The same clients that will tell me “I love carbs, I eat heaps of carbs” when we first start working together are often also the clients who later ask “how do I get my carbs up and my fats down? I didn’t know I ate so much fat!”
There is a common misconception of how much fat is in foods. When people misunderstand fat content, they also over- or underestimate calories in food. Carbs are often unfairly blamed for extra calories in the diet. And more often than not it’s the combination of fats and carbs that make up the calorie-dense foods we love to overeat. Most Calories come from fats rather than carbs. This is a lightbulb moment people don’t have until they track their food.
This is further confused because people focus on eating “healthy” —a valiant goal. Still, many of these “healthy” foods are higher in calories than you might think. Most of the time it’s because these “healthy” foods are quite fatty. Avocado, Salmon and nuts are immensely nutritious (meaning they’re packed with micronutrients), but the very fats that make them “good for you” mean they are also high in calories. Moderation of these foods is a concept that many people struggle with. The idea that one can eat unlimited quantities of foods that are “healthy” and must only limit “unhealthy” foods is insufficient and misguided.
Let’s clarify: there’s nothing wrong with fat. Fats are an important (required) inclusion in your diet. But due to their relatively high calorie density (9 Calories per gram vs 4 Calories per gram for protein and carbs) means fat can blow your calories out of the water. If you’re struggling to hit your macros, the following are my first-line approaches to reducing unnecessary fats.
Change your fat target.
In a previous article I talked about how you can think about setting up your fat (and therefore carbohydrate) targets. It’s possible that you were just a bit ambitious with how low you set your fats. Consider whether you’re in a category of people who will really stand to benefit from a high carb target, or whether you’ll be just fine if you drop it a little to give yourself space for fat. If you’re not focusing on performance for sport, or your activity just isn’t that high (3 or fewer hours per week spent exercising), there’s probably no need for you to chase a super high carb intake. So just go change your fat target in MyFitnessPal to a bigger number and drop the carb percentage. If you don’t notice a difference in how you feel when training, then there’s probably no solid reason to chase a high carbohydrate target.
Swap some higher-fat dairy options for low-fat.
Milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, hard cheese — all of these can be found in higher— or lower-fat varieties. While there’s nothing wrong with consuming the full-fat versions of these foods, it’s a pretty easy swap to buy lite milk rather than whole milk. This can save quite a few grams of fat if you’re a regular consumer of dairy. Greek yogurt or skyr are also usually lower-fat than regular yogurt, and are higher in protein too.
Consider whether you’re going nuts on nuts.
Nuts are a wonderful inclusion in the diet. That said, I fairly regularly see people eating several servings in a day. They may be having a really large portion once a day (e.g. a large handful of nuts) or they may be doubling up (e.g. peanut butter toast in the morning and a handful of almonds in the afternoon). These aren’t unhealthy behaviours, but they do contribute to a higher intake of fat.
Check your proteins for unnecessary fats.
Bacon, scotch fillet, skin-on chicken thigh, nigiri, beef mince, even tofu — are all relatively high fat sources of protein. Swapping these out for leaner meats, shoulder bacon, white fish, skinless chicken breast, fat-reduced mince, and TVP can help to reduce the fats that come withwith your protein sources.
Look at your cooking staples.
Cooking will likely contain oil, but excess amounts of fat in cooking are rarely helpful. Consider whether you can decrease the total amount of fat you cook with in the form of butter, oil (yes this includes coconut and olive oil!), coconut cream or milk. Reduce the quantities of added cheese or sauces into dishes that don’t need them. Swap or reduce spreads and fat on other staples, like mayonnaise, margarine, and even avocado. Like I said before - avocado is a “healthy” food, but it’s also relatively calorie-dense. So while it’s a great inclusion in the diet, moderating avocado consumption is still important if you find it difficult to hit fat targets.
Start early in the day.
Many breakfast options like muesli are relatively high fat because they’re usually full of nuts or coconut shavings. Looking for lower-fat options like Weetbix or oats with frozen berries can help you to regulate your total fat intake for the day. Eggs, too, have almost as much fat as protein, so if this is a key protein source for you, consider whether you can use a whole egg and egg white combination to alter the macros to drop out some fats. Paleo or keto bread options are also high-fat, so if you don’t do well on bread made from wheat, consider whether you can swap the seed toast for something a little less dense, like a gluten-free bread or grain cracker.
Dial down the toppings.
If you’re sprinkling loads of seeds on your salads, cacao and coconut flakes on your oatmeal, guac on your tacos, mayo on your sandwich, and sour cream on your potatoes, you’re adding fat and therefore calories to your meal. Some of these might be great inclusions, or necessary for flavour and enjoyment, but think about how much you really need to include to make your food palatable and reduce where you can.
None of the above is intended to demonize fat consumption. Fats are a requirement for basic health. I don’t hate fats. But in many cases, an excess intake of fat is one of the things contributing to people’s unintentional overeating, or higher-than-necessary calorie intakes. For those that are struggling to hit their fat targets when tracking their macros, trying some of the above suggestions could help keep things in check with minimal effort.