What I’ve learned about Covid and Fat Burning

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“Show me a single person under 65 without a serious underlying disease or immune deficiency who ended up in the ICU who had been categorically avoiding vegetable oils for the prior 5 years and you’ve proven me wrong” said Dr Cate Shanahan M.D. who is a board certified family physician and the former director of the LA Lakers Pro Nutrition program. When I heard her say this, this got my attention! I knew the most serious cases were often people with underlying conditions such as kidney disease, heart failure, diabetes, obesity, and an immunocompromised state, but I had’t heard anyone talk about vegetable oils.

Dr Cate went on to talk about the Hateful 8 vegetable oils that are important to remove from your diet because they cause inflammation in your body. Those oils are canola, corn, cottonseed, soy, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed and rice bran. It’s not that these oils are inherently bad, but they are highly processed and become unstable in the body. These oils have grown exponentially in our diet in the last 40 years and there are quite a few doctors talking about the link to health conditions and PUFA consumption.

As Dr Cate talked about vegetable oils, I remembered my nutritionist Ashley had recommended a couple years earlier that I avoid these oils to reduce inflammation. Dr Cate recommended making your own salad dressing and looking at your snacks like crackers and chips. I had stopped making my dressing over the last year because I was bored with my recipes. When I looked at my salad dressings and snacks, 90% of them had the oils I should be trying to avoid. So I started cleaning the pantry out! It’s true you should have a little PFA, like 1%, but Dr Cate said you can test your fat and some people have 25-30%. I have been cooking a good bit during the pandemic, but this was a wake up call to try to cook most of our meals. Her full article on the oils is here.

I was intrigued as Dr Cate mentioned the research that showed vegetable oil makes us sugar addicts in articles and presentations online. I wanted to know more, so I ordered her book The Fatburn Fix. I had gained 5 lbs over the last year and wanted to understand fat burning from her perspective. This book has had a big impact on my thinking but is chock full of information. I will highlight key points that were meaningful to me and encourage you to read the book if you want to know more. I’ll summarize what she is saying in her words as much as I can and add my personal experience along the way.

The first step is to remove the vegetable oils from your diet (listed above) so that you can burn fat. She has a list of the good oils to use and snacks that are made with those oils on her website.

Then Dr Cate talks about how burning body fat promotes weight loss and burning sugar does not. She defines sugar as fruits, pasta, potatoes, bread made with flour because they spike your blood sugar. Of course, most people tend to think of candy, cookies, cake, ice cream which are very high in sugar.

I didn’t realize our blood stream carries only 16 calories during normal blood sugar. We don’t have a lot of space to store blood sugar only the liver can release it back into the blood stream. Most people have about 200 calories worth in their liver which will last a few hours at a desk job. Fat stores can fuel you for days. If you eat more than a few grams of sugar, then it is stored as fat. If you eat fruit, bread, snacks, then it forces our hormones into fat building mode. Sweet tasting foods intensify your desire for sweets and create sugar addiction.

Unhealthy Hunger. Do you get hangry? Dr Cate talks about unhealthy hunger which is is characterized by anxiety, brain fog, dizziness, fatigue, headache, irritability, nausea, shakiness to name a few. I used to feel this way. I used to have a terrible hunger that would make me irritable and was often hungry in the morning. After reading her book, I know that I had an addiction to those foods that raise your blood sugar. Over the last couple years, I feel better through diet changes, but I realized there is more that I could do.

Dr Cate talks about how Unhealthy Hunger can cause desperation eating and can cause executive dysfunction. Executive function is things like planning, organizing, and prioritizing. If you can’t perform executive functions, then it could impair your ability to plan your meals.

Diabetes is a spectrum. She looks at diabetes on a spectrum and says it is basically blocked fatburn. Hypoglycemia is first symptom which leads to insulin resistance which leads to prediabetes which leads to diabetes. Those unhealthy hunger feelings listed above are examples of the first stage, hypoglycemia.

Fasting blood sugar. Your fasting blood sugar is the reading when you first wake up in the morning. All healthy people have the same set point but when your metabolism is damaged the set point can’t be maintained. The set point is regulated by the brain and pancreas and normally they are the same. When your fatburn declines, your brain is in an energy crisis. Your brain wants more sugar and instructs your liver to release more which raises your fasting blood sugar. The pancreas is telling the fat cells to take the sugar out of the bloodstream and releases more insulin, so the body is fighting itself. The brain wins because it has a direct neuronal connection to the liver. Dr Cate describes this as profound metabolic disturbance which elevates blood sugar and builds fat which causes weight gain in many.

Mitochondria and cell energy. Mitochondria are the engines in your cells that create energy and they are fuel flexible. Sugar is not a good fuel for your cells because it can’t be increased very much during exercise and stress. Carbon dioxide that is released from glucose can acidify and damage your mitochrondria. Ketones generate more energy than sugar. Ketones can be made from body fat giving you extended energy. Protein can be used and certain cells in the small intestine may require amino acids for fuel. There’s an abundance of amino acids in the bloodstream in the form of albumin, but few cells use albumin for energy. A complication of protein fueling is gout when uric acid forms in the joints and causes swelling.

