In the past, I've had a love/hate relationship with fat.
I've always loved the flavor of butter. Lard. Oil. Buttercream. Cream fillings. Fried food.
As someone with a restrictive eating disorder, I've always been scared as (insert expletive here) of fat, at the same time. Fat was something that needed to be rationed out. If I was putting butter on something, for instance, I knew exactly down to the eighth of a teaspoon how much I'd added. None of that oil drizzling sans measuring spoon for me, no way.
For the past couple of years of my "almost recovery", I've largely been operating in a space of giving my body the bare minimum it needs to operate normally.
However, feeding myself enough to function is not the same as feeding myself adequately for a joyful life. So what I found happening was that in spite of eating regular meals, I was still thinking about food all the time. I would actually feel deep sadness after eating each meal, like "wow, what's next to look forward to today?".
I feel a little stupid saying this, but it really only occurred to me fairly recently that what I was choosing to eat was affecting how I felt.
Up until not that long ago, an average day of eating for me might be:
- Breakfast: a cookie, and an apple; coffee with whole milk
- Lunch: a roll with peanut butter, and maybe some banana slices on top
- Snack: a couple of nuts; a raw carrot
- Dinner: a veggie stir fry served with sweet potato and maybe an egg on top
- Occasionally: some sort of alcohol (glass of wine or beer)
And well, let me tell you how I felt in general on this type of daily diet. Not great. Basically, I would always wake up hungry. By the time each meal came around, I was ravenous. I was thinking about food all the time.
In spite of this being my regular diet, for the past couple of years, I have had intense fat cravings that I have mostly ignored. Particularly in the morning. I would actually wake up with visions of cheeseburgers with an egg on top dancing in my head.
Well, eating a burger in the morning, that's kind of a strange thing.
However, every now and again for the past year plus, usually if I was alone, I would make something meat-y in the morning. My indulgence in particular was to make a ground lamb patty, cook it in butter, and serve it with a big ol spoonful of peanut butter on top, and garnish it with avocado. FAT FAT FAT.
Thing is, when I would eat this fat-filled thing in the morning, I would feel great throughout the day. I had better mental clarity, and I wouldn't think about food again until maybe 2-3pm, and when I did, it wasn't with the same urgency as I would when eating say, a cookie and an apple for breakfast.
It took me quite some time of doing this occasionally to realize "hey, maybe I would be better off if I did this higher fat thing more often". It dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, my typical higher-carbohydrate and higher-sugar diet was actually keeping me in a cycle of cravings and constant hunger and food thoughts.
There were other things at hand, too. I had some health concerns that were slowly but surely mounting, including chronic dry mouth, an uncomfortable excess of facial hair, digestive issues, and hormonal issues.
So, I had these things going on. I was really feeling like the key thing I looked forward to in life was eating either high carbohydrate or high sugar food, and I was experiencing health issues. It was clear that a change was necessary.
About 3 months ago, I took the plunge. I began eating more fat. A LOT more fat.
I know, I know, part of me hates me a little bit for it. After all, I'm the cake girl! What is the cake girl doing? But yes, I decided to largely nix carbohydrates and sugar from my diet and see how it felt.
As a recovering anorexic, I'm extremely wary of cutting out foods or restriction of any kind. So rather than looking at this as "I'm removing these things from my diet" I choose to look at it as "I am adding fat to my diet and editing other parts of it to see how it might increase my vitality".
So now, my typical daily diet includes a LOT of fat (primarily butter and beef fat), a moderate amount of protein, and very low carbohydrates. I hate labels and I hate diets, so I am not assigning any name to the way I'm eating right now, though there are names out there that many who I've told have assigned to it.
I don't care what the diet I'm eating is called. Mainly, I care about the results, because when I started eating a lot more fat, some incredible things started happening:
1. I lost my dry mouth.
Since about 2007, I've been plagued with dry mouth. This might not sound like such a terrible thing, but try living with it for like 10 years with no break. It's no fun. It made me feel weirdly thirsty but not thirsty, and made me paranoid that if I stood too close to people while talking, my breath would be bad. It's like a monkey on your back. Within a few days of upping my fat intake, I noticed a drastic reduction in dry mouth. I barely experience it at all right now.
