Dietary Fat as Obesity Villain

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Let’s see what Dr. Mark Hyman, founder of The UltraWellness Center, has to say. We have quoted him before, by the way, on the subject of food addiction. He and Dr. Pretlow share an interesting characteristic. Neither of them are prejudiced against what some medical practitioners dismissively call “anecdotal evidence.” On the contrary, they are anxious to hear from patients. Listening to patients is the whole basis of Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website, where kids contribute their personal experiences to the general pool of knowledge. Following the same philosophy, at the end of this article, Dr. Hyman asks his readers several questions, including, “What seems to trigger weight gain for you?” and “How have different diets worked for you?”

He begins by tearing down the comfortable fairytale that some of us tell ourselves about how we just can’t help being overweight because it runs in the family. If that were so, the overall rate of childhood obesity would have been the same all along rather than increasing so drastically. Dr. Hyman writes,

Obesity genes account for only five percent of all weight problems… In the 1980’s not one state had an obesity rate over 20 percent. In 2010, ONLY one state has an obesity rate UNDER 20 percent. This is not a genetic problem.

Dr. Hyman is enthusiastic about the work of Harvard Medical School’s Dr. David Ludwig, and in fact calls Dr. Ludwig’s book, Ending the Food Fight, “the first and only roadmap for dealing with our exploding childhood obesity epidemic.” (The link is ours.)

Body fat, as it turns out, is not mainly determined by dietary fats. On the surface, this seems counterintuitive. After all, each gram of fat that we eat contains nine calories. Plus, we’ve been told over and over again that eating fat causes us to become fat. But really, what makes the difference in both overall weight, and the particularly dangerous sign of disproportionate waist size, is the individual’s response to sugar and carbohydrates.

For this reason, Dr. Hyman believes in the crucial importance of the glucose tolerance test, which apparently few doctors order for their patients, or, if they do, they don’t interpret the results correctly. Under optimal conditions, it can pinpoint not only the cause of a person’s obese condition, but their risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Hyman says,

This test is cheap, easy to do and it is probably the most important test for determining your overall health… It tests your insulin level. You have to check it after drinking a sugary beverage that contains 75 grams of glucose. This test has shown me more about my patients than any other test.

The object is to discover if you are a high or low insulin secretor because insulin does two things: stimulates hunger, and causes the body to store belly fat. So, after you drink the glucose goop, blood is drawn at timed intervals. The insulin and blood sugar in each specimen are measured, and it all adds up to your individual insulin profile.

If you’re a high insulin secretor, sticking to a low-fat diet makes your situation even worse. Why? Because the increased secretion of insulin makes you crave sugar and carbohydrates, which leads to eating all day long. Dietary fat, on the other hand, is what our grandparents called “stick-to-your-ribs” kind of food. The body needs to take in a certain amount of fat in order to realize that it’s been fed, so the craving for food will be satisfied, and the little voice that says “Eat, eat, eat” will shut up for a while.

A high insulin secretor needs a diet of whole, unprocessed foods including (gasp!) dietary fat. Eating a low-fat diet will not help your obesity, and will indeed make the weight problem worse. To put it another way, Dr. Ludwig also found that the patients who ate a low glycemic load diet — which lowers blood sugar and keeps insulin levels low — had much higher levels of HDL “good” cholesterol and much lower levels of triglycerides. It appears that the best way to address your cholesterol is not necessarily to eat a low-fat diet but to eat a low glycemic load diet, which keeps your blood sugar even.

Janet Paskin covers much the same territory in “Fat is where it’s at,” pointing out that after years of “low-fat” dining that failed to make a dent in the nation’s obesity problem, even the American Heart Association had second thoughts about dietary fat, and changed its recommendation about how much of it is good. She quotes a number of authorities on the futility of trying to fool Mother Nature.

We are only fooling is ourselves when we see a processed-food label that proclaims “low fat” or “no fat” and proceed to chow down. Because instead of fat, now we’re loading up with sugar, starch (which converts to sugar), and weird chemicals. Paskin says,

In our effort to avoid the demon lipids at all costs, we’re forever tinkering with our diets — substituting Snackwells for Oreos, dry toast and a glass of orange juice for a plate of bacon and eggs — in hopes it will keep us skinny almost effortlessly. But these dietary contortions often have unintended consequences. They inspire us to eat more food…

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Why Eating a Low-Fat Diet Doesn’t Lead to Weight Loss,” The HuffingtonPost, 07/03/10
Source: “Fat is where it’s at,” Ode Magazine, 07/09
Image by JenTheMeister, used under its Creative Commons license.

2 Responses

  1. I like to quote Dr. David L. Katz …

    “As a population, we cut dietary fat in a rather dysfunctional way, and we grew even fatter.”

    From Snackwells to yogurt, we still do not understand that low fat is meaningless and a very successful marketing ploy.

  2. I stopped my low fat diet a year ago, reverting to foods my Grandma might eat, such as bacon and eggs, and steak, with lots of lovely greens. I removed processed food (mostly grain) from my diet and ditched anything with sugar in it. (sucrose, fructose, glucose, lactose) and I dropped 24kg. The first 15kg happened in ten weeks. I’ve done very little exercise.

    I love my fat, my hair, skin, nails are way better, and my hormonal mood swings gone. I sleep better, I feel better. I will NEVER avoid fats again. I eat lots of good quality fats. Especially fish oils, and animal oils and coconut oil. Butter is my friend!

    Hurray for high fat, adequate protein low carb eating. It’s the BEST.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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