Eat More Fat To Lose Fat
The idea here is a simple one, it’s just a little confusing. Eat more fat, to lose the fat. That might seem counterintuitive to those who haven’t already been schooled in the dark arts of keto. But when you start digging into the science behind this claim, it should start to look a little more credible. When it’s time to speed up the summer shred, you might want to butter up.
First, let’s blitz through the mechanisms that lead to fat storage. Carbs can be turned into fat through de novo lipogenesis, but this only tends to spike in high-carb, low-fat splurges. Protein can be put through the same process, but it first has to be turned into glucose, through gluconeogenesis. Both of these macros are rate-limited, especially in the case of protein. Fat however, can be stored pretty readily, and typically contributes the bulk of the supply to your love handles.
None of this means fat is on the naughty step, because all these scenarios depend on a few overarching factors.
The Factors Of Fat Gain
Energy availability. Whether the body is in a state of energy surplus, or energy scarcity. Tilt the dial towards the former, it’s time to stockpile resources, and fat gain goes up. This would have been a vital survival tool back when the winters came tinged with prolonged starvation. When you’re attempting to diet down, you’ll want to shift the metabolism in the other direction. With imposed scarcity, the body has to unlock its own resources.
This isn’t quite the same as the classic calorie equation. We’re not test tubes, and calories coming in aren’t ubiquitously absorbed. The body is continually shifting in and out of energy surplus and scarcity. And to cap it off, your energy output can be modified quite drastically by metabolic adaptations. Such as being too lazy to drive over to the gym.
The calorie equation is our best guess short of barricading subjects in metabolic chambers, but there has to be a margin of error.
Meal timing. All things being equal, a diet of 2000 calories can produce better results with a smaller feeding window. That’s because, even without tampering with calories, it effectively extends the state of energy scarcity. This creates a hormonal cascade bent on freeing up fat stores.
Macro composition. In a standard western diet, carbs account for 50% of calories, along with 33% from fat, and 15% protein. In this scenario, insulin gets a big spike, the body puts the brakes on lipolysis, and fat becomes fat.
But in a carnivore diet, carbs are effectively at 0%, and the insulin response is neutered. It’s still there, but the impressive spikes are gone. In this scenario, fat can become fat, while much of it gets used as energy instead.
If we can put the pin on what causes fat gain, we can simply flip it on its head to create a setting for sustained blubber loss.
Prolonged states of energy scarcity. It’s not enough to just flip the switch during sweaty workouts.
Overall energy scarcity. A sustainable way of reducing incoming calories. This can be done by targeting nutrient-dense foods that send strong signals to the body to reduce appetite.
Lowering insulin. Putting a cap on mealtime insulin release will curb the hormone’s anti-lipolytic (fat loss) effects.
So the ideal diet would include fasting, appetite suppression, and lower carbs. Which puts you somewhere in the region of keto and the ultimate version of keto, carnivore. High protein, backed with high fat, priming the body for unrelenting fat loss. But there is another mechanism that plays a critical role in determining the success of the diet. Make the worst possible choice, and progress can turn into a grind. On the other hand, you’ve got the cherry on top of optimal performance.
And that would be the type of fat you’re shoveling in the tank.
The Best Types Of Fat For Fat Loss
Omega 6, also known as linoleic acid, is an essential fatty acid. But it’s also inherently inflammatory and obesogenic, so it’s not quite what you want from a dinner staple. The thing is, despite being a necessary nutrient, you only need a few grams to hit the quota. Like most plant foods, Omega 6 has a hormetic curve that gets bad early. Unfortunately, being a cheap and flexible product, it’s also rife in the western food chain. It’s in most processed foods, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and even in factory-farmed meat. So we’re typically getting far more than we need.
A ketogenic diet that’s high in Omega 6 needs to be slapped with a giant disclaimer before being advertised to the masses or used in studies. And as for carnivore, it’s certainly possible to still have moderate amounts of Omega 6, which can still hamstring your efforts.
Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory, the essential counterweight to Omega 6. It’s pretty much an animal nutrient, as the Omega 3 sourced from plants converts very poorly the required end product, DHA. Besides providing the brain with building blocks, Omega 3 probably does most of its work simply by balancing out the Omega 3:6 ratio. The caveat here, is there’s not much evidence to support hyper-dosing this one.
Monounsaturated fats are significantly better than Omega 6, due in part to the actions of OEA. This fatty acid stimulates lipolysis and suppresses appetite, making it a potent weapon on a low calorie diet. This is one reason why olive oil comfortably beats a bottle rapeseed oil, however organic the latter might claim to be.
Medium-chain triglycerides, known simply as MCT, is a lite version of fat that can be found in dairy, coconuts, and palm kernel oil. It’s unique in the case that it can bypass the long winded process of fat metabolism, providing the body with quick relief. MCT is not quite a fat loss enhancer, but it is a way to make the process easier.
MCT is often touted as a magical supplement for people looking to get the best out of keto, but it has been overhyped. Personally, the potential damage it has on the gut lining, makes it not worth the trouble. It’s a pretty feisty substance.
Saturated fat, is the cleaned-up version of fatty acids, without any chinks or divots in the carbon armour. But we’re not looking to size up its health benefits here, just the aesthetics. And in that realm, saturated fat is the runaway winner. It absolutely has the ability to enhance fat loss, through its effects on the mitochondria.
This dovetails nicely with my previous piece on mitochondria, where I described the machinery at play in our little co-partners. These cells, which dwarf our own in number, take on the lion’s share of energy metabolism. That article was bent on determining the best anti-aging setup, and to that end, I suggest that the diet had to reduce the ROS (reactive oxygen species) signal that coincides with energy production.
Now I’m going to muddy the waters by adding that saturated fat generates a ton of ROS. And that’s very much a good thing. The thing is, the ROS being produced in hydrogen peroxide, rather than free radicals. Benign as an inflammatory force, while acting as a clear signal to increase fat loss.
The ROS itself is caused by a bottleneck effect in the electron transport chain (ETC), the base of mitochondrial energy production. The long-chain fatty acid composition of saturated fat clogs up the ETC funnel, and the body spikes ROS to clear things up. A few special events take place in the aftermath.
Energy is wasted as heat – The bottleneck causes electrons to flow back up the chain, which gets used for mitochondrial uncoupling instead. This basically means they get intentionally burnt up. The body temperature goes up, and the metabolism along with it.
Appetite gets suppressed – The strong ROS signal causes a feeling of satiety to take over, in order to more saturated fats coming in and continuing the bottleneck.
The fat stores continue to be burnt – The ROS also signals to your own fat cells to become insulin resistant. In the case of fat cells, that’s a perfect scenario. Insulin causes energy storage. If those fat stores aren’t receptive to insulin’s demands, then storage is avoided and lipolysis can tick over. All in spite of the fact that you might have just consumed a boatload of calories.’
Want to know where Omega 6 would figure into all of this? Well, it produces a stunted ROS response, similar to glucose. The body responds by making your fat cells insulin sensitive, and the appetite remains unchanged. You get to stay in growth mode. This is just one reason why I wouldn’t tangle with seed oils, of any kind. Peanut butter included.
So saturated fat, especially stearic acid, can raise the metabolic rate, put the damper on cravings, while urging on the blubber purge. But even at this point, we haven’t gone deep enough into the weeds. There’s a second key factor in this equation, and that would be the makeup of your own fat cells.
Your body fat is a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats. It has to be somewhat unsaturated, because otherwise your tissues would be rendered immobile. But if it’s excessively unsaturated, then the body is going to be in a somewhat obesogenic state. And that’s down the same mitochondrial mechanism of ROS.