Debunking Protein Myths. Don’t I need carbs before a workout so I don’t break down protein? In a nutshell, if you fuel with sugar before a workout, you’ll block fatburn. Don’t I need protein 30 minutes after a workout? You have 24-48 hours after a workout to consume protein for muscle growth. Don’t I need lots of protein to build muscle? Eating excess protein will be stored as fat.

Why the news on Fat keeps changing. She goes into details about how our Dietary Guidelines are developed and influenced by special interest groups. In studies where they say saturated fat is bad, they don’t usually clarify what kind of saturated fat they are talking about. Dr Cate goes into great detail about fat and talks about why we still believe saturated fat is bad due to Ancel Keys. He was an eel physiologist who said his research proved saturated fat is bad, then falsified his data to maintain his claim.

Fatburn Quiz After Dr Cate goes through the science, there is a Fatburn Quiz about halfway through the book. I took her quiz and scored as a Fatburner, not elite, but a fatburner nonetheless. I knew that I had made progress on my carb addiction but wanted to work on a few things.

Phase I and Phase II plans. She has a Phase I dietary plan for those who need to repair their metabolic damage and get them ready for weight loss. In this Phase II, she recommnends fasting to get in touch with your true hunger by skipping a meal or time restricted eating (7 hour window). In the beginning, she recommends one day a week then you can work up to 2-3 days in a row. I’m not sure if I will be doing this.

Things Dr Cate said that Surprised Me

Seek out salt. It helps with digestion, bones, improves energy, and reverses insulin resistance. She recommends a 1-2 tsp a day. I’ve been trying to avoid salt for years. Now I have added Himalayan Pink Salt to my collection and find myself sprinkling it on everything!

Don’t exercise to lose weight. It doesn’t help that much and you will be in trouble if you have an injury and can’t exercise. It is good for your heart and muscles. Some people can exercise the right amount to keep their weight in check, but she says they tend to be exercise fanatics. (Dr Cate was a runner who was addicted to sugar.)

You should be able to kick back your hunger as an adult.

There is no such thing as a fast metabolism, the goal is a flexible metabolism.

My summary. I never wanted to go low carb, because I really liked my carbs. Also I am one who felt weak when I try to cut carbs, also known as the keto flu. But after reading her book, I knew I would benefit from making changes.

My strategy now is have a low carb breakfast and lunch, then have some carbs at dinner. Dr Cate said when people eat carbs at breakfast, they tend to crave them all day. I think that’s true for me as well. Morning could be eggs and bacon or pea protein drink with almond butter. Lunch is a salad with chicken, avocado and homemade dressing. At dinner, protein with vegetables and starches. I sleep better if I have some carbs at night. I avoid snacking and wait 4-5 hours between meals to allow the fatburning process to work. Ironically, these meals are what Pam Owens encouraged me to do during Precision Nutrition. I did it a little, but wasn’t fully bought in at that point.

I started with this approach 3-4 days and gradually have gone to 6-7 days a week. I wondered if I would be able to jump rope and have enough energy, but so far it’s working! I have more energy in the afternoon and don’t get the drowsy feeling when I was eating more carbs. I have lost 7.5 lbs so far. I focus a little more on eating my vegetables with this approach and keep the carbs around 50 grams. Perhaps this will help someone if they are considering making some changes. Let me know your thoughts!



11 thoughts on “What I’ve learned about Covid and Fat Burning

  1. What a fantastic post Sarah. Thanks for the meaningful information and for taking the time to make it accessible for everyone. As a scientific journalist, I know this is not an easy task, so bravo —you did a great job. I’m like Brenda: my health could definitely benefit from lowering my carbs. If I ever have the guts to do so… Luvvvvv pasta and bread so much! Thankfully, I have naturally been doing most of the things you mentionned. Good to know that I’m doing something right. Another trick of mine is actually very simple: I only eat when I’m hungry. That being said, I will have to make some changes because I’ve noticed that ever since the menopause I have less energy. Yoga, walking and exercise help but it is not enough. Does Dr Cate talk about that in her book?


    1. Thank you Dominique! It did take a while to summarize what I found helpful and not change her message. Thank you for noticing!

      She talks about how you have more energy when you reduce carbs. Often a carb laden lunch will bring on fatigue in the afternoon. She also talks about an animal in the wild has to have ready energy. I do have more energy throughout the day now!

      Another thought is I wrote a post about working with a nutritionist. It was helpful to have my micronutrients tested. If you’re low in micronutrients, your energy could be lower. Hope this helps! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is very interesting. Never thought about having my micronutrients tested. Definitely something I should do. I know that I have low iron because I can’t no longer give blood. Thanks again.

        Liked by 1 person

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