HIGH FAT DIETS. WHY WEIGHT LOSS PLATEAUS AND WHEN YOU SHOULD EAT MORE CARBS.
I'm not sure why this happens, maybe it's the law of attraction at work or maybe it's just the Baader- Meinhoff phenomenon, but quite often I'll be reading a book or learning something new and then all of a sudden I'll see it everywhere! This has been the case with fat lately.
The discussion around fat isn't a new one; I think I've written about it here before, probably more than once. As I've been getting quite a lot of questions around the topic this week, I wanted to touch on a few important points around transitioning to a high fat diet and when and why it might be appropriate to add back some of those carbs.
Here's a little back ground around someone I've been working with this week. She's a touring musician, very health conscious and over all, knows how to look after herself really well. She has adopted a high fat low carb eating style, based off of the popular Bulletproof Diet, something quite similar to the Paleo Diet, but with an emphasis on good quality fats. The intention behind this is to cause a shift in the body's metabolism; so instead of relying on carbs for fuel (which are digested and converted into glucose molecules, then stored in the muscles as glycogen) the body becomes better adapted to operate on fats instead. The idea behind this, is that when we train the body to burn fat's more efficiently, we can essentially function use our own stored fat as fuel, even when we are rest. It's a really cool idea to play with and personally I have found a lot of benefit from eating this way, provided it matches the type of activities I am doing on a day to day basis. For me, eating this way allows me to fast longer in the mornings, go longer between meals, I can think more clearly and I've seen a lot of my clients lose quite a bit of weight, in a relatively short amount of time.
The issue with this type of diet is that it takes a one size fits all approach to things and doesn't take into account the fact that every human functions differently and their physical activities aren't the same either. The conversation we had went a little bit like this, "The first month was epic, I had more energy, I was losing lots of weight and felt great. After about a month however, I started to plateau; the weight loss slowed and at times I felt kind of shitty for no reason".
Here's why I think this happens, and it happens a lot. When you start eating this way, glycogen supplies will deplete. Glycogen provides direct energy to your muscles, particularly in anaerobic or explosive types of exercise and unless you are an endurance athlete, most sports and activities you do are generally anaerobic in nature (think, start stop, start stop). Instead of restocking the muscles with carbs, the Bulletproof Diet ramps up the fat intake, sending a message to the body that this is to be used as fuel instead. In order for glucose to be stored in the muscles, it needs to combine with water. So, when you starve the body of glucose, you no longer have this extra water weight and much of the initial weight loss can be attributed to a decrease in water weight, not a decrease in fat. That's not to say that you aren't burning fat at all, this is just why I think you might see a plataeu. This isn't a bad thing, just something to be aware of. As time goes on, the body begins to adjust and those initial weight loss gains start to slow down.
As for feeling shitty; some people and I would go as far as saying that most people need some carbs in their life, especially if you exercise. Why? As I mentioned before, anaerobic activities, (yoga, spin class, surfing, weight lifting, soccer, rugby, barre class, HIIT), it's all anaerobic and so to get that explosive power and quick movement, you need to have some glycogen in the muscles. Now if you go to any keto blog or primal cookbook or listen to anyone trying to sell you on the high fat diet craze, they will debate this. And that's fine, the diet probably works for them and they also probably have some kind of high fat product to sell to you. The problem is, they aren't taking into account that every human functions differently and every human lives a different life.
So if you are on a high fat diet and feeling like something's not quite right, there are times that are better than others to add back in some kind of whole food carbohydrates and not fuck up all the hard work you've been doing on your strictly regimented diet plan. The best time, being after a workout. Your muscles will always have a little bit of glycogen to use because if you don't get it from food, your body will make it out of protein. After a workout, your muscles are depleted of glucose and so re-uping carbs will send glucose from your food exactly where you want it to go; straight into the muscles instead of circulating in the blood stream causing your insulin levels to spike to high.
To close, I want to say that I love high fat diets. They work for me. I love what fasting does for me and I love my bulletproof coffees BUT I expend a lot of energy training people and I live a very active lifestyle outside of that too. When I don't have carbs in my life my performance drops, recovery takes longer and I need to nap more. If you want to experiment with this kind of stuff, my best advice is to keep a food diary. Monitor how you feel before, after and in between meals as well as before and after exercise and find out for yourself what works instead of listening to some old guy with a fat product list and a fat wallet.