Confessions of a Former Lipid-Phobe

Sara here. Are you a lipid-phobe? I used to be one, too. Here’s why every woman needs to lose the fear of fat!

Every friendship has That Conversation. You know, that one thing you debate ad infinitum. My best friend and I have had many a tendentious tiff over the issue of dietary fat. Like any self-respecting woman in the prime of her dieting years (translation: life span), lipids and I have had a rocky relationship. In high school and college I was firmly convinced, like most people, that fat was bad. I scarfed bagels and pasta and low-fat cookies with impunity. So did all my girlfriends. Fat was the enemy, and we were slavishly mindful of every hidden gram. I can still tell you the grammage of just about any food (and I bet you can, too).

Strangely, despite my assertive fat avoidance, I kept getting … fatter. By the time graduate school rolled around, intense migraines, mood swings, and perma-bloat were my constant companions. My friends all seemed to suffer from similar “girl” problems: IBS, bloating, migraines, mood swings, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Was this really just a girl thing? To add insult to injury, I was 24 and had the complexion of a hormonal 14-year-old. I might as well have had braces to complete my chubby, pimply style. This would not do.

I worked as a health researcher and writer for Mark (this irony is not lost on me). So, I started taking a personal interest in all the health theories and studies Mark made me read anyway. Like Mark, I began to question the reigning undesirability of fat. Where did the fat loathing come from? Why, precisely, were we women so terrified of fat? Was a nibble of cheese or a splash of cream — or heaven forbid, a slab of butter — really the source of all my health woes? And, more importantly, of my frumpalump figure? The research indicated otherwise. Not only is fat perfectly healthy, it doesn’t make you fat. Thanks, Susan Powter. Thanks a lot.

I immediately made sweeping changes to my diet. I began living on a deliciously greasy menu of green vegetables, salads and fish — greasy because these vittles were smothered in all the eggs, butter, cream, nuts, and cheese I could possibly want. After working out, I drank half-and-half from the carton. I soaked my veggies in walnut oil. I dunked figs in mascarpone and ate criminal amounts of avocados. To my utter glee, I began to feel wonderful. I also cut out refined carbohydrates and grains, save for brown rice, legumes and yams. This wasn’t Atkins (I’m all about the greens), but it was certainly flying in the face of conventional nutritional wisdom.

Very strange things happened. Within a few months I had dropped 20 pounds. It happened so fast, I actually got sick of buying new clothes. I wish I could say this was all just a matter of a grown woman losing her baby fat, but I had been skinny as a girl. Rather, I lost my fear-of-fat fat.

My girlfriends were skeptical until…

To read the rest of the story, click here!

This is your editor! Hi!

And this is my fridge, right now. (Apologies to the 99% of the world that can take better pictures than I can.)

Today being Friday my resources are running a bit low because I go to the farmer’s market on Saturdays and the local organic grocer for meats and fish on Tuesdays. But as you can see, there’s Kerrygold butter (great stuff that reader Crystal got me hooked on), herbed goat cheese, wild smoked salmon, assorted dark chocolates, berries, celery, grapes, Omega-3 eggs, half-and-half, miniature bell peppers, and greens. I also have a cabinet full of all kinds of exotic oils, nuts, vinegars and fun stuff like my neighbor’s canned homegrown jalapenos (they’re either fire-hot, or realllly mild, and you never know which ’til you bite!).

I usually eat eggs with veggies, or buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and fresh herbs, for breakfast. And for lunch, I enjoy a gigantic salad with fish or tempeh (sometimes chicken). Dinner is usually a big vegetable affair drowning in tasty, fattening sauces made with butter or oil, plus the occasional portion of fish or my now-famous seared lamb chops. (I also like to bake a whole batch of chicken with different veggies at the beginning of the week if I know I’m going to be pressed for time.) I snack daily on either half an avocado or several ounces of nuts, and cheese really doesn’t stand a chance around me. Another favorite snack is to lop the tops off those mini bells and use them to scoop the goat cheese. My “vices” are dark chocolate, the aforementioned cheese, and imported beer, but I don’t think those are really so bad in small quantities. If I’m out and about and there isn’t an “ideal” food available, I choose the smartest thing possible – e.g. a small serving of chicken wings instead of nachos or pizza if I’m out with pals. While I’m not militant – if I’m over to someone’s house and they’ve taken the time to make a meal, I’m not about to be picky, and ditto for the occasional chic restaurant – I generally avoid all carbs and I eat fat like it’s going out of business. All told, I usually end up consuming between 600 and 700 of my daily calories from fat. I sure suffer on this 40 to 50% fat “diet”. Yep, some days I just really miss those 20 pounds and weekly migraines. Oh, well. 😉

What’s in your fridge?

