How Fat Saved Me
Sandra Miller March 10, 2016
There was a time in my life where if you mentioned to me that you were “fasting, you may have seen a glazed expression come over my face. Not that I did not believe in the health benefits of fasting, it’s just that I could not go for more than 2 to 3 hours without food. Oh, it’s not like I did not try to hold out. Headaches, lightheadedness, nausea and my stomach feeling that it was eating itself, made me believe that we were intended to ingest a regular fueling at about 3 hour intervals.
I know that most religions fasted. Ancient wise men and many Eastern religions still practiced fasting regularly. I could not even skip breakfast without dire consequences. I found more evidence FOR than against fasting and there was a lot of very good science on caloric restriction, and how it ties into overall health and longevity.
Tens of thousands of articles can be found on websites like PUBmed and also according to Dr. Julius Goepp, M.D., who wrote in his article for LIFE EXTENSION magazine:
“The most scientifically validated way to extend lifespan (from single-celled organisms to mammals) is caloric restriction. This technique has been shown to boost lifespan by nearly 100% in some species”
Do I deserve a slightly shorter life as deemed by my own physiology? Say it isn’t so!
I did dabble a bit, here and there with trying to either space my meals out. Or eat only once or twice a day. If something is beneficial to my health, I jump right in. I decided to just cut back portions size and overall calories by eating larger protein portions. Protein stopped the hunger, but success eluded me.
Later I would learn that just the sheer amount of calories alone, was not the mechanism which induced this metabolic nirvana. It was clear for me that my blood sugar issues would not allow for fasting. I settled in at about 1300 -1400 calories per day. Not a lot for my active lifestyle.
In the late 90’s when I was told by my Naturopath, (Dr. Peter Glidden) http://www.glidden.healthcare that there was a good chance that I may have to do an elimination diet which would include removing grains and gluten and some veggies, I was ok with that. I had over a decade of suffering and just wanted to find the health I truly deserved. I worked harder at it than most others, but others seemed fine. By eliminating almost every food that I loved, fasting was actually looking good to me. I hated mealtime. I had a painful association with food. Can anyone relate?
I was in so much abdominal distress most all of the time that eating became an anxiety-inducing experience anyhow. So I chose to eat as little as I could possibly tolerate. What was the point of eating if I could not have the foods that I enjoyed so much anyhow?
This attitude would soon seismically shift.
Goodbye to Grains
You could almost picture me saying “Remove grains, sure I can do that. But- Don’t take my protein or my fruit away! For me, the only foods I looked forward to, were foods that did not cause me abdominal distress. Animal protein and fruit were sure bets in the OK column. Except for strawberries. My favorite food turned against me. I even tried vegetarianism, a few times. Each was an epic fail. I recall two attempts in recent years where I did not make it past dinner. NO JOKE!
If meat was so bad, why was it one of the only things my body had no problem digesting? I stopped fighting myself out of necessity to survive. Obviously, I could not live on fruit with my blood sugar issue. Most other foods would also need to go for a while he explained. Perhaps some day I could re-try them.
Nightshades like tomatoes, potatoes and peppers had to go also for a while. They can cause arthritis-like joint pain. Guess that is why they call them the “deadly nightshades.” I figured the less variety I have, then the easier it would be to pinpoint a problem. NO PROBLEMO!
I never really liked veggies anyway. I struggled with just the two or three that I was adding because “they were good for me.” It took me 25 years to eat them and now I had to give that up for a while as well. Having no joint pain was of utmost importance to me.
I struggled with vegetables because “they were good for me.” It took me 25 years to eat them and now I had to give that up for a while as well. Having no joint pain was of utmost importance to me. Nightshades out. I played my Italian violin in my head, as I mourned the loss of pasta sauce. But with no pasta being eaten, it could go as well. Gluten free foods were not even in the stratosphere much back in 1999. Actually they were. They called it “whole foods”.
So I undertook the elimination diet with the mindset that I have had with most everything else in my life. “JUST DO IT!” Thanks, Nike (TM), I have used your motto a lot over the years. It looks like it is going to have to serve me well, yet again.
As a personal trainer and health coach I was becoming keenly aware of the popularity (in the late 80’s and early 90’s) of a revamped eating strategy made popular by a Doctor named Robert Atkins. It had been around quite a while but many of my clients would rave about the Atkins diet. I bought the book which was in it’s second printing, and read it cover to cover. After all, I have to keep up with all latest fads so that I can weigh in.
