Eating Fat vs Burning Stored Body Fat?

by (987) Updated April 09, 2013 at 12:54 PM Created October 11, 2012 at 4:37 PM

I know eating fat is an important part of a healthy diet, and I am not at all fat-phobic when it comes to diet.

I am somewhat overweight, however, and I find I lose weight fastest when I cut the fat out of my diet (which reduces my overall calories).

This got me thinking about the difference between eating fat (which the body uses for energy) and burning stored body fat. Is there a significant difference in the way the body metabolizes each? Or, if I cut the fat out of my diet to reduce calories and my body uses its stored fat to make up the energy difference, is that essentially the same if I were eating fat and using that for energy? If not, what are the differences?

Don't get me wrong... I'm not suggesting that a low fat diet is healthy for people who are at or even near an ideal body weight. But for people carrying around a large portion of extra fat on their belly, doesn't it make sense to basically eliminate fat from the diet to prompt the body to tap into its own fat reserves?

If there is no essential difference between eating fat and using stored body fat for energy, I would think I could and should eat a VERY low fat diet, prompting my body to metabolize body fat for energy...

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9 Replies

14507 · October 11, 2012 at 5:42 PM

There is wide spread confusion among the paleo community about what it means to be a fat burner. You can be a fat burner because what you ate was primarily composed of fat, or because you are in a calorie deficit and creating an environment in which fatty acids are liberated. You're not metabolically healthy if you cannot access your fat reserves for energy. If you are drinking bullet proof all day long and loading on the butter, MCTs, coconut oil, etc for energy, you're simply not allowing yourself to become metabolically fit. If you're healthy, you should be able to get the energy without the coffee, butter, oil, etc, and perform in a calorie restricted environment.

Point being, drinking bulletproof is half-assing it big time. You need to go without food to burn body fat and be a hard fat burner in that sense of the word. You can eat 10,000 calories of butter a day and be a soft fat burner in that sense of the word.

I'm sure you knew this already though, but have just been lulled to sleep by some clever marketing from the likes of Sisson and Nikoley. You can wake up now though.

20762 · October 11, 2012 at 6:44 PM

Don't view it as an either-or situation: dietary fat vs body fat. There is always fat going into and coming out of fat cells. When insulin is high, more will go in than come out, when insulin is low more will come out than go in (roughly speaking). Think of it like a restaurant. People are always coming in and going out. If the food is especially good, more may come in so the restaurant gets more full. If the food is bad more will leave so it becomes empty. But there are sill people going in and coming out. The count of people is probably pretty static but the exact people in the restaurant is different.

Why do I bring this up? There will be fat (technically triglycerides) floating around in your blood, that fat can be burnt or stored or used for something else (like building cell walls, making neurons, etc.) Your body doesn't care where it came from, body fat or dietary fat. It'll just use it.

Granted if you're eating less fat then the source of that fat is your body and you'll lose weight which appears to be "burning fat". And that's a generally good thing. However, remember the fat you are IS the fat you ate. What does that mean? Well, you body doesn't do to much to change the nature of the fat you eat, so if you need it for something useful (like building cell walls or neurons, for example) then your body uses the fat floating around for that. If you eat a SAD diet of high N-6 PUFA and trans-fats, then you become high in N-^ PUFA and trans-fat. Long story there about brittle cell walls, brain problems, etc, but I'll skip that.

So if you eat good fats while you're trying to lose weight, you'll have the opportunity for your body to swap out the bad fats for the good fats in the structural stuff. It'll probably mean slower fat loss since you are supplying yourself with fuel rather than using it all from your body. But I like the idea of repairing by eating good fats rather than starving and not giving your body any new good building blocks to work with.

I guess the summary is that the naive analysis is right: eat less fat to burn your own fat, but it may not be the best solution and you may want to give your body good building blocks to work with.

7362 · October 11, 2012 at 8:08 PM

Personally, I have always come to it from the perspective that I need to still burn more calories than I consume, and that more fat is simply more satisfying when doing this. I can burn through 2000 calories of carbs like it's nothing, and still feel hungry. If I eat 800 calories of fat, I'll feel great and not hungry. I'll still burn fat, because I take in 1200 calories and burn way more each day walking and exercising. All those numbers are just examples, btw.

Certainly, if you eat enough fat that your body doesn't NEED to go to your stores, yeah, it's probably not going to bother.

2711 · October 11, 2012 at 5:13 PM

One significant difference between eating fat and using stored fat is body fat has no fat soluable vitamins stored in it. So even if restricting dietary fat in order to burn body fat, its important to make sure you get enough fat intake to get the minimum required micronutrients. Jaminet has a good blog on how to eat for weight loss that outlines this.

723 · January 31, 2013 at 12:24 AM

The whole "high-fat" idea of paleo doesn't mean eat fat until you can't move. It means that a greater percentage of your daily caloric needs should come from fat. You can't eat thousands and thousands of calories worth of fat and expect to burn your body's stored fat.

By eating a greater percentage of your daily caloric needs from fat, your blood sugar will be more stable since fat doesn't cause a spike in insulin.

All in all, you don't need to nit-pick as much about your calories as someone trying to lose weight while on a low-fat high-carb blood sugar roller coaster. However, you still need to be mindful of your caloric intake if you want to burn body fat. If you grossly exceed your daily needs, you won't burn body fat.

3180 · October 11, 2012 at 7:51 PM


Some brave souls are bucking all paleo CW and pigging out of potatoes and losing weight fast! Apparently the act of eating high carb/low fat potatoes, and nothing else, puts you at a huge calorie deficit with just enough exdogenous fat and protein to tap straight into your fat stores.

I've done this myself twice now, several weeks apart, and lost an average of .5 to 1 pound per day which did not rebound after resuming normal eating.

Fat Loss Tip of the Day: Eat only potatoes for 7-14 days and you will lose fat fast.

5814 · April 09, 2013 at 12:54 PM

Perfect Health Diet actually recommends exactly what you said: reducing fat intake to allow your body to burn stored fat. More info here:


11157 · October 11, 2012 at 4:53 PM

I don't think that there is any difference between metabolising dietary fat, stored body fat, or excess carbohydrate that has been turned into fat via de novo lipogenesis (Jaminet reckons this starts to happen above 160g of carb a day for most people).

The essential difference between eating fat, and starving yourself so that you burn fat is that the latter doesn't satisfy your appetite. If you can't regulate your appetite, then you'll end up filling the calorie difference with carbs and protein instead of fat, which will spike your insulin and make you less effective and metabolising any fat.

If you want to burn gasoline, don't fill your tank up with diesel.

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