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Fat phobia

From: Va Voom Health,

Fat phobia

As featured in Grazia magazine

When it comes to losing weight, there are as many options as there are calories in a tray of Krispy Crème doughnuts. You can go high protein, or low GI. You can cross the pain barrier with weekly bootcamp work-outs in the drizzle in your local park, or fly somewhere warm and exotic for a full-on juice fast detox, complete with DIY coffee enemas.

Then again, if you’ve got a muffin top you want to shrink, you can do what thousands if not millions of women increasingly do and the thing that health experts have spent the last two decades telling us all to do. You can reduce the fat in your diet. Well, fat is fattening, right? So, it’s no more yummy full fat yoghurt, have a grim-tasting, sugar-laden low fat one instead. Forget eating an avocado that doesn’t score well on the Government’s new food labelling. Better have a low fat bowl of pasta instead.

We live in an era of Fat Phobia and it is women who have bought into this idea most. Look at the average female fridge and it’s stuffed full of low fat and no fat products, from zero fat cottage cheese to reduced calorie salad dressings. Some of these anti-fat foods have bucket-loads of added sugar, but how many of us read the label? We’ve swallowed the ‘fat is evil and will go straight on my thighs’ notion whole and everything else is just white noise. But, look around you. Is low fat/no fat working? Frankly, no. The average teenage girl, wearing hipster jeans this summer, has a bigger gut than Johnny Vegas before he went on a diet.

The massive irony about Fat Phobia is it doesn’t make you thin. Quite the opposite. It makes you fat, spotty, wrinkly, bad tempered and possibly infertile too.

The reason that Fat Phobia doesn’t make you thin is that a deficiency in good essential fats messes with your blood sugar levels. If your blood sugar goes up with the speed of a Cheryl Cole solo single and then plummets down again, it can make you store more of the food you eat as fat. Plus, if your blood sugar thermostat is malfunctioning, your energy levels are likely to be all over the place too. And what do Fat Phobic girls do when they’re feeling that afternoon dip? Why, have a fat free muffin of course, so pushing more sugar into the bloodstream, causing the body to convert more of this into fat and store it. And so the whole cycle continues. Meanwhile, those Seven Jeans just keep getting tighter.

The big fat lie about fat is that it is bad for you. Even Saturated Fat, the evil twin of the fat story, is not always that evil. Wild meats, such as rabbit, venison and pheasant actually contain some omega 3 fats, the same fats you find in oily fish. Now, not many of us whip up a roast haunch of venison on a regular basis, but it is worth considering before banning all red meat from your table.

Telling people to eat fat to lose fat is a tough sell. It is counter-intuitive. But it happens to be true. Every cell in our bodies has a membrane around it partly made of ‘good’ essential fats. We need this membrane to be flexible so that hormones, such as insulin, oestrogen and progesterone, can dock onto receptor sites on the surface. ‘Essential fats keep that membrane soft and fluid', says nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville, who specialises in women’s health.

Not enough of the right fats can cause cells membranes to stiffen, so that hormones stop working properly. This can be a factor in conditions such as polycystic ovaries and insulin resistance, a possible precursor to type 2 diabetes. For women, essential fats really are, um, essential, especially if you want to have babies. ‘The egg also has a membrane that must be soft enough for the sperm to fertilise it,’ points out Dr Glenville.

On a purely narcissistic level, Fat Phobia can also play havoc with your skin. It is implicated in acne, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis and, yes, wrinkles. We all know that properly hydrated skin looks less wrinkled, but hydration is not simply about water, but about fat too. The reason is that the membrane that sits between the keratinocytes (cells in the top layer of your skin) is made of fat. This layer is a barrier, one of whose functions is to prevent dehydration. But if there is a deficiency of essential fats and the barrier becomes cracked and flaky and porous. Less fat means less water means more wrinkles.

Poor skin is one of the first signs of Fat Phobia. Indeed, the sure fire 10 second Fat Phobia Test is to look at or feel the skin on the backs of your upper arms. If you have a red, raised or slightly rough rash, you could have Keratinosis Pilaris. KP runs in families, often those that also have eczema, and is linked to a deficiency in essential fats. People tend to ignore KP. Dr Glenville says: ‘I see lots of women on low fat and no fat diets and they have dry skin and hair and nails that are fraying and they’re not even conscious of it’. If they are, they may scrub at it with a loofah, or slather it in gallons of moisturiser, when really, they’d be better off eating a piece of salmon.

There are other health implications of Fat Phobia. Fat is used by the body to make prostoglandins, hormone-like substances, which can either be inflammatory (bad) or anti-inflammatory (good). Omega 3 fats and to a lesser extent omega 6 fats are anti-inflammatory and may be beneficial for a wide range of inflammatory conditions from arthritis to endometriosis and even cancer.

Being Fat Phobic can lead to deficiencies in the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K. Vitamins A and E are antioxidants, important for helping the body deal with free radical damage and reducing inflammation. They are thought to be anti-ageing and may have a role in the prevention of conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Vitamin D is the hot topic of the moment, thought to be essential for a huge range of functions in the body, not least keeping bones strong, especially important for women given our elevated osteoporosis risk Vitamin D also helps protect the skin from UV damage, so is especially anti-ageing. Vitamin K is important for blood clotting.

Suddenly that fat free yoghurt doesn’t look so appetising after all, does it?

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Lowri is a journalist, nutritionist and hypnotherapist, specialising in weight loss, skin and anti-ageing. Her business, Va Voom Health, offers a rare and unique service using both hypnotherapy and nutritional advice to get you the body you want. Whether you're trying to lose weight with one diet after the next or your skin is crying out for help, Lowri has a personalised approach that can help you reach the right balance.

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