Fear of food

April 24th, 2010 · Lisa · book review, Review · Comments

I know Attack of Killer Tomatoes left the common man afraid of nightshades but I really hoped that is where the fear of food would stop. As I mentioned in my post that started this month-long review of Becoming Raw there are a lot of mixed messages about food and what is best for our health. I recently attended a workshop, during which the instructor talked a lot about being “fat phobic”. She suggested that people eliminate fat from their diets as much as possible.

I didn’t stay quiet because this is exactly the type of messaging that propelled me toward orthorexia. I know that I’m not the only “health nut” who’s wellness has been compromised by strict adherence to guidelines that are based on misconceptions about science and nutrition. Instead, I waited for an appropriate opportunity to share a few words about the benefits of avocados, nuts and seeds.

I have a lovely friend who joined me for dinner recently and shared that he is feeling increasingly “afraid of food”. He said every time he reads another study or article about nutrition he finds himself limiting his diet more and more. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for education. I think we need to access whatever information is available to us in order to make the best decisions we can, but food is essential for our existence. I think being afraid of it is a symptom of trouble.

If you’re allergic to something then I think fear is a protective mechanism. But the food messaging around fat in our society is vilifying food that is required for our health. The media campaigns against fat have been powerful – remember when fat-free chips hit the U.S. market and even with the “may cause anal leakage” warning they were being consuming at a rate that compromised health. We were obsessed with anything that said “low-fat”. In the raw movement the ultra-low fat proponents are very vocal. The research has shown low-fat diets are powerful for reversing disease -but these strict dietary limitations can compromise our health over the long term.

My take on the Caesar Salad in Becoming Raw provides a great balance of protein, carbohydrates AND fats. 

After avoiding fat as much as possible over the past three years, the authors of Becoming Raw really opened my eyes to the deficiencies that had resulted in my own body. The most obvious symptoms was dry skin, lips and nails. The vitamins that help to keep our hair and skin looking beautiful requires fat for our absorption. Fats are also extremely important for maintaining joint health – as a runner I don’t want to compromise my knees – I might need them to get up a hill or across a busy street!

After reading the research, my take is that it isn’t so much about the amount of fat but the source that matters. This deduction is similar to the conclusions reported for the health benefits related to the Meditterranean diet. Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina further this argument by pointing out that if you try to find a single study that suggests that avocados, fresh nuts and seeds and olives are harmful to your health, you’ll likely come up empty handed. However, there are thousands of research studies that the attest to the powerful health effects of these foods and some risk associated with removing them from your diet.

Ultra low-fat diets can:
1. Fall short of our requirements for protein and a variety of trace minerals
2. Reduce our absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals
3. Provide insufficient essential fatty acids

I’m not suggesting that you consume a bowl of nuts for dinner but they should play a role in our diets just like any other nutrient dense food. I feel best when I use fats in their whole forms rather than from extracted oils. I think we all need to listen to our own bodies and do what makes us feel fantastic. As a general guideline a total fat intake between 15 and 30 percent of calories has been suggested by researchers, doctors and dieticians around the world.

The Macaroons in Becoming Raw celebrate cashews and coconut. Both delicious treats to be enjoyed in this special sweet! I altered the recipe by adding a few chocolate covered goji berries and a few drops of peppermint oil. The results taste like holiday magic.

Training Update:
I got a 6 km run in last night and raced through it, maintaining about a 4:30 min/km pace. Today has been really busy. I tabled at the Green Living Show, went to a 1st birthday party, grabbed groceries, paid bills and submitted my taxes. I know none of that will prepare me for my next race but it exhausted me enough to forgo my brick training tonight. Instead, I’m going to bed early, with clean laundry and no dirty dishes in the sink. Tomorrow I’ll go for a long run and if I feel like a bike ride in the afternoon then I will.

How do you feel about fat? 

Are there things that scare you but you do them because you know they’re good for you?

What do you do when you’re in a meeting and the presenter says something you disagree with? I need to work on staying quiet sometimes (not always)…maybe that comes with maturity.