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31 thoughts on “Confessions of a Former Lipid-Phobe”

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  1. Do you offer a Refrigerator Organizing and Cleaning Service? 😉

  2. Nice to see you, Sara. We have the same hair. Glad you like the Irish butter. It’ll keep our hair red “wink”. I noticed that you keep damage control in the fridge. Are we suppossed to do that?
    After seeing Mark’s salad, I cleaned out my fridge and put the vegetables front and center. What I need is a bigger fridge. I have a lot of greek-style yogurt(fage), 4 boxes of grass-fed eggs. These are hard to find so I load up.

  3. Go red! 😉

    I don’t normally keep DCMF in the fridge, but it’s been incredibly hot this past week, and my place doesn’t have A/C, so I didn’t want them to melt! 🙂

    I am a fan of the Greek yogurt, too. I always run out within a few days 🙂

  4. Hey Sara,
    Great Picture, You’re Just Beautiful! Thanks For Sharing Your Photo! My Hair Is Not Red Like Yours, But My Refrigerator Is Like Yours, Health Food! B.T.W. Sara, Very Nice Pic. Of Your Fridge. I Keep My Damage Control Master Formula On My Computer Desk Checking E Mails W/ A Cup Of Coffee! I’m Always At My Computer Rather Than The T.V! HAVE A NICE WEEKEND SARA, I’ll Be Boat Riding And BIG Fishing This WeekEnd. I’ve Got To Catch A HUGE Bass, I’m Determined!

    Crystal, Do You Have Beautiful Red Hair Too?

  5. Sara,
    You’re Pic. Is Setting An Example For Others NOT To Be Afraid Of Fat- Just Look At You How Nice And Lean You Are- You Are NOT Fat, You’re Looking GooooD Sara!!!:)

  6. I was 24 and had the complexion of a hormonal 14-year-old.

    Amen. After going low-carb my acne cleared up 90%, and whenever I cheat and splurge on carbs, I breakout again.

  7. This wasn’t Atkins (I’m all about the greens)

    It actually sounds a lot like Atkins. Dr. Atkin’s *New* Diet Revolution allows for plenty of greens and other veggies. Not sure about the original 1972 Atkins though.

    But it’s a common misconception that Atkin’s is low in green vegies, and nothing could be further from the truth.

  8. Well, I know this post was mostly directed at all those ‘gals’ -that someone in the know, a ‘gal’ herself, recently told me are so prevalent on the internet blog sites. But, even as a guy, the second half of the article clicked – since I thankfully I had no clue about things mentioned in the first part – although great word usage ‘tendentious’…

    Anyway, I follow very similar eating habits as you Sara, and people are always surprised when I tell them what and how much I eat. Just the other day, I was checking out at the grocery store and the guy behind me looks at my full cart – all produces, eggs, dairy and meat – and says, “what are you some sort of health nut?” I turn and look at his cart, and realize he doesn’t know what a vegetable actually looks like, so I just shrug and say “guess so”, but come on, how bad has the average American’s food perspective become, if I’m nut for buying ‘real’ food. Granted I live in Florida, and we probably are not the most ‘progressive’ of states, but come on…

