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What Does it Mean if You are Craving Fat?

There may be a variety of explanations as to why someone may be craving fat that are not easy to sort out. Unlike sugar, grains, and carbs, which should just be eliminated from the diet to overcome cravings, that is not usually the case when it comes to fat.

On one hand, having a moderate amount of fat in the diet is absolutely crucial for overcoming cravings for sugar and carbs or any other addictive substance, because fat is needed for proper neurotransmitter function and a healthy brain and it is vital for the production of all your hormones that regulate the endocrine system and keeping blood sugar stable. Fat is also vital for energy, the immune system and many other organs and systems.

Fat and the Brain

The brain is about 60 percent fat and, therefore, needs fat in the diet for a variety of vital functions. First and foremost, it is essential for proper neurotransmission, meaning the movement of neurotransmitters from neuron to neuron. Fat is also needed to maintain flexibility in cell membranes and in the formation of new brain cells (neurons) and to repair damaged ones. Fat is also needed to form myelin, which is the protective sheath around a portion of certain neurons called the axon, which the neurotransmitter travels through. Myelin also increases the speed and strength of transmission. If there is not enough fat in the diet, then these neurochemicals are not going to be transmitting information properly.

However, fat stimulates the neurotransmitters dopamine and endorphins, and high doses of “concentrated” sources of fat can actually cause overstimulation that impacts the brain in a similar manner as drugs and alcohol. Therefore, “concentrated” sources of fat can be addictive, which results in cravings and compulsive overeating in “some people” and may contribute to the addiction cycle.

The key word here is “concentrated.” When fat is not concentrated, then it does not have an overstimulating effect. Concentrated sources of fat include butter, ghee, cream, coconut butter, coconut cream, coconut flakes, coconut oil, cheese, and some cuts of high fat meat. Nuts can be a trigger for some people too.

If the concentrated source of fat is combined with a concentrated source of sugar, then you basically create a very potent addictive drug and the cravings will be even more intense. Because sugar also overstimulates dopamine and endorphins, as well as GABA and serotonin. The food industry is well aware of this secret weapon and they have found that a 50//50 combination of fat and sugar will be simply irresistible because of the way that it affects the brain.

However, if you eliminate fat from your diet, you will end up with insatiable cravings as well as your brain and body will be lacking in this vital nutrient. Therefore, each person must find a healthy balance with fat and what works for one person may not work for another. You need to include enough fat in your diet that you feel satiated, but not so much that it triggers cravings.

Not everyone will be “triggered” by fat. This is typically only a problem in people who currently have or had some type of addiction or overeating issue in the past. So, do not be afraid of fat; eat it in moderation. But, be cautious with “concentrated” sources of fat. Observe how you respond to the “concentrated” sources and moderate them if they trigger you to binge. Some people may need to eliminate the concentrated sources, if uncontrollable binging is set into action.

Fat Adapted

On the other hand, when you are on a low-carb Paleo diet, your body will return to its normal state of running on fat instead of glucose. Therefore, you will likely notice that your need for fat will increase, so you may be craving fat because your body needs more. In this case, increasing fat in the diet would be necessary.

After you have been eating Paleo for a while, you will notice that when you get hungry, you are drawn to fatty foods instead of carbohydrates. This is a good thing; it indicates your body is running on fat as it should – known as fat-adapted. This is especially true if you eat a ketogenic Paleo diet (less than 50 grams of carbs per day). There is a much greater need for fat when one eats ketogenic.

For example, after I had been eating ketogenic for about eight or nine months and had burnt off most of my excess body fat, I noticed that I sometimes craved fat around meal time. At first I was alarmed, because I didn’t understand what was happening. As a recovered food addict and compulsive overeater myself, this concerned me. However, these were not the same kind of uncontrollable cravings I used to get with sugar. It is more like hunger; it only occurs around meal time when I am hungry and when I eat the fat, then the craving is satiated. I soon learned that this was a normal response to being in ketosis.

However, I do sometimes notice a little “tug” with “concentrated” sources of fat to eat more than I should. I have found that I can control this “tug” by simply being aware that I have a tug with concentrated fat and eating those foods more mindfully and restricted. If I eat too lean, then I start having more intense cravings for fat; which indicates I’m not consuming enough.

Fatty Acid Deficiencies

Additionally, if you have a fatty acid deficiency, which is very common in people who are new to the Paleo diet because they were not eating enough animal protein previously, you may crave fat as well. Again, in this case, then consuming more would be needed to address the deficiency.

Low in Dopamine and Endorphins

Fat cravings can also be an indication of an endorphin or dopamine deficiency (also very common in the food addicted and compulsive overeater); which may need to be corrected with supplementation. Since fat stimulates endorphins and dopamine, if endorphin and dopamine levels are low, you may be unconsciously drawn to it for the stimulation.

Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue can also result in a craving for fat, because cholesterol is needed to make cortisol and all other hormones produced by the adrenal glands, and fat is a source of energy that is badly needed when adrenals are weak. You may find you crave butter with weak adrenal glands because butter is a rich source of cholesterol and vitamin A. Vitamin A is needed to convert cholesterol into cortisol. Again, in this situation, then fulfilling the craving would be the right thing to do. I notice in my own life that on days when my adrenals are more stressed than others that my need for fat increases and increasing fat in my diet has played a vital role in helping restore my adrenal glands ability to make cortisol after a severe adrenal crash.

Intestinal Parasites

Some parasites like fat as a food source, so if you have intestinal parasites they may consume your fat, which results in cravings to replenish what they have stolen.

Eat the Right Kinds of Fat

So, as you can see, craving fat is not always a bad thing. In most cases, fat cravings should be fed, but a craving for sugar and carbs should be fed fat and protein.

However, it is vital that you are consuming the right kinds of fats. Artificial trans fats, hydrogenated fats, partially hydrogenated fats, and partially unsaturated fats known as PUFAS like canola oil, margarine, safflower, cottonseed oil, shortening, soybean and other vegetable and seed oils should be avoided. Contrary to popular belief, you should eat plenty of saturated fat, a moderate amount of monounsaturated and a balance between omega-3 and omega-6.

Your fat should be obtained primarily from meat (beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, buffalo, etc.), fish, eggs, olives, avocados, olive oil, and avocado oil, and to a lesser extent from coconuts, nuts and seeds and their respective oils. If one does not have immune, gut, mental health, or neurological issues with dairy, then butter, ghee, and cream can also be good sources of fat, if one wants to include dairy. However, dairy can be addictive and result in cravings for some people in and of itself. Please read up on dairy to determine if it is friend or foe.

For all the reasons we just discussed, fat cravings can be tricky for some people to figure out and the reason why they exist may vary from person to person. It requires that you get in tune with your body, try to hear what it is telling you and adjust accordingly.

References

Sisson, Mark, The Primal Blueprint, Paperback. Primal Nutrition, Inc.; 2 edition 2009, 2012

Volkow, N.D., Wang, G.J., Fowler, J.S., et al. 2002. “Nonhedonic” food motivation in humans involves dopamine in the dorsal striatum and methylphenidate amplifies this effect. Synapse. 44(3): 175–180.

Drewnowski, A., Krahn, D. D., Demitrack, M. A., Nairn, K. & Gosnell, B. A. (1995) Naloxone, an opiate blocker, reduces the consumption of sweet high-fat foods in obese and lean female binge eaters. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 61:1206-1212.

Drewnowski, A., Krahn, D. D., Demitrack, M. A., Nairn, K. & Gosnell, B. A. (1992) Taste responses and preferences for sweet high-fat foods: evidence for opioid involvement. Physiol. Behav. 51:371-379.

Jennifer A. Nassera, et al. The Neural Basis of Feeding and Reward: A Tribute to Bart Hoebel. Physiology & Behavior, Volume 104, Issue 1, 25 July 2011, Pages 117–121.

Barnard, Neal, M.D. Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings. St. Martin’s Griffin 2004

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Judi Stifel March 24, 2014, 11:34 am

    This is the first authentic view I’ve ever read on the subject of fats.

    I have been craving fats of late and told my doctor about it. And he said he has also been craving fats.

    So, now I will print this article and bring it to him to read. Maybe he will also buy your books to continue his education.

    Thank you for your very thorough and generous articles to educate we who have learned to highly respect you.

  • Kristen May 1, 2015, 12:56 am

    Thank you for the I formative artical. I was just telling my husband that I have been craving animal fat like crazy!
    I have Celiac Disease, and a year ago I had non-alcohol pancreatitis so I do not eat many carbs. I also have adrenal insufficiency and currently take hydrocortisone to manage it. So all of this really makes sense with the information you have provided.
    Thank you so much,

  • Alex April 8, 2016, 7:46 pm

    Thank you for this article
    I have been what most would consider low carb but have dropped even lower lately and upped my workouts and picked up more hours at work and try so hard to stay strict with my eating during the weekdays and have been crVing butter like I could not get enough of it and have been looking up stuff all day and every other explNTion I have read did not fit but this articleL makes perfect sense thank you!

  • Sue July 21, 2017, 5:51 am

    I’m so impressed. This article is wonderful…. much more detailed than anything else i’ve read. Thank you so much! I’ve been eating low carb for about a year now, GF for about 10. All my cravings are high fat (peanut butter, butter, margarine, cheese), and I’ve been trying to figure out why. Thank you again.

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