2. Fewer sugar cravings.
As I mentioned earlier, even while I was eating an acceptable amount of calories in my diet, I was experiencing constant food cravings, particularly for high sugar or high carbohydrate foods. Almost immediately after adding more fat to my diet, I had an immediate reduction in these cravings. What I realized is that what I was really craving was more fat, and more nutrition. This put me at odds with what I was doing in terms of creating sweet recipes and posting about sweets all the time because suddenly, I wasn't craving them anymore. I began to recognize that my body was actually calling out for nutrient-dense food at this time.
3. I wasn't hangry.
I kind of hate the word "hangry" but it does describe the feeling pretty well. Every day around 10am, and around 3pm, I'd get hangry. I'd be counting the minutes until I was next "allowed" to eat. Or, I would try to eat the most minimal snack amount to keep me sane until the next time I could eat.
Since fat is high satiety, I have been able to "last" between meals without thinking about food and without that jittery "gotta have something" feeling. It's been a wonderful change for me.
4. Mental clarity.
I don't talk a lot about how I make money, but suffice it to say that I am working a lot. I do freelance writing and illustration, and often work upwards of 12 hours a day. I can easily get overwhelmed with my workload.
Since I've started eating more fat, I have noticed that I don't get as easily overwhelmed. I am better able to slowly plod through my to do list and not feel the need to flit from task to task like a hummingbird. I find that eating more fat allows me to keep my cool when I am under pressure.
5. I stopped growing facial hair.
You know what, I'm just going to go there. When I dropped to my lowest weight around 29 or 30 years of age, I began to grow dark, coarse facial hair. Even as I began to gain and reached a normal weight range, the hair growth persisted. Because it was so fast growing, I couldn't possibly wait to have it waxed. I would shave, and later on, I began to have laser hair removal.
When I changed my diet, reduced carbohydrates, and increased fat, my facial hair stopped growing. The last time I went to a laser hair removal session they said that I could double the time between appointments because it simply wasn't growing back at the same rate. Honestly, you guys, that alone makes a case for increasing fat. I daresay that no woman is JAZZED about facial hair.
6. Fewer food thoughts.
As I referenced earlier, even being "mostly recovered" and in a place where I was eating "enough", I was still thinking about food a lot. Like, a lot. I felt like I cared more about food than some of my friends and work assignments.
When I began eating more fat, I found that I was thinking less about food in general. Honestly, this felt like being set free from jail. I would eat, and then I wouldn't feel the same deep sorrow that I used to feel upon finishing a meal and realizing it would be hours until I could eat again.
7. More energy.
Not only did I notice a reduction in food thoughts, but I noticed an increase in energy. Even a few months ago, I would have to ration out my energy. For instance, if I knew I was going to yoga, I would have to eat at a certain time, because I knew if I didn't eat close enough to the time I was exercising I would get light-headed. If I was going out for several hours, I would need to consider bringing a snack because I wouldn't always know if I would have the energy to walk or bike home. By eating a higher fat diet, I don't have to worry about this as much because I have longer sustained energy and don't have those "spikes".
8. Improved muscle definition.
With my increased energy, I have been enjoying exercise more, and have gained an interest in becoming physically stronger. Yoga has kept me flexible and fit, but not very strong. Not so long ago, I began to add some weights to my fitness routine, and I have found that it makes me feel physically and mentally really good. I feel like my body composition has changed quite a bit, and for the first time in my life I am enjoying feeling strong rather than just wanting to be thin.
9. I became nicer.
Um, ok. When I was chronically underfeeding myself, not satisfied, hangry, experiencing constant sugar cravings, do you think I was pleasant to be around? Not really. I was the type of person who would have meltdowns in Target if it got past my feeding time. By eating higher satiety foods, I am less likely to be all over the place emotionally. I can also pay attention better. Overall, adding more fat to my diet has made me nicer and more patient.
10. I feel more attractive.
Let's see. I don't have the dry mouth or facial hair that caused so much self consciousness before. I have more energy. I have more muscle definition. I'm not suffering obsessive food thoughts.
The sum total of these things is that I feel more self confident and comfortable in my skin, and this makes me feel very attractive. When I walk down the street, I feel good about myself. In the past years I've often felt cute or compelling in the looks department, but now I actually feel attractive. Hopefully I don't sound superficial in saying this, but it has really boosted my self esteem in that way.
Am I saying that high fat eating is a cure-all? No, I am not. However, I do believe that making this dietary change has really had a huge impact on propelling my almost-recovery into a more fully realized version of recovery, and I am hugely thankful for that.