It is important that you understand something about fat and fats, especially if you are concerned with weight management. Because of the tendency to overdo anything, many other addicts should know about these substances so they can manage their weight without resorting to diets and gimmicks that might interfere with their recovery.
Fats and oils provide the body with its most concentrated form of energy. They are compounds of carbon and hydrogen with very little oxygen. Most consist of fatty acids combined with glycerol, an oily alcohol.
The fats called triglycerides are the main form of structural fat in the body. They are composed of glycerol with three fatty acids. The three fatty acids may be of different types; for example, saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated.
Fats vs. Oils
The only difference between a fat and an oil is consistency. Oils are liquid at room temperature, and fats are solid or semisolid. The more saturated a fat is, and the longer the carbon chains, the harder it will be. The word “fat” is often used to include both fats and oils.
While cholesterol, a kind of fat, has had bad press lately, it is necessary in the body for a variety of functions, including being converted into hormones or vitamins. It is only an excess of cholesterol that is a problem, and while there is a controversy about the role of dietary cholesterol in the development of circulatory diseases, most authorities agree that people should avoid too many high cholesterol food sources, like whole eggs and foods high in saturated fats.
If the fatty acids contain as much hydrogen as possible, they are called saturated fats. These are usually solid at room temperature. Animal fats are usually high in saturated fats, but some vegetable sources, like coconut and palm oils, are also very high. They are liquid because they have short carbon chains. Saturated fats tend to raise cholesterol levels, presenting a danger to the cardiovascular system. See Wikipedia: Saturated fat.
Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDLs)
Since fats (lipids) are not water soluble, they are carried around the bloodstream in little packages, encased in protein, called lipoproteins. Saturated fats tend to produce low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), which carry large amounts of cholesterol to the cells. If these are excessive, fat may be deposited on the linings of blood vessels, causing atherosclerosis.
If there are multiple double-bonds between carbon atoms, leaving several vacant sites on the carbon atoms remaining for hydrogen, that fatty acid molecule is called polyunsaturated. These fats are liquid at room temperature. Vegetable oils usually contain a high proportion of polyunsaturated fats. See Wikipedia: Polyunsaturated fat.
Fats that still have a single double-bond between two carbon atoms, leaving only one “hole” where otherwise two hydrogen atoms would attach, are called monounsaturated. Found in a high concentration in certain vegetables like olives and peanuts, these oils are thought to lower cholesterol in the blood. This health beneﬁt occurs mostly if they replace saturated fats in the diet. See Wikipedia: Monounsaturated fat.
High-Density Lipoproteins (HDLs)
High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) have a higher percentage of protein, and a lower percentage of fat. Their function is to pick up cholesterol from the tissues around the body, and carry it back to the liver where it is then processed and turned into bile, or excreted. Thus the higher the ratio of HDLs to LDLs in your body, the lower is your risk of heart attack.
How Bad Is Fat?
From a nutritional point of view, most people should be eating less total fat. Since almost all eating addicts, and many other addicts, are concerned about weight management, those who are obese should be limiting fats to about 20 to 40 grams a day, those who are near normal weight should still be using an eating plan fairly low in fats, and those who are underweight should be eating more fats to gradually approach a healthy weight.
Preference for Fat
One reason you may prefer foods that are high in fat has to do with flavor. Most flavors and aromatic substances in foods are fat soluble, rather than water soluble. Some vitamins are also. It is fairly easy for the food industry to put back the vitamins that are removed with the fat (nonfat milk is “fortiﬁed” with vitamins A and D), but the ﬂavor is a different story. The key is to avoid the diet mentality of eliminating all fats, while also developing the ability to enjoy the more subtle tastes of lower fat foods.
Although it has not yet been scientiﬁcally studied, we see a strong connection between carbohydrates and fats in eating addiction. If we look at binge foods, sweet fats are most common, probably followed by salty fats. Bingeing on sugar alone is not rare, but certainly not nearly as common as bingeing on sweet or salty fats.
Martin Katahn, author of The T-Factor (1989), has helped make people aware of the inﬂuence of dietary fat and the dynamics of conversion of fat into energy (thermogenesis, or the “T-factor”). Much of the following information is discussed at length in that book.
Lost energy (calories) It takes energy for the body to convert one kind of fuel to another. If we eat more fat than we burn, it takes only about 3 percent of the energy in the fat to store it as fat in our bodies. When we eat excess carbohydrates, however, the body must expend about 25 percent of the carbohydrate’s energy just to convert it to fat. This means that about a quarter of any excess carbohydrate is lost, even if the body decides to convert it to fat.
Conversion resistance However, it seems that the body resists converting carbohydrate to fat. It will do everything it can to store carbohydrates (sugars and starches) as glycogen in the liver and muscles, rather than convert them to fat. In fact, under normal circumstances only about 4 percent of your daily intake of carbohydrates is converted to fat. When research subjects ate a whopping 2,000 calories of carbohydrates in a single meal, only 81 of those calories were converted to fat!