  9. Thanks guys for all the compliments . Billy, I am familiar with the original Atkins and do follow quite a few low-carb blogs (e.g. Jimmy Moore, who’s been nice enough to feature my story at his site), but have not read the newer book. My lifestyle change evolved over the course of about a year with a lot of tips from Mark. I basically just looked at what Mark ate, what studies recommended, etc. and finally got around to copying it all! I did quite a bit of experimenting to find what worked best for me. I had been a vegetarian for over a decade, and I still don’t really eat much meat (mostly fish). Truth be told I would prefer to be a vegetarian for ethical/environmental reasons, but I also honestly do feel healthier and have better health numbers eating some animal protein daily. And yes, anytime I’ve cheated and splurged on something like pasta or dessert, I immediately breakout, get sick, etc. So I don’t splurge very often! Changing to a diet of whole, fresh foods – always at least 6 and upwards of 9 veggie servings a day, lots of fat, a little protein at each meal – seriously changed my energy level, physique, health, everything. And I actually spend less on groceries than I used to. Though I should emphasize what really, really made the most impact – after all the initial great weight loss and health benefits – was really finally devoting myself to the exercise habit. I had been okay about it during college – a jog now and then, some hikes now and then – but nothing near what is really needed for good health or strength. Now if I go a few days without exercising, I start to feel terrible. Exercise is such a wonderful investment in your own energy, well-being, sleep, etc. I can’t stress the need for it enough. Even a daily walk will make the difference.

  10. Thanks for sharing a photo of yourself, Sara. It’s nice to put a face to a name.

    Is that half and half made from pasteurized, homogenized milk, Sara? Say it ain’t so!

    I happen to have a stick of Irish Kerrygold butter in my fridge, too. Hormone-free European dairy is an affordable and more delicious alternative to US organic.

    So what’s in my fridge:

    ice tea, eggs, butter, almond butter, coconut oil, shredded coconut, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, tofu, cooked amaranth, cooked tuna, lettuce, cucumbers, Chinese cabbage, purple cabbage, Swiss chard, sweet peppers, carrots, summer squash, rasberries, blueberries, blackberries, apricots, plums, flat leaf and curly parsley, mustard, ketchup

  11. Sonagi, lol, I knew someone was going to catch that! Normally I do buy organic, but in a pinch (I do love my morning coffee) I run down to the corner mart and deal with what they’ve got.

    Interesting that you keep all the nuts/seeds in the fridge. I’ve heard you’re supposed to in order to prevent rancidity, but I haven’t done so. Anyone know?

    PS – I also eat about 3 cups of blueberries a week, but I usually eat them all up by Weds/Thurs! 🙂

  12. And yes, anytime I’ve cheated and splurged on something like pasta or dessert, I immediately breakout, get sick, etc. So I don’t splurge very often!

    It’s great motivation to stay on plan, knowing that the french fries or ice cream that are tempting you come at the price of a big fat ugly pimple in the middle of your forehead!


  13. BTW Brian, I hear you on the “health nut” thing. I tell people I am not a health nut because I genuinely don’t believe I qualify as one. Certainly not by USDA/FDA/Gov’t standards. Plus, I do enjoy “treats” like chocolate and wine and beer and cheese and coffee. I agree with you, though: I do not see what is “nutty” about simply eating rich, filling, natural foods. It’s kinda like how people will say “you don’t need a salad, you’re thin!” Well exactly, that’s why you’re thin! ‘Cuz you’re eating salads! 🙂

  14. <p>Billy, isn’t it though? Having freckles “helped” but sheesh, who wants to need “help” like that? I’ll take the clear skin. 😉 </p>
    <p>Vanity aside, it was getting rid of the insanely frequent migraines that was the biggest benefit. There were a few times where friends/boyfriends would literally find me passed out from pain on the bathroom floor. After a few of those incidents, at only 24/25, I knew I was going to be in a world of hurt by only 30, and just imagine 45 and 50…that is no way to live! I really had no excuse, either, as I was working in the health industry. Combination of being busy with grad school and laziness/convenience – and the whole vegetarian/tons of grains approach that I bought into for years. I am still learning to take time for myself and my health. I think we simply aren’t taught to in this society. We just eat, eat, eat and work, work, work without really nurturing ourselves, taking time to walk, exercise, reflect, cook, enjoy things, etc.</p>

  15. Sara~I’m embarressed to say, I lived on cold cereal and potatoes most of my college years. I wish I knew then what I know now.
    Storing nuts in the fridge or freezer will help prevent them from turning rancid. But, even in the freezer, they will go bad, eventually. If they are eaten on a regular basis, I wouldn’t worry about it. If they have been sitting around in the pantry for a year, toss them out.

