The Fat That Can Make You Thin

By Dr. Bruce Fife, ND

Are you overweight? Have you struggled with weight-loss diets without lasting success? If so, you are one of the millions of people who have struggled to lose weight with low-fat dieting and failed. Statistics tell us that two-thirds of the people who lose weight on these diets gain it all back within one year. After five years 95 percent regain their weight—that’s an incredible 95 percent failure rate!

Chances are the reason you are overweight is because you aren’t eating enough fat. Yes, you read that correctly. The reason you may have a weight problem is because you don’t eat enough fat. We eat less fat now than ever before. In the past, people ate whole milk, butter, and eggs, and relished in the fat in meats. Everything was cooked in lard and butter. Nowadays we avoid fats like a plague. Grocery store shelves are filled to the brim with low-fat, non-fat, and low-calorie foods of every make and fashion. Restaurants, too, offer a variety of low-fat meals. Over the past 30 years fat consumption has decreased by 11 percent.1 Despite the fact that fat intake has decreased, we are heavier than ever before.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans are now overweight. Thirty-one percent are obese; this is double the percentage of two decades ago. Even our children are getting fatter. Among young people, 15 percent of those ages 6 to 19 are seriously overweight. That’s nearly 9 million, triple the number in 1980. Since the low-fat craze began in the 1970s, we have been growing bigger and bigger. Those who reduce their fat intake the most and eat the least seem to have the hardest time losing weight. Haven’t you known slender people who gorge themselves on rich, fatty foods yet never seem to gain weight? You, on the other hand, eat a low-fat lettuce salad and gain 5 pounds—or so it seems.

The simple truth is that low-fat diets don’t work—not permanently. You can lose weight on them if you starve yourself. You’re hungry and miserable the whole time. In order to keep the weight off you must continue to limit what you eat and go hungry. Few people are willing to live a life of constant discomfort. For this reason, low-fat dieting is difficult to maintain for any length of time. Consequently, most people eventually revert back to old eating habits. When they do, the weight comes back.

Research has shown that those who get an adequate amount of fat in their diets generally eat less than those who try to reduce fat intake. The less you eat, the fewer calories you consume. Getting an adequate amount of fat in the diet is essential for effective and permanent weight loss. When people get hungry soon after a meal, they tend to overeat at the next. One of the reasons why fat is necessary for successful weight loss is that it satisfies hunger, thus reducing appetite and lowering total food consumption. Fat slows down the emptying of the stomach so that you feel full longer. When you are less hungry during the day, you will cut down on snacks and eat less at mealtimes. As a result, you consume fewer calories. Even though fat contains more calories than either protein or carbohydrate, its effect on curbing appetite more than makes up for the extra calories it contains.

The appetite-suppressing effect of fat has been shown in many studies. For example, in one study, a group of women were given a mid-morning yogurt snack and then later served lunch and dinner. There were two choices of yogurt. One was regular full-fat and the other was low-fat. Each was labeled, but there was no mention of total calorie content. Each, however, contained the same number of calories. The only difference was the fat content. Participants were allowed to choose whichever one they wanted. When the women were later served lunch, those who had the high-fat yogurt ate less than those who ate the low-fat variety. The extra fat in the yogurt snack satisfied their hunger longer and encouraged them to eat less at lunch.

Researchers also wanted to learn if those who ate less at lunch would eventually make up for it at dinner. But at dinner the ones who ate the high-fat yogurt and less food at lunch didn’t eat any more than the others. They weren’t any hungrier for eating less at lunch. So at the end of the day those women who ate the high-fat yogurt ended up consuming fewer total calories than those who ate the low-fat snack.2

While all fats suppress appetite, some are much better than others as aids in weight loss. Researchers at McGill University, in Quebec, Canada, are now advocating the use of a special type of dietary fat to treat and prevent obesity. They recommend a fat rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

The vast majority of fats in our diet are composed of molecules known as long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). As the name implies, LCTs are larger in size than MCTs. The size of the fat molecule is very important because our bodies process and metabolize fats differently depending on their size. Most all the vegetable oils used in cooking and food preparation are composed entirely of LCTs. This includes corn, safflower, soybean, canola, and other typical cooking and salad oils. The only significant natural source of MCTs are found in coconut and palm kernel oils. Coconut oil is composed predominately of MCTs and their effects on the body are characterized by these fats.

