our natural programming from when food was less available. We consume too much because it’s so easy to do so – even healthy, real food will make us obese if we’re eating too much of it. Recently I’ve been experimenting with not worrying about fat or carbs or whatever but instead eating healthy food (sometimes not so healthy, since I have such a love of brie and crackers) in very small portions – equalling out to about 1/3 of what I used to consume. My body was a little grumpy at first, but my energy levels were fine and my body soon adjusted. I can still run, still work a 9-hour work day, still be creative, yet am not overloading on fuel. Maybe that’s just unique for my body, but then again I’m genetically very predisposed towards weight gain so perhaps there’s some merit to the idea.

  2. You are absolutely right — cutting out any major food group is completely unsustainable and not health-promoting.

    There is a fascinating number of dynamics at play that contribute to our obesity — government subsidization to create artificially inexpensive ingredients, skewed portions fueled by the food service industry, the American More-for-my-Dollar value set, inactivity, and of course the very valid genetic programming to take advantage of what we can get. We have survived as a species because of our ability to adapt in times of food shortages and deep instincts encourage us to consume what is available, regardless of appetite. There is a great book about the portion issue called Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink that addresses this in greater detail.

    Finally, can you tell me more about what you mean by your body being “grumpy” initially, and what the results have been with your choice to consume smaller portions? I’m interested in hearing how this has been working for you.

  3. This is a great entry and something I think more and more people are coming to grips with. Thanks for sharing!

    And, thank you too for participating in today’s Fight Back Friday carnival. I’m sure others will be encouraged and challenged by reading your post!

    All the best,
    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  4. In the 1970s my mom and I were on a crazy diet. Her doctor prescribed it, and essentially it was zero fat. It was SO zero fat that she wasn’t even allowed hand lotion! She was (gasp) 50 pounds overweight. I went on the diet with her to help keep her “honest.” She gained 20 pounds in two months.

    Her doctor accused her of cheating and refused to see her as a patient anymore. This was before a lot of the fat-free convenience foods touted now, and before a lot of soy protein was on the market. I think it was probably also before this particular doctor’s brain had fully developed.

    Although I was only a teenager, I had already been on dozens of diets. I developed very severe hypoglycemia during this diet and it took me several years to overcome.

    The no-fat fad is dangerous. Pass it on.

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