ghee in jar and spoon

Why dietary fat is fattening, and when it’s not.

ghee in jar and spoonRecently, I wrote an article entitled Reducing stress in the hypothalamus – is this the best way to decrease body fat? In that article, I discussed how inflammation of the brain’s body-fat regulator – or ‘fat thermostat’ – is of critical importance for weight management. In this article, I discuss how certain dietary patterns affect inflammation in the fat thermostat, as well as short-and-longer term outcomes of different diet types. At the end of the article, I consider how to reflect this study against broad dietary choices we make, and I also link to a recent radio show where I answer audience questions about health and weight control with Robb Wolf and Stephan Guyenet, PhD.

Remember from the first article that if the fat thermostat becomes insensitive to signals it relies on to keep the quantity of body fat stable, then the result is that fat mass gets ratcheted up to a new, higher stable point. So, what diet properties affect the sensitivity of the fat thermostat?


A study by David McNay and John Speakman explored this. In the study, mice were fed a fattening diet until they became obese. At that point, the obese mice were divided into one of ten groups – five dietary styles, and two food-access conditions:

Food and ConditionsQuick primer on dietary style number 5: a ketogenic diet is a very low carb diet that stimulates the liver to produce ketones, which are short chain fats the brain and body can use as fuel. Ketones may have unique effects on the fat thermostat, which I will discuss later. 

The diet intervention was maintained for four weeks, then all the animals were switched back to a normal diet and monitored for six weeks. The researchers were interested in:

  1. What effect did each diet have on body weight and adiposity (i.e., body fat level)?
  2. What happened to the weight after the mice went back on their normal diet?
  3. How did these diet conditions affect the ‘health’ of the brain’s fat thermostat?



What happened when the obese mice were placed on the different diets and food access conditions?

Calorie-restriction condition

As expected, all groups of obese mice that were calorie restricted, regardless of diet type, lost a significant amount of weight. No surprise there. Calories matter. Also, there was not a significant difference in the amount of weight lost between diet groups in this condition. So, according to this study, when restricting calories, it doesn’t matter what a diet looks like for weight loss. This is consistent with findings in humans.

Free-access condition

Interestingly, only some of the dietary styles – high protein, high carb, and the ketogenic diet – caused the obese mice to lose weight when given free access to food. On the other hand, when obese mice were put on a high fat diet, they did not lose weight.

Taken together, the treatment of obese mice caused significant body weight loss in all groups except mice given free access to a diet relatively high in fat.



What happened when the mice went off the diets?

Even though obese mice lost weight when calorie restricted, not all groups fared similarly when put back on their normal diet.  Additionally, neither final body weight or adiposity at the end of calorie restriction predicted long-term body weight. That’s important because it suggests that the ability to sustain a lower body fat level may be independent of the amount of weight lost, which is good news! Importantly, the group exposed to the high fat diet experienced the most rebound weight gain. This suggests that the high-fat diet may have caused an increase in the set point of the fat thermostat.

The ketogenic diet groups, however, showed final body weights similar to the high protein and high carb groups – groups that maintained some of their weight-loss results!



What effect did the diets have on the fat thermostat?

The neurons in the fat thermostat undergo constant regeneration, yet diet-induced obesity can halt this. This reduction in neuron regeneration changes the structure of the fat thermostat and leads to an impaired ability to regulate body fat stores normally. Insensitivity to leptin in the remaining cells, as well as these structural changes could shift the relative balance of power between the fat-gain and fat-loss programs, which could explain what happens when:

  1. a person’s body resists weight loss, despite carrying excess body fat.
  2. a person regains fat after calorie restriction ends.

The good news is that weight loss itself seems to reinstate at least some new neuron formation. But this is one of the reasons why this study was so interesting. The high fat diet did not reinstate remodeling even with weight loss, which is exactly what you’d expect by the observation of rapid weight regain once the mice went back on a normal diet. On the other hand, all the other diets did partially reinstate neuronal remodelling under both calorie-restriction and free-access conditions. Although, the calorie-restriction condition was less beneficial at this. The fact that these beneficial diets only partially reinstated remodeling may explain why many people who have gained weight can lose some but not all of it, or after weight loss, why some people rebound up to a new stabilization point somewhere between their high point and low point. Also, an important point here is that deliberate calorie restriction is not the same thing as spontaneous calorie reduction. In the later scenario, a person feels like consuming fewer calories for one of a multitude of possible reasons, but ultimately, it is that type of calorie control that may indicate a much more sustainable approach to weight control;  a concept we aim to leverage in the Ideal Weight Program.

Dietary fat – unpacking a complex problem

Previous work by these authors showed similar undesirable effects from a diet that was 58% fat (the high fat diet in this current study was 45% fat). Keep in mind, dietary fat is not a singular thing – it’s chemical category containing many different molecules, each having potentially different biological effects. A lot of confusion results from this. For example, in rodent models, palmitic acid – a saturated fat found in high proportions in animal fats – causes cellular lipid accumulation, inflammation, and insensitivity in the fat thermostat, while oleic acid – a monounsatured fat found in olive oil and avocados – doesn’t (Benoit et al., 2009).

