An Olive Oil Diet – A Diary

A diet consisting mostly of bread, olive oil, and bananas, and raw vegetables is evaluated

Originally published 2000

This is an experiment. This paper records my experience with it. The idea was to make olive oil a staple in my diet. The idea was to get rid of those darn 20 excess pounds that keep hanging around, resisting all efforts to reject them.

I had actually been successful, for a time. For several months I “eliminated carbohydrates”. In particular, I dropped bread, cakes, and cookies from my diet. On my really good days, I avoid potatoes, yams, and rice, as well. I lost those 20 pounds over several months, and felt great. But it was darn hard to stick with that program. It just wasn’t that convenient. And even though there was little desire for sweets when I was eating well, any little slip resulted in desires that were nearly impossible to curb (probably as a result of blood sugar swings). So, several months after having lost those 20 pounds, they slowly came back! So I was alert to the concept of finding another way.

This particular concept was suggested to me by several factors:

Banana/Almond Shake
A fellow at work came in with what he called a “protein shake” — he blended bananas and almonds with water, to produce a tasty mixture that he drank for lunch (a quart of it, no less). I pointed out to him that the value of the shake was actually in the essential fatty acids released from the nuts — those fatty acids that are so essential to life. (See Oils and Essential Fatty Acids and The Facts About Fats.)
Processing Time
The only problem with that shake was the time it took to make it. The almonds needed to be fresh, soaked overnight, and then rinsed and drained before being pureed. They needed to be blended in a small cup (filled with water) rather than in the big container that you normally associate with a blender. (Otherwise, the nuts bounce around and don’t get properly pulverized.) Then you used the normal container with bananas and enough water to get a smooth, liquid consistency. Despite my agreement with the concept (and it sure did taste good) I just couldn’t see myself doing all that on a regular basis.
Olive Oil
That night a nice, thin person on the Leno show said that his cholesterol test returned a big, fat zero. His secret? Toss down an ounce or two of olive oil every morning.

I was aware of its beneficial properties. (See Olive Oil.) And I knew that the French and Italians had a history of dipping bread in olive oil, and they tended to be thin and healthy, despite diets that seemingly trend the other way.

As I mentioned to my thin young friend with the banana/almond shake, your body needs the essential fatty acids to carry on every biological process it has. So, one way or another, your body will get the essential fatty acids it needs. If the quality of the food is so poor that the essential fatty acids are few and far between, then your body will scarf down every calorie it has to until it gets them — your hunger will not abate, and you will not feel satisfied, until it does.

So it made sense that providing high quality EFAs should produce a slimmer, trimmer, you. So maybe it was worth a try. After all, the major civilizations had grown where there were oils that kept at room temperature (olive oil in the Mediterranean, sesame oil in the Orient). Of course, fish had also been a staple of their diets, and that was high in EFAs, too!

A Shot of Olive Oil

My first experiment was with morning shots of olive oil. I’d take my vitamins, then chug an ounce of olive oil, top it off with a banana, and call it breakfast.

I noticed that my appetite was lowered somewhat. I wasn’t as hungry. That was a good sign. On the other hand, I found myself belching quite a bit. Maybe it was a matter of conditioning, but I didn’t seem to be digesting straight olive oil all that well.

Dipping Oil, Instead

When I mentioned my experiment to a friend (Ray Wilson) he commented that the Romans had invented bread specifically for sopping up the olive oil! It hadn’t seemed to do their civilization any harm. They marched all over the world, and were fighting trim, for the most part. Then there were the French and Italians. Maybe olive oil was the ticket to making that much-loved bread a good part of my diet.

So I started dipping bread in oil. I’m trying to do it at every meal — typically in a vinegar/oil combination. (Vinegar has wonderful properties, too. See Vinegar Notes.) In fact, I often create a very satisfying meal consisting of:

  • a couple of slices of bread
  • oil and vinegar
  • raw vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, also dipped in the oil)
  • a banana or two for desert.

The vegetables add fiber, of course. But I find the fiber is important (with respect to weight) at the next meal. In other words, the fiber slows digestion down to the point that it produces long term-energy, which reduces the hunger I would have had 3 or 4 hours later. But it doesn’t do much for my immediate energy. That makes it difficult to eat high-fiber foods when energy is low. (The anti-intuitive nature of our bodily systems, again.)

