From Fat Vegan to Skinny Bitch

Monday Sep 21 | BY |
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In my last two articles, I summarized my notes from the most recent health conference I attended, the Advanced Study Weekend organized by John McDougall.

But there was one conference I didn’t share with you, and in many ways it was one of the most interesting ones, because it was based on a unique testimonial.

Chef AJ From Fat Vegan to Skinny Bitch


“You look terrific” commented John McDougall. “I like your new diet”

Chef JA is a vegan chef based in California who’s been in the speaking circuit for a long time. She’s made many appearances on major television shows over the years, and has written multiple recipe books.

I met her during my visit to the True North Health Center in California where she was teaching a cooking class.

In her very personal lecture, she told the audience about her history of food addiction and eating disorders and how she overcame them. She also shared her unique experience trying to lose weight on a vegan diet.

From Oils to Nuts

Initially, one of the first things she tried to lose weight was to avoid oil, because it’s a calorie-dense food. She ate whole nuts instead, and measured them out. But she still weighed 165 pounds. 30% of her calories were coming from fat.

One doctor suggested to her that she tried skipping nuts and eat more potatoes instead.

Potatoes, she thought? It didn’t seem to make sense, given the reputation of potatoes as a fattening food, but she gave it a shot. The fat content of her diet went from 30% to 10-15%, and she lost 33 pounds.


The Next Experiment: More Grains

Now at a more comfortable 132 pounds, she thought that this was her new ideal weight and that she could never get down to the previous normal weight of her youth. But someone again suggested that she try a new experiment: eating more grains. She was still eating potatoes but avoiding grains, thinking that they were unhealthy. So she started eating a lot of rice to go along with her new potato-based diet (I assume she was also eating plenty of fruits and vegetables). She lost 5 pounds.

Last Experiment: No Added Fat (Seeds or Avocados).

Everybody says that you need to eat some fat in your diet, otherwise you don’t absorb the nutrients. She was avoiding oils and fats, and eating plenty of potatoes, grains and vegetables. But she still ate avocados and flax seeds (for omega 3s), as well as tahini on her greens.

(Note from FP: that’s probably because she read the book Eat to Live, where the author recommends eating greens along with fats to absorb the nutrients from the greens).

She reasoned “how many doctors have hospitalized a patient for poor nutrients absorption from greens?”

Still unsure about her experiment, she emailed Dr McDougall and asked him “Is it safe to eat a diet with no added fat?”

The one-word answer that came back was “yes.”

After one month on this new diet, she lost 3 pounds, now rocking 124, impressive at 56 years of age.

She mentioned that she eats a lot of purslane, which is a green reputed to be high in omega 3. To be sure, she got her omega 3 levels checked via a blood test, and the results came back perfect.

She now lives by the motto of Dr. McDougall “The Fat You Eat is the Fat You Wear.

At the end of the lecture, Dr. Klaper intervened and reassured everybody that they can enjoy healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds, and that he would explain the physiology of it in his next lecture.

If you read my previous articles, you know that Dr. Klaper’s recommendation is to avoid eating fats along with starches. If you do so, the body will burn the carbohydrates and store the fats. Instead, he recommended eating fats such as nuts and avocados with vegetables (as in a salad) and wait 4 hours before having cooked starches.

My Thoughts

The concept of eating absolutely no fat such as nuts, seeds, avocados or oil is not new to me. Dr. Graham, who promotes a raw food diet, calls these fats “overt fats.”

“Overt” because they are contained in high quantities in those high-fat foods like nuts. This is opposed to “covert fats” which are the fatty acids found in fruits and vegetables.

Yes, you read that correctly, even fruits, vegetables, grains and beans contain 5-6% of their calories from fat. So technically, as long as you don’t consume too many refined foods like white sugar — which contains zero fat — it would be impossible to bring down the fat content of your diet below 4-5%.

It turns out that the human body has a certain needs for essential fatty acids, but it’s not as high as people belief. For example, it’s very difficult to lower body fat below 5%  – as many bodybuilders know very well — even on a diet with no overt fats — as long as one consumes enough calories.

Surprisingly, even green vegetables have contain a very decent percentage of their calories from fatty acids.