Having noted that caveat for dietary fat subtypes, this study did show multiple negative effects from a diet of 45% fat. But, it also showed that a diet of almost 95% fat – the diet that produced ketones – had completely different effects. In fact, the trends of the ketogenic diet suggest that it might be the most effective for weight loss when given free access to food, amongst the best diets for weight-loss maintenance, and also one of the best for stimulating new neurons in the fat thermostat. All of which are very positive signs for someone who wants to get and keep fat loss results. These findings are also in line with previous research in humans showing that a ketogenic diet suppresses typical weight-loss induced increases in the hunger hormone ghrelin, as well as in subjective appetite, which are both signs that ketones could have a favorable effect on the fat thermostat. Other research has shown that certain ketone bodies (beta hydroxybutyrate) can reduce inflammation, which may offer a possible mechanistic link for the observations. Whether ketones cause or simply correlate with these favorable physiological effects, a ketogenic diet may be among the best diets we have for sustainable weight loss. I look forward to more long-terms studies evaluating this in humans.

These data support the view that treating obesity with calorie restriction does not by itself cure obesity despite treating the overt symptom of increased body weight. Both the amount of calories consumed during restriction and the macronutrient composition of the diet are both important factors influencing successful long-term body weight control. McNay & Speakerman, 2013




Carbs – unfairly maligned?

In the McNay and Speakman study, the high carb diet fared well for weight loss, and fared moderately well for weight maintenance and neuron remodeling. However, many people reduce carbs because they believe they are fattening. When you reduce carbs, you make up for some of the deficit by eating more protein and fat. And simply restricting access to any macronutrient class will cause some spontaneous reduction in calorie intake. Restricting carbs, more than the other macronutrients, will produce the most noticeable short-term weight loss (first week effect), which reinforces the idea that carbs are indeed fattening. However, most of this initial weight loss is water weight. This is because carbs are stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen, which clings to water (hydrophilic). When you take in less carb, you will lose a few pounds of water within the first few days as your glycogen stores are depleted and you excrete water. When you add carbs back, you rehydrate and gain a few pounds. These water dynamics have a profound impact on the perception of weight loss efficacy. And this perception, in turn, can have a profound impact on compliance to the diet.

For some people, however, the reduction in carbs also causes their calorie intake to decline, causing slower but more meaningful changes in fat and weight. It is possible that this effect has do with what else you’re eating, instead of what you’re not eating, or both. For example, replacing refined flour-based products with vegetables and protein will have a positive impact on energy balance. Having said that, this positive effect can also be achieved by choosing different carb sources – think fresh whole starchy tubers and fruits over cookies and soda.

In today’s world, the reality is that there are so many tempting-but-poor carbohydrate choices. Approaches that limit all carbs, even forsaking good options (due to the behavioral empowerment of simplicity – ‘carbs are bad’), may be one of the more practical options we have for many people. Consider this: according to a recent panel of 13 nutrition experts charged with helping develop federal nutrition standards –  the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee – the number one source of calories in the United States is “Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers, and granola bars)”. Additionally, each of the remaining carb-based calorie sources have the qualities (e.g., highly processed, highly palatable) of fattening foods. Yikes!

Here are the top 10 sources of calories in the US diet:

  1. Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers, and granola bars)chocolate chip cookies
  2. Yeast breads
  3. Chicken and chicken-mixed dishes [includes fried chicken and nuggets]
  4. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks
  5. Pizza
  6. Alcoholic beverages
  7. Pasta and pasta dishes
  8. Mexican mixed dishes
  9. Beef and beef-mixed dishes
  10. Dairy desserts


Only 4 of the top 10 sources of calories could remain on the list if you eliminate the carbs:

  1. Chicken and chicken-mixed dishes [includes fried chicken and nuggets]
  2. Alcoholic beverages (some types)
  3. Mexican mixed dishes (some dishes, or dish components)
  4. Beef and beef-mixed dishes


If you replace these carb sources with good carb sources, I guarantee we would not have an obesity problem in this country. Picture this:

  1. Whole fresh tuberssweet potato freshly harvested
  2. Lentils
  3. Chicken and chicken-mixed dishes
  4. Whole fruits
  5. Whole grain breads
  6. Alcoholic beverages
  7. Whole grain pastas
  8. Mexican mixed dishes
  9. Beef and beef-mixed dishes
  10. Dark chocolate


Restricting 60% of the top calorie categories can and does have an impact on overall calorie intake. Personally, I do restrict carbs, but it’s type not quantity that I restrict. After that, I let my palate guide the way and I choose not to over-complicate the matter.


Dietary fat – lose now, gain later?

When switching to a higher fat diet, it’s possible that a person could maintain a lower calorie intake and attain fat loss, but that person might be putting themselves in a position for accelerated fat gain later (extrapolating this deduction from the findings of this study). That is a scary proposition. So many people are switching to a higher fat diet, eating a lot of problematic dietary fats along the way, and this situation could promote early success and downstream problems when dietary practices become more lax.

