Q: Is Fat a Health Food? A: It depends when you were born…
Part 1 of the ‘Health & Fitness Pendulum’ series
I’ll preface this article by saying that this will be the first in a brief series surrounding something I refer to as the “Health & Fitness Pendulum.”
If there’s one thing I know for certain about health & fitness, it’s that the entire industry is built upon extremes, and on an enormous information-spectrum.
Running is bad for you. Bacon will kill you. Kale will save you. Machines don’t work. Only use free-weights. High intensity training is the best. Dairy makes you fat.
Why is everything always so polarized?
We live in an age where it’s very easy to access and share information – for better or worse. For every well-written, substantiated article, there are several polarizing articles stating just the opposite.
So where does the right answer lie?
As is the case when pendulums come to a halt, the right answer is usually in the middle somewhere.
Let’s take a look at the topic of dietary fat. In the 80’s and early 90’s, dietary fat was the enemy. If you ate fat, you got fat – simple. If you wanted to lose fat, you had to go ‘low fat,’ – simple! Not only that, but eating fat clogged your arteries and caused heart attacks – simple!
Even today, we still see some evidence of the low-fat revolution that swept the world some 30 years ago; low fat dairy is probably the most common.
What was the outcome you ask?
Obesity rates in the U.S actually continued to rise by around 8% from the mid 80s to mid 90’s (according to statistics by the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention). By the late stages of the 20th century, around 28% of the American adult population was classified as obese.
With the ‘war on fat’ all but a total failure, the health industry needed a new scapegoat- a new macronutrient to demonize, or a new one to promote!
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Dr. Robert Atkins began a trendy assault on carbohydrates, and began to promote a diet very high in dietary fat and protein. FAT WAS BACK BABY! #bacon
If you ate fat, you lost fat – simple!
If you wanted to lose fat, you ate more fat – simple!
And all that nonsense about fat clogging your arteries and causing heart attacks – forget about it!
Dr. Atkins wasn’t completely wrong - in fact by this stage in time, there was some new evidence that showed saturated fat is actually beneficial. And hey, if a little bit of something is beneficial, then LOTS of it must be extra-beneficial right? (Ironically Dr Atkins suffered a cardiac arrest in 2002)
So what was the outcome this time around? Surely we nailed it!
Well not exactly. In fact, obesity rates in American adults continued to climb higher and higher – and today sit at around 50%, depending on which statistics you look at. So despite removing the new scapegoat from the equation (carbohydrates) and super-dosing the new hero (fat) people have still gotten fatter and fatter (as seen in the graph below).
Ok, so what went wrong this time?
Well, as is usually the case in the health & fitness industry, the pendulum swung out to one side, and then way back to the other side – leaving a trail of confused, frustrated, and still overweight people in its wake.
The simple truth is that most dietary fats are good for you, and some dietary fats are not good for you (think trans-fats).
Instead of getting caught up in thinking that certain foods are inherently good or bad, more focus needs to be put on the quantity of foods that go into our bodies.
Both ‘schools of thought’ discussed above were so busy printing books and fear mongering in order to make money, that they cheated the general public out of the most important detail of all:
And that is no matter what food you cut out of your diet, or put on a pedestal, you will not lose weight unless you’re creating a consistent daily caloric deficit – ever.
In closing, beware of the swinging pendulum. Question extreme viewpoints and people who speak in ‘absolute’ terms.