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Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, By Volume – The Volumetrics Diet

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If you’re looking for a diet to support your weight loss/maintenance or healthy eating goals, I cannot emphasize enough that you should find one with science to back it up, preferably created by someone who does nutritional research.  Perhaps that sounds obvious, but most diets are not created based off scientific evaluation (though they will try to trick you into believing otherwise).  Or maybe it sounds biased and that I’m trying to gain support for my lifestyle, but let me assure you that it’s not biased, and this isn’t a self-serving recommendation.  First, I have no plans to create my own diet, so by making this recommendation I’m only supporting those in my field.  Secondly, this should just be common sense.  You will never find a diet with published evidence in peer-reviewed journals that is wacky.  For example, there is no data to support the Paleo diet or the Fast Metabolism Diet.  Because they’re bat shit crazy.

So why should you care about science? Because you should treat that wonderful vessel that is your body with respect, for starters.  Diets that are rooted in science have been tested repeatedly on a wide array of people, making it more likely that it will be safe and effective for you.  Diets based on science are also more likely to be conservative and require real, sustained behavior change from you, which is the sign of something good.  They don’t promise short-term impressive results (lose 20 pounds in two weeks!), but you WILL be healthier if you follow them.  The only two diets that I’ve followed this year that were tested a priori (meaning that they were derived from theoretical deduction, not just observation) before they hit the market are the DASH diet (completed in June) and this month’s diet “The Volumetrics Diet.” (The Mediterannean Diet has science to support it, but it wasn’t a diet designed by scientists for health.  Weight Watchers now has science to support it and was designed based off science for weight loss, though the actual evidence for the Weight Watchers program itself didn’t come until after it was developed.)

The Volumetrics Diet
This is a diet developed by Barbara Rolls, PhD, a woman that is sort of a celebrity in my eyes.  She has been studying Nutritional Science at Penn State for decades, she has published over 250 peer-reviewed research articles, and she has been the president of The Obesity Society.  This isn’t all pomp and circumstance.  The lady knows what she’s talking about, and what she likes to talk about it is human ingestive behaviors.  Dr. Rolls runs a lab that observes people’s eating behaviors and then tests different ways to prepare food that are more healthful and less energy dense.

Energy equilibrium (thus, weight stability) is achieved when energy intake equates to energy output.  If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.  The crux of the issue is that people get hungry when they try to reduce their energy intake because they simply reduce portion size.  A potentially more sustainable and effective approach (as outlined by Rolls) is to reduce the caloric density (CD) of your food.

Rolls’ research indicates that people typically eat the same volume of food, regardless of what the food is.  She has tested this by feeding people a serving of food, say lasagna, and they eat x volume.  On another day, she feeds them the same size serving of lasagna, but this time the lasagna has a lower CD because she has added in vegetables (typically low CD foods) and taken away some meat (typically high CD foods due to fat content), and people eat the same volume (x).  Thus, the whole premise of the Volumetrics Diet is to eat either the same or larger volume of food compared to what you would typically eat, but decrease the caloric density of the meal.  In doing so, you eat fewer calories but feel more full.  SCIENCE.

stomach CD

How To Do It

Reduce caloric density (CD) of the foods you consume.  How? Check out the nutrition label and calculate:
Calories per serving/grams per serving = CD

Category Calorie Density How to Eat Examples

1

<0.6

“Free” foods to eat anytime

Almost all fruits and non-starchy veggies, broth based soups

2

0.6-1.5

Eat reasonable portions

Whole grains, lean protein, legumes, and low fat dairy

3

1.6-3.9

Manage your portions

Breads, desserts, non-fat baked snacks, cheeses, higher-fat meats

4

4.0-9.0

Carefully manage portions and frequency of eating

Fried snacks, candy, cookies, nuts, fats

This becomes almost fool proof once you get used to where foods lie in the given categories.