However, if this higher fat diet is one that you can sustain – as some people do comfortably when they maintain a non junk-food version of a ‘Paleo’-style diet, for example – and if there isn’t too high of a fraction of problematic dietary fats, then it’s entirely possible that the higher fat diet won’t cause downstream weight issues. In fact, if the dietary pattern naturally leads to better food choices and improved energy balance, then the opposite may be true.Man Jogging Mountains Exercise Wellbeing Concept

Also, because some of the negative effects of dietary fat are due to the promotion of inflammatory signaling in energy balance circuits, then we must also consider how other factors that affect inflammatory signaling influence the equation. Exercise is one of these factors. Exercise indirectly produces an anti-inflammatory effect that may mitigate dietary fat-based inflammation. Therefore, if you’re an avid crossfitter on a high fat Paleo diet, you may have a very different response to someone on the exact same diet who doesn’t get sufficient physical activity, even when controlling for calorie expenditure. This idea is emphasizing the importance of the net-inflammatory response in the fat thermostat.

On that note, the highest fat diet was one of the most effective in this study. In the real world, someone could interpret this phenomenon to mean that carbs are so bad that one must eradicate all of them – even limiting protein intake since protein can convert to carbs in the body – since they are so fattening. Not getting results on your low carb diet? It’s because you haven’t reduced carbs enough!

But, for so many reasons, that logic falls flat. For example, many cultures around the globe maintain health and leanness on very high carbohydrate diets. Could it be the production of ketones, not the restriction of carbs, that explains the efficacy? Why is this detail crucially important? Because while it’s true that you need to severely reduce carbs in order to produce ketones – and that the production of ketones might be beneficial for weight loss – it could also be true that a high carb diet might be the best diet to adopt post weight loss. On the other hand, if you think carbs are exceptionally fattening, continuing with a high fat diet post weight loss (given all the caveats noted above), could be the worst diet to use if you want to maintain your results.

With dietary fat, it’s possible that it’s darkest before the dawn. In other words, high dietary fat is increasingly fat promoting until you get to the point where you are producing ketones. At that point, the diet may change from fat promoting to fat reducing.



Deliberate calorie restriction is effective for weight loss, but spontaneous caloric reduction via a variety of dietary styles may produce better long term results (beyond the timeframe measured in this study). A diet that produces ketones seems effective for weight control, but a high protein and a high carb diet are effective too. Dietary fat is a broad topic, and different types can produce different results, but quantity alone may also matter. Also dietary fat may demonstrate a u-shaped response curve, where weight control is worsened with higher levels of intake, unless factors are present – like exercise and ketones – to mitigate, eliminate, or even reverse its negative effects.

Thinking carbs are fattening and dietary fat is not is a simple heuristic that has helped some people lose weight, but it is not an accurate reflection of reality. This is one of the reasons I suggest you don’t get your health information from extremist-style internet health personalities. By the way, as a behaviorist, I don’t take issue with the idea of using simple messaging (e.g., carbs are bad) to attempt to induce a favorable behavior. Some people, independent of intelligence level, will simply not be able to act on information more sophisticated than ‘carbs are bad.’  However, it turns into a problem when these oversimplified messages become zealotry-based dogmatism, and good solutions, rational thinking, and reasonable analysis are rejected wholesale by influential health personalities. If you’re a health authority promoting a low carb diet, don’t slam other good options because it doesn’t fit into your facile efficacy framework.

At the end of the day, this study reinforces the idea that there may be more than one good way to lose weight, but not all diets are the same to help you spontaneously reduce your calorie intake, and are also not the same for long term efficacy even when controlling calories. If you’re eating a higher fat diet, aim to have much of it come from monounsaturated sources, and be extra vigilant to attain sufficient levels of physical activity (in other words, always maintain an Exercise Score of 100% or greater on the Dan’s Plan Activity Tracker). Plain and simple, a ketogenic diet might be one of the most effective diets to lose weight. I look forward to more long-term clinical trials in humans to evaluate this. But, regardless of the diet you choose, good sources of carbs remain one of the most effective for weight control and healthy food sources one can consume, and even if you use a higher fat diet to lose weight, you shouldn’t overlook a diet high in excellent carbs sources for long-term weight maintenance.

Lastly, Robb Wolf, Stephan Guyenet, PhD, and I recently answered audience questions about our Ideal Weight Program and other health topics, including Bulletproof coffee, ketones, and weight tracking. You can listen here:


Robb Wolf, Stephan Guyenet, and Dan Pardi answer questions on weight control and health by Dansplan on Mixcloud


Get new blog article in your inbox by signing up for Dan’s Plan, and follow us on Twitter here @dansplanhealth.



  1. The diets used in the McNay and Speakman study are not all from the same manufacturer so they are probably not controlled for properties other than macro composition. Therefore, other properties – like fat type, fiber, macronutrients, and protein source – could independently impact results.

