• My Big Fat History - Moving from low-carb to high-fat long ago


    On a recent Tuesday, while working with a group of great women at a mountain biking clinic, there were several questions about the book, Become a Fat-Burning Machine and how I discovered/decided that eating more fat was better.

    My journey began in the mid- to late-1980s when I was working as an aerobics instructor part-time and working a full-time corporate job. In 1986 I did my first triathlon and moved away from instructing aerobics. During this time I followed mainstream recommendations to eat a low-fat diet, keep calorie count at 1200 kcal per day (in order to lose weight) and exercise. This overall prescription was one that would give me good health, fitness and the body shape I desired.

    The big problem was something was not working. I felt tired, my menstrual cycle was messed up, I was constantly battling injuries related to training for triathlons and in spite of training some 6 to 10 hours each week I thought I was about 10 pounds overweight. I was doing everything right.  

    Because I knew something was wrong with my nutrition – I sought the help of a great sport and clinical  nutritionist. Together we decided to increase the amount of fat I was eating from about 10% to about 30% and we increased my daily calorie intake by 1,000 calories per day. I was scared to increase calories this much, but what I was doing wasn’t working so I decided to give it a try.

    I lost 3 pounds within about a week, then 7 more as time went on. I stopped getting injuries, I slept better and my menstrual cycle returned to normal. I told everyone I knew what happened to me. I told my gynecologist that I could quit taking medications because I changed my diet. I remember he couldn’t have been less interested in the story and gave me a look of , “Yeah, right.”

    I wrote about this experience in my first book, The Female Cyclist that was published by VeloPress in 1998.

    Between 1990 and 2012ish, I spot-checked macronutrients from time to time. My fat consumption was typically 30% to 40% of total macronutrient profile (anything over 30% is considered to be high-fat.) Sometime in 2012, I recall lurking on ultrarunning websites and blogs. I had heard that some of the ultrarunners were reportedly consuming daily diets that put fat at some 70% to as much as 80% of macronutrients. Crazy! Surely this is too much fat, they will all die of heart attacks.

    Still I watched. They reported doing ultrarunning events taking some 15 to 30 hours on hardly any calories. Some said they were doing 100-mile runs on 1500 to 2000 calories.

    “That’s not possible,” many said – and I secretly thought.

    We know from physiology books that people need some 150 to 250 calories per hour to complete endurance events. Still, more than one person reported doing long events on only 50 to 100 calories per hour. Furthermore, why would they lie? They have nothing to gain, really. I suppose they could be trying to convince competitors to underfuel, but it didn’t seem like this was the strategy.

    I decided to try pushing my daily fat intake to 70% of total calories, just to see what would happen. For me, personally, this type of diet was not enjoyable or sustainable. So, I began to look at ways, strategies, to teach my body to burn more fat for fuel, while maintaining or improving my health markers.

    In 2014 while I was in the process of changing my own diet, Mike Berland approached me with his desire to check an Ironman Triathlon off of his bucket list. The problem he had, that no one else was able to solve, was that he gained weight when he increased his exercise.

    Twice he trained for the New York City Marathon and he put on 10 to 12 pounds each time. This was in spite of doing several runs each week and increasing his long run to around three hours. Who runs that much and gains weight?  

    Ridiculous, right?

    Mike told me that he had been diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome and insulin resistance. Other experts and doctors he approached told him he couldn’t exercise over an hour due to his “condition.” Mike asked if there was any way I could help him.  

    Though at the time I thought he was a unique case, I didn’t see any good reason why Mike couldn’t achieve his dream of Ironman. Taking what I knew from my own big fat history, what I knew from coaching Olympic and other high-level endurance athletes, learning about insulin resistance, and getting constant feedback from him – I helped him change his nutrition and exercise philosophies so he could successfully complete the Hawaiian Ironman within the designated time cutoffs. This was a challenge that didn’t exist in his marathon training – he could do a marathon as slowly as he desired. Not so with Ironman.

    Using the same diet and workout strategies that made Mike successful, we recruited two pilot groups of people to give us feedback. Could this program work for more than one person? Would people’s health marks improve, get worse or stay the same?

    The short story is in the two groups of fantastic Fat-Burners, there were non-exercising obese people to competitive endurance athletes. People that were extremely overweight, began to exercise again – and – they enjoyed exercise! It wasn’t a military torture session.

    People that were not overweight still dropped that 5 to 10 pounds of fluff they thought would stick to their frames for life. People reported less joint pain, better sleep, better skin tone, better blood chemistry results and some of them threw away prescription GERD (acid reflux) medications.

    We found that the Fat-Burning Machine principles worked very well for a wide range of people. We decided that we needed to write a book to share the diet and exercise strategies with more people. The book, Become a Fat-Burning Machine tells Mike’s story and his frustrating weight history.  Our Fat-Burning Machine website contains a good amount of information for people looking to get started.

    Though I initially became a Fat-Burning Machine for athletic performance purposes, I now follow the principles for health reasons. While the Fat-Burning Machine website will focus on tips and light research information, this blog will include more technical, research and endurance-athlete information.

    The world of medical, health and exercise nutrition is changing right now. We are living in the middle of a revolution. For those of you that like the data and details, you can count on me to keep you up to date.

    Until the next post, I will leave you with one of the best columns I’ve read on how we ended up in the current low-fat-is-the-best-diet situation. It is titled, “The Sugar Conspiracy” by Ian Leslie.


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    • Gale says...

      Hey Carl,

      I don’t know anyone using a scale to measure foods. I think you and Dianne are in this Facebook group, you can ask there.


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