  1. Posted April 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Thank you for this post. I would say fat phobia is a real problem. I enjoyed the way you addressed it here, and would be happy to pass it on to others. What's so interesting is, despite the insanity over low fat, as we know, obesity is at an all time high. The emphasis all along should have been on calorie intake and exercise levels, and eliminating animal fat. Of course, the animal agriculture lobbies are far too powerful to put up with animal fat being singled out. I have no fear of plant based fat; I don't even think about it. Occasionally, if I really go overboard and eat like a 1/2 pound of nuts each day for a couple of days, I gain maybe a pound or two and that's it. Currently, I'm carrying a few more pounds then I'd like, maybe five, but I'm still well within a normal weight for my height (BMI about 22). As a menopausal woman, I have read that it is best to not let my BMI drop to the lower reaches (18,19 or so) for the health of my bones. Anyway, thanks again for this Lisa, and I will be passing it on.

    As for speaking up as you did, as far as I'm concerned, as long as you are calm and respectful there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. I don't know how you could keep quiet when you yourself have seen a decline in health due to this kind of thinking. You already learned recently what a helpful thing it turned out to be when you spoke up about your vegan diet. Frankly, the idea of a speaker at a nutrition event encouraging people to be fat phobic is appalling to me. What about the healthy omegas? Where are people supposed to get those? Oh well… I'm glad you spoke up. Enjoy the rest of your weekend :).

  2. Posted April 25, 2010 at 3:07 am

    I'm a long time reader but I don't think I've posted before. Hi!

    I wanted to say: Last year I switched my fat sources. I began eating cooked food cooked in coconut oil instead of olive, canola, or earth balance. I also drastically increased my fat intake in general. I estimate that 50% of my caolries began coming from fats in the form of nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives. I also began taking great care to balance my omega 6:omega 3 in a 1:1 balance (I know they recommend something more like 2:1 or 4:1, but 1:1 was right for me).

    When I made these changes, I lost 20 unnecessary pounds in a month.

    The things was, I am a feminist academic and I do a lot of my work around fat-phobia. The pressure to be thin is sort of unbearable. But losing a lot of weight when you fight all day to say it is OKAY to be fat is sort of strange.

    I've kept most of the weight off, though I'm much more lackadaisical about balancing my Omegas and began eating olive oil and grape seed oil in salads again.

    I wanted to encourage you to REALLY not be afraid of fat, IN ABUNDANCE! 50% is a lot of my diet, and that's where I lose weight and/or feel healthy. That may not be the point for you to feel healthy. Also, I wanted to encourage you to really embrace fat-positivity and to eat the way you do so that you feel good, not so that you look good. They are two very different things.

    Thanks so much for the reviews and all of the valuable info you give here. Cheers!

  3. Posted April 25, 2010 at 3:09 am

    Good post Lisa. Some fats are good and some bad and it sounds to me like you just took an appropriate opportunity to make this connection.

  4. Posted April 25, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Excellent post Lisa! Don't stop speaking up – I need to work on my courage and self-confidence to do this more often.

    I get about 25% of my calories from fat – mainly nuts and plant oils.

    I've ordered Becoming Raw (you convinced me) and am making the raw Broccoli Salad for a party tomorrow. Thank you so much for your enlightening posts.

  5. Posted April 25, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I can't tell you how much your comments mean to me. It is really tough sometimes to talk openly about diet and body issues. I appreciate your honesty and your support.

    Mindy, it sounds like you have a really balanced approach to your food consumption – I agree, if the food industry wasn't so focused on what they could sell us, we'd be a much a happier, healthier society. I'm really glad that you agree with my decision to voice my opinion at the workshop – I was pretty appalled by the statement as well.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts (and thanks for stopping by). The research that I've read says consuming a higher fat percentage, as you described, is very healthy as long as it comes from healthy sources. I'm really happy to hear that including more healthy (plant-derived) fats has benefitted you. I am very serious about embracing the important role of fat in my diet and watching how it effects my health. I can't wait for my skin to improve.

    Thank you Antony – I appreciate your kind support.

    I hope you like the book and that everyone loves the salad. I always enjoy hearing from you!

  6. Posted May 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    This is a great subject, which I often think about and try to express a balanced approach to my students. I don't subscribe to dogma or fanaticism. For certain health conditions, eating less oil and fat is a good thing. I think some fats are better than others, and as a whole we could eat a lot less of it. But fat is essential for brain function and our bodies need the good fat, so eliminating it completely doesn't make any sense. I'm doing an experiment lately to not cook with oil at home, but when you eat out it's next to impossible. I think if you are vegan, healthy, and active having good fat in your diet is a good thing. 🙂

    Nightshades are another story 🙂 As a runner I would suggest them in moderation because they have been linked to arthritis, join problems, and cause inflammation as well as leeching calcium from bones. Just listen to your body.

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