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  • Bette Ojala

    I would like to know what the “fattening diet” was, that the mice were fed before the weight-loss experiment started. It appears that the so-called “normal diet” is almost exactly the same as the “high carb” diet fed to the mice. I’m confused.

    • danpardi

      Hi Bette, the ‘fattening diet’ was the ‘high fat diet.’ Here is a reference to more details on the pellet composition its manufacturer, Research Diets (

      The ‘normal diet’ (AKA ‘chow’) was made by Special Diet Services (diet details here:

      While it’s not explicitly stated, I think the reason the authors chose to use a diet different from the chow diet for the high carb diet ( was because high carb and high fat diets are from the same manufacturer, and of similar composition, and seem to vary just in macronutrient breakdown. Why the authors didn’t use the high carb diet as normal diet in the first place, I do not know. It may be because the normal diet yields a predictable effect and they didn’t want to mess with that effect for the run in period prior to the diet interventions.

      • therealjeaniebeanie

        I’ve always read that when researchers want to get lab animals to gain weight or become unhealthy, they feed them lots of grain. But isn’t that the normal diet for rats and mice? (Of course in the wild it would be more diverse than that.) Maybe it’s refined vs whole?

        • danpardi

          The ingredients for normal chow, at least in this study, are: Wheat, Wheatfeed, Barley, De-hulled Extracted Toasted
          Soya, Maize, Macro Minerals, Soya Oil, Potato Protein,
          Hydrolised Wheat Gluten, Full Fat Soya, Maize Gluten Meal,
          Vitamins, Micro Minerals, Amino Acids.

          You can read more about the high fat diet here:

          Whole vs refined does matter but it might but just be that. It’s possible that a high animal fat (lard) whole food diet could be fattening, but again in the right circumstances (no exercise, no ketones, genetics, etc).

          Additionally, I do include animal fats in my diet, so it’s not all or nothing for me. I’m just mindful of quantity. I know many paleo people eat meats 2-3x / day, every day. I think that will be problematic, weight wise, for many.

    • Charles Nankin

      the high fat diet includes 32% PUFA originating primarily from industrially-produced lard with a small amount of soybean oil.

      fed to a mouse.

  • Carey Wong

    So true about the zealots part…hahah

    Was kicked out of a FB group because I was too “radical” and could not adhere to their carb count obsession…

    Seriously, who counts down to 0.3g of carbs between different brands of heavy whipping creams?

    Opps, zealots do apparently :p

    • danpardi

      Some people are just more black and white than others. Unfortunately, some of those people are in leadership positions, at least in terms of having a large audience, and for whatever reason only seem able to view the world – or at least this topic – through a narrow lens. But in that world, people choose where they want to go and pick their facts to get there. Even with good intensions, a lot of damage can come from this.

      Now, having said that, the zealotry of anti carbs was probably corroborated by a possible truth: being in ketosis, maybe due to ketones themselves, can aid weight loss. Anyway, I hope at least some people found this article helpful to parse this complex issue. Having said that, I always look forward to evolving my own understanding as more research publishes. I wonder if I’ll read this article in a year and think differently. It’s always a possibility!

      • therealjeaniebeanie

        I’m finding it tricky to make sense of the idea that a high-carb diet could be good for weight maintenance after weight loss. A high carb diet, as in an unrefined diet of tubers, veggies and some meet such as followed by the famous Kitavans, is one thing, but these are people that presumably have never been obese and therefore are not metabolically deranged. But fatting up rats, taking off the weight through calorie restriction, and then putting them on a high-carb diet can maintain the weight loss? Is that free-feeding or with a regulated number of calories? Are those whole, unprocessed carbs, or standard rat chow? Very hard to see how this will apply to humans. I do accept biochemical individuality, and that a holistic, traditional unrefined diet high in carbs may be good for some people (who presumably also get sufficient exercise), but it’s hard to see how this might apply generally. Of course, more research is needed! Thanks for an intriguing article. Trying to figure out the take-away for me.

        • danpardi

          Kitavans are not the only culture that maintains a very high carb diet and remain lean. There are also Bantu, Kuna, Okinawan, mainland Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Maori, New Guinea highlander, Maya, Pima, 1920s potato farmers in Minnesota. See Stephan Guyenet’s talk from AHS 2013 to learn more about this.

          But let me be clear, the high card diet I recommend is exclusively from whole-food sources: tubers, fruits, legumes, etc. Today, I had a bowl of garbanzo beans with olive oil and salt for breakfast. For lunch, I will have a banana, an avocado, a sweet potato, and some fish. Not sure whats for dinner yet:-) But, I eat like this 70-80% of the time, and I have maintained a lower body fat level (23% to 13%) for 7 years now after losing the weight.

          Once obesity doesn’t necessarily mean someone will be metabolically deranged, and if they are, it really depends on the magnitude of that situation. Even then, low fat, whole food diets can be extraordinarily beneficial to this situation (See Denise Minger’s talk from AHS 2014, for example).

