Fighting fat phobia: Changing fat from feared to revered once again

Cartoon cavemen

Imagine this scenario: It is 20,000 years ago and our distant ancestors are celebrating around a fire as the meat of a freshly killed beast roasts in the flames.

They sing and dance and revel; the hunters’ exploits are dramatized. And as the glistening pieces of roasted, marbled meat and rich organs are carved and shared, some wise woman yells out:

“Don’t eat the fat! It’s bad for you!!”

Never, ever happened, right?

In fact, we know that the fat was the most prized part of the hunters’ catch. Evidence abounds for the revered role of fat in almost every era up until the mid 20th century. Ancient fire pits show smashed bones, from which the marrow (almost 100 per cent fat) was extracted. In fact, the presence of such smashed bones at an archeological site, say anthropologists, means “humans were here.”

Many cultures would mix fat and grease with dried meat or fish to create a high-energy life-sustaining staple that lasted years. The native Cree of North America had one such item called pemmican, from pimi, meaning fat, that was mixed with pounded dried game and berries that lasted for up to 10 years. It not only supported their nomadic tribe, but it sustained the North American fur traders and explorers in their travels well into the last century. “Pemmican is the most satisfying food I know,” said early 20th Century arctic explorer Robert Peary, who because of pemmican’s ability to nourish, pack light, and last took it on all three of his expeditions to find the North Pole.

The English language, from the Bible on, reflects the special nature of fat in sayings like: “living off the fat of the land”; “sucking the marrow out of life”, “slaying the fatted calf” and “chewing the fat.” Modern aphorisms like “bringing home the bacon” and living “high off the hog” still abound.

The fear of fat

Yet, if you have been anything like me, you have feared fat for almost 35 years, ever since the various nations’, food guides, based on the low-quality epidemiological evidence promoted by the likes of Ancel Keys, began advising us to avoid fat and switch instead to low-fat foods, all for our health and waistline.

For three decades, up until 18 months ago, I chose low-fat cheese, skim milk, extra lean meat over regular. I had egg white omelettes, zero fat Greek yogurt, and low-fat turkey bacon instead of the real thing. My chicken breast was always skinless and my toast was always dry — and I actually thought I preferred it that way. A pound of butter in our house would last months.

I would even scold my husband to keep fat out of my food. I remember once he was making a Bolognese sauce from an old Italian cookbook that called for whipping cream. I was cross. I made him leave that key ingredient out (and the dish was dull and tasteless.).

I wasn’t alone — all my girlfriends were all the same. We’d meet for lunch and have our salads with dressings on the side. We’d trade the latest low-fat muffin or cookie recipe that used applesauce instead of oil. We believed the simplistic equation: “eat fat = get fat.” We didn’t understand why, despite this devotion to the dogma, our waist lines over the years thickened and we felt constantly hungry. I would be so starving when I woke up that I had to eat breakfast (low fat, of course) first thing. I’d then be ravenous before noon.

I thought this approach was working. But when I hit menopause, without changing a thing my weight inched up, my waist inched out and my blood sugar went awry. I knew something was wrong.

Adding back fat to our diet

Adding fat back into our diets makes all the difference. But with fat phobia, at first it was hard to do.
Overcoming my fear of fat was the biggest hurdle and remains the biggest issue to explain in my coaching of friends and family in the low-carb ketogenic diet.

Many women think it means they suddenly have to eat copious amounts of meat and protein. “I don’t like steak and eggs and bacon,” they say.

I was the same. In fact, while I knew all about the Atkins diet, and had even seen male friends drop copious pounds while eating steak and eggs, eating like that repelled me. Even when I tried, I couldn’t sustain it more than a day or so.

Plus, I have always I loved my veggies and my salad greens. My big vegetable garden that I plant each year in my backyard is not only a source of gorgeous fresh produce, tending it and working my hands in the soil is a favourite mode of stress release.

That is the beauty of the low carb HIGH FAT diet — I don’t have to give up my veggies. All I have to do is add back fat – in the form of butter, olive oil, coconut oil, cheese and saturated fat. I sauté fresh picked kale, chard, or spinach in butter or olive oil. Zucchini noodles makes a great base for a rich Alfredo or Bolognese sauce with whipping cream and plenty of cheese. Who knew cabbage sautéed in butter was almost meal in itself? Pizza with a cauliflower crust is even more satisfying than a wheat crust.

While my consumption of whole eggs, whites and yokes, has definitely gone up, the rest of my protein intake has stayed the same. But we are consuming a pound of butter each week. I am much less hungry, my blood sugar is normal, and I have lost 10 lbs (5 kg) and kept it off. Whipping cream in any dish is a welcomed ingredient.

I think back to that imagined scene around the ancient fire and know now the wise women like me were urging their loved ones “eat the fat!”

Anne Mullens


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Earlier with Anne Mullens

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“A Light Went on for Me”

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