The oil, on the other hand, appears to reduce hunger almost immediately. Meanwhile, the bread/oil combination seems to be really good at providing both initial and sustained energy. I suspect that some of the bread is being digested immediately, provding that initial energy boost we look for. But the oil is slowing down the digestion of the bread, preventing the massive surge in blood sugar that those refined carbs would otherwise produce. Adding a bit of vegetable fiber to that mix improves my chances of eating well at the next meal, and the bananas (the most popular of all fruits) provide that wonderful sugary nutrition that all us primates love.

I think its important to have some fish once in a while, too. But I’m finding that with significant amounts of olive oil in my diet, the desire/need for meat is near zero. Meat was, of course, a staple of the vegetable and meat diet that had worked out so well before. While I’ve always loved the concept of vegetarianism, I’ve never been able to make it work for me. Right now, it looks as though the hunger for meat was largely a hunger for the fat it contains, and that olive oil pretty well takes care of that hunger.

Initial Effect on Weight

However, despite what seemed like a decrease in appetite, my weight (and body fat percentage) kept inching up. It took a bit of thought, but I suspect that is a good thing. For a couple of reasons:

Complex Systems
One of essential properties of really complex systems is the degree to which the results of making changes are anti-intuitive. (Not just unintuitive, but the complete opposite of what you expect, and of the initial results you get.) Jay Forrester and Von Bertalanffy made these observations in the 70’s. Many complex systems (economies, for example) exhibit this behavior. In the short run, you get the results you expect, but in the long run other forces take over which completely reverse the effects, and then some. We see this with dieting. At first, you lose weight. But the difficulty of doing it, couple with the bodily adjustments that take place during the diet, combine to make you regain the original weight and more, over the long run. So perhaps gaining weight (and body fat) was a good thing. (Let’s be positive, here!)
Understanding Why
However, it would also be possible to put on weight by eating lots of bad food! So if the right food was having the wrong result (at least at first), it was important to understand why. (Both to convince myself that initial weight gain really was good, and to distinguish that weight gain from the more normal weight gain that was not likely to be reversed.)

Two possible reasons for the initial weight gain suggest themselves to me. One has to with the trans fats described in Oils and Essential Fatty Acids, and Fat Facts. If cell membrane function is impaired due to insufficient high quaility fatty acids, that makes make it more difficult to metabolize whatever you eat, so it tends to get stored as fat, rather than used as fuel. The good news, of course, is that all cells are replaced over a two-year period, so if the body is kept constantly supplied with good fats, that problem will eventually be rectified.

The second reason involves shifting the metabolism to burn fat. When the diet changes, it takes a while for the production of fat burning enzymes to catch up. When they do, weight gain should level off. (In fact, the right kind of YoYo diet might be enormously effective in weight loss. If fat intake is high most of the time, but occasionally slacks off, the metabolism might well compensate for the temporary shortfall by taking fat out of storage! However, it will probably take some carefully controlled studies to determine how long the period of high-fat intake needs to be, and how long the period of low-fat intake can afford to be.)

With any luck, then, the initial weight gain is a good sign. (Keep your fingers crossed.) If it turns out that the reasoning is correct, we can coin a slogan:

To get thin, get fat!
(Good fat, that is.)

Other Effects

To my surprise, I found recently that I went a day without coffee, and didn’t even miss it! I just hadn’t found the time to go get a cup, and didn’t experience the mid-afternoon energy drop that usually motivates me to meander down the hall. I suspect that it was the combination of bread and oil (plus a banana, and vegetables the night before).

I’ve also found that I’ve been more calm, recently. I find that the situations that normally provoke anxiety for me (stores, restaurants, walking) have lessened in their affects, and that I am a little less bothered by noise than I used to be. (A good thing. Leaf blowers tend to drive me crazy.)

I also find that I am going to sleep more easily, and waking up earlier. Of course, reducing the caffeine has something to do with that, but I noticed that effect even before I started dropping my caffeine intake.

A Continuing Saga — Week 1 (25 Dec ’00)

The experiment has only been going on for a week, now. (Started around 18/19 Dec.) Hopefully, weight gain will start to level off somewhere between 4 and 6 weeks. But in general, I feel a more “alert calm”, and my energy seems more consistent over the course of a day. The improvement in energy and the knowledge that I’m eating well motivates me to stick with the plan for a while. I plan to give it a couple of months, at least, and see what happens.

More on this story as it develops…

The Saga Continues — Week 3 (8 Jan ’01)

A little over three weeks now. Weight gain seems to be tapering off a bit, although it’s still higher than a like. The good news is, the stomach seems to be shrinking! It makes sense, when you think about it. The high-density nutrition in the oil means that I’m totally satisfied with what amounts to a bagel and a banana. The result: no stomach-stretching bouts of overeating!