          You wrote: “But fatting up rats, taking off the weight through calorie restriction, and then putting them on a high-carb diet can maintain the weight loss? Is that free-feeding or with a regulated number of calories? Are those whole, unprocessed carbs, or standard rat chow? Very hard to see how this will apply to humans.”

          There were 2 conditions: calorie restriction and free access (ad libitum), and yes, the groups who lost weight on the high carb diet were able to maintain some weight loss after going back onto normal chow. That is what this study showed.

          This is a complex study but I tried to break it down so the take aways are clearer based on each condition. I’d take a look at the first part of the article again. Thanks for the comments.

          • therealjeaniebeanie

            Thanks for the thoughtful replies, Dan. I am always a little wary, though, when people talk about the Japanese diet being high carbohydrate. I lived in Japan for 13 years (in four periods, between about 1979 and 2001), and while rice is of course a staple, followed by noodles, it seems to me there was a lot of fat in the Japanese diet as well, and moderate protein. I remember being shocked when a Japanese friend, in response to my fear of eating chicken skin on fried chicken or grilled chicken bits (yakitori, etc.), told me gleefully, “That’s the best part!” and snatched it away and ate it. I was of course in the throes of the low-fat dogma of the day. I was always puzzled and put off a bit about how chefs did *not* cut away fat and skin on meats. Of course I understand now — it’s full of flavor!

            I have wondered whether the official sources that the information about the Japanese diet comes from (USDA?) aren’t based on the early postwar period when Japanese were starving and meat was especially dear. There is an enormous appetite for fish in Japan, which has contributed a lot to overfishing of the Pacific and other fisheries. Overall, it seems like a pretty balanced diet, as far as macronutrients go, except of course for those who are addicted to American fast food and junk food. The traditional dietary esthetic in Japan calls for balance between sea, land, and mountain foods, in each meal if possible. Anyway, the post is a lot of food for thought! I’ve been toying with the idea of a ketogenic diet for at least a few days to jump-start fat loss. I’m a CrossFit newbie and have always been “skinny fat,” and while I’m building muscle, I do want to burn more fat. Thanks.

          • danpardi

            Likewise therealjeaniebeanie, thank you for your thoughtful input. First of all, I’m jealous you got to live in Japan!

            While this study was interesting there are so many things I doesn’t address. I don’t maintain a low fat diet. The primary diet of the our weight loss program – the Simple Food Diet – focuses on restricting added fats. We do, however, support adding fats, like olive oil, to vegetables to improve their palatability. A diet must be sufficiently palatable for most people to stick with it. I have not tracked my diet over an extended period of time but I would be interested to see the range macronutrient percentages week by week. Many dishes are higher fat and lower carb, and many dishes are the exact opposite. As I stated in the article, while I do restrict carbs, it’s type not quantity that I restrict. The carbs that populate the majority of my diet are fairly simple whole food sources, like Japanese sweet potato, bananas, pears, beans, etc. I’ll also point to comment I made about the calorie control benefits of a non-junk food paleo diet. Some new research ( on the paleo-style diets showed improved satiety, but total fat in this study was between 11-18% and total carbs were about 65%, so while the popular perception of the paleo diet is that it’s high fat, most of the research on these diets is not that high in fat… but they aren’t super low fat either.

            So, I don’t look at fats or carbs as subjects appropriate for binary qualification. I do focus on food quality, primarily.

            Now, while it’s possible that a ketogenic diet could help you lose fat, I would not do Crossfit while you’re on it. Ketogenic diets are acceptable for two types of training: very, very long slow sessions (ultramarathon), or very very short burst activity (power lifting with long rests). These recommendation have everything to do with the energy systems involved with these types of activities. So, either do a ketogenic diet, lift and walk, or do the simple food diet and Crossfit. My two cents.

          • therealjeaniebeanie

            Thanks, Dan. I agree that quality is more important than quantity, and there is much to the idea of biochemical individuality. I’m currently in the Nutritional Therapy Practitioner training program, and I know there will not be one diet plan that works for everyone. I am drawn to Paleo, I’d call myself paleoesque, but baked potatoes with butter do call to me from time to time. 😉

          • therealjeaniebeanie

            Dan, I just watched this outstanding presentation by Denise Minger at AHS 14. She found very similar results in human trials to the ones you wrote about, and proposes that perhaps the two ends of the spectrum both work, for different, as yet understood, reasons.

          • Jessica Perez

            Say, someone in ketosis would be better off by walking and power lifting, but not crossfit–does this include HIIT and regular strength training?
            I guess I’m wondering if any type of lifting can be accomplished in ketosis–like strength training.
            What about HIIT?

          • danpardi

            hi @yesfitnessandpearlsplease:disqus, exercise with bursts of activity lasting less than 30 seconds, with 3-5min rest with work well with a ketogenic diets. Otherwise, long duration, low intensity exercise is also great.

          • Jessica Perez

            So what about 30 secs of intense bursts of activity with only about 15 secs of rest in between? would that also work? and by slow long duration I assume things like pilates fit into this category? Thanks and sorry for so many questions!

