For years, diet-culture and the media has demonized dietary fat. The 80s ushered in the low-fat diet craze, and our societal fear of fat has been prevalent ever since. Although fat is currently not as vilified as it’s been in the past, there are still many people who experience anxiety and guilt surrounding the consumption of high-fat foods. Additionally, fear-mongering surrounding the source and type of fat is increasingly common. For instance, there is an emerging trend of labeling some types of fat as “good” and others as “bad.”
As a psychotherapist who specializes in treating individuals with eating disorders, I know the danger of labeling specific nutrients and food groups as “good” and “bad.” This “black and white” mindset can contribute to disordered eating, eating disorders, and may lead to poor physical and mental health outcomes.
I reached out to some nutrition experts to help debunk the myth that dietary fat should invoke a sense of fear. The following are four reasons why you don’t need to fear fat.
1. Fat helps us to absorb important vitamins.
Fats are not something that you need to fear, rather they play many important and beneficial roles in the body.
Rachel Wallace Hartley, RD, LD, CDE, of Avocado a Day Nutrition, explains, “Dietary fat plays critical biological roles in our body including the formation of neurotransmitters, hormones and allowing our body to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.”
Lindsay Krasna, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian and nutritionist says, “I always like reminding clients that all dietary fats help enhance the body’s ability to absorb fat soluble vitamins. So you can get much more nutritional bang for your buck by eating say carrots with avocado, as opposed to eating the carrots alone.”
Robyn Goldberg, RDN, CEDRD, discusses other benefits of having enough fat in your diet when she says, “Eating fat is necessary for temperature regulation. Eating dietary fat will provide our body with healthy hair, skin, and nails. One client said to me, that her hair doesn’t look like the scarecrow anymore.”
2. Fat can help to boost your mood and optimize brain function.
If you want to boost your brain-power and enhance your mood, it’s critical that you make sure to get enough fat in your diet.
Marci Evans, MS, CEDRD, LDN of Marci RD Nutrition says,
“Getting enough fat in your diet is correlated with lower rates of anxiety and depression. Your brain is about 60% fat and eating enough of it is critical for your brain to work optimally. When you get enough fat at a meal it signals your gut to tell your brain to relax and that you’re satisfied. This helps you think about food less so you can pay attention to other things.”
Emily Tam, a registered dietitian, explains, “We need to consume fat to support brain health. Also, research has shown that full-fat dairy products are associated with a lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome.”
3. Including enough fat can help you to feel full and satisfied.
Nutritionists agree that having adequate sources of dietary fat in your meals and snacks can help you to feel full and satisfied.
“Fat helps keep you satiated since it digests more slowly. Perhaps most importantly, fat makes food taste delicious, making nutrient dense foods palatable and exciting to eat. Consider carrots slowly roasted and caramelized in olive oil versus plain carrot sticks, rich and creamy full fat yogurt versus fat free, or a salad drizzled with a bright and fresh dressing versus plain lettuce,” explains Rachel Wallace Hartley, RD, LD, CDE, of Avocado a Day Nutrition.
Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, says, “Fats provide flavor and satisfaction in a meal, allowing us to leave the table without feeling preoccupied with food. Dietary fats are essential building blocks for hormones and neurotransmitters. In fact, they play vital roles in brain function, particularly for learning and memory. While there is a lot of discussion about good vs. bad fats, ALL fats have a role in these metabolic functions.”
All Foods Can Fit Into A Healthy Diet
Having a “black and white” mentality surrounding food sets people up for disordered eating habits. Further, mental health is an important part of one’s overall health. I think we can all agree that feeling guilt and shame about eating peanut butter is not mentally healthy. Additionally, it’s important to note that the food that you eat does not determine your inherent value or worth as a human being.
Instead of thinking in extremes, aim for balance, variety, and moderation in your eating experience. Work to let go of judgments of certain foods as being “good” or “bad,” and instead choose to mindfully nourish yourself with food that you enjoy.
Lindsay Krasna, RD, CDN, says, “The main takeaway is that we can’t demonize or tout one isolated nutrient for being “good” or “bad” (including fats) because nutrients don’t work alone, they work together in synergy with the other nutrients in the food. This is also why having variety in our diets is so important!”
The reality is that all foods can fit into a healthy diet. Additionally, your life is worth so much more than obsessing about food rules and restrictions. If your fear of specific foods is keeping you from living a meaningful and joyful life, it’s so important to reach out for help from a registered dietitian and therapist.
Marci Evans, sums it up best when she says, “Your food choices are not a reflection of your morality, value, or goodness. Healthy eating includes joy, pleasure, and connection. It’s not all about nutrients.”
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer has a private practice specializing in working with adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders (including binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and OSFED), body image issues, anxiety, and survivors of trauma. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD. Jennifer offers eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype. Connect with Jennifer through her website at www.jenniferrollin.com
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.