"Full-fat cheese, nuts, nut butter, olive oil-rich spreads and sauces — these can be secret weapons that help you reach a healthy weight without hunger,” insists David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist and researcher at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. After a massive analysis that included more than 68,000 dieters and dozens of breakthrough studies, Dr. Ludwig has no doubt that “high-fat diets lead to greater fat loss. We do still need definitive longer-term studies, but so far, high-fat diets have proven consistently superior to every low-fat diet they’ve ever been compared to.” Ludwig even switched to a high-fat diet himself. “Within one day, suddenly you have this feeling that your body wants to be thinner,” he recalls. “Your energy surges and your stomach feels warm and happy for hours. I was 20 pounds lighter in four months even though I ate as much as I wanted.”
Now, Ludwig — often called an “obesity warrior” — is on a mission to help others get lean. And folks following the plan in his book Always Hungry? ($11.59, Amazon) tell us he makes it easy to shed 25, 50, and even 75 pounds or more. How much will you lose? Here’s how to find out.
High-Fat Diet Plan
Ludwig recommends beginners get about 50 percent of their calories from fat, 25 percent from protein, and 25 percent from nutrient-dense carbs. But don’t stress over diet math. At a typical sitting, start with a base of four to six ounces of protein plus unlimited non-starchy vegetables. If your protein source is lean, include up to two tablespoons of oil, three tablespoons of nuts, or four tablespoons of dressing/sauce with your meal. (If your protein is already rich in fat — such as eggs or marbled meat — go easier on added fat.) At main sittings, you should also include half a cup of beans or one cup of non-tropical fruit. Snack up to twice a day on a fat-rich food plus some veggies or protein.
Lose Weight on the High-Fat Diet
Both a typical American diet and a typical weight-loss diet “can be like Miracle-Gro for our fat cells,” notes Ludwig. “This is mainly because all the carbs we eat, especially the processed carbs, keep levels of the hormone insulin high. And chronically high insulin sends our fat cells into calorie-storage overdrive.”
Ludwig explains that overstimulated fat cells take on calories so quickly, they actually steal calories that the rest of the body needs to function optimally — so our brains signal us to eat more even as our waistlines expand. Ludwig’s solution is to replace some of the carbs we’d typically eat with healthy fat, since dietary fat is the only nutrient that triggers little or no insulin release. Fat cells will stop stockpiling calories, “and suddenly the brain senses there is more fuel available for the rest of the body. So it turns off hunger and speeds up metabolism,” explains Ludwig. “You begin to lose weight with your body’s full cooperation.”
High-Fat Diet for Weight Loss: How Quickly You Lose
Some women shed a quick 10 to 12 pounds, “but for the first few weeks, please don’t focus on the scale,” urges Ludwig. “The initial goal is to calm overactive fat cells. As you do, hunger decreases quickly and metabolism increases gradually.” Other diets are so restrictive, the body fights back, increasing hunger, intensifying cravings and slowing metabolism. On Ludwig’s plan, you eventually overtake dieters struggling to cut a lot of calories or carbs. “Be patient. We want this to be your last diet. Our aim is maximum benefits with minimum deprivation.”
The first two days on Ludwig’s plan, Denise Brown yearned for her normal foods. Then came day three. “I suddenly wasn’t hungry. It felt like freedom,” says the Pennsylvania mom, 42. “I never worried about portions, I just ate less because I was so full. I lost 50 pounds in six months!” Florida grandmother Suzi Koster, 66, also raves. “On every other diet, I wanted more, more, more. Now I eat full-fat yogurt with almonds, and it holds me for six hours,” marvels the 73-pounds-slimmer Suzi. “I’m finally satisfied — and I’m amazed by how much delicious food I eat while still losing weight. It has been a life-changing gift.”
“I hated the ‘hangry’ feeling I had on every other diet I’ve ever tried,” recalls Jami Fassett, 37. Luckily, she read about Ludwig’s plan and gave it a go. “It lets me eat as much as my body needs — so if I’m hungry, I eat. I never feel deprived either, because sugar no longer calls my name.” Jami has lost 62 pounds with ease. Even her husband has dropped 25 pounds. “I have so much energy now. I’m living my life while the pounds melt away. It’s incredible.”
Jami’s best tip: Fix it fast. “Cook up eggs with some leftover veggies and cheese for a fast, delicious dinner.”
Hunger-Free Weight Loss on the High-Fat Diet
Our nutrition team used guidelines from Always Hungry? and the new cookbook Always Delicious ($19.04, Amazon) to create these zero-hunger menus for you to try. You’re encouraged to season meals to your liking with unlimited herbs, spices, vinegar, mustard, and lemon juice. For best results during your first two weeks, avoid sweeteners (natural or artificial) except for a daily serving of dark chocolate. While using this plan, be sure to drink plenty of water. Coffee and tea are also good choices, and you can add cream if you like. As always, get a doctor’s okay to try any new plan.