          • danpardi

            Nope, that’s different. You’ll be using glycolytic energy systems for that type of work so a ketogenic diet would not be optimal for that style of training. The slow, long training I’m thinking of would be intensities below approximately 70% max VO2 (depending on fitness) for extended periods of time.

          • Jessica Perez

            Oh I see 🙂 Thanks so much for the reply and info 🙂

          • danpardi

            You got it, @yesfitnessandpearlsplease:disqus!

  • Liana Yates

    Noticing that the 10 ‘problem foods’ are often combinations of high fat & high sugar foods… ie. desserts, deep fried chicken (breading & fat), pizza, pasta dishes (a la bolgnese or alfredo, no?)generally. Could this have any bearing on the gain & later difficulty of keeping fat loss off after a diet period when people usually go back to so called ‘normal’ eating.

    • danpardi

      So, these aren’t necessarily 10 problem foods. They are the top 10 sources of calories in our diet. But, your right that many of these sources are very palatable, energy dense, processed options, and those factors are problematic at stimulating overeating, and also may decrease sensitivity of the fat thermostat through direct and indirect mechanisms. Palatable food can cause us to overeat, and overeating can damage the fat thermostat (because surplus calories can cause inflammation), which can cause us to overeat more.

      Check out our short video entitled Why We Gain Fat here:

      Normal diet is tricky. Our own normal diet is not the same as the chow for the rodents. Normal, these days, is obesogenic. What we are really after is a weight loss diet that puts us in a reasonable position to maintain results if we maintain good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle pattern for our maintenance plan. The normal diet is probably what got the person into trouble in the first place.

  • Carly

    How does someone with adrenal fatigue repair their adrenals and lose weight considering this information

  • cmans6282

    Genotypes/bioindividuality seem to prevent what is sought: a universal method to lose weight.

  • Paul Spring

    One problem with this discussion is the focus on weight-loss. One can’t get the nutrients needed to sustain long term health on a no-carb diet since most of the phytonutrients are contained in carb-based fruits, vegetables and grains. Conditions such as severe endothelial inflammation due to saturated fats needs to be considered too.

    Also the distinction between the “normal” and “high carb” diet must be a typo. It is an insignificant distinction and probably not measurable to that precision.

    • danpardi

      Hi Paul, this wasn’t a discussion on how to do a ketogenic diet, or even an endorsement to do one, but rather it was a description of a study that yielded several interesting findings, one of which was that ketones might have a favorable impact on neuron regeneration in energy balance circuits. But I get your point and it’s one that I often encourage: we can’t judge something, like ketones, based off of one physiological response. We must look at the whole picture.

      Regarding the differences between ‘normal’ and ‘high carb’ in this study, this is how it was defined in this study. See my comments on this to @betteojala:disqus above.

      • Paul Spring

        Dan – thanks for your thoughts. I thought that some might infer that ketogenic may be an equivalent lifestyle choice. The study was interesting and I suspected as you said, that they were using some standard rat chow as a baseline. Too bad. It would have been more revealing to compare a very low fat, 10%, “low fat” 25%, Standard American diet, 40% and Ketogenic >70%.

        I believe ultra low carb can be a “strategy” but I’ve grown very weary of bio-hacking when there are solid life long diets that accomplish the same short term goals but offer so many other protective attributes (cancer, diabetes, stroke, CVD, immune system, inflammation, etc.) You can have your six-pack and eat it 🙂

        • danpardi

          Ha! True, @paul_spring:disqus, true. A lot of the bio hacking stuff turns my stomach, but in my mind, I try not to let communities own ideas. For example, just because I disagree with a lot of stuff that comes out of certain low carb communities doesn’t mean that the entire subject is tarnished for me. I guess what I say is that I try not to reject and idea based on my perception of other peoples misrepresentation of it. Something notable about this study is that the ketogenic diet was almost 95% fat! This isn’t how it’s practiced by most humans, either, so that’s just one more thing to be mindful of when extrapolating.

          Mostly, I’m really curious to see how a ketogenic diet, designed for weight loss, fairs in a long term study compared to other strong weight loss diets, like a protein sparing modified fast, and a well designed paleo diet. Check out my comment to @therealjeaniebeanie:disqus below where I talk about my own diet a bit, and also reference a recent study looking at a few version of a paleo-style diet on satiety and metabolic markers. Thanks for the input here, Paul.

  • Debora Martins


    I am following the Ideal Weight program, and is this why we are advised to eat low-fat cottage cheese/ Greek yogurt, and to limit the fat intake? Since carbs are not that bad why in the flash diet there is no fruit and tubers allowed? I am pretty confused because I am on a Paleo diet and I keep reading that fat don’t make us fat and we should drink whole milk but we should limit our carb intake to 0-50g/ day and in your program we need to get low-fat dairy and we can eat carbs at every meal.. That would help me a lot in my diet to understand that. Thank you!

