Wonder why it feels so much harder to restart a clean diet after a weekend of indulgence? Here’s the lowdown, and advice for staying on your fat-loss track.
By Linda Melone
You try to eat flawlessly all week — you ingest clean foods, including low-fat protein, low-energy-dense carbs to prevent energy spikes and sags, plenty of protein shakes and appropriate energy snacks — so what’s the harm in trading that turkey burger for a Double Whopper on Friday night or a pepperoni pizza with dipping sauce on Saturday night, followed by a huge bowl of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream? After all, wouldn’t this constitute an acceptable cheat meal?
The fact is, you’ll find it much tougher to get back on the healthy clean-eating track when Monday rolls around, and the reason is surprising: Science shows foods high in saturated fats not only impair how your metabolism responds (it’ll slow down!), but also your good judgment — for up to three days!
The Mind-Numbing Evidence
The study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, found that short-term exposure to foods like beef, butter, full-fat cheese and milk, each of which contains a type of saturated fat called palmitic acid, turns off the pathways in your brain that make you feel full. Essentially, your brain gets hit with a cascade of particular fatty acids that causes resistance to your appetite-suppressing hormones, leptin and insulin.
“You end up eating more of these foods, which can lead to weight gain,” says study author Deborah Clegg, PhD, RD. Simply put, once that palmitic acid hits your system, you’re not being told by your brain to stop eating. And some of you may persist in this eating style for a few more days.
“If you eat a steak today and pizza the next day, followed by more high-fat foods, don’t rely on feeling full the following day!” explains Clegg. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. “You’ll feel hungrier,” continues Clegg, “and you won’t stop eating before you get the ‘full’ feeling because your brain has the fats that are blocking you from feeling full.”
Scary, yes, but there’s a lot you can do to short circuit this mind-muddling effect.
What You Can Do
Look to healthy-fat foods as your best pre-emptive strike against weekend pig-outs. Items such as natural peanut butter, seafood, nuts and avocados contain oleic acid, an unsaturated fat that, as several studies have demonstrated, has quite the opposite effect of palmitic acid: You feel full faster and stay full longer between meals.
A diet rich in healthy fats is also associated with lower risks of heart disease and breast cancer (case in point: the Mediterranean diet). Additionally, going back to the impact on your brain, healthy fats have long been linked to sharpening your mental acuity, allowing you to better focus on your get-lean efforts at the gym and on your plate.
Why You Need Healthy Fat
According to recent research, oleic acid (omega 9), a monounsaturated fatty acid found in many plant foods, allows you to feel full faster during a meal and stay full longer, thus allowing your metabolism to function optimally, particularly when you’re trying to lose weight. It’s believed that oleic acid, in fact, strongly contributes to the many benefits touted in the Mediterranean diet. Some of the benefits oleic acid may provide for the active guy include:
- Reduced risk of arterial plaquing, thanks to its molecular structure, which allows blood to flow more freely
- Lowered total cholesterol, especially LDL (the “bad” stuff) while increasing the levels of HDL or the “good stuff.” The result is an improved LDL:HDL ratio, which may reduce risks of cardiovascular disease
- Improved brain function and memory, as well as nerve signal transmission (better reps, anyone?)
- Reduced joint inflammation
- Improved weight-loss efforts
- Improved clearance of free radicals, thanks to its high antioxidant content.
- Reduced risk of hardening of arteries, which means improved oxygen and nutrient delivery to working muscles, as well as post-workout waste removal.
- Reduced risk of developing insulin resistance, which means better blood-sugar levels.
- Improved cell membrane structure, which helps lower blood pressure.
Non-Meat Sources Of Oleic Acid
- Kamut (a grain)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Black olives
- Pistachio nuts
- Assorted natural nut butters
Note that many of these foods have a higher fat content (even though it’s primarily healthy fat), so make sure to eat them in small quantities.