Throughout this year, I have found that I get really sick of tracking my diet or spending a lot of time figuring out what to eat based on specific nutritional attributes (how many grams of fat/protein/carbs, type of fat, type of carb, etc).  These are extremely beneficial and perhaps even necessary practices when you start a weight loss plan because you HAVE to learn what healthy foods look like. For me, I just got bored with it and it became tedious.  The Volumetrics Diet simplifies and streamlines things, which I really appreciate.  In addition to changing the CD of the foods you eat, the plan promotes physical activity (working up to at least 10,000 steps per day), and becoming more mindful of how you eat, why you eat, and how you can change your attitude to promote a healthier lifestyle.  I won’t go into all of that, but Rolls’ book The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet is an amazing resource.

To make it easy on myself, here are a few things I did to stick to my “volumetrics” plan.
1) Drink a big glass of water before every meal.  This activates the stretch receptors in your stomach and sends a signal to your brain that you’re about to start eating.  It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register feelings of satiety (fullness), so it’s good to give it a head start by stretching the stomach a bit.  This will help to prevent overeating.

2) Eat fruits/veggies as a starter. This means that if you make a salad to go with dinner, eat it first. If you bring an apple to go with your lunch, eat it before you eat the rest of the meal.  This works similarly to the water thing, except you’re getting some calories and lots of nutrients, which is extremely important.

3) Change up the snack routine. Most of my snacking typically involves fruit, nonfat/lowfat yogurt, and nuts.  I can easily overeat nuts because I love them so…and they’re small, which makes it feel like you’re not eating much when you’re actually getting A LOT of calories.  I switched it up by incorporating “popped” foods instead of nuts (and saved nuts as meal ingredients instead of snacks).  Popped foods include popcorn (duh) and rice cakes.  I like to eat crackers, but they tend to have an incredibly high caloric density so you can only eat a few (which I never do) if you’re trying to control intake. Popcorn and rice cakes (cinnamon was my favorite flavor) allowed me to get my starch fix without even really think about portion control.
**I also don’t eat microwave popcorn. I either make my own or buy different flavors of the already popped stuff to cut down on fat and all the freaky chemicals that are in microwave popcorn.

4) Controlling my sweet tooth. I just can’t get enough. I love sweets, everyday. This is probably my most unhealthy habit.  Delusional people (or those with extreme will power or who don’t care for sweet foods) will give you stupid advice like, “Just eat a piece of fruit.” Get real. So, I had to figure a way around this.  One way to get my chocolate fix was to buy popcorn with chocolate drizzled over it (got it at Sprouts).  I especially love salty and sweet, so this was a great snack.  I could just grab a handful and not worry about the calories because a handful was enough volume to give me the fix without a ton of calories.  When I want something more than that, my go to is always ice cream. So instead I switched to frozen yogurt, which I love just as much, and just used portion control.  This brought the CD down from 2.16 (for chocolate ice cream) to 1.13 (for chocolate frozen yogurt).

5) When you aren’t eating something healthy, don’t eat as much of it. This is seemingly obvious, but I think a lot of us forget this and just go all out when we eat unhealthy, convincing ourselves that we’ll “go back to eating healthy tomorrow.” This is why it’s so easy to fall off the healthy eating wagon.  Just allow yourself to eat these things occasionally and just don’t eat as much of it.  That way, you never “fall off the wagon.” This is one of the most important things that you can learn from reasonable diets.  There is much less of a struggle to stick to a diet when you’re granted the freedom to eat what you want.  Learning portion sizes and implementing portion control would be my number one recommendation for anyone who wants to eat healthier.

Stats

  Goal/Normal DASH Low Fat Sustainability FMD October November
Weight 121-60 123.5 123 123 125.5 127.5 123.5
BMI 18.5-24.9 19.5 19.25 19.25 19.7 20 19.5
PBF 21-32 ? ? ? ? ? ?
WC <35 ? 26.5 27 27 27.5 26.5
HC ? 36.5 37 37.5 38 38
W:H Ratio <0.8 ? 0.73 0.73 0.72 0.72 0.7
Blood Pressure <120/80 91/68 103/66 103/68 95/65 102/73 105/72
      Diet
Total kcal 2000-2200 1865 1780 1905 925-1688 1920 1820
Protein (%) 13058 15 22 19 15-61 16 18
CHO (%) 49-52 52 60 52 28-77 46 54
Fiber (g) at least 25 30 23 25 30-52 28 31
Fat (%) 20-35 33 18 29 10-46 38 28
Sat Fat (%) <10 8 7 8 3-7 7 7
Sodium (mg) 2300 2147 2315 2282 1250-1740 2127 1975
Potassium (mg) 4700 3874 3143 3746 4014-4624 3826 3906
Fruit/Veg (servings) 5-9 7-9 4-6 5-7 8-12 6-9 6-11
Cost   127.32 145.2 254.45 195.14 204.3 128.5
  