When you don’t consume many Omega 6 oils, which nuts and oils are full of, your requirement for omega 3 fats dramatically drops. This makes it feasible to eat a diet that contains no added fats.

Dr. Graham does not recommend a diet with no overt fats but he uses them on occasion, as does Dr. McDougall. Dr. Esselstyn recommends it exclusively for his patients with heart disease.

For stubborn weight loss, this works really well.

For example, I told the story of my mom who lost over 60 pounds on exactly the diet that Chef AJ described. I told my mom to only eat fruits, vegetables, grains and beans and no “overt” fats and this worked very well for her, improving all other health markers.

I personally don’t eat overt fats every day, and I think that most people — vegans or otherwise — definitely eat too many nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut products and oils.

If you’re new to this concept, the idea of getting all of your calories from carbohydrates can seem outrageous. Many people erroneously think that carbohydrates cause diabetes, for example.

But if you read Kale and Coffee, Kevin’s latest book, you’ll know that the combination of high-fat foods with high-carbohydrate foods can be a problem.

Benefits and Drawbacks

If you replace oil with the same quantities of fat in nuts, seeds and avocados, you won’t see a big difference. But in my experience, cutting down the fat in your diet to under 10% gives the following benefits:

– Increased energy
– Better digestion
– More stable blood sugar and energy levels
– Easier to achieve ideal weight

The main drawback is taste, because the body does have receptors for fat, just like it does for sugar and salt. It takes roughly 60 to 90 days for your taste buds to adjust to the taste of a diet devoid of overt fat. But overtime, you tend to like it better that way.

Fat as a Treat

Personally I don’t go as far as avoiding fats completely. I’m not big on nuts, simply because I don’t see the point of eating them except when I’m traveling, but I do enjoy some avocado on a salad, or even a tiny amount of olive oil, just because I love the taste of it.

How much do I use? 1/3 of an avocado at a time, maximum 1/2 or 1 TEAspoon of olive oil.

Do You Have to Eat Like This?

You don’t have to eat like this. Through personal experimentation, some people find that they perform better with various levels of fat. I’ve always felt at my best under 15%. But others have found other levels work better.

Athletes won’t be able to get all the calories they need without consuming overt fats.

But it’s good to know that this option exists. Who knows, you might want to give it a shot!

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.


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  1. Lauren says:

    Wow. I couldn’t disagree with you more about such a low-fat diet with most calories from carbs!

    As a former “raw fooder” and someone who took classes from Dr. Graham, eating more than my share of bananas and durian, I can say that my health suffered from too many carbs and to little fat/protein, and my blood sugar was a disaster! And, no, I was not consuming so much fruit with high fat either — very low fat, in fact.

    I have found, for my personal needs, more protein and fat (although not a true Paleo-level of fat, which seems to weigh me down) with less carbs — and only carbs from veg, low-sugar fruits and minimal whole grains — are absolutely critical for the grounding and stability that come with balanced blood sugar, as well as better health.

    Maybe this approach can work for some, but I think we’re a nation of damaged metabolisms that, in general, just can’t handle so many carbs, regardless of source. And, when I attended classes and lectures with folks who were eating this way, including myself, in hindsight, I did notice that not too many of us were looking so good!

    • Yuna Solon says:

      I think that you should focus on plant protein, instead of animal protein. Plant protein is healthier than animal protein. Raw fruit protein is healthier than greens protein is healthier than seed or root protein. You don’t have to go back to paleo. I’m currently experimenting with this. If you want to learn about my experiments, keep in touch by registering your email on my site Many blessings. 🙂

    • Paulette says:

      Agreed. I have had the same type of experience.

    • Naty says:

      Where u eating a variety of foods or manly bananas and a few other fave fruits as a staple?! where u drinking ur fod most of the time?! Aka smoothies?! Bc chewing is so important, i see that over and over again among the high carb vegans that they have lots of cravings n always hungry bc they always drink smoothies, and many feel better, including myself when i started chewing and eating my food whole! I felt full for much longer!
      I however wish i could handle more fat but i break out pretty bad when i eat more than10-15% i literally have to stay overt fat free in order to not break out! And it also seems i gain weight easuer w fats 🙁

      • Lauren says:

        Hi Naty,

        Yes, a variety of fruit and veg, and lots of chewing on salads! You’re right that chewing makes a big difference!