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers reviewed all the published studies to date on MCTs and weight management. These studies demonstrated that diets containing MCTs result in an increase in energy, a rise in metabolism, increased burning of calories, decreased food consumption, lower body fat mass, and reduced body weight.3  Because of these effects, the authors of this study recommend using oils containing MCTs, such as coconut oil, as a means to lose excess body fat, control weight, and even treat obesity.

One of the reasons why coconut oil is effective in reducing body fat and reducing weight is because it contains fewer calories than any other fat. For this reason, it has gained the distinction of being the world’s only natural, low-calorie fat. When you use coconut oil in your food preparation, you can eat the same types of foods as you normally do yet consume fewer calories.

The fact that coconut oil contains fewer calories, however, is not the main reason it has gained a reputation as a low-calorie fat. Its advantage in weight management is due primarily to its affect on metabolism. Medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil are smaller than other fats and, therefore, digest very quickly, so quickly in fact, that the body uses them as an immediate source of fuel rather than pack them away in storage inside our fat cells. MCTs are used to produce energy much like carbohydrates and, therefore, they do not circulate in the bloodstream to the degree that other fats do. For this reason, they do not supply fat to fat cells or contribute to weight gain.

One study evaluated the body weight and fat storage for three different diets-a low-fat diet, a high-fat diet containing LCTs, and a high-fat diet containing MCTs. Calorie content in the diets were elevated to induce weight gain. The testing period lasted for 44 days. At the end of that time, the low-fat diet group had stored an average of 0.47 grams of fat per day, and the LCT group 0.48 grams/day, while the MCT group deposited only 0.19 grams of fat per day.  The MCT group had a 60 percent reduction in the amount of body fat stored as compared to the other diets.4

Because MCTs are used by the body as a source of fuel to produce energy, they have a stimulatory affect on metabolism. Studies have shown that MCTs boost metabolism, thus increasing the body’s use of calories. As a result, calories obtained from all the foods we eat are burned up at a higher rate, so that fewer remain to be packed away as body fat. This boost in metabolism remains elevated for as long as 24 hours after eating a meal containing MCTs.5 So you enjoy an increased level of energy and continue to burn calories at an accelerated rate for many hours after the meal.

This increase in metabolism also leads to a rise in body temperature. People with low thyroid function report that after using coconut oil, their body temperature rises, often to normal levels, and remains elevated for many hours. Temperatures in such people can rise 1 or 2 degrees or more depending on the amount of oil they consume.6  Those people who are overweight because of low thyroid function can utilized the metabolic stimulating action of coconut oil to help them shed excess pounds.

Another interesting feature about coconut oil is that it helps to decrease total food and calorie consumption. Coconut oil is more satisfying than other fats. When added to meals people tend to eat less food and feel fuller longer, so they don’t eat as much at the next meal.

For example, in one study women were given a drink which contained either MCTs (from coconut oil) or an oil with LCTs. Thirty minutes later, they were offered lunch in which they could choose and eat as much as they wanted. The women who had the MCT oil before the meal ate less food, and as the authors of the study stated, “significantly decreased caloric intake in the lunch.”7

In another study, a group of normal-weight men were fed a meal for breakfast differing only in the type of fat used. Later, food intakes at lunch and dinner were measured. Those eating breakfasts containing MCTs ate less at lunchtime. At dinner there was no difference. This study showed that when MCTs were eaten at one meal, hunger is forestalled for longer and less food is eaten at the next. Also important was that even though subjects ate less at lunch, they did not make up for it by eating more at diner. Total daily food intake decreased.8

