Food Doesn’t Make You Fat

Whilst I was eating a Lara Bar at my desk one summer afternoon, one colleague mentioned that Lara Bars have nine Weight Watchers points. Another agreed and said that they were a fattening food.

My first reaction was to think (and say out loud to this colleague), “I’m RIGHT here.” As in, “Are you calling me fat?” And then I started launching into an explanation of calorie-dense foods like dried fruit and nuts, why they’re good for certain reasons, and that in the context of a healthful diet and a regular exercise regimen, they’re perfectly fine. Blah blah, the moment had passed. I was slightly miffed, but not really surprised.

Food in our society is demonized and deified. We blame food for our unhappiness and we seek it when we need comfort. We use food to define if we are “good” or “bad” on a given day. Our society’s relationship with food has more than a few issues and a lot of baggage.

To someone with a budget of 30 Weight Watchers points per day, a 9-point snack that doesn’t even provide a meal’s worth of satiety would of course be considered a decadent indulgence, or even “fattening.” It makes sense to point the finger at a food product and accuse it of something.

There are no fattening foods.

As I was thinking about this exchange later in the afternoon, I realized that there really is no such thing as a fattening food. Food is energy for the body. Whether or not you need that energy is not the food’s problem. The food simply exists.

Food doesn’t put fat on your body. Behavior does.

If you eat a few Lara Bars in a day and don’t exercise at all, you are going to tend to overeat (because let’s be honest, they don’t fill you up for long). Unless your day looks like a pile of green leafies alongside your pile of Lara Bars, you’re probably over-consuming.

But if you consume calorie dense foods in moderation (the favorite word of dieters everywhere!) and in the context of a healthful and mindful lifestyle, you’re probably fine.

Being totally clear, I packed a Lara Bar in my lunch every day this week. They are a go-to afternoon snack, especially if I attend a yoga class after work. No way am I commuting home while hangry. I bought an 18-pack at Costco. I love Lara Bars. I also work out 6+ times per week and track my food in MyFitnessPal to make sure my calories stay within a healthy range for my activity level and basic metabolic needs.

The compound effect adds up.

One of my go-to easy reads for personal development and a quick reset for personal goals is Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect It boils down to this idea: your day-to-day actions will add up over the course of your lifetime, even (or especially) small actions.

Let’s say you want to write a book. If you get up each morning and write a page, what will your book look like in a year? If you get up each morning and don’t write anything, what will your book look like in a year? Something as simple as writing one page (or one paragraph, or one sentence) will compound over the course of a year and lead to progress. Even small progress.

Likewise, let’s say you want to run a 5K race in three months. You can either get up in the morning and run (for a mile, around the block, whatever) or you can skip it and not train at all. Which version of you has the better 5K time? Which version of you will up the ante and work harder and smarter over time to reach the goal? The one that’s making any progress at all.

So on and so forth. You guys get this, I don’t need to deconstruct it any further. (But you should read the book, it’s a good read!)

“Fat” is not a bad word.

While we’re here, I want to briefly touch on the fact that fat is just an adjective. Or a noun. I describe myself as fat, and people around me have the instinct to say, “Aw, no! No, you’re not. Look how much weight you’ve lost!”

I know. I am making amazing changes for a healthier lifestyle. I run, I lift weights, I even eat vegetables. But I’m also fat, and that’s okay. It’s a descriptor. Have you seen my thighs? There is some jiggle happening. Because there’s fat on my body. Gasp! 

This is such a touchy subject, and something I hope to explore more in future posts. On the one hand, fat isn’t necessarily a bad word that’s demeaning or mean or hateful. Unless you use it that way. I can describe myself as fat with no baggage attached to it, but if someone said it to hurt me, the intention and impact would go far beyond word choice. Also, being totally honest, I still do have some baggage attached to my body. Lots of body shaming in my past – but I’m recovering splendidly. 

More to come.

The choice is yours.

Think about where you want to be in a year, and ask yourself what small behaviors you can choose that would put you on a course toward this more ideal version of yourself.

If you want to lose ten pounds, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Walk around the block
  • Replace one serving of bread or pasta with a salad
  • Replace one soda per day with a glass of water

If you want to start a blog or website, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Write for ten minutes each morning
  • Journal your ideas before bed
  • Write an encouraging email to a friend

If you want to meet the love of your life and get married, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Say hello to someone on a dating website
  • Go out into the world and say hello to someone you meet
  • Attend regular meetups for singles in your area

Life is what you make it. Eat the fucking Lara Bar.


4 thoughts on “Food Doesn’t Make You Fat

  1. I understand and completely agree with the need to have a healthy relationship with food. Whatever you eat should be nourishing to both body and mind. If you’re eating a salad because you ‘have’ to, and you’re hating every bite, you’d be better off not having eaten at all.
    That said, I am going to have to disagree with the statement that there’s no such thing as fattening foods. Sugar is fattening. Once your body has stocked up on glycogen, it uses insulin to store sugar as fat. And consistent intake of calories in excess of need leads to weight gain. The trouble is that we often have a skewed idea of how many calories we need. This is in large part because ‘calorie’ as a measurement isn’t as useful or accurate as we’d like; it measures potential food energy in a lab, not in a human body.
    And, while exercise is great and has many, many positive effects, weight loss really isn’t in its purview. The cumulative effect of exercise that builds muscle is to lower metabolism by making the body use energy more efficiently. At this point, most experts in the field have come to agree that the way to make strides in fat loss is to reduce caloric intake.
    I say all of this having struggled with weight gain/loss, and having tried a variety of diets and eating methods over the years. The key is really to find the healthiest way of eating that’s sustainable for you, because it’s not about changing how you eat for a week or a month – it’s about changing how you eat, period. The way I currently eat is not for everyone, but it’s awesome for me, and is sustainable in the long term. It took awhile to find, but it was worth the look.
    PS: I also love Lara Bars – don’t let anyone tell you they’re ‘bad’!

    1. Hey, thanks for the very thoughtful comment! I’m totally in your corner with regard to sugar and avoid it most of the time. However, I’m learning to indulge in moderation (maybe a sweet treat like ice cream once a month) and that in itself is not going to derail weight loss efforts and “fatten” anything. Getting back to my original point which is that the behavior and relationship with the food (in this case sugar) is what’s going to add fat over time. But I completely agree that sugar is basically the trickiest little dietary jerk out there.

  2. Have you read the book Why We Are Fat by Gary Taubes. It more than anything made me stop worry about what I eat. It was so interesting but the basic theory is that our hormones and our physiology dictate our weight. Why do pregnant women gain weight suddenly? Why are dairy cows lean but Angus cows huge?

    Although I can see a great benefit to not over consuming resources, including food!

    Anyway the book was excellent.

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