I wonder how long it takes for the stomach to actually shrink a sizable amount? 3 weeks? 4 weeks? When it does, that’s going to help attain that sense of “feeling full” when eating normally, which help reduce the tendency to overeat. Very nice! An unexpected benefit of this program.

And Continues… — Week 3-1/2 (11 Jan ’01)

Went most of the day yesterday without eating. Was never really hungry, and didn’t have time, so I skipped dinner. Even when to a dance class in the evening. Started getting hungry on the way home — 10 and 1/2 hours after my last “meal”. Wow. I was working hard all day exerting mental energy in front of the computer terminal, and then exerting physical energy that night at an activity that also required mental concentration!

So it seems the enzyme-shift has taken place, and my system is actively burning fat. When it’s not in the diet, the system just happily burns reserves! Very nice. (When food is in the form of sugars, there is always that “drop” you experience when the sugar runs out, while the system goes about the business of shifting over to fat-burning. With this, plan there’s no drop!)

My “gut” tells me that going one day a week without eating is probably fine, and that two days a week (or once every 4 days) is probably fine. I think some of my fasting books said the same thing. (Joel Fuhrman’s book, Fasting and Eating for Health is a great one.) But two days of eating between fasts is probably a minimum to prevent the “starvation reflex” and subsequent rebound. Three days of eating is probably safer. Once that starvation reflex kicks in, the body starts storing fat and convserving energy. Not good! Need to avoid that.

But I’m not going to plan any fasting days. Forcing myself not to eat on a day I’m hungry is just going to set off the starvation reflex. I’ll do it the same way it happened yesterday — the way it used to happen all the time when I was kid — the way skinny people do it routinely: When I’m not hungry, and have other things to do, I just won’t eat. I’ll skip a meal from time to time. rather than planning on a “fast”.

Afterward the dancing, someone had some cranberry/tangerine juice. I tasted it, and it was too sweet! How wonderful! I’ve always envied my Ukrainian friend who could taste something and find it too sweet. I always wondered what that was like. Now I know! I figured you’d have to grow up on a diet of roots and berries to get there, but fortunately even at this late stage it’s possible to be “converted”. Happy days!

Weight gain has leveled off, too. Needless to say, I dropped some weight yesterday, but the weight had been dropping for a few days before that. At the very beginning, I gained several pounds right away. Then weight gain slowed down. Then it started slowly receding. Now, going on 3 weeks, I’m back to the weight I was at when I began. (And that had been going up for quite a while!) Can’t wait to see what happens next.

One result of this eating plan is that I’m finding it impossibly easy to eat vegetarian. I’m not exclusively vegetarian, because I’m not trying to be a vegetarian. I’m just don’t have any cravings or feelings of unsatisfied hunger. So I’ve been skipping the sandwiches and fast foods — after all, it’s not really a problem if I wait another hour or two before getting something to eat!

The day before yesterday, I was at a restaurant, and ordered a bowl of barley soup with a dish of olive oil to dip the bread in. Heck of a meal! Very satisfying. I’ve had soup and salad before, but always left hungry! But this was perfect. The soup made a nice addition to the bread and oil, filling in any tiny gaps that the bread and oil might have missed. The flavorful broth slaked my thirst, and was healthier than anything else that I could have had — better than anything with flavor, at any rate. I still had water but, wonderful as it is, it’s a little light in the flavor department.

And if there’s a bit of meat in the soup, hey, that’s fine. Like I said, I’m not trying to be a vegetarian. It’s just turning out that way. I’m especially looking forward to a bit of fish now and again. When I started to get hungry yesterday, it sounded really good — probably a bodily recognition of good fat! But the nice thing about soup is that meat is used for flavor, more than substance. So the amounts of meat in soup are more like you find them in a traditional oriental meal — a source of flavor — rather being the centerpiece as it is in most Western meals.

Then, too, soup is high in nutrition. The broth contains many nutrients from the meat and vegetables. One study found cooked vegetables to be more nutritious, in some ways, because the cooking process made the nutrients more “bio-available” (more absorb-able) — the minerals, in particular. Of course, living enzymes are only going to be in the raw food, so a combination is best. That’s why “soup and salad” is so healthy, I guess. But I never found that to be a satisfying meal. Not until I found the bread and oil diet, that is.