    • danpardi

      Hi @disqus_i0eQCo0C23:disqus, so yeah, diets can be really confusing. One can say one thing and another can say the opposite, but they both could be valid. So, the FLASH diet is a whole-foods version of a well tested and very efficacious dietary approach to weight loss called a protein sparing modified fast. In this diet we utilize non-fat dairy products because this diet is centered on lean sources of protein and vegetables, while limiting carbs and fats. It’s one strategy and it’s very effective for many. The simple food diet, however, has less restrictions and I believe it can be just as effective, long term, but it will probably reduce body fat at a slower pace. But, it’s also pretty close to a diet you’ll use to sustain your results so despite slower results it’s also closer to the diet you can utilize long term for both health and leanness. The simple food diet is the primary diet of the Ideal Weight Program, but there are cases with the FLASH diet is a better fit so we included both in the program. What diet are you doing?

      Sometimes it can be extremely useful to put blinders on and just focus on the diet your chosen to do right now and not worry about what other diets are like. This is a reason mixing methods usually doesn’t work. Cheers!

      • Debora Martins

        Hi @danpardi. Thank you for you reply. I am doing the simple diet, I started with the flash diet but I was worry that once I will start eating carbs again I will put on some weight back on. I might give another try to the flash diet now that I understand it better. Yes the simple food diet is totally something I could do for a long-term without any doubt it does not even seem like a diet.
        By the way, your program is great, I have been struggling with weight loss even after starting the paleo diet and some people lose a lot of weight on the paleo diet but I was gaining weight because I was eating too much of the good healthy stuff and your program helped me understand why I was gaining weight and why for a couple years I was at the same weight no matter how much I was reducing my calorie intake.

        • danpardi

          @disqus_i0eQCo0C23:disqus, glad to hear these comments were useful. And thank you for your kind thoughts. Makes my day. It is possible to overeat on healthy food. A lot of health conscious people do it. The foods of the Ideal Weight Program provide more fullness per calorie. Please send me an email and let me know how things are working for you.

  • Alcoholic beverages a food? Come on! You’ve got to be kidding me. Alcoholic beverages harm the body, food helps the body. I’m guessing you use the drug alcohol…

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  • Tyrker

    I believe the footnote that says the diets were “not controlled for properties other than macro composition” is of utmost significance here.

    Otherwise the Perfect Health Diet (PHD) developed by Shou-Ching and Paul Jaminet simply would not work. See, it’s a pretty high-fat yet non-ketogenic diet (at least the regular version!) with about 55% of calories coming from fat, 15% from protein and 30% from carbs. Yet it does work for a lot of people. The key is that the Jaminets placed a strong emphasis on the micronutrient content of their diet, arguing that malnutrition – in the micronutrient-deficiency sense of the word – could lead to hunger and overeating almost regardless of the macro composition of the diet. So it’s entirely possible that the “high-fat” diet fed to the mice was simply deficient in some key micronutrients, leading to overeating on the free access condition, which was naturally not conductive to weight loss.

    It would be interesting to see the experiment repeated with diets where the macro ratios are the same as in this one but attention is also given to a balanced micronutrient composition. If the results turned out to be radically different, that would indirectly verify the Jaminets’ hypothesis that micronutrient deficiencies are somehow signalled by the body to the brain, leading to excess food consumption in the “hope” that this would solve the micronutrient deficiencies. And this would in turn mean that a diet with a balanced micronutrient composition can help you attain your ideal weight, even if it’s pretty high in fat. Actually, that’s precisely what we see in many people adopting the Perfect Health Diet.

    • Maria Merv Jomaa

      Interesting comment, since that was my first initial thought as well (since I read and follow the PHD). Also, the type of fat makes a big difference. The high levels of fat I consume come from MCTs, grass fed animals and other natural sources such as avocados and fish. If they’re feeding these lab animals canola and soybean oil, they’re going to get very different results than animals fed the kinds of fats I eat.

    • danpardi

      Hello Tyrker & Maria Merv Jomaa, thanks for the comments. There are problems with this hypothesis, and while I would not be surprised if human data came out showing that micronutrients can modify hunger, the data is lacking now and I think the effect would be modest. Besides, even if research did show some some impact it wouldn’t obviate the preponderance of data showing how things like purification and palatability cause calorie surplus. The Jaminet’s diet may work for some but we should be cautious when making claims based on self report. A lot of what I wrote in the article about how a high fat paleo-style diet can help some people maintain energy balance, or even a negative energy balance, because there is a net improvement in diet (e.g., less process foods) also applies to the Perfect Health Diet. Evidence shows that some types of saturated fats could be very problematic for weight gain, but the McNay study does not tell us where that threshold is, where it is for humans, where it is for an individual, etc.

      I’d like to direct you to view this excellent article by Stephan Guyenet, PhD entitled “Does the Vitamin and Mineral Content of Food Influence Our Food Intake and Body Fatness?”