Carbohydrates are less fattening If you are intent on gaining weight by eating carbohydrates, you would have to overeat by hundreds or even thousands of calories every day for many days. According to the T-Factor theory, gaining weight by an excess of carbohydrates would require an unusual eating pattern, even for someone with an eating disorder.
Glycogen storage Most of the carbohydrate we eat is converted to glycogen, for short-term storage of energy. About 400 calories can be stored in the liver, and another 1,200 to 1,600 can be stored in muscle tissue. This amount can be increased by regular exercise. The glycogen is stored in a solution with water, about a pound of water for each 500 calories.
Quick-loss diets This is the secret of many quick-loss miracle diets; if you severely restrict carbohydrates, you can lose three or four pounds very rapidly, just by depleting your glycogen and its associated water. It will, of course, come back just as rapidly when you eat again. And you will experience the symptoms of low blood sugar: hunger, weakness, etc.
Storage ratios Fat is stored in a ratio of four parts fat to one part water, almost the opposite of the ratio of carbohydrate to water. So it takes a fat restriction of 3,500 calories to lose a pound (of 80 percent fat, 20 percent water), compared with a restriction of only 500 calories of carbohydrates to lose a pound (of 70 percent water, 30 percent glycogen).
Water weight loss You can lose only three or four pounds from carbohydrate restriction, and several more from dehydration, and these are unhealthy and illusory. After the ﬁrst week or two of rapid weight loss, you have depleted the glycogen stores and your weight loss will slow to about a seventh of what it was. The discouragement many feel is only matched by the amazement with how fast it is regained.
Fat intake is key What all this means is simply that the amount of carbohydrate and protein you eat makes much less difference in your weight management compared with the fats you eat. Whether you need to lose, gain, or maintain weight, the trick is in adjusting your fat intake, not just total calories.
Adaptive thermogenesis is the idea that the body can adapt to either conserve or waste a certain amount of energy, depending on the circumstances.
Weight cycling Much has been written lately about the way we “train” our bodies to conserve fat, by alternating between rapid gain and rapid loss of weight. Something in that process signals the body that we are in a famine situation and we must store all we can while we’re eating and conserve all we can when the food supply dries up.
Metabolic reduction With fasting or a low-calorie formula diet, there is an average metabolic reduction of about 25 percent, and it can approach 40 percent. This means that your body is burning less fuel than normal, trying to conserve energy. Many people may not return to normal metabolism for a long time after the diet is over.
Rebound effect Also, after several weeks on a low-calorie diet, there is a rebound effect that increases the fat-incorporating enzyme, adipose tissue lipoprotein lipase. This enzyme controls the rate at which fat enters your fat cells, and it may be elevated 300 to 400 percent above normal after you start eating again. Katahn says, “It’s as though the fat is being sucked right out of the bloodstream and soaked up byyour fat cells.” This may continue for a year after the diet, and may stop only after you have regained all your weight.
Set point theory The ability of your body to adapt to different food patterns is probably a key to ‘understanding, and getting around, the concept of set point. While there are deﬁnite genetic factors in predisposition toward body shape and preferences for fatty foods, you can change the odds simply by changing the pro portion of fat in your diet.
Exercise beneﬁt You can increase your preference for high-carbohydrate, low-fat foods by beginning a program of regular exercise and other physical activity. This will deplete glycogen below the levels of most sedentary people, and call for carbohydrate rather than fat.
Nutrition Facts We recommend that you gradually learn something about the foods you are eating. In the beginning, pay special attention to the fat content. A good source for that information is:
You can enter a food name, select the exact food name, and then the serving size. This will give you lots of nutritional information, including the total fat, and the types of fat, both for a “standard” serving, and the serving size you have chosen. The Caloric Ratio Pyramid is a simple graphic that shows where this food falls in proportions of fats (top), carbs (left bottom) and protein (right bottom).
A simple example of how you might moderate your fat intake is salad dressing. Compare a reasonable serving, 1 ounce (2 tablespoons), of blue or roquefort cheese dressing on your salad. This adds 133 calories, 126 of them from fat. Many eating addicts would use more. If you instead used oil and vinegar, using half a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of vinegar, you would be getting less than half the fat. If your only choice is a prepared salad dressing, you could get it on the side and stick your fork into it before spearing the salad. This adds flavor to the salad without adding a lot of fat.
Not overdoing it For eating addicts or those who have a problem with food, remember that diet mentality is an enemy of recovery. Avoid the temptation to eliminate all possible fats from your food plan. Anorexia nervosa is a lousy alternative to bulimia or obesity.
Updated 1 Sep 2015
Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.