    I get a little tired of people asking me if I only eat meat/fat. “Yep, bacon, that’s it, just bacon.” **Sara, you’re not on a high fat diet, you’re eating enough fat that is optimal for your body.

  16. Crystal, been there too. 🙁 I lived on pasta, burritos, sandwiches, toast, etc etc. And nagged my parents to do likewise!

    Thanks for the info on the nuts/rancidity. They never last long enough for that to happen! 🙂

  17. Fridge:

    12 Pack of Tecate light (yeah light. yeah)
    Frozen Cherries
    Frozen Blueberries
    Some black/brown stuff half wrapped in foil
    Cole slaw
    Month old Panda Express
    8 Cans of film

    Coincidentally, you can mix the first five ingredients together into a fun party shake.

  18. PS- Yeah, I know, I’m going to have to realize I’m not in college anymore at some point. Nice fridge, Sara, I’ve got fridge envy.

  19. RE: nuts and seeds

    Most nutrition guides strongly recommend storing nuts in the fridge or freezer, especially if they’re shelled. I read somewhere that freezing destroys vitamin E, a key nutrient in nuts and seeds, so I don’t freeze them. The local health food store keeps their shelled sunflower and pumpkin seeds refrigerated, and that’s how I store mine. I can see a difference in color between my refrigerated seeds that I’ve had three months and the shelf-stocked plastic containers in the grocery store. The color of unrefrigerated shelled nuts and seeds is more mottled and oily looking. If you bought the nuts and seeds already shelled, then you don’t know how long ago they were processed. When nuts in shell start showing up in supermarkets in October, I stock up. I still have walnuts in shell, which are supposed to keep for a year refrigerated. I use mine for pestos, instead of pine nuts, which always look discolored and rancid. In China, I could buy pine nuts in shell, but here in the US, they’re unbelievably expensive to order.

    “I tell people I am not a health nut because I genuinely don’t believe I qualify as one. Certainly not by USDA/FDA/Gov’t standards.”

    Gosh, Sara, I hope you don’t qualify as a health nut by USDA/FDA standards. :0 Their grain, meat, and dairy dominated food pyramid is just the ticket to a mid-life crippled by arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease.

  20. “Truth be told I would prefer to be a vegetarian for ethical/environmental reasons,”

    Paleo diet advocates and authors of The Garden of Eating Don and Rachel Matesz explain in their book that the grasslands of the midwest are better suited to raising livestock than to growing crops. The grasses that feed buffalo, deer, and other wildlife prevent soil erosion, require no energy input for maintenance, and do not deplete soil nutrients, unlike the endless miles of cornfields and soybean fields that stretch from Indiana to Iowa. I used to live in Illinois, and on road trips, I would turn up the music loud to counteract the drowsying effects of the monoculture landscape.

    As for ethical considerations, we have always been part of the food chain. Even Buddhism is flexible about consumption of animal foods. Hunting and killing animals for sport is absolutely forbidden, but killing animals and using their carcasses for food or other needs is a matter open to debate.

    Like you, I was vegetarian for several years and vegan for one year, and meat is still only a small part of my diet.

  21. Walter Pittman:

    Sounds like a tasty diet, but whenever I eat more than 300-400 calories of fat a day, I GAIN weight. I’m a guy, but I’ll bet there are women for whom this is true also. I eat low fat but with almost no junk carbs, and I’m 8-9% body fat (and fairly muscular).

    Frankly, I’d worry about all the animal fat you’re eating. Not because of the saturated fat, but because of the dioxins, PCB’s and other organochlorine poisons that they contain. We’ve screwed our environment so badly that our ocean fish are contaminated with mercury and our land animals (and fresh-water fish) are contaminated with dioxins. Fresh-water fish are the most contaminated foods, butter is next, followed by meats and then vegetable foods. Look it up and cry.

  22. Great article Sara!

    However, I clicked on some link for the “rest of the story,” commented, and only afterwards realized I was at a different site. Calorie Lab? Looks interesting, but… wait, where am I? Didn’t I start off at Marks Daily Apple?

    So other than to say nice job, I won’t repeat myself here!

