For a long time there was a war on fat, like over 30 years long. I’ve talked a lot about the importance of reading labels and understanding what you’re consuming. Not necessarily saying no to the processed food, but understanding or knowing what is in it. Well, taking that a step further – we need to also understand that the guidelines that back those labels up are created by governing bodies that may or may not benefit by creating certain guidelines or encouraging certain studies.
I’m not saying that the FDA or USDA or other regulatory groups are bad, but I am saying that the information can be misleading or a generalization in some cases.
A good example: the nutrition label you see on your boxed and canned goods is based off of a 2,000 calorie diet. This means the percentage listed as daily value is based off of 2,000 calories, but you may not be eating 2,000 calories – you may be consuming more or less.
Another example: the most recent guidelines by the USDA have a caloric recommendation for individuals based on gender, age and activity level with all numbers being whole, round numbers. These numbers are only below 1,400 daily calories for children under the age of 6, sedentary males peak at 2,600 calories for a 19/20 year old with sedentary females peaking at 2,000 calories for ages 19-25 – individuals who are more active peaked calories up to 3,200 daily. The guidelines state that the sample bodies used to determine were an average height and a “healthy” weight (page 77-78).
“For adults, the reference man is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 154 pounds. The reference woman is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 126 pounds.”
I’m 5’4″ and I weight about 138 pounds. I’m roughly 17% body fat, which is lean and considered athletic for a female. My measurements are small. I don’t fit the sample body. I also don’t know many “healthy” men that would fit this sample body either.
The first dietary guidelines were rolled out in the 1980s and at the time, the biggest concern was heart disease and heart attacks. Ultimately, the first guidelines recommended against all fat and foods that had cholesterol like red meat. However, more research has shown that not all fats are created equal and that dietary fat is necessary for bodily function. In the most recent guidelines for 2015-2020, it’s stated that saturated fat consumption should be 10% or less of overall calories consumed (page 15 footnotes). It’s also recommended that you replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about fats. Have you ever heard about triglycerides? It’s possible that your doctor has mentioned this term before when discussing blood work and overall health. These are the most common dietary fat we eat. This is also the form that fat is stored in our bodies.
The science of triglycerides
Triglycerides are a molecule consisting of 3 fatty acids attached to a 3 carbon glycerol backbone (Thompson & Manore, 2015). They are classified by their chain length (how many carbons are attached), their level of saturation (how much hydrogen is attached to each carbon) and their shape.
The first way to classify – chain length. The first thing we learned in biology is that structure determines function – if you have a wheel it can move things forward, right? It can’t make things fly. There are three chain lengths: short (6 or fewer carbon), medium (6 to 12 carbon) and long (14 or more carbon). The lengths determine the method of fat digestion and absorption as well as how the fat works within your body. As you imagine, the shorter the chain, the faster the digestion and absorption (Thompson & Manore, 2015).
Now, saturation level. What’s the difference between these two kind of fats?
The simple answer – saturated fatty acids have closely packed molecules because they lack a double bond that would “space” them out. This means they can solidify at room temperature, example: a jar of coconut oil. unsaturated fatty acids do have a double bond, which prevent them from solidifying at room temperature, example: olive oil (Reece, Taylor, Simon, Dickey, & Hogan, 2015).
Lastly, shape – the carbon molecules impact the shape. The lack of the double bond in saturated fat allows the chain to be straight and pack tightly together. The double bond in unsaturated fat prevents the chain from being straight and actually adds kinks, which makes them liquid at room temperature.
But what about bottles of coconut oil at the store, how are those liquids? Coconut oil that is liquid at room temperature is manipulated during manufacturing. The removal of natural fatty acids that solidify allow liquid coconut oil to be just that. Lauric acid, the fatty acid in coconut oil known for its health benefits like being a germ killer, is actually removed in this process. This is because it’s melting point is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. To read more about the production, safety and use of liquid coconut oil check out this article.
Coconut oil isn’t the only thing that is manipulated on the market. Unsaturated fats can also be manipulated by food manufacturing in a process called hydrogenation, which started in the early 1900s (Thompson & Manore, 2015). This process adds hydrogen molecules, which in unsaturated fats causes the double bonds to be partially or totally removed allowing the fat to become solid and store more easily for a longer period of time.
This is also where we get trans-fats, which actually is describing the double bonds in the molecule. This kind of fat is found mostly in foods that are manipulated, although a small amount of natural trans fatty acids are found in cow’s milk and meat.