      Article Quote:

      “Another problem with this hypothesis as an explanation for obesity is that modern Americans have relatively good micronutrient status by global and recent historical standards. Although we may not eat an optimal amount of all micronutrients, frank deficiency is uncommon, in large part because much of our food is fortified. The picture was quite different a century ago. Before food fortification, deficiency of iodine (goiter), vitamin D (rickets), niacin (pellagra), and vitamin C (scurvy) were common in specific regions of the United States. Yet this was true at a time when the prevalence of obesity was much lower than it is today– these people were evidently not eating more food to make up for deficient micronutrient status.

      If our bodies can detect micronutrients in food and act to correct deficiencies, and this is a major driver of behavior, why don’t people crave vegetables and liver rather than chips and soda? Why eat a larger quantity of micronutrient-poor food to try to make up the nutrient shortfall when it would be much more effective to just swap out the junk for nutrient-dense foods that are readily available? Yet many of these nutrient-dense foods remain unappealing to most people of all weights, while nutrient-poor foods remain appealing, suggesting that what humans seek from food is primarily something other than micronutrients.”

      Hope you find this comment useful.

  • Ellen Steele

    Thanks so much the informative article. I don’t suppose there’s any data on how female vs. male mice responded to the differences in diet is there?

    • danpardi

      Hi @ellen_steele:disqus, all the mice in the McNay & Speakman study were male.

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  • Adria

    Interesting! What do you recommend for substantial weight loss in someone who is dairy intolerant?

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  • Rosie Watson

    So would it be right to assume that neither fat or carbs are particularly fattening, but combining them at too high levels are the problem? So a diet of less protein and more fat and carbs would cause weight gain, but a diet low in either fat or carbs would be beneficial for weight loss?

    • danpardi

      Hi @rosie_watson:disqus, according to this study, the dietary fat was fattening, it just took a while to show up. The fat damaged the thermostat. Not sure if that applies equally to humans, but there is some evidence that it may. Again, exercise and ketones may be ameliorate the situation. Fats and carbs together can be fattening, depending on form consumed, because they can promote overeating. I’d check out the video I posted in response to @lianayates:disqus below. Also, check out this short ebook for more info on factors that fatten us.

  • Ella-maye

    I just cannot wrap my head around why we model expected outcomes in humans on trials in mice. Pardon me if I am confused but my understanding is that our natural diets would differ greatly. Why would we assume mouse metabolism and human metabolism to be at all similar?

    • danpardi

      Hi Ella-maye, this sort of question comes up all the time, and it is an important one. He’s my take. There is a great deal of overlap between murine (mice) and human systems involved in the regulation of energy. Both have orexigenic and anorexigenic neuron groups in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, and the same set of hormones that these centers respond to, like for example, leptin and insulin. Certain models of rodent and human obesity display insulin and leptin resistance, elevated fasting and post-prandial insulin concentration, glucose intolerance, hypertension, blood lipid disturbances, elevated diabetes risk, inflammatory activation of several tissues including brain and adipose, etc, etc.

      Differences exist but differences do not obviate value. We study rodents because we can explore more deeply that we can in humans. Findings should generate hypothesis, and hypothesis should derive by speculating on parallels, as I did here. No one study will every answer all our questions on this complex subject but it’s useful to think about what new findings could mean to our current understanding. The McNay study showed that high fat diet damaged the hypothalamus, and subsequently, the same phenomenon was explored and observed in humans as well:

      Ketones, or the state where ketones are produced, seemed to be beneficial for obese mice based on the parameters measure in this study. It’s not wrong to say that there could be potential here, and that it should be studied further. But overall, this is exactly what we should do when we get new info; we should think about what it means, how it relates to what we know, and think about how to build further upon on current knowledge base. Also, at the end of the day, we can’t wait until we have all the information, because that’s an endless quest. We should also attempt to make sound recommendations based on the current body of literature so that people can benefit from the considerable data we have amassed.

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  • tinguinha


    This is an old post so I don’t particularly expect a response, but I thought I’d try anyway. In the post you write quite a lot of positive things about a ketogenic diet and in conclusion (on the topic of ketogenic diets) write that “a ketogenic diet may be among the best diets we have for sustainable weight loss.” Given that, I’d be very grateful if you could briefly describe why you chose a protein sparing modified fast approach for your weight loss programme over a ketogenic diet. Thanks.

    • danpardi

      Great question, @tinguinha:disqus. I’m very interested in the influence of ketones on satiety and hypothalamic regulation of energetics. Having said that, there does need to be more clinical research on long term ketogenic diets to understand them better. And despite how effective or not effective they prove to be, and in who, protein sparing modified fasts (PSMF) are very effective with much more longer term clinical data demonstrating their efficacy. Also, you produce ketones when you are in a calorically deficient state during PSMF. I feel very good about the efficacy of our PSMF and in the future we may add a ketogenic diet with some direction about who it might be good for. So I’m excited for more research on ketones and weight regulation, but I know that PSMF is still a good solution to consider. Cheers, Dan

      • tinguinha

        Many thanks for responding to my question, much appreciated.