Reframing Fat

Heart image for jeanine blogby Jeanine LeDoux MS, RD, LDN

“Fat”…a single word that can be attached to so many strong emotions. It can make people feel afraid, disgusted, anxious, lonely, or even ashamed. When did this one simple word develop such intense connotations? When did this one word become a symbol for every little imperfection? For every bad feeling? Can we just go back a minute and think about this word in a more objective way?

For many of us, this can be a real challenge. After all, when we hear the word “Fat” on TV or in a magazine or even from a friend, it is usually uttered in judgmental or scathing tones. The object always is to avoid fat according to these sources, to do whatever we can to minimize it in our lives. Let’s challenge ourselves to think about it in a different way. To do that, we are going to have to remove the lens of negative judgment that we usually associate with this word and think about it objectively.

What is “Fat?” There are two simple answers to this question. Fat is a type of nutrient, also known as a lipid, which provides us with energy and helps us to absorb key nutrients. Our bodies cannot make all of the lipids that we need to function optimally, so we need to consume fat on a daily basis. Individuals who do not consume enough lipids are at risk for Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency, which can result in dry skin, poor growth, poor wound healing, and increased susceptibility to infection.

In addition, we use the word fat to describe a type of cell that helps to make up our bodies’ composition. This also is called an adipose cell. Fat cells in our body are necessary for many reasons, such as helping us to maintain a healthy body temperature, protecting vital organs, and helping deliver neural messages throughout our brain and body. One fact to remember, and which I stress with my clients, is that the fat we eat in foods does not equal fat on our bodies.

If we know that fat in foods and fat in our bodies does so many wonderful things for us, why does “Fat” have such a bad reputation? Why the fear? When did fat become bad? The answers to these questions are complex and nuanced, with roots in cultural norms, the fad diet industry, and even social media. Please remember that this idea that fat is a terrible, shameful type of food to eat or a bad, ugly part of our bodies is not founded in reason or truth. Let’s all try to think about fat a little more objectively and release ourselves from some of the intense negative emotions that we have learned to associate with this one simple word. I hope this shift will lead each of us to a feeling of peace with ourselves and a desire to fully nourish our bodies.