  23. Yep, I originally published it at Calorie Lab. So I wanted to throw them a link back to be fair 🙂

  24. Sonagi,

    Thanks for the awesome recommendation. I had not heard of that book (but I am betting Mark has so I will be a slacker and just ask him!) 😉


    I totally agree that my fat intake isn’t for everyone. A few of my girlfriends, for example, do much better on more fruit sugars, and less fat. Fat just seems to work for me – my brain is sharper and I keep very slim and energetic. I share your concerns about dioxins and contaminants, which is why I avoid cured meats in general and (unless in a bind, aka MUST. HAVE. COFFEE.) always choose organic, free-range, etc. I’m lucky in that SoCal does have amazing availability in terms of local/organic/sustainable/etc. Being raised in Washington and practically glued to the family boat, I’m very particular about the fish I eat. Wild Alaskan salmon, none of the farm-raised stuff, etc. I am lucky to have options. Many areas don’t have very good suppliers, although now you can order grass-fed beef online and even have raw dairy delivered to your door, so that’s pretty cool!

  25. Sara, thanks for an inspiring article! I’ve been dealing with IBS for a few years, and find that fatty meals can make it a lot worse, but maybe it’s time to do some experimenting and see what’s what.

    I’m intrigued by your assertion that this way of eating is actually cheaper – I feel like I’m often balancing my desire to live on fresh, whole foods with the simple facts of not making enough money. The vegetables that go into a big delicious salad seem so much pricier than what it takes to make some rice & beans or a sandwich. Am I imagining it?

  26. Thanks Jaime! I’m glad the article was insightful for you. Good luck and keep me posted!

    (PS – I save a lot of money by buying produce either frozen or from the local farmer’s market).

  27. There is too much to tell, so I’ll cut it down. I’m 71 and vegetarian for a critical health reason. I am the same weight I was in college (about 155) and only gained a little from when I ate meat (and was under corporate stress.) My health cure came when I got colon cancer in/on one of the many polyps I grew every year. Coincidentally, I turned vegetarian after the cancer operation, and, a couple years after, I realized I wasn’t getting any more polyps. Then at an annual exam, an oncologist told my wife and I that the biggest single cause of colon cancer is meat. I know. I stopped and have never had another polyp in 15 years after I used to grow as many as 7 a year. So, my fridge has no meat (but salmon is allowed) – all fresh veggies, a few cheeses, fruit juices (100% only),onions,peppers, olives, etc. Our main meals are: elaborate salads or veggie stir fry combos (never the same.) Last point: having a high metabolism helps weight control, but so does being active, especially walking.

  28. Good stuff, Tom, thanks so much for sharing. And congrats on the victory over colon cancer! Your diet sounds very smart (and tasty).

  29. While I agree with the article I don’t agree with the wrong belief that fat doesn’t make you fat and only sugar does. The truth is that all three macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) have fat-storage mechanisms activated by the body when there’s an excess of calories. In the specific it’s the adipocyteous protein ASP that turns dietary fat into stored body fat.

    So the bottom line is that if you eat 600 calories of pure white sugar you LOSE WEIGHT no matter what and if you eat 6000 calories of pure butter you GAIN WEIGHT no matter what.

    The most important factor in losing or gaining weight is the “fat balance”.
    Fat balance means “fat consumed” vs. “fat oxidized”. Since on a high-carb diet less fat is oxidized but less fat is consumed while on a low-card diet more fat is oxidized but more is consumed the “fat balance” difference, given a same amount of calories, between a low-carb diet and an high-carb diet is just ZERO; and this is what all isocaloric studies show.

    Ad libitum studies instead show better weight loss with low-carb. So the reason for this is simple: low-carb is better at decreasing hunger and cause people to eat less calories even if they don’t feel like eating less.

  30. Sara,

    What a great article! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read it and re-read it. It’s really inspiring. 🙂

    I have a question for you. I’m working on tweaking my diet at the moment to make it healthier (I’m doing Atkins induction right now) since recently my metabolism seemed VERY sensitive to carbs. I’m curious to know how you budget your dark chocolate/starchy carb intake because it really breaks my heart to think I can’t evenr have chocolate and winter squash again if I want to keep my waist!

    Thanks a bunch in advance. 🙂