When your body burns up fat for energy, it’s never made entirely from dinner. It’s a combination of incoming fats, and stored fats. So the makeup of your own stores plays a big role in determining the effectiveness of the ROS response.
The catch is that the body lacks the enzyme for converting unsaturated fats into the potent saturated version. As far as fatty acids go, what we eat, that’s how we tend to store. The body fat reflects the foods you’re shoveling in. A diet loaded with unsaturated fats, particularly Omega 6, can produce fat stores that are excessively unsaturated. Subsequently, fat loss gets stunted.
How To Put This Into Action
Meat does contain some monounsaturated fats, but alongside plenty of saturated fats. Plants are predominantly going to offer unsaturated fats, especially Omega 6. If we go ahead and run with the claim that a ketogenic diet has the best fat-burning potential, then that comes parcelled with high fat consumption. The type you choose can have resounding effects on fat loss, for better or worse.
Saturated fat, by virtue of its mitochondrial boost, is far and away the best choice. When it’s not sitting snug between two buns, a big chunk of fatty red meat actively boosts the metabolism while barricading fat absorption. Even if you were to down your diet tools and splurge on four pounds of ribeye, it’s extremely unlikely to result in fat gain. With lowered insulin and ramped up ROS, the storing mechanism just isn’t there. To top that off, it’s equally unlikely that you’d be able to get through four pounds of fat-drenched steak.
I’ve found this out for myself while bulking up on a pure carnivore diet, just meat stacked on butter, stacked on meat. My waist was barely any worse for having gained six kilograms, along with a daily intake of 5000 calories. In the end, I gave up trying to push any further, and added a small dose of carbs into the mix. Then all of a sudden, the scale was moving up again despite me going to 3200 calories. The waist has been blossoming ever since.
At least I know what to do when it’s finally time to trim up again. Keep the saturated fat, ditch the carbs.
The diet by no means has to be exclusively saturated fat, not least because it’s highly impractical to isolate. Getting it from red meat also allows you to net a ton of protein alongside it, with the mass protection further adding to the sweltering fat-loss cocktail.
There’s nothing wrong with sourcing it from butter, as long as you can tolerate dairy. As for coconuts and palm oil, they’re not the most nutritious, but they still trump vegetable oils and even olive oil.
In practical terms, adding 10-20 grams of saturated fat to each meal will let you net the metabolic perks. You can do that either by just picking fatty cuts of beef like brisket and ribeye, or by adding a concentrated fat like suet and butter. Just keep in mind that 10-20 grams of saturated fat equate to around 20-40 grams of total fat in the aforementioned foods.
For those looking to diet down to the last dredges of body fat on carnivore, it might be worth holding back from going high protein, low fat. While that certainly can help lower the calories enough to induce weight loss, it’s going to be miserable, and your energy will likely get shot. Neither of which is ideal for getting over the finish line. Unless you’re quite literally scraping down to 5-6% body fat, there’s no reason you can’t keep the fat in play. The food gets to stay palatable, and it will probably work just as well, if not better.
The intense effect saturated fat has on satiety and fat loss shouldn’t be particularly surprising, because it’s ancestrally consistent. Red meat was the centerpiece of the paleolithic diet, and the body evolved specially designed mechanisms to get the most out of it. The human metabolism is not that of a generalist, suited to absorb all manner of foods. It’s specific, honed in on a select number of ingredients. Abundant red meat would have meant the hunters were right in the middle of open season, and they would have needed to stay lean and active. Whereas if they started guzzling down honeycombs, the signal was that winter was approaching, and it was time to do some ‘bulking’.
Takeaway – Adding more saturated fat to your meals raises the metabolic rate while also acting against fat gain. That’s the dream scenario for fat loss.
For more techniques on whittling down body fat, check out my article on fasted training. Just another ancestral pastime that gets the job done, if we can swap in iron dumbbells for boughs broken off a nearby tree.
Carnivore Diet Coach And Personal Trainer