By following the Volumetrics Diet, I lost the weight that I had gained on FMD and the MedDiet.  I wasn’t really intending to, but I found myself getting full on fewer calories…exactly as the plan is laid out. I also didn’t spend much money this month, but I think that was mostly because I had a lot of food left over from MedDiet. However, I really don’t think Volumetrics is an expensive way to eat.  There are no special ingredients to buy – just lots and lots of produce.

Final Thoughts

This diet was my favorite when considering the diets that I’ve tried this year that are designed for weight loss/maintenance (Weight Watchers, Low Fat).  It was the most intuitive out of all of them for me and I wasn’t required to track my intake, so it wasn’t nearly as cumbersome as the others.  Weight Watchers really uses the same premise as Volumetrics by promoting fruit and vegetable intake; they are just two different approaches and they will each work well for different people.  Perhaps the most important thing I gained from this month, though, was the skill to start listening to my hunger and satiety cues.  I was somewhat doubtful that I’d actually feel full simply by drinking more water and eating more fruits and vegetables, so I had to pay close attention to how hungry/full I felt.  Turns out that I felt full a lot faster when I was following the Volumetrics approach to eating.  This is perhaps the most important skill you can learn when trying to eat healthier – listen to your body.  She will not lie to you.

And now…only one month left in this year long experiment! Join me at the end of 2013 (more likely the beginning of 2014) as I review my experience with Mindful Eating, the only “program” where I won’t really be paying any attention to WHAT I eat but HOW and WHY I eat.

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Fast Metabolism Diet- Where Normal People Go To Develop A Food Complex

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My month of September was spent obsessing over food, as well as hating it.  Both are things I’ve never experienced.  I spent the month following the Fast Metabolism Diet (FMD), a diet developed by Haylie Pomroy, a Hollywood nutritionist with a background in animal science and holistic health.

The Gist of FMD
The purpose of FMD is to “reset your metabolism.” Pomroy explains that many people who have tried and failed countless times at diets and weight loss may be stuck in a rut because their metabolism is out of whack.  Additionally, she believes that counting calories, carbs, and fat grams are the wrong approach to dieting.  These are ideas I generally support. As you’ll see, I don’t believe her approach is the answer either.
Pomroy’s theory is that you can coax your body into metabolizing nutrients more efficiently if you keep it guessing as to what it will be metabolizing next.  This, in theory, makes it run more efficiently.  The idea is to follow this very specific plan for 4 weeks, each week split into three phases.  Doing this will supposedly teach your body how to digest, absorb, and utilize nutrients more efficiently and effectively so that you don’t have to be afraid of ice cream sundaes and so forth.  She recommends doing the full four weeks and then repeating a week at a time here and there if you feel the need.  So before we get started, make sure it’s clear in your mind that this is NOT a long term diet.  It’s the only “phase” diet that I’ve tried thus far.

The Three Phases
I was sort of on board when I had read about as much as you just have (though, being the forever skeptic that I am, I needed more information).  I do believe that we all process nutrients differently, so while a calorie from bread may be burned quickly and effectively in one person, that same calorie may be processed differently for someone else.  Pomroy also does a pretty thorough job of describing the organs involved in metabolism (liver, adrenals, thyroid, pituitary), how they become dysregulated, many of the myths about metabolism and weight loss, etc.  I think this is how people become interested in the diet – I’ve heard some say that they tried it because it was the only diet they had ever heard of that described the physiology of weight loss.
Next, I read about the three phases and they sounded great!