        FWIW, I also had the fat/acne thing going on. I could barely eat 1/4 avo. Same when I added salmon back to my diet. Two things have changed that. First, supporting liver function and bile flow (I love AF Betafood by Standard Process). Second, generally supporting healing the gut and digestion with things like enzymes and aloe. That said, I still feel weighed down with a lot of coconut fat or grass-fed butter…or just too much fat of any kind. I think it’s so individual how much is too much, but fats are soooo important.

        I’ve also noticed that eating more clean animal protein and healthy fat, along with moderate weight training (only a few time per week) has helped me to lose fat and gain muscle. Burning the protein ramps up the metabolism way more than burning carbs. And as long as the body as carbs/sugars to burn, it isn’t going to burn fat. I lost a lot on the high-carb raw diet, but it was due to being too low in calories, and I can tell you my metabolism slowed for sure, as evidenced by many things, including thyroid problems.

        Thanks for your comment.

    • Ilse says:

      Hi Lauren, I think I have the same issue…. Did 80/10/10 for years, felt good, but now more than 2 years I feel my bloodsugar is troubled. My fasting levels are low (50 – 60), when I eat fruit I feel dizzy/light headed. I have the same when I eat oats in the morning. I don’t have this problem when I eat veggies (raw or bite-size cooked). The problem is : I LOVE fruit so much! and when I should cut out carbs : what can I eat and still enjoy my food. I’m already cutting out a lot like dairy, candy, fried food, junk food etc and have no cavings for them. But having no more fruit or potatoes or whole wheat pasta 1/month…pfff. You can contact me : Thanks!

      • Lauren says:

        I hear you, Isle… I love those things, too. And I have them sometimes. But too much, and I’m consistently tired and bloated and feeling down — carb sensitivity, even “good carbs/sugars”. I actually think such a high-fruit diet for so long is a good part of the reason that I have such carb isssues now. Another part of the equation is imbalance with gut bacteria, but that’s another story!

      • try mixing the making a green smoothie with your fruit so u don’t get the sugar from the fruit rush to your blood streams, greens will nutrilize the sugar

    • Lea says:

      My understanding is that durians are also high in fat and sugar. I find I have problems with eating high fat and high sugar at the same time. Fats do not satisfy me. I find they increase my appetite and then I am nibbling food all the time.

    • Giselle says:

      Did u consume at least one pound of greens a day? greens are very important

  2. Kimberly says:

    I totally agree with Lauren, I have had the same issues.

  3. Edwina says:

    Yes I would agree wholeheartedly Lauren!! I was on the Gerson Therapy for 2 years for fibromyalgia and was gaining weight fast! For those of you who don’t know, that is a vegan very low fat healing protocol. I completely ruined my hormones because I had such little fat in my diet, so precursor required for production of pregnenolone was non existent so ended up with all sorts of hormone imbalances. My bile production was very low and so my liver suffered (despite coffee enemas). To cut a long story short, I ended up with leaky gut, from a lack of fats and protein, continued to suffer pain, and have spent the last 2 years trying to heal my gut with great success on the GAPS healing protocol. I lost all the excess weight (30kg) and finally look really healthy with a glow. Finally no more hypoglycemia and have stable blood pressure and I’d say my energy is through the roof! Also no more pain from magnesium! My favourite..

    I do think there is no one size fits all, but I can tell you, from having my children as vegans too, they are now more paleo with no grains, and the improvement is profound. They are both suddenly excelling at school, can concentrate, sleep better and better moods. If they have even one meal of rice or quinoa, look out. The behaviour change will blow you away.

    I think it is always wise to keep an open mind and to try what works for YOU. If you are an observer of your body, you will know what works and what doesn’t. In children, who may not be as good at articulating their feelings, you can see improvement in energy and concentration and moods. So if its invoking a negative experience, then you know what you are doing is not right for them.

    As long as its wholefood, and preferably organic, then experiment and see what produces the best results. Thats the only way.

    • legsdickson says:

      “no more pain from magnesium! My favourite.” – Edwina, what does this mean? Magnesium was giving you pain?

