Are you or anyone you know a “fat-phobic bigot?” No, I’m not referring to someone like the TV character, Archie Bunker. I mean it literally. Do you have significant prejudices against fat as an essential food group? Do you have a laser-targeted focus to get the fat OUT of the foods you eat?
I sure did!
And, it’s no wonder. Just like the sugar-free craze of the 80s and 90s, there’s a fat-free craze that still rages on. We’ve been sold on the idea that fat is to blame for many health crises including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even many cancers.
We’ve become a fat-fearing society.
And, we come by that for good reason. In the late 90s, the U.S. Surgeon General declared a “war on obesity.” While it sounds like a good thing, the tactical tools we’ve been given to wage that war have been disastrously off target.
Waging My Own War on Obesity
I was a follower of this trend just like the rest of the world. If there had been a Snackwell’s truck driving down my street, I would have chased it just like the women in the late 90s TV commercial. I did buy Snackwell’s as well as an abundance of low fat crackers, cookies, dairy, and baked goods. I switched anything that I typically bought to a low-fat or fat-free variety if I could find it.
I was so virtuous! I also loaded my cabinets and fridge with sugar-free products.
Interestingly, it was this same period of time that ushered in an alarming increase of symptoms. It started slowly. My skin became dry, pasty-looking and itchy – along with my scalp. My hair fell out in alarming handfuls. I developed brown blotches or “large freckles” across my face on the upper cheeks. My joints became stiff and felt hot and achy.
Of course, all this intelligent shopping caused me to lose weight, right? Wrong. Or maybe I just lost fat, if not weight? Nope. I actually felt (and looked) even more swollen all over. I felt “doughy” and inflamed. Even my thoughts felt fat and fuzzy. My clothes didn’t fit. The pounds climbed on bit by bit and clung to me like a wet, lumpy bathing suit. I couldn’t shake it for anything.
I had no idea what was going on with my body.
What I had no awareness of at the time, was this: I am super-sensitive to artificial ingredients. I knew I was super-sensitive to prescribed medications, anesthesia, and even OTC medications such as cold remedies. I knew that smells bothered me more than they seemed to bother others. Fumes from paints, cigarette or cigar smoke, or sprays like room fresheners and pesticides, could make me ill. But I had no idea about my sensitivity to the many additives and chemicals found in processed foods.
Once I began to pay attention to packaged food ingredients, here’s what I found. If the natural fat is removed from a product, then more sugar and artificial ingredients (like thickening agents) are added. When sugar is removed from a product, artificial sugars and additives make the swap. In other words, it’s a Catch-22 scenario.
I knew that something had to change. I had to start looking outside the box (literally) to make healthier changes. It didn’t happen all at once, in fact, it happened quite slowly. I started to read the labels on the back of the box. I wondered, do my kids really need these ingredients that I can’t even pronounce? I looked for healthier versions of my favorites and even crafted homemade versions on my own. It was a long-term experimentation process. My concern for my kids spread to the rest of the household – and eventually to me.
Changing a Keystone Habit
In my favorite behavioral science book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, he discusses a phenomenon called the keystone habit. He points out that in order to create widespread habit changes, not all of the changes need to be addressed at once. In fact, the results showed that after one “keystone habit” change occurred, many other changes followed.
In the same way, I believe we have keystone beliefs. Once one belief is changed or identified as false then other changes result as a natural progression. It’s a mental domino effect. In my quest to resolve my own health issues, I had no idea that I would completely change my way of thinking, eating, moving, and behaving. One keystone habit change for me was learning to discern what really was IN packaged foods. I then made educated choices about what would go IN my body.
Of course, my health transformation didn’t begin and end with nutrition. Here are the main points I had to address:
Getting back to our topic at hand – fats. Declaring all fats as “bad” is misleading at best. I’m not a big fan of labeling foods as “good” or “bad” in general, but we can definitely separate fats into healthy and unhealthy categories.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Fats
The reason I chose to focus on fats for this article, is that of the three essential nutrients (protein, carbs, fats), fats are the most overlooked. (You may wish to refresh your memory and revisit that Essential Nutrient article HERE.) Most people understand that proteins and carbs are necessary – to varying degrees – but there’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to fats.
Healthy fats are a vital part of creating a nutrient-rich food plan. Adding avocados, for example, to your meals adds not only a healthy fat (meaning your body can digest it efficiently) but it also adds an abundance of nutrients. Here’s a short list of the wonderful benefits of avocados:
Potassium, iron, copper, magnesium & manganese
Vitamins A, B6, C and K
Fiber (a powerful healing nutrient!)
And that’s just what’s in the avocado itself. When healthy fats are added to veggies, fruits, leafy greens, etc. the nutrients from those foods are also better absorbed. Talk about a win/win combo!
Want even better news? The healthy fats provided by the avocado also include phytosterols that are known to regulate the body’s immune and inflammatory system. There are direct anti-inflammatory benefits that link phytosterols to improved symptoms of arthritis and fibromyalgia. It’s no wonder the avocado is often called an anti-inflammatory super food.
It’s funny that I wouldn’t even touch one until a few years ago. Even though I knew that avocados have powerful health benefits, I had assumptions about its taste. I also had no idea that it’s such a chameleon when added to other foods. It really doesn’t have much taste on its own -- it simply brings out the flavor of whatever it’s added to. As a bonus tip, adding avocados to blended foods and dressings makes them thick and creamy.
Along with avocados, healthy oils are also an important addition to any nutrition plan. Other healthy oils include avocado, coconut, flax, walnut, almond, olive, and sesame.
So, what about my quest to get the fat out of my diet? I was half right. There are unhealthy fats such as transfats, other artificial fats, and highly processed oils such as most vegetable oils and canola oils.
To learn a bit more about choosing healthy oils, you can check out my post on Exploding the Fat-Makes-You-Fat Fallacy.
We’ve discussed the fact that the fibromyalgia body is very sensitive. The exciting thing is that it is also a powerful tool! My body tells me (through increased symptoms such as pain, fatigue, swelling, sleeplessness, headaches, etc.) when the foods I eat work with me or against me.
As I added healthy fats into my meals (and removed unhealthier options), my symptoms diminished, and my weight began to stabilize. It dropped off slowly, but very consistently. I noticed, in particular, that the increase of healthy fats also made a marked difference in my skin. Gone are the dry, itchy days that used to drive me crazy.
I’ve learned along the way to avoid packaged and processed foods and embrace whole, healthy, natural nutrient-dense and fiber-rich foods. Like I said, it’s a journey and likely won’t happen overnight. But, that’s the great thing about journeys. All we need to do is focus on one step at a time. What ONE keystone belief or habit could you consider changing today?
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™- a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.