Lol, sorry, I could not resist the joke in that statement.
As a trainer, you always get asked your opinion on stuff like this. My clients wanted to know if the program was sound. I had a special interest in the Atkins diet for several reasons. My own mother, and best friend were following this diet with fervor. AND, losing weight. Since my own diet was very limited already, giving up fruit for me was going to be rough.
Most foods I enjoyed were already taken away to heal my irritable bowel issue. But protein, glorious protein was the staple in this Atkins plan. Done deal! It was going to be hard to convince myself that bacon should ever be consumed by anyone. Oh, the saturated fat! But I will try it in the name of science.
As I read quotes about the science behind Atkins, I would need to feel better about this “KETOGENIC” diet because this flew in the face of everything I had ever learned. Most of the “trusted” resources and government agencies we relied on regarding our health, were all in agreement that saturated fat was the worst possible thing on the face of the earth. It sat alone and lonely atop the food pyramid like a red-headed stepchild.
(no offense, redheads are my favorite)
I had to place a “caution” label on my evaluation of this program until further research was done on my part. I decided to try the diet for myself. I have always been one to “take one for the team.” I had to know if this was safe for those who relied on my opinion. And so the experiment began.
Government agencies continued to shout their warnings from the rooftops that saturated fat was bad news. In my house we had long since made the switch from butter to margarine, white to whole wheat and, from full fat to 2% milk or skim. I never drank the stuff, but my kids did occasionally.
I followed the path set out by these agencies. The research I was finding made me realize that perhaps these agencies wear a disguise as a government body that presumably watches out for our health. If YOU are still trusting the conventional wisdom, I encourage you to wash the glitter out of your eyes sunshine, because that is not the case. Dorothy, you are not in Kansas anymore!
BIG FOOD+BIG GOVERNMENT= BILLIONS of dollars in revenue, for worthless food, that will cause you to need medicine and health care. Everyone wins but you.
Finding out that we may be under a cloud of lies caused me to have a paradigm shift. I was realizing that if the government says DON’T do something, it was probably really good for my health. Whatever they put out for guidelines should not be trusted.
THE EXPERIMENT BEGINS
Dr. Atkins’ book would explain that the first week or so may be difficult as my body shifts from one fuel source to another. Glucose to ketones to be exact. It details that I may feel “under the weather” for a while until my body shifted fuel sources. My clients warned me of this also. The “keto flu” or “carb flu” (as its’ lovingly called now), would come to pass. This is an in-between point where the body moves from burning glucose as it’s main fuel source, to ketone bodies. How did we know if we were there yet ? We peed on a stick because it was the easiest and most cost effective solution. If it turned pink to maroon, you were in the “zone”. You could FEEL when you were in a sweet spot.
Even though I was noticing how quickly bowel symptoms decreased, I still had guilt with each fatty cut of meat and slice of bacon I ate. I encouraged a “healthier version” with leaner cuts of meat at the time. For most people the diet evolved into a “gorge yourself with protein” diet. I also still had this little American Heart Association warning about fats in my head that I could not shake. I was not alone.
Lots of protein, veggies and a fruit here and there, worked like a charm for me for about another 6 years. But still no fats except olive oil and occasional bacon. I just could not erase my pre-programmed information. Many people, myself included, looked at Atkins as a “high protein diet” as we still could not wrap our heads around eating fats in excess.
Ketogenic diet science entered yet again, when from 2006 to 2012, I worked for a very well known weight loss company that used a ketogenic diet as it’s main protocol. The program was about 1000 calories and used meal replacements for several of the daily meals. This version of the program also contained very little fat. This unfortunately solidified the fact; at least in my mind, that this was a higher protein, low carb and low fat strategy.
Hey, we all live and learn.
After following what I thought was an optimal ketogenic diet from 1999 to 2011, a single lab test would have me questioning the strategy yet again. I always had healthy cholesterol levels since my 88 lb. weight loss in 1984. My blood sugar on the other hand, was still an issue!
I continued to show insulin resistance while eating only 40- 50 grams of carbohydrates daily. What gives?