Now that I’ve confused you, triglycerides do contain essential fatty acids that are important for health (Thompson & Manore, 2015). Essential fatty acids (EFA) are obtained from the foods we consume – our bodies cannot produce them. There are two groups of them: Omega-6 and Omega-3.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids have a double bond 6 carbons from the end (omega = end of the chain, 6 = number of bonds away from the end). Linoleic acid is an omega-6 that is essential for human health. This is found in vegetable and nut oils like peanut oil, sunflower oil, corn oil and soy.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids have a double bond 3 carbons from the end. Alpha-linolenic acid is the most common in our diets and primarily comes from plants like leafy greens, walnuts, flaxseeds.
Why are EFAs important?
They’re precursors to biological compounds found in every cell in the body that regulate cell function.
Why is fat in general important?Fat provides energy; it has 9 calories per gram, which makes it the most dense energy source. Our bodies use fat when we’re at rest and during physical activity.
- Fat helps transport vitamins A, D, E and K throughout the body, which help regulate functions like calcium absorption and utilization, cell membrane protection, blood clotting, bone health and vision.
- Fat regulates our hormone production and cell function. *
- Fat contributes to satiety, which means we stop eating sooner and helps us feel full longer.
Fat Importance on Cell Function and Hormone Production
This is something I talk a lot about with my clients. Fat is important because of the reasons listed, but as someone who works predominately with women this is something I want to drive home with them. There’s no reason to fear dietary fat, but we do need to moderate it. Phospholipids are a major component of our cells (Reece, Taylor, Simon, Dickey, & Hogan, 2015). These are similar to fats, except they contain two fatty acids attached at the glycerol, not three. Steroids are hormones produced in the adrenal cortex, cortisol is an example of a steroid hormone, which regulates carbohydrate metabolism and provides an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Fat -loving and the Ketogenic Diet
As the war on fat has started to settle, the rise of high fat diets like the ketogenic diet have started to become increasingly popular for fat loss; however, this style diet isn’t for everyone and should be monitored because of other potential health outcomes.
So what is the ketogenic diet?In simple terms it’s a high fat, very low carbohydrate (~20g or less daily), moderate protein diet that has been utilized to help with refractory epilepsy since the 1920s (Gupta, et al., 2017). It’s especially helpful for children with epilepsy, but according to the Epilepsy Society, adults may also benefit from it. The ketogenic diet has also been found to assist with fat loss in individuals who are obese lose as well as help manage other disorders like polycystic ovarian syndrome (Gupta, et al., 2017). However, be reminded that less extreme diets that moderate calories will also result in fat loss as long as the individual adheres to it and a diet that moderates carbohydrate intake may also assist with PCOS.
So how does the ketogenic diet work?
Our bodies utilize carbohydrates that have been broken down to glucose as a main source of energy (Thompson & Manore, 2015). While our bodies also use fat as fuel, glucose is favorited by red blood cells, some nervous tissue and our brains for energy.
When we don’t take in enough carbohydrates…. let me pause…enough carbohydrates doesn’t mean hundreds of grams daily. Enough carbohydrates could be 100g a day depending on the age, gender and activity levels of the person. Ok continuing…our bodies start looking for another fuel source. In the process of ketosis, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and creates ketone bodies or ketones that will be utilized as fuel. These ketones are a natural appetite suppressant that can help control nutritional intake (Thompson & Manore, 2015).
What about the keto diet is beneficial to different populations?
The effects on the “central nervous system, cellular metabolism and metabolic pathways, have shown promising results in a variety of neurological disorders, traumatic brain injury, acne, cancers, and metabolic disorders (Gupta, et al., 2017).” “The ketogenic diet alters the energy metabolism in the brain, therefore altering brain excitability,” which impacts how cells communicate with each other and regulate the CNS (Lee, 2012).
Is there one way to practice keto?
This is a tricky question. The classical diet of keto that is utilized with epilepsy patients suggests strict ratios of fat, carbohydrates and protein at every meal. It also includes little protein and carbohydrate because of the body’s ability to be “knocked out” of ketosis by too many of either.
The medium chain triglyceride (MCT) diet allows for a little more carbohydrates and protein. This version provides some flexibility and allows MCT oil to be used a supplement. Nutrients are also calculated by the percentage of calories for each group, meaning it’s not a specific number of grams, but a percentage of overall calories.
If keto can be helpful, why shouldn’t everyone utilize it?
