Coconut oil for weight loss: How to eat fat to burn fat

A fat woman becomes slim after passing through a coconut oil fat burner

When Dr. Bruce Fife said that coconut oil can burn fat and help lose weight in 2001, hardly anyone believed. But over the years, those who're willing to give coconut oil a shot have lost a significant mass of body fat after incorporating coconut oil into their diet. How does coconut oil achieve that? Very simple. It helps to lose weight by reducing your calorie intake and increasing your metabolism.

1. How coconut oil reduces your calorie intake

Did you know that coconut oil has earned its reputation as the world's only natural, low-calorie fat?

1.1   Energy value: Coconut oil vs other fats and oils

If you pick a few brands of coconut oil and calculate their energy value (calories) contained in one gram of fat, you would've gotten a range of 9 kcal give or take few percent. This has pretty much the same calorie per gram (i.e. 9 kcal/g) as animal fats and other vegetable oils.

In fact, coconut oil carries fewer calories because it contains medium-chain fatty acids that are smaller in size than the fatty acids in animal fats and other vegetable oils.

For example, MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil has an effective energy value of 6.8 kcal/g. It carries only caprylic and capric acids – the 2 medium-chain fatty acids that we can also find in coconut oil.

But because coconut oil also contains the relatively longer medium-chain lauric acid and other long-chain fatty acids such as myristic, palmitic and oleic acids etc (these fatty acids have energy values ranging from approx. 8 to 9.4 kcal/g), the overall actual energy value of coconut oil becomes roughly 8.6 kcal/g.

That's just a few percent lower than the actual energy values in animal fats and other vegetable oils. Which I think is the reason why coconut oil manufacturers simplify the caloric calculation by rounding it up to 9 kcal/g.

This makes coconut oil appear as having somewhat similar energy value as those in animal fats and other vegetable oils.

Apparently, this tiny discrepancy in energy value is not significant enough for coconut oil to get its low-calorie reputation as a fat. It actually attributes to coconut oil's inherent fat-burning characteristic that makes it well-known as a low-calorie fat.

Let me explain.

Suppose your daily calorie intake includes 500 kcal of fat coming entirely from 4 tablespoons of olive oil added to your meals over a day. (Olive oil comprises entirely long-chain triglycerides, aka LCTs.)

3 long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) joining together via a glycerol molecule form a long-chain triglyceride (LCT).

What your body does upon ingesting olive oil is that it'll first break down the LCTs in the oil into smaller individual fatty acids (LCFAs) in your small intestine. It then absorbs the LCFAs through the intestinal wall. And from there, reassembles them into LCTs again and package them together with phospholipids, cholesterol and proteins into chylomicrons.

Next, chylomicrons enter your bloodstream through your lymphatic system. (Check out Digestion of long-chain triglycerides for full illustration.)

If your body does not use the LCFAs in the bloodstream immediately to fuel your metabolic and physical activities because it still has sufficient carbohydrates (derived from food) on tap, the LCFAs will eventually end up in your fat cells.

Our body uses carbohydrate (carb) as the primary energy source and LCFA as secondary energy source. That's because carb converts to energy very much faster than LCFA. So, when there is sufficient carb, LCFA will normally be shoved into reserves.

Unless you raise your physical activity to the point where your body needs to burn more calories to fuel the activity, your body fat remains "untouchable". In other words, the fat you eat is literally the fat you wear, even if the fat you consume comes from the health-promoting olive oil.

But when you eat coconut oil instead of olive oil, you'll dramatically reduce your fat deposition because our body metabolizes the fats in coconut oil very differently.

How different?

1.2   Coconut oil's secret fat-burners

Unlike olive oil (and most other dietary oils, as well as animal fats) that composes entirely of LCFAs, coconut oil contains about 50–64% medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are smaller in size.

Coconut oil also contains less than 1% of short-chain fatty acids, which are even smaller in size. But due to their insignificant contribution to weight loss, we'll focus mainly on medium-chain fatty acids.

Because of their smaller size that facilitates quick digestion, our body prefers to use them as immediate energy source, just as it does to carb. Our body shuttles them directly to the liver for energy production and to cells for fueling metabolic activities after they're broken down from medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in our small intestine, rather than packing them away as body fat reserves like LCFAs.

That means, MCFAs do not practically contribute to fat gain and cause weight gain as a result.

Assuming the same 500 kcal daily fat intake but this time around coming entirely from coconut oil. Now, you have 50–64% less calorie stashed in your fat stores. That means, you cut your fat gain by 250–320 kcal (50-64%) up front.

That's a massive reduction of effective daily calorie intake. Isn't that amazing?

That's not all. According to numerous studies and researches, MCFA encourages the burning of LCFA too. So chances are, before the remaining LCFAs (about 35%) from coconut oil land in your fat stores through the bloodstream, they could have already been utilized and burned off as fuel too, leaving even lesser contribution to your body fat.

Dr. Julian Whitaker, a well-known authority on nutrition and health says, "LCTs are like heavy wet logs that you put on a small campfire. Keep adding the logs, and soon you have more logs than fire. MCTs are like rolled-up newspaper soaked in gasoline. They not only burn brightly, but will burn up the wet logs as well" (Murray, 1996).

LCT (long-chain triglyceride) is made up of various types and sizes of LCFAs. Animal fats and most vegetable oils contain 99% or 100% LCTs. MCT generally refers to oil that contains entirely of MCFAs.

I'm not finished yet.

1.3   The hidden fat loss trait in coconut oil

All dietary fats induce appetite-suppressing hormones. That explains why you feel more easily satisfied with fat added to your diet. As dietary fat also delays the emptying of stomach, you get to forestall hunger longer.

In addition to these "special features" that all dietary fats possess, MCFA creates a more satisfying experience and thus, makes you feel full even longer than any other dietary fats.

Here's a study that proves the point:

In a group of women, some were fed MCT drink while the rest LCT drink. 30 minutes after the drink they were allowed to choose and eat as much as they wanted for their lunch. Those who had the MCT drink before the meal ate lesser than those who took the LCT drink.

If you're not convinced, another study involving a group of normal-weight men shows the same result. Men who took breakfast that contains MCT ate less at lunch. What's even more encouraging is that these men who ate less at lunch did not make up for the lower calorie intake at lunch by eating more at dinner. Why?

That's because MCFAs (after broken down from MCT) can enter cells with absolute ease to supply quick energy. When these cells feel satisfied, your body will respond by slowing down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream (i.e. stabilizing your blood glucose levels). This enables a steadier and longer supply of energy to fuel your cells and keep you satisfied longer.

When your blood glucose levels stabilize and you feel full longer, you won't crave sugar and feel hungry easily. These could also help to curb your binge eating, resulting in overall lower calorie intake.

So that's how coconut oil earns its reputation as a "low-calorie fat".

Now, you know how coconut oil helps you consume less calorie without you having to force it on purpose. Let's move on to see how coconut oil boosts your metabolism for a more complete and effective weight loss.

2. How coconut oil increases your metabolism

Bustling cells rev up metabolism. Any food you eat can raise cellular activity. But no food can boost your metabolism to level where your body can burn fat all day long like coconut oil. Here's why.

Carbs and LCFAs from food generally take only one path (by traveling through the bloodstream) to energize our cells and hike cellular activity. But MCFAs in coconut oil use two approaches to accomplish the