Drawing upon my medical background, I was aware of how the body can turn excess protein in glucose. This process (called “gluconeogenesis”) was surely happening to me. My fasting glucose levels were always in the high 90’s and I was hungrier than I should be. If I was not eating carbs, my body must be making them on it’s own. BUT WHY??? How do I stop this from happening?
In 2011 I spent hours a day researching, listening to podcasts, watching videos and finally was ready to embrace a diet that included much more saturated fats. Every bit of science for the insulin resistant led down this path. The functional medicine community that I surrounded myself with made a believer out of me that saturated fat was never the villain in the first place. It was sugar. Heaven help me, my body was a sugar making factory!
Goodbye to egg whites, hello yolks! I was determined to stop this from happening. Lab tests would be my checks and balances system and I would “bio hack” my own wellness once and for all. A starting set of labs showed several disturbing things. On the bright side, my overall cholesterol was great. The bad news was:
See my labs here LCHF For Metabolic Health
I was insulin resistant, with a fasting insulin of 8
Hemoglobin A1C was nearing borderline at 5.8
My fasting glucose was 97-110
I had lots of “small, dense LDL ( a sign of inflammation and precursor to heart disease)
I showed inflammatory markers on my (hsCRP) and inflammation is the root of disease
My lower legs ached-indicating impaired circulation
Were all these scary results were from following a low-fat diet for 25 years? What was I missing in my low carb, high protein diet that was still wreaking metabolic havoc? FAT! Beautiful, glorious saturated fat.
I told my doc that I was going to experiment with a few things and would retest in 6 months to a year. I cut back on my protein intake. I went from 5-6 oz. with each meal to about 3 oz. You may remember this as “the size of a deck of cards.” Paltry to most people. I increased veggies since I was tolerating most everything because my digestive issues went away completely. Grains and dairy appeared to be the culprits.
The first tablespoon of coconut oil almost made me gag. I would have to go slowly. Butter still caused a bit of distress but ghee was fabulous. I put it on everything. An avocado a day helped to “up” the fat grams ante. The fact that one avocado has close to 11 grams of fiber did not hurt either. A good clean, nitrate/nitrite free bacon came back after not having any for 12 years. I broke my “no pork” rule. MCT oil became a staple in my house. I did anything to stay “in the zone”.
I was praying that my new science was right because my meals looked like a heart attack on plate.
I ate approximately 75% of my calories from fat. A total of about 7- 9 oz. of protein daily, equivalent to approximately 63 grams. Calories were of absolutely no importance whatsoever. I lost about 6 lbs. That was a bonus! I was already at a healthy weight but this extra lean status was glorious. Especially due to the fact that exercise was not as rigorous for me at that time to to surgeries and injuries. But what about the lab results?
Prepare to be shocked. This is the truth.
In one year my HDL went up 20 points. From 80 to 100! This is one of the hallmarks of “happy cholesterol.” I no longer had any measurable small dense particles to get under the lining of my arteries. I increased my “big fluffy particles”, and dropped my fasting glucose to about 83. My hs-CRP came in at LESS THAN 1 which is ideal.
No inflammatory markers whatsoever. No more aching calves. Circulation optimized!
Who said meat and fat were inflammatory foods and we should be eating all veggies? Alkaline diet-I think not! You could not prove it by this girl. I did take raising my fat intake to close 75% – 80% of my total calories to get my glucose to stay in the high 70’s to low 80’s. It was clear I had done damage the beta cells in my pancreas by eating a high carb diet in those early years.
I can claim no “menopause brain”, the energy of a twenty-five-year-old and a lean body with no joint aches thanks to my BIG FAT DIET. I have truly caught the attention of my doctor who has asked me to be HIS health coach for his patients. He is astounded with my results. We will start working together in the Spring of 2016.
By the way, I participate in intermittent fasting one or two days a week. Usually on days off. I may not eat my first meal until around 11:30 A.M or, skip lunch. I can go about 5 to 6 hours between meals. Sometimes longer. I am now able to take part in the glorious benefits of fasting on a regular basis.
I will continue to eat LCHF (low carb/high fat) for the rest of my life. Though we are all bio-individual, as mammals we rely on certain things. Fats are key for our brain, nerves, hormones, DNA responses and so much more. I am committed to teaching this to anyone wanting to claim control over their metabolism and hack their way to health.
Fat chance this will ever change.