A true ketosis diet should be monitored because of higher risks for other health concerns like osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones), hyperlipidemia (abnormally high fat in the blood), nephrolithiasis (kidney stones). Some of these health concerns can onset as we age, but nutritional deficiencies can increase risk. This means that supplementation is necessarily because there is a lack of diversity by lowering carbohydrate intake. This would be a recommendation for many people seeking fat loss with any diet – supplement appropriately.
The use of carbohydrates in our diets isn’t just for daily function like walking, talking and sitting; they’re also used for fuel during prolonged period of activity and protect again the use of stored protein as a fuel source i.e. muscle loss (Thompson & Manore, 2015). When our bodies don’t have enough carbohydrates our bodies continue to find fuel sources, and while in a perfect world we imagine the body will find stored fat to utilize, it will also find stored protein. Not only does this result in muscle mass loss, but it can weaken our immune systems and prevent optimal function. However, this kind of loss can be associated with too little calorie intake because a nutrient group has be drastically decreased or eliminated.
If ketone levels are too high the blood can become very acidic and can lead to ketoacidosis. This actually prevents optimal body function and ultimately can lead to damaged tissue.
Why don’t I believe the ketogenic diet should be prescribed to everyone?
My personal belief is that the ketogenic diet should be utilized for clinical conditions like epilepsy and other cognitive or metabolic disorders. I do believe that some people feel better on lower carbohydrates, but lower is relative.
I had a client who recognized she felt physically better on higher fat, moderate carbohydrate and protein. Her macros were 75F/100C/147P or 1,663 calories. Her goal was fat loss and this was a deficit for her. On days that she would run long distances (over 4 miles) she would increase her carbohydrates between 20-40g because it helped in those runs.
Yes, I eat processed food and things with real and artificial sweeteners in them, but I also know that’s not for everyone. I know not everyone can moderate these foods and that’s completely ok. I do believe that one way to work towards creating a healthier food plan is to examine the carbohydrates that are you taking in and how they make you feel. I ask my clients to do this often by making a list or notes when they recognize they feel bloated, jittery, exhausted, fatigued, etc.
Carbohydrates breakdown to sugars like stated above so in many cases they feel these things because of 1. too much sugar (real or added) 2. too many overall carbohydrates 3. the kind of carbohydrates they’re consuming (simple versus complex). I don’t think extremes need to be implemented to see change or progress unless specified by a physician.
Mentally, I think elimination diets that pull full groups of foods can be harmful over time to the relationship that we have with food. Creating a balance lifestyle also means enjoying foods that tastes good, but isn’t necessarily the greatest for us, but understanding that moderation is key. Eating out, attending and participating in parties and functions is a part of life and experience. While many suffer from auto immune disorders or illnesses that force them to create alternative eating styles to manage their health, many don’t need extreme measures.
Health coaches, lifestyle coaches, personal trainers, wellness coaches, etc. people assisting others like I do, should be encouraging individuals to bring in all their resources to find what ultimately works for them in a reasonable and safe way.
We shouldn’t fear fat in our diet, but we also shouldn’t fear other nutritional groups either – we just need to better understand them.
Epilepsy Society. (2016, March). Ketogenic Diet. Retrieved from Epilepsy Society: https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/ketogenic-diet#.WkzL6TdG1PY
Gupta, L., Khandelwal, D., Kalra, S., Gupta, P., Dutta, D., & Aggarwal, S. (2017). Ketogenic diet in endocrine disorders: Current perspectives. Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, 242-251.
Lee, M. (2012). The use of ketogenic diet in special situations: expanding use in intractable epilepsy and other neurologic disorders. Korean Journal of Pediatrics, 316-321.
Reece, J. B., Taylor, M. R., Simon, E. J., Dickey, J. L., & Hogan, K. (2015). Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections. New York: Pearson Education.
Thompson, J., & Manore, M. (2015). Nutrition: An Applied Approach. San Francisco: Pearson Education.
I write when I feel that I need to, so as you can tell it’s been a solid month since I’ve written, but I don’t think this is a bad thing. I’ve been finding outlets in running more, unpacking my apartment, hanging out by the pool and busting my ass with class. Side note – 8 more classes and the summer sessions are done. That by a lot faster than I imagined it would!
Anyway. I write when I feel inspired. I write when I feel like I need to brain dump. So let’s just jump in. I’m going to preface this post with I’ve made excuses for myself in the past, I’ve heard JP make excuses for himself as well. I have clients who make excuses too. EVERYONE builds walls and barriers that prevent them from being as great as possible in whatever it is they are seeking to accomplish. But, progress and the journey is about backing away from those excuses, tearing them down and pushing yourself to see what you can accomplish because it doesn’t matter what others tell you – if you don’t stop making excuses you’re never going to be successful.