      Most of us have a magnesium deficiency and must supplement with magnesium, either orally or dermally, to avoid leg cramps and other painful side effects of a deficiency. Are you saying you were experiencing pain from too much mg?

  4. Linda says:

    Thank you for the clarification on fats, I think I might be over doing it. I have 1/2 cup almond milk(homemade) 1/4 cup dried coconut, 1/4 cup seeds (have been soaked and dehydrated), tablespoon hemp seeds, tablespoon of coconut yoghurt, few hommade almond meal biscuits , sometimes a tablespoon of tahini, sometimes buckwheat (or bukinis), on a daily basis, does this sound too much? I was told I needed more protein and have my first pot belly at 54 after being underweight 2 years ago.

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Linda,

      Hard to say if it’s too much b/c that’s so individual.

      To me, the key for trimming down has been clean animal proteins — pastured eggs, salmon, etc. It’s protein burning that bumps up the metabolism (see comment to Naty). And, for me, trying to get my protein from veg adds up to too many carbs, wreaking havoc with my blood sugar and GI system.

      I’m wondering, too, if your diet may be problematic b/c of what Kevin says in his book about the combo of fats with sugars — in all honesty, I haven’t read the book — I’m commenting just based on looking at your list and having something he said in a video jump into my head.

      I really do respect that different people can make different diets work, yet, too often, I see people (and I used to be one of them) trying to force something they WANT to work while they suffer with problems waiting for the magic to happen! 🙂

      My rules at this point are more about keeping it whole and clean, as close to nature as possible. Along with that, listen, listen, listen to my body and adjust/experiment as needed.

    • Lauren says:

      Oops, I read the comments wrong… Looks like your reply was looking for a response from Fred…

  5. Ilse says:

    ow, and Frederic : thanks for this SO TRUE article !

  6. Natasa says:

    I am on a low-fat fruit diet for 7 years now. In the beginning I was also having blood sugar issues. I solved it with exercising before the fruit meals (10-20 minutes) and eating a lot of greens (spinach and celery work very good) along with or after the fruit meal. The thing is that I could never give up my watermelon during the summer. So, I had to make the fruit diet work :).

  7. Larkspur says:

    I agree with Lauren in principle. Also I would say that the amazing range of nutrients found in varieties of fruits, benefit skin, hair etc. Amazing tastes too!. I have just picked about 12 lbs. of damsons form one tree; most now frozen to eat over the winter.

    Correct, enjoyable healthy diet needs to nourish all parts of the body system, leaving glowing young looking skin, keen eye sight, hearing and agile brain & body over a long lifetime.

    I only eat rice or potatoes when out for a meal. They always leave me feeing empty after an hour!

    Don’t know what the answer is, but being energetic generally and exercising moderately (weights, press ups, bending and stretching) eating vegetables, quinoa , beans lentils, some nuts, avocadoes – a third a day- and lots of delicious fruits keeps me a ‘skinny bitch- necessary for looking good in jeans!

  8. Meg says:

    I agree with Lauren. When I was a vegan my triglycerides went up to 900. I think everyone is different, and what works for some can be detrimental to others.

  9. Do you find that you have to eat significantly more food if you are cutting the fat so low overall? this idea is attractive to me, but I hesitate because I don’t want to be starving all the time, which is what happened on low fat diets I’ve tried in the past..

    • You have to eat more food, yes. This is a good thing! Most people feel frustrated on other diets because they have to restrict portion sizes. This is difficult to accomplish. When my mom tried it, she ate more food than ever and kept losing weight.

      Essentially it’s all about caloric density. For example, if your caloric needs are high (growing children, athletes, etc.) then combining fat with starch will help.

      If your problem is weight, then you need to lower caloric density by separating fat and starches (or avoiding overt fats altogether).

  10. Lorraine says:

    Excellent article. Please clarify the following statement.
    “Dr. Esselstyn recommends it exclusively for his patients with heart disease.”

    What exactly are you saying here with regard to the previous sentences in that paragraph?

    Thanks for your response.


  11. Chris says:

    This article is priceless for people that desire to manifest an optimal health result. I concur with your observations Fred and have come to the same conclusions after over 35 years on this vegan journey. Bless you for your contributions in the reality of sane dietary lifestyle patterns. Keep it going Fred !!!

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