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When To Break The Rules On A Low-Carb Diet

Today’s post is in response to a reader question. To find out how to have your question answered in an upcoming post, see the end of this one!

Read time: 7-8 minutes

Hello Kat! I know you are probably super busy, but I have a question and I was hoping you could take the time to answer (following your blog all the way from the Netherlands by the way- it’s a great one).

I have recently lost 30 pounds and am now at 60 kg, with a BMI of 20.6; it feels great. I have followed a low-carb way of eating, and have included good fats from the beginning, although in moderation (no coconut oil, no butter). I work out intensively about 5 times per week, but would like to cut it to 4.  I have recently read more about introducing coconut oil, and have started doing so. I must admit though, I am still a little afraid of the fat! Would it be a good idea for me to take it, even while only trying to keep the weight off?

What if I cut down on exercise, should I also cut down on fat? I don’t mind keeping away from grains, potatoes and rice, but I would like to sometimes be able to have a piece of fruit or an ice cream on a summer day or eat sushi with my friends and not be too strict on myself. Would this be a bad combination with all the fat, and should I be more careful on days I know I will have fruit or other treats or eat a bit more carbs than usual? I know it’s a struggle to keep the weight off too, which is why I am looking for tips on how to maintain.

Best regards, Sophie

Hi Sophie. Firstly, congrats on your current clean and healthy approach to eating! It sounds like you’re doing a great job and maybe just need a little help fine-tuning.

The first thing I’d like to say is that I love that you asked if extra fat is too much in combination with extra sugar. As you know, I’m very pro-smart-fats, and to me that even includes some of the most typically offensive fats such as coconut oil or milk, and even saturated animal fat, so long as it’s from grass-fed organic stock. In fact, I’ve had a lot of success over the years teaching people to re-introduce these natural and healthy foods to their diet and noticing their energy skyrocket as their weight plummets. But occasionally I’ve had instances where a client doesn’t get the expected results. On re-examination, the culprit has almost always been sugar. For example, someone might choose a great breakfast such as eggs with organic beef sausages and a side of spinach, but then they add some toast. And perhaps a little sugar in their coffee. Which seems fairly insignificant at face value, but many health experts nowadays believe that it’s not fats which are ‘evil’ but rather excessive amounts of sugar, or the combination of saturated fat with sugar.

Eat Fat To Lose Fat? Yes, Unless You Do This …

Another trend I’ve noticed when people switch to whole foods and to low carb in particular is the sudden embracing of good fats. Whilst it’s normal to initially feel afraid of introducing more fat to your diet, it’s generally not long before I notice that people feel liberated – and SO excited to be ‘allowed’ to freely eat avocado, coconut oil or milk, oily fish, nuts and seeds, and even fattier cuts of meat if it’s organic and grass-fed. This is great, and I love people exploring the joys of real food, but (yeah, it sucks I know – I love real dairy and avocado!) there is such a thing as too much fat. Yes, even if it’s the good type. You know I’m not completely in the camp of ‘it’s all about calories in versus calories out’, but at the end of the day calories do have to be given some consideration, and too much food is just too much food.

Fat – How much is too much?

When eating a clean and paleo-based diet, adequate good fats are crucial for fat loss but also for ideal digestion, energy, and even sleep. I’ve mentioned previously a study that Jonny Bowden talks about in which a failure to eat adequate fat on a high-protein and low-carb diet leads to all manner of illness and poor health.The Dukan diet is a classic example of this.

It would be generalising for me to give you an exact amount of fat grams that you need per day, as  – to a certain degree – you should be able to listen in to what you feel your body needs and go from there. But when the message you’re hearing is ‘don’t stop eating that jar of nut butter until it’s all gone!’, then I guess we have to set some boundaries 🙂

I would suggest no more than 40 grams of fat per day for any adult, and up to 90-100 grams for a large and athletic male (for example). Personally I am 60kg, aim for 70 grams of dietary fat per day, and am extremely active. This does NOT include fat from supplements! For example, I take around 25 grams of quality fish oil each day.

According to Coach Nick Mitchell of London’s UP Fitness “Some people won’t get very lean unless they shoot for 20cals per kg of bodyweight regardless of macro breakdown, and within that they will need to carb cycle but that’s another story.”

Less exercise; less food?

Of course reduced exercise can often mean a reduced need for food, but you haven’t mentioned what sort of exercise you’re doing? If you’re doing 3-4 heavy lifting weight sessions (which would be great!), you’re caloric need is far higher than if you’re doing a greater number of lower intensity circuit or cardio-based sessions.

When to break the rules on a low carb diet

I’ll wrap things up by answering your other question, which was whether it’s okay for you to include foods such as fruit, ice-cream, or sushi from time to time. The short answer is YES, of course. I definitely do NOT advocate never eating any foods (hmmm, with the exception of soy and trans fats, which are not really food anyway), although I do notice that people have less desire for true ‘cheat’ foods the healthier they become.

Fruit is definitely fine in a low-cal or low-carb diet, so long as you’re not in the initial bootcamp phase of attacking insulin resistance, but there’s fruit and then there’s fruit. Berries are an excellent fruit when eating low-carb, and so are stone fruits. They’re high in fiber, super high in antioxidants, and taste great as a treat with some full-fat cream or nut butter. Apples and pears are ok as you’re getting leaner. Other fruits do not really belong on a low-carb diet but can be used effectively as part of your cheat meal. As for ice-cream, well I think we both know that ice-cream is not a daily food, but as a treat/cheat meal – for sure 🙂 You gotta let your hair down from time to time! Likewise, sushi (the rice part) is not something I’d eat daily, but if you’re getting leaner it’s fine post-workout. Seaweed, by the way, is excellent for your thyroid gland and therefore your metabolism.

Sophie you’re most definitely on the right track, and it’s great that you’re thinking about these sort of small but important questions. The key is to eat really well day to day and then relax and enjoy whatever your heart desires when you have a well-deserved cheat meal. Enjoy!

To find out whether you need to go on an insulin-beating boot-camp, consider having a BioSIgnature assessment.

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