Another interesting tip came from a magazine article. It said to try not to eat 3 hours before bedtime — it increases the chances that you’ll wake up hungry and have a good breakfast, giving you the energy to tackle projects that will burn energy throughout the day. Interestingly, if you figure that on average, people sleep 8 hours or so, and that it takes an hour or so of getting up, getting ready, and making breakfast before you eat, that amounts to a 12-hour fast. A daily 12-hour fast that coincides with your sleep period also happens to be recommended by Ayurveda/Yoga/India principles. Their plan is wait a few hours after rising before you eat, but the end-result would appear to be the same! (I’ve been doing that pretty regularly for a while now. But until I got my system converted to fat-burning mode, it didn’t seem to help weight-gain much. On the other hand, I’ve never really been fat! I got pretty paunchy there for a while, and I’ve had from 20 to 25 excess pounds lingering around for a while now (on a 6’1″, that’s not too bad), so maybe it was helpful, after all. With a fat-burning metabolism, though, it’s got to be even better!

Week 4 — 15 Jan ’01

Found a wonderful “Dipping Olive Oil” made in Italy and imported by Liberty Richter in Saddle Brook, NJ under their “International Collection” label. The ingredients panel says: “olive oil, balsalmic vinegar, dried basil, /Templates/health.dwts of basil, pepper, and garlic”. For more on why that’s so healthy, see The Importance of Olive Oil, Vinegar Notes, and Garlic and Onions in What Makes Kimchi so Healthy?.

Weight has been stable for several days — right at the point where I started. But energy levels are very different. I go 4, 5, or 6 hours without thinking of food, and I’m productive during that time. It’s a big difference. The mid-afternoon slump I used to experience on a regular basis has pretty well vanished.

Week 5 — 20 Jan ’01

For some reason, the diet stopped appealing to me, and I terminated the experiment. Weight immediately shot back up, of course. But some major lessons were learned.

The reason for terminating that diest was that it wasn’t satisfying my hunger anymore — probably due to the high-carb content once I added bread back into the mix. Bread is so much easier to find, that the vegetable content of the diet dropped off almost immediately, which no doubt accounted for the returning hunger.

However, despite it’s long-term ineffectiveness for weight loss, the diet taught me several important lessons:

Olive Oil == Energy
One of the advantages to increasing the oil content in my diet was increased energy levels. We need, and absolutely must have, the right oils.
Olive Oil == Reduced Snacking
I found myself going 4 or 5 hours without eating. So short-chain fat like butter or a good vegetable oil like olive oil or sesame seed oil is essential to cut out cravings.
Meat is Avoidable
Clearly, it is the fat content in meat that makes it so desirable. With good quality oils in the diet, the desire for meat was rare. So for this reason and those above, keeping olive oil in the diet is a good thing.
Vegetables are Key
The one weight loss regimen that really worked well was the meat and vegetables, little or no carbs, eating plan. It worked for several months, at least. (Until, once again, going to back to a “normal” eating plan made the weight shoot right back up again.) The common factor in both successful diets was the high levels of vegetables. The fiber satisfies hunber for long periods, and makes it easy to resist the wrong kinds of foods.
The Right Combination Should Work
So, given that oil makes meat avoidable, the right combination of oils and vegetables should be remarkably effective in achieving healthy weight levels. (At this point, I have no idea what that combination would be. But I’ll keep my eyes open.)
Our Toxic Food Environment is Full of Temptation
If there is one message that comes through loud and clear, it is that the “food” producing conglomerates (who also own the tobacco companies, I believe) have no ethical qualms about selling products that produce short-term satisfaction, regardless of their long term effects — especially if those products have a long shelf-life! (See The Facts About Fats.) On both diets, the hardest part was finding things to eat!
Boycott Partially Hydrogenated Oils!
If you do only one thing for your health, it should be to drop partially hydrogenated oils from your diet. You’ll find them on the ingredients list of many baked goods and artifical dary products, because their butter-like consistency gives them flavor, and they are cheap. But, like cigarettes, they contain deadly by-products. It is clear that commercial industries care nothing about health. They are committed only to profit. They will gladly tell you how many good things they do for your health — but they only do those things that you demand as a consumer. If you boycott foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils, they will begin disappearing from the shelves, and advertisers will proudly proclaim that their products don’t contain them. But until you initiate that boycott, your health will suffer, as will the health of everyone around you. Adding the right oils made such a difference in energy and fitness, that it became clear to me how important it is to avoid the wrong ones. (For more information, see Boycott Hydrogenation!)

Continued… See: The Latest Plan.

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