Sticking to a strict weight loss diet has it challenges. No matter how hard we try, when favorite foods, especially sweets, are placed in front of our eyes, it can be too easy to succumb to temptation. Sometimes sugar cravings can come out of the blue and hit without warning. The drive to nibble on a favorite sweet can be overpowering. We know better, but the cravings can overcome sound logic and even the strongest will power. Sugar cravings have often been the downfall of many good intentions to lose weight. Here is another benefit with coconut oil. As you add coconut oil into your diet, your cravings for sugar will lessen. One of the most common comments I hear from people adding coconut oil into their daily diets is the marked decline in sugar cravings. Sugar seems to lose is grip on people. The cravings are best handled by incorporating coconut oil into your daily diet. If you do experience a “need” for sugar, eat something with coconut oil instead, the cravings will go away. It doesn’t matter what you eat—a slice of meat, cheese, cottage cheese, peanut butter, or whatever, as long as it is eaten with a spoonful of coconut oil.

Studies have shown that when oils containing MCTs are used in place of other fats in the diet, people can lose as much as 36 pounds a year even when total calorie consumption remains the same!9 Simply changing the type of oil used in food preparation can bring about a dramatic reduction in body fat and weight without changing the way you eat or the amount you consume. I see this happen all the time. When people switch from using vegetable oils to coconut oil they lose excess body fat without even dieting.

Changing the type of oil you use in meal preparation is a simple step you can take to lose weight. The results are even greater when you combine the weight-reducing effects of coconut oil with a low-carb diet. Weight loss success gest even better with a very low-carb, ketogenic diet. On a coconut oil based ketogenic diet you can eat delicious, full-flavored foods like steak, eggs, roasts, gravy, cream, and butter, as well as healthy fruits and vegetables and lose weight without suffering from hunger or feelings of depravity. For this reason, weight loss can be easy and permanent.

Where can you find the right kinds of oils and how do you use them to make weight loss effective and permanent? The answers to these questions are found in my book The Coconut Ketogenic Diet.  In this book, I outline a unique weight-loss program backed by the results of numerous studies involving coconut oil and ketogenesis and include success stories from those who have used these principles. The book describes a dietary program you can live comfortably with for the rest of your life so that the weight you lose stays off permanently. There really is no other weight-loss program like it.


  1. Heini, A.F. and Weinsier, R.L. 1997. Divergent treands in obesity and fat in patterns: the American paradox. American Journal of Medicine 102(3):259-64

  2. Rolls, B.J. and Miller, D.L. 1997. Is the low-fat message giving people a license to eat more? Journal of the American College of Nutrition 16:535.

  3. St-Onge, M.P., and Jones, P.J.H., 2002. Physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides: potential agents in the prevention of obesity. Journal of Nutrition 132(3):329-332.

  4. Crozier G. et al. 1987. Metabolic effects induced by long-term feeding of medium-chain triglyceridesd in the rat. Metabolism 36:807-814

  5. Dulloo, A.G., et al. 1996. Twenty-four-hour energy expenditure and urinary catecholamines of humans consuming low-to-moderate amounts of medium-chain triglycerides: a dose-response study in a human respiratory chamber. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. (50(3):152-8.

  6. Fife, B., 2014. The Coconut Ketogenic Diet: Supercharge Your Metabolism, Revitalize Thyroid Function, and Lose Excess Weight, Piccadilly Books, Ltd., Colorado Springs, CO.

  7. Rolls, B.J. et al. 1988. Food intake in dieters and nondieters after a liquid meal containing medium-chain triglycerides. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 48(1):66.

  8. Van Wymelbeke, V., et al. 1998. Influence of medium-chain and long-chain triacylglycerols on the control of food intake in men. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 68:226-234.

  9. St-Onge, M.P., and Jones, P.J.H., 2002. Physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides: potential agents in the prevention of obesity. Journal of Nutrition 132(3):329-332.

Bruce Fife, N.D. is the director of the Coconut Research Center and is the author of over 20 books including Coconut Cures and The Coconut Ketogenic Diet.