At the beginning of the month, I got an email from Panera saying that as a reward member I was eligible for free bagels for the whole month. One bagel per day, no purchase necessary. Well, as you can imagine, goals have shifted since the spring and bagels fit into my plan pretty well, so, challenge accepted.
How many bagels can I eat in a month from Panera? Let’s find out.
I set some rules – I had to try them all once before I could go back for the same one again.
First up – Chocolate Chip. Not bad, but not my favorite.
Favorite bagel? Cinnamon Crunch. It’s covered in in cinnamon-y and sugar goodness, do I need to say more? Also, it’s perfect toasted and plain no need to add anything, which is perfect because it’s 82g of carbohydrates.
Anyway, here’s what I learned by eating as many free bagels as I could this month.
- I will willing eat 7 bagels in a month.
- Bagel sandwiches are most definitely in my top three for breakfast carbs, pancakes and waffles in first and second place, respectively.
- Free tastes better.
- Plain bagels are a waste of carbohydrates – so I didn’t even have one of those.
- If you want something bad enough, you make it work.
Let’s talk about #5.
I wanted a bagel, so I made it work into my day. I planned my other meals around my bagel and focused on lean protein, high volume fruits and vegetables. This allowed me the joy of consuming anywhere between 50 to 90g of carbohydrates in the bagel of my choice, while still eating enough volume to stay full and enough calories to be energized for the day.
I’ve had clients tell me that they don’t want to track their nutritional intake. Whether it’s specific grams of macro nutrients or calories (specific or broad tracking), they didn’t want to have to monitor it. Well, how do people think they got to where they are to begin with? How do you think I became over 240 pounds in college? It doesn’t just happen overnight. The only way to have fat loss is to be in a caloric deficit and the best way to do that is through daily diet. Abs are truly made in the kitchen and you can’t out work a poor diet.
I also believe if someone has never tracked, but wants to lose weight, it’ll do them some good to track for at least a short period of time and understand the difference between a portion they serve themselves and a serving size. How can they complain about no progress if they don’t know how their own behavior impacts them? It’s also heartbreaking when you realize how much peanut butter is in a serving versus what you believe should be the serving. Aside from being specific with consumption, I’ve had talks with people who don’t want plan the week’s meals in advanced because don’t want to eat the same thing every day. Trust me, I don’t blame them. But planning or prepping doesn’t mean you have to eat the same thing – that may be the easiest thing to do, but it’s not the only way. The real world isn’t a bubble. There are parties and holidays and you can’t always say no to a glass of wine or a burger at the BBQ, so why should a bubble be created to be successful?
The “right” path encompasses finding balance and having more good days than bad. It’s about a specific balance that is unique to an individual’s lifestyle. Planning ahead allows for the ability to make a change when something comes up last minute. It allows you to learn how to create a balance of food that fuels you and a cold beer with dinner. If they can’t learn that balance when seeking to live a healthier life, the struggle will continue even after the goals are met.
Creating a healthy lifestyle isn’t just about nutrition though, it’s also about being active and creating a plan that allows you to accomplish your goals while not shutting out other areas of your life. Everyone has a busy schedule – busy is relative. Maybe there’s some financial constraints. As a millennial, my time and money are precious and as someone who recently went back to school I understand the importance of both of these things, but if you want something bad enough – you figure it out. Planning ahead allows me to be more careful with my time and prevent burn out. Looking at my calendar for this upcoming week tells me that Monday is too busy and I will be exhausted by the time I can make it to the gym, so that day I should focus on better meal creation, but Tuesday is more flexible and I have time to be active.
Everyone has walls that prevent them from success, whether they are self-created or not. But if you want something bad enough out start to break those walls down or go around them. You stop making excuses and you make small changes. All goals are about finding something that fits the individual’s lifestyle, something that they can believe in, but at the same time, be a little uncomfortable and break out of their bubble to see change. If you want the bagel bad enough you will find a way to make it fit.
When I started my weight loss I never thought there would be an end to it. I thought it would take a life time to lose weight and be healthy. Last year I talked about this before my surgery. Even days after my surgery I still couldn’t believe I had accomplished the weight loss aspect of getting healthy. I couldn’t believe the turns that my journey had taken and where I ended up. There are still days that I wake up and say, “yep, this is my life.”
I’ve battled, sometimes floated, with what life is like maintaining a healthy, normal (relative to me) weight and size. Maintenance is harder than losing. It’s 100% true. I haven’t been losing weight for health since last year and I know that seems confusing for people who have started following me within the past eight months. That’s also the difference between using your body for sport and just living life and focusing on overall health.