Choose One Daily
Option 1: Spinach and Cheddar Scramble: 2 eggs scrambled in 1 tsp. olive oil with 3 Tbsp. shredded cheddar cheese and baby spinach to taste. 1 cup fruit, 1/2 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt.
Option 2: Cherry-Chocolate Shake: In blender, blitz 1/2 cup frozen dark cherries, 3/4 cup whole milk, 1/4 cup nuts, 1 serving unsweetened protein powder, 1 Tbsp. heavy cream, 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract.
Lunch & Dinner
Choose One at Each Sitting
Option 1: Cobb Salad: 1 sliced hard-boiled egg, 1/2 cup cooked kidney beans, 1 slice crumbled turkey bacon, 2 oz. chicken, 1/2 tomato, 1 Tbsp. blue cheese over unlimited lettuce with 2 Tbsp. no-sugar-added vinaigrette.
Option 2: 4 oz. lean deli meat rolled around pickles, celery and/or carrot sticks; 2 Tbsp. sugar-free dressing for dipping. 1 cup low-sodium black bean soup topped with unlimited diced onion and bell pepper, and 2 Tbsp. sour cream or shredded cheese.
Option 3: Easy Burrito Bowl: Shred 4 oz. of cooked chicken breast or lean beef and warm in a pan with a 1/2 cup of kidney beans and a pinch taco seasoning. Serve over unlimited lettuce, tomato, onion, bell pepper, cilantro and tomato topped with 1 oz. cheese and 2 Tbsp. each of sour cream and guacamole.
Option 4: Easy Salmon Bake: On sheet pan, toss unlimited sliced vegetables (such as broccoli and yellow squash) with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Rub 1 salmon fillet with 1 tsp. olive oil and place on top of veggies. Season with salt, pepper and herbs to taste. Bake 400 degrees Fahrenheit until veggies are tender, 20-30 minutes.
Blueberry Freeze: In blender, blitz 1 cup frozen blueberries with 1 Tbsp. heavy cream.
Option 5: 1 serving Eggplant Parmesan, large mixed salad, and 2 Tbsp. dressing. 1 cup non-tropical fruit.
Choose up to two daily.
Option 1: 1/2 cup full-fat Greek yogurt with 2 Tbsp. toasted almonds
Option 2: 1-2 oz. roasted nuts or cheese and sliced veggies
Option 3: 1/3 cup guacamole with unlimited veggies
Option 4: 1 oz. 70-percent dark chocolate
Dr. Ludwig's Eggplant Parmesan Recipe
- 1 lb. eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
- 4 tsp. olive oil
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 14-16 oz. extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed with towel
- Black pepper
- 1 cup grated mozzarella
- 1 cup ricotta
- 2 cups no-sugar-added marinara sauce
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 large zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush eggplant with oil and arrange in a single layer on baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt, roast until tender, 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven. Leave oven on.
- Meanwhile, crumble tofu in a large bowl with 1/2 tsp. salt and dash black pepper. Stir in mozzarella and ricotta until well combined.
- Spread 3/4 cup marinara in a 9x12-inch pan. Top with half the basil, then half the eggplant, half the zucchini, and half the mozzarella mixture. Repeat. Top with remaining marinara and Parmesan.
- Bake until eggplant is soft and casserole is bubbling, about 30 minutes.
Easy High-Fat Diet Meals
A basic meal includes 4-6 oz. protein, unlimited non-starchy vegetables and up to two servings of fat (more if you choose lean protein, less if you choose fattier protein). A serving of fat is 1 Tbsp. of oil or butter; 1 1/2 Tbsp. of nuts; 2 Tbsp. of dressing, sour cream, or a rich sauce; or 1/4 avocado. Also, be sure to include 1/2 cup of beans, 1 cup of bean soup, or 1 cup of non-tropical fruit at each main meal. After two weeks, you can opt for 1/2 cup of starchy vegetables or whole grains in place of beans/fruit. You can also begin enjoying up to 6 tsp. of natural sweeteners and a glass of wine daily.
Isn’t saturated fat bad for me?
“The latest findings tell us saturated fat is not public health enemy number one as we were told for many years — but it’s not a health food, either,” cautions Ludwig. “Saturated fat in whole food” — including cheese and nitrate-free bacon — ”is completely fine.” For added fat, a few servings of butter a week is also fine. “But you still want to emphasize olive oil.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.