How You Get Roped In
Phase 1 – Days 1 & 2: Lots of carbs and fruits
Purpose: Flood the body with nutrients, calm the adrenals with natural sugars so that it reduces its cortisol production, a stress hormone that is linked to weight gain. Pair these foods with some kind of cardio exercise.  What I didn’t realize until later is that this phase really means NO fat. No cooking with fat, no nuts, no fatty veggies, only very lean meat, etc.

Phase 2 – Days 3 & 4: Lots of protein and veggies
Purpose: These foods push your body to lay down muscle and scavenge fat. Do some kind of heavy weight lifting on these days to ramp up the protein production in muscles.  What I soon realized was that this literally only means meat and vegetables, and nothing starchy.  No fruit, no cooking with fat, no eating nuts, no eating anything fun.

Phase 3– Days 5-7: All of the above plus healthy fats and oils
Purpose: After eating low fat for four days, your digestive enzymes are firing, your muscles are pumped up, and your body has been thriving on nutrient dense foods, so now it’s ready to start using fuel for fat! (These are obviously not my words.  And this phase is where I started to really question things. I don’t know how the previous days have made your digestive enzymes “fire.” They “fire” when you eat anything. Why would your body be suddenly ready to burn fat for fuel? The plot thickens…)

The Reality

Pomroy lays it out all very simply and beautifully in the beginning.  “You’ll eat delicious food, and you’ll be eating more than you ever thought possible on a diet!” she touts.  You GET to eat so much food.  It’s so different from any other diet you’ve ever tried! Just follow these rules:

  1. You must eat 5 times per day, 35 times per week (Not hard for me. I eat throughout the day, every day).
  2. You must eat every three to four hours, except when you’re sleeping. (I’m still on board. I eat more often than that.)
  3. You must eat within 30 minutes of waking. Every day. (Mine’s more like 45-60 minutes, but still not a huge issue).
  4. You must stay on the plan for the full 28 days. (Fine.)
  5. You must stick to the foods allowed in your phase. (OK.)
  6. You must follow the phases in order. (I get it.)
  7. You must drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day. (Not a bad plan. For me, this means ~60 ounces per day).
  8. Eat organic whenever possible. (Get real. I just spent a fortune on organic for a month. Not going to happen.)
  9. Meats must be nitrate free.  (These meats are more expensive, but the rationale here is that if your liver is processing all kinds of other chemicals, it can’t work on burning fat. This is the rationale for the organic thing, and many of the other items in the list below.)

But there are these few “minor” details written in fine print that really change the whole game. Here are all the things you CAN’T eat.

  1. No wheat, unless it is sprouted (Sprouted is supposedly easier for your intestines to absorb.  I’ve never seen the evidence, but sure. Whatever.)
  2. No corn. (Too many GMO’s, apparently.  See my previous post for my take on GMO’s.)
  3. No dairy. (Most cheeses and the like are high fat. Nonfat or lowfat? Pomroy says no because they’re too processed. I don’t agree.)
  4. No soy.  (GMO story again.)
  5. No refined sugar. (This includes all white sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar. Pretty much everything.  You can use stevia if you need to sweeten something.)
  6. No caffeine. (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  7. No alcohol. (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  8. No dried fruit (Dumb) or fruit juices (Meh – whatever).
  9. No artificial sweeteners
  10. No fat free diet foods
  11. Miscellaneous: no peanuts or peanut butter, no rice wine vinegar (I have no idea why not).

I suddenly realized I would spend the next month hating my life.  And so the story goes….

Week One – I HATE EVERYTHING
Below is an excerpt from my journal.
“Huge struggle, feeling deprived, hungry ALL THE TIME.  Joy has been completely sucked out of eating.  Sneaking little cheats everyday.  Phase II is the hardest – I’ve never been so hungry.  Similar to how I felt on Paleo, but so much worse because I can’t eat ANY fruit, starches, nuts, etc.  Brain function is slow on Phase II – exhausted, my head hurts constantly, I used to look forward to eating. Not anymore.”
The caffeine thing was hard in the beginning, but honestly, it only took 3 days to get off it and then I was fine.  The problem that I saw during week one that remained for the rest of the month was that I realized how much I legitimately enjoy drinking coffee – it’s warm and creamy and tastes good and makes me happy.  “How about some decaf,” you propose.  Nope. Decaf still has some caffeine in it (about 15-35% of caffeinated coffee).