In previous posts you can see a shift in my mindset, in my mental health. Just like in the tone of someone’s voice, there are times you can see in my writing that things were bothering me, or just weren’t going in a direction I had been anticipating – which ultimately threw me off. While I’ve been stressed from classes, it’s normal stress, it’s not stress than gave me the urge to write, so I haven’t blogged, but I’ve journaled.
The past five weeks have been tough to say the least. The idea of balance has really taken a new life form. This past week was the first week in a month and a half that I felt I truly had routine with everything and felt some kind of peace with all aspects of my life.
I have four days left of classes, then 13 days off before starting the second summer session. I decided to take anatomy and physiology this summer because they’re foundation classes for my program. I need them to take other courses and by doing them in the summer it allows me to get ahead in my program. I also decided to take nutrition this summer because I have a big interest in it from my own experiences and I felt that it would be a good class to take at the same time as an intense lab course. In the long run taking these three classes actually saves me a year of school because of timing. I have busted my ass to think differently and learn how to study differently, learn how to memorize information. I have pushed myself to the point where I’ve said to JP “I don’t think my brain can hold anymore information.” His response – “Cristina that’s not how the brain works.” Thanks babe.
The past five weeks I have gone to class Monday to Thursday from 8 am to 12 pm. On Monday and Wednesday I go to work right after class and I’m there until about 6 pm. On Fridays I work from 6 am to 1 pm. I’ve been working with nine amazing clients this past month, a few new and a few re-occurring. Professional Cristina has been in full force with appropriate pockets to study. Days are packed! But I also made sure that I had the chance to have breakfast every morning with JP before we went our separate ways and that we had dinner together most nights too. Balancing professional Cristina with my relationship made it hard for me to figure out how to keep fitness Cristina in check so that personal Cristina felt that she had alone time away from professional development and relationships.
This isn’t being selfish, this is being realistic. You can’t give all of yourself to everyone else and then expect that you have energy left to give to yourself. I told JP this.
I told him that I missed my morning workouts. Yes, I was still going on Sunday morning’s while he’s still in bed, but I did miss the work week morning lifts. I like how they started my day. So we picked a day that he could do breakfast on his own and made sense for my class and work schedule – Wednesdays. In a perfect world, I’m working out five days a week because I like how it makes me feel. Monday’s and Saturday’s are rest days because that makes sense with my schedule. I have three back and leg combo days and my friend Alicia created two upper body days for me with the idea that one could be dropped if I getting to the gym wasn’t a priority one day – and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes focusing on my nutrition becomes the focus because doing homework and study is a priority.
I tell my clients on every check in that success looks different every week. I ask them do they believe the previous week was successful when they think about their goals that were initially set and what the outcomes were. I ask them what will make this upcoming week successful. If the goal is to get to the gym five days in the upcoming week, will four days still make them feel accomplished? If they reevaluated goals in the middle of the week after realizing they may have taken on too much, is that success – allowing yourself to reevaluate and not feel defeated? Is success partly looking at what you have accomplished and understanding why other things weren’t done and maybe continuing to work on them each week instead of setting a hard deadline?
A YouTuber I watch often made a video about this over the past week and it had me saying yes, over and over again. Success is different for everyone and it will even look different for you each week.
Finding a new routine took a lot of effort and is still taking a lot of effort to ensure that I feel like I’m doing everything I want to, everything I need to and that I still have time to breathe. But like I do with my clients, I ask myself what good still happened this week, what was I able to get done.
This week – I got four lifts done (skipping today as a rest day). I got a 98% on my quiz in A&P. I got a 94% on my exam in nutrition. I had date night with my boyfriend and ate the most ridiculous of ice cream sundaes. My lifts felt better than they have in weeks. I wore a crop top and wasn’t self-conscious about it. I gave myself a break from studying for two nights so I could relax and be strategically spontaneous.
Maintenance is hard, but to me it’s not necessarily about the scale or the tape meaure. Finding a new routine is hard. Shifting focus is hard. It’s through what challenges us that makes us better. The qualitative goals challenge us more than those that are quantifiable and they should. It’s like oxygen, we know it’s there because we’re breathing, but mostly we’re trusting that it doesn’t run out and leave us gasping. We have to gauge our progress in our qualitative goals based on feeling and we have to trust ourselves that we’re doing everything we can.
I am doing everything I can. I feel pretty good about the future.