Healthy Fats 101

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Will Eating Fat Make Me Fat?

I hear this question so often that it’s clear to me how many people still fall victim to the old myth that eating foods that contain fat will add fat to their body. This is simply not how it works.

The truth is, we “get fat” for any number of reasons, including eating too much of the wrong foods, eating too much in general, not getting enough sleep, and living high-stress lives.

But including proper amounts of healthy fat into our diets is not one of those reasons.

In fact, fat as a nutrient is just as important for our body as protein, complex carbs, and greens.

The real story behind the modern epidemic of excess flab on our bodies comes from consuming so many processed and refined foods – they are EVERYWHERE in today’s modern Western diet, and they dull the body’s natural feedback loop that tells us when we’re full.

Without this very important line of communication, we keep eating and eating and eating, while our waistlines keep growing and growing and growing.

How Overeating Processed Foods Affects Our Body Fat

It’s not entirely our fault when we can’t stop eating processed foods.

Flavors are carefully engineered to be more appealing, compelling, and even addictive to consumers, but the nutrient density of foods is clearly weakened by processing.

When foods are stripped of their natural fat, it’s almost always replaced with some form of sugar or salt – and it’s that excess sugar that overloads your body, and directly translates to excess body fat.

One of the biggest misunderstandings people have is thinking that eating foods that contain fat naturally (think whole eggs, avocado, quality salmon, nuts, olive oil) will make them, fat, but it actually will NOT.

It’s the sugar-laden, sodium-laced, highly processed foods that pad our waistline.

If you’ve ever examined the food label on a fat-free yogurt and compared it to a full-fat yogurt (if you can even find one), you’ll usually find that the fat-free yogurt contains more sugar and/or sodium than the full-fat version. That’s because the product simply doesn’t taste very good without the fat. Same thing with powdered peanut butter – the fat gets stripped out, and sugar gets added in to make it palatable.

This does you NO favors….as I talked about in the in-depth overview of carbs recently – over-consuming added sugar in your food is one of the primary culprits in weight gain.

Your body simply cannot utilize all the excess sugar – it doesn’t have the capacity to store it in your muscles or liver, and you don’t need it for energy – so it packages it up as body fat.

How Stress Affects Body Fat

Another reason we can’t seem to get the excess body fat to come off is stress.

Stress raises your levels of a hormone called cortisol. In its normal capacity, cortisol has several key roles in the body, but none more relevant to this discussion than its ability to raise blood glucose levels when it skyrockets due to stress.

Cortisol has been studied for its propensity to deposit the fat in the abdominal area – and researchers believe it’s a primary cause of belly fat in highly stressed people.

When a stressful event or feeling is over and you still have high blood glucose levels, that glucose gets stored as fat. Most notably, BELLY FAT.

To avoid having this affect your waistline, find natural ways to reduce your stress.Simple breathing techniques, visualizations, gratitudes, mindfulness activities, yoga, and more can all be amazing stress relievers.

Consider your stress levels while you’re eating as well. Are you coming to the meal calm and unhurried, or anxious and rushed? It makes a difference. See if you can slow down your bites of food, or count how many times you chew your food. Breathe while you eat, and stop to notice how your food tastes. This can really affect the amount of cortisol that’s running through your system.

How Sleep Affects Body Fat

Yet another reason extra fat will cling to our bodies is a lack of proper rest.

When we sleep, our body processes the food we ate during the day, our mind processes events and thoughts, and our body is better able to maintain homeostasis.

Studies show that getting enough rest allows you to perform better, regulate your hormones so you actually metabolize fats more efficiently, reduce stress (helpful!), improve focus, creativity and memory, and regulates and reduces inflammation.

Just 3-4 nights of limited sleep (approximately 4-5 hours of sleep is considered sleep deprivation for most of us) can cause insulin resistance comparable to a Type 2 diabetic – which is a science-y way of saying that with inadequate sleep, your body has a really hard time digesting carbs and sugars effectively leading to… you guessed it, fat gain.

It can also throw off a number of other hormones like leptin and ghrelin, which help regulate appetite control.

So do your best to get enough rest – if you have trouble falling asleep, try using some of the suggestions that help lower stress levels from above. Try turning off your phone and electronics an hour or two before bedtime, and get deeper sleep by limiting all non-natural light sources in your sleep environment.

Can I Exercise my Fat off with Targeted Workouts?

Unfortunately, just doing ab or butt or arm workouts won’t magically melt the fat off those areas. The truth is, we can’t “spot reduce” fat – and I would caution you against supplements, cleanses or other quick fixes like body wraps that promise to do so.

Those are short-term strategies that carry the risk of long-term hormone imbalance, and they are incapable of providing real, sustainable results.


Good news though, you CAN get the fat off – and keep it off.

Fat comes off our body systemically (all over) in an order it went on – which is primarily governed by our DNA. We have different kinds of receptors in our fat tissues, essentially called alpha receptors and beta receptors.

The alpha receptors slow fat loss release, and beta receptors speed fat release. The stubborn fat areas have more alpha receptors, and simply will take a bit longer to come off than other areas of the body.

A training program that contains a combination of resistance and high-intensity interval training with a balanced whole food diet including all the nutrients (like healthy fat) – is your ticket to getting and keeping your body in its optimal state.

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