Week two – SUCK IT UP. DON’T BE A QUITTER.
These week involved a little bit of soul searching and digging in deep.  I felt so discouraged and unhappy after week one.  Everyone thought I was weird/crazy for continuing on when it 1) appeared to be a stupid diet and 2) I felt so crappy. I thought about it – there was no longer joy in cooking or eating.  It literally felt like a chore to do either.  I didn’t feel any different in that I hadn’t lost any weight and my body seemed to be functioning the same, or worse, than it always had.
Then I realized I needed an attitude adjustment.  I saw a quote that said “Explore what you avoid – it’s important to challenge yourself and take yourself out of your comfort zone.” So I decided that I need to do just that and push myself.  I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t believe that the diet would lead to weight loss and repair a person’s metabolic issues.  But I decided that I would make this a test of my will power, and if I experienced any of the purported benefits, so be it.  After all, one of the main reasons I embarked on this “experiment” was to test my will power.
I did make some adjustments, though, to prevent myself from completely cracking.  For example, I didn’t eat the serving sizes outlined, and I allowed myself to eat some starchy veggies (i.e. carrots, tomatoes, and zucchini) on Phase II days. I also ate greek yogurt with some blueberries on Phase II days a couple of times.  It is amazing how hard it is to eat JUST meat and veggies. That’s all. Nothing else.

Week 3 – Acceptance and Comfort (And how happy hour ruins diets)

I had started to feel better and get a hang of the diet at this point.  I wasn’t STARVING during Phase II, and while I still didn’t really enjoy cooking or eating, I had come to accept that fact.  So, as comfortable as I was, I was equally bored. I still wasn’t seeing any benefit, so I kind of had a “screw this” moment.  I went to happy hour with some friends. I drank a margarita. Sweet, delicious nectar of the gods. I ate pork green chile nachos! I ate guacamole with chips! And it felt great. I didn’t feel guilty or mad or hungry.  I just felt happy.

Week 4 – Who Gives a S**t?
At this point, I was pretty much in the same place, mentally, as week 3, but I no longer felt any kind of investment or loyalty in FMD.  It wasn’t even about will power anymore, I just didn’t care.  I didn’t feel different physically, with the exception of my lack of dependence on caffeine and being extremely hydrated, which were good things.  I didn’t have high energy levels, such as were promised, and I definitely didn’t lose weight.

Final Thoughts
This was the first time that I think I got a glimpse into what it feels like to really be on a diet.  I’d say that I have a whole new respect for people who diet, but I don’t.  No one should ever make themselves feel that sad over food.  Pomroy writes that people need to lose the demons that they have created with food, but her diet does exactly the opposite.  I’ve never had issues with food, but I developed real ones with this.  The feeling of cheating on the diet was exhilarating and made me happy initially, but I would end up feeling like a failure later on.  And this happened literally every day for a month.  10 days into October, and I still feel like I have an unhealthy relationship with food.  While doing FMD, I would cheat on the diet, but practically gorge myself on my cheat foods. I didn’t really savor the food – I felt more of a sense of panic.  And this is never what food should be for anyone.  Portion control is important.  Making healthy choices is important.  But developing a longing that is never truly satiated because of the guilt that you feel for eating “unhealthy” foods is never okay.  Overall, I hated this month, but at least it gave me an idea of what people put themselves through.  And I can now tell from experience, there are so many better ways.

In other news, the first time I drank coffee was pretty much the happiest moment of my recent life.  Happier than when I got my job in CO or got my PhD or even got my dog.  I had reached the point where I was fine without caffeine.  I was functioning just great. But then I drank coffee, and the world came alive! I couldn’t believe I’d tricked myself into thinking I was okay! I could get so many things done! I was nicer! I was funnier! My brain and body worked better! Colors were brighter! The birds sang prettier! … and I think this is what drug addicts say about their respective vices…

Anyways, take a gander at the table below to see what days on FMD looked like for me.  These were really the best of the best days, where I didn’t cheat (much).  In particular, make note of the calorie counts.  Yeah, you’ll be eating “so much delicious food.” What a crock!
You’ll also see that I did not lose weight, my blood pressure looks pretty good (I think we can thank the lack of caffeine for that), and I spent way too much money. Thanks for nothin’, FMD!

Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3
Recommended What I ate Recommended What I ate Recommended What I ate
Breakfast Oatmeal fruit smoothie 1 c Oatmeal w/strawberries, sweetened with stevia; herbal tea Spanish egg white scramble Egg white scramble w/green chiles, bell peppers, red onions, Sriracha; herbal tea Toast, egg, tomato, red onion, 1/2 avocado Sprouted grain toast + 1 T almond butter + cinnamon; jicama spears; herbal tea
Snack Asian Pear Apple Smoked salmon w/cucumbers 1 C celery, 1 C carrots; 3 pieces nitrate free turkey meat 1/3 cup hummus and cucumbers Peach + raspberries
Lunch Open faced turkey sandwich (1 slice bread) Nitrate free turkey sandwich on sprouted wheat bread (2 slices) w/mustard, cucumbers, spinach; 2 small plums Tuna and cucumber salad 1 can tuna, red onion, cucumber, hard boiled egg white, cilantro, lime juice Endive tuna salad 2 C coconut curry chicken
Snack 2 kiwi 2 rice cakes, 1 c carrots, pear 1-2 oz buffalo jerky Turkey jerky, 1 C cucumber spears Celery + 2 T raw almond butter 2 T hummus, 1/2 c carrots, 1/2 c celery
Dinner 2 cups chicken and barley soup 2 cups baby kale + 1/2 c quinoa + 1/2 c black beans + carrots + cucumbers, lime juice Steak and asparagus lettuce wrap Broiled salmon, 1 c steamed broccoli w/garlic and lemon juice, baby kale salad w/cucumber & balsamic vinegar Coconut curry chicken Black bean + avocado + sauteed veggie burrito (sprouted wheat tortilla)
Snack None Rice crackers None Greek yogurt, dozen blueberries, stevia; herbal tea None Handful of mixed nuts
Total Calories 845 1,150 750 925 1,210 1,690
 

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data Vegan Paleo WW Gluten Free Smoothies DASH Low Fat Sustain-
ability
FMD
Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

124

123.5

123

123

125.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

19.5

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

19

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

?

26.5

27

27

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

38

?

36.5

37

37.5

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

0.72

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

BP

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

92/68

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

1980

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

80

70

89

44-141

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

17

15

22

19

15-61

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

54

52

60

52

28-77

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

33

30

23

25

30-52

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

29

33

18

29

10-46

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

7

8

7

8

3-7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2527

2132

2370

2250

2320

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

4109

3742

3628

3658

3925

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

8-10

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

135.42

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

Fat Free and Carb Crazy

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The past month I’ve been following a low fat diet plan.  For those of you older than me, you likely remember the low fat diet craze of the ‘90’s (shortly followed by the low carb craze).  I think that fad did a lot to damage the utility of a low fat diet for various health outcomes, because there certainly are a number of benefits of low fat eating.  As with all diets, though, it can be misused and abused.

The Science

Low Fat for Weight Loss- The most common reason to follow a low fat diet is to lose weight.  The reason low fat works so well for weight loss involves simple arithmetic.  In order to lose weight, your energy intake needs to be less than energy output.  Carbohydrates and protein contain 4 kcal/g, whereas fat contains 9 kcal/g.  If you cut out an equal number of carbohydrate grams as fat grams at separate times and were to change absolutely nothing else, you would lose more weight on the lower fat diet because you’re reducing your energy intake more than the low carb diet.  Easy peasy. However, a common misconception is that you’ll lose fat mass by just eating a low fat diet.  Unfortunately, fuel utilization is more complicated than that, and your body is happy to turn carbohydrates into fat if you’re eating excess carbs (i.e. if you’re still eating too many calories, but they’re coming from carbs instead of fat).  Bottom line: your energy intake needs to be less than your energy output, no matter what you’re consuming.

Low Fat for Health- There are a number of reasons to eat a lower fat diet for long term health.  The American Heart Association recommends eating <35% kcals from fat and to reduce saturated fat (SF) intake to <7% of intake (down from the old recommendation of 10%).  This highlights the importance of the type of fat consumed, as SF is packaged and transported via LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol), and as SF intake increases more LDL circulates in the blood. LDL is overall causal in the pathway for heart disease.  (The Mediterranean Diet style of eating is characterized by up to 40% of intake from fat; however, most of this fat comes from olive oil, which is rich in heart healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.  I won’t go into any more detail about that now as I will be following the MedDiet later this year, but once again, this supports the role for type of fat for heart health).

There has also been some work in the field of fat intake and cancer incidence and recurrence.  The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification trial enrolled over 48,000 postmenopausal women and randomized over 19,000 of those women to a low fat diet (20% kcals from fat) with a focus on increasing fruit and vegetable and whole grain intake.  After 8 years of follow-up, researchers saw a reduced incidence of ovarian and invasive breast cancers in those following the diet modification.  There is also work focusing on risk of recurrence of cancer when a low fat eating plan is followed, so keep your eyes peeled for that work in the future if this is something that you’re interested in.

My Experience

This was an interesting month for me for a number of reasons.  Instead of dropping my fat intake low and immediately, I gave myself some time to get acclimated to low fat eating.  I started at 30% kcals of intake for week 1 and reduced my fat intake by 5% every week.  I tracked my fat intake using the FatSecret app (available on iPhone and Droid platforms.  My Fitness Pal is also a great mobile app for diet/physical activity/weight tracking). Weeks 1 and 2 were really easy for me and served to just get me familiar with the fat content of the foods that I eat regularly.  I didn’t have to change anything at all to eat 30% and 25% was an extremely attainable goal.  I grew up eating foods that aren’t particularly high in fat – lowfat or nonfat yogurt, 1% or skim milk, tuna in water instead of oil, etc., so there weren’t any significant changes that needed to be made.

Things got interesting at 20% and 15%, and I actually had to make some real changes.  I usually eat peanut/almond butter on toast every morning for breakfast, I’m pretty heavy handed with olive oil when I cook, and I could eat avocadoes every day if someone would provide ripe, reasonably priced ones for me.  There are nothing wrong with these foods, but when you’re trying to curb fat intake, they become an issue.  I calculated my fat gram goals based off my average intake (1500 kcal/day and 2000 kcal/day), which equated to 25-33 g of fat/day.  To give you an idea of how that works out, 2 Tbsp of peanut butter (a standard serving for me) will give you 16 g of fat, ¼ of an avocado has 7 g of fat, and 1 Tbsp of any oil has about 13.5 g of fat.  Clearly, it wouldn’t take much to surpass my fat goals, so I started to get stingy with my peanut butter in the morning or use jam instead.  I used olive oil/canola oil sprays when sautéing veggies instead of just pouring oil into the pan, and avocadoes became a treat that I would allow for dinner when I had been really good all day. I never successfully got down to 15% kcals from fat, and 18% was where I bottomed out.  I found that I was especially hungry on those days, and would get stressed over everything I was eating.  I’d find foods that were low fat, but every gram mattered at that point, and low fat just wasn’t cutting it.  You have to go down to nonfat for almost all products at that point, and I’m not crazy about that (see recommendations below).

The most interesting thing that I saw with low fat intake that I hadn’t really predicted was how incredibly hard it was for me to maintain my overall kcal intake.  Since I’m trying really hard not to lose weight, I had to supplement my diet with more carbs or protein in order to reach my necessary calorie goal.  Adding protein without adding fat was a challenge as my primary sources of protein (nuts, protein bars) are also fairly high in fat and lower in carbs.  I don’t eat much meat, but when I did, I would use chicken and boil it instead of cooking it in any oil.  Beans were another option, but beans are also high in carbs, so my overall carb intake went up. My carb intake also increased in ways that were not healthy. A lot of days I ate way more fruit than I normally do, and I replaced a lot of veggies with fruit since most fruit is higher in calories than veggies, and I had a calorie goal I was trying to meet.  Wanna know what else is high in calories, but not fat? Candy.  Like Mike and Ike’s.  So are bagels.  So my diet became supplemented with shitty food like that occasionally just to maintain calorie intake.  Moral of the story: go on a low fat diet if you’re trying to reduce calorie intake.  It’s easier than I realized, and since you’re trying to reduce calorie intake, you better not be supplementing your diet with a lot of excess sugar.

Recommendations for Reducing Fat Intake

Frozen yogurt or sorbet instead of ice cream- Sorbet doesn’t do it for me, personally, because I like chocolate for dessert, but frozen yogurt works and it’s way way lower in fat than it’s creamy counterpart.  I’m also mildly lactarded, so frozen yogurt is a great switch since the little bacteria friends in yogurt have already digested the lactose for me.  Thanks, guys.

Nonfat/reduced fat dairy products- I’ve never eaten full fat yogurt.  I did for the first time that I could remember a year ago, and I was amazed at how delicious it was.  Luckily, that didn’t trick me into doing it regularly because I have a girlish figure to maintain, and I don’t want to waste calories on something like yogurt.  I prefer nonfat greek yogurt over any other kind of yogurt because it’s REALLY high in protein, so you’ll feel fuller than just eating normal low/nonfat yogurt.  For cheese, I can do reduced fat cheeses, but nonfat cheese is gross and it doesn’t melt well, so you’re better off introducing a small amount of fat to maintain some of the flavor and consistency.

Get down with the Greek- Whenever I make any kind of cream sauce, whether it’s adding it to a tomato sauce or more of an alfredo, I use plain greek yogurt, and I’ll add plain almond milk if I need more liquid.  Cook on low heat, and it’s delicious.  I also use plain greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream.

Lean protein- your best options are skinless chicken, fish, turkey, or very lean cuts of beef.  Minimize the amount of oil you cook them in- try boiling, grilling, or broiling instead of deep frying or pan frying.

Condiments- Start experimenting with other toppings on sandwiches other than mayonnaise.  If you like the taste, you can replace mayo with Miracle Whip as it’s much lower in fat and overall calories.  You can also try mustard.  I think yellow mustard is gross, but I love spicy brown mustard, and it’s especially low in calories (3 kcals/tsp).

Nonfat processed foods- I’m not recommending that you eat nonfat processed foods. My recommendation is to stay away from that shit.  There is lowfat peanut butter, and I hope that makes your furrow your brow and be suspicious of how the hell that works.  They replace some of the fat with maltodextrin (a carbohydrate used as a filler in a lot of foods), and I don’t like that.  Granted, I don’t buy peanut butter with other weird fillers either- just plain peanuts and salt for me, thanks.  My recommendation is to just eat less of it because you’re not going to make it lowfat and not weird.  The same goes for salad dressing.  I actually don’t buy salad dressing because I don’t eat much salad at home and because there are too many preservatives and things I can’t pronounce on the label. The number of those words increases by about 30% when you go nonfat because they fill it with a lot of science experiment results in order to make it taste somewhat close to normal.  Sure you can buy these nonfat foods and reduce your fat intake, but what else are you eating? No one knows for sure. Just reduce your portion size or make your own (salad dressing, at least) with less oil.

Steer clear of all of Paula Deen’s recipes.

paula-deen-butter-1Final Stats and Remarks

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data

Vegan

Paleo

WW

GF

Smoothies

DASH

Low Fat

Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

124

123.5

123

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

19.5

19.5

19.25

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

19.0

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

?

26.5

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

38

?

36.5

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

0.72

?

0.73

Blood Pressure

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

92/68

91/68

103/66

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

1980

1865

1780

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

80

70

89

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

17

15

22

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

54

52

60

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

33

30

23

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

29

33

18

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

7

8

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2138-2527

2132

2370

2250

2320

2147

2315

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

3959-4109

3742

3628

3658

3925

3874

3143

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

8-10

7-9

4-6

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

135.42

127.32

145.20

I chose the lowest fat intake that I reached this month, 18%.  As you can see, I struggled to eat enough calories, but all in all, not a whole lot to report.  My blood pressure went up a bit, probably because my fruit and veggie intake went down.  I no longer have a way to measure my percent body fat, so that won’t be reported any longer.  And my ass is disappearing.

Next stop: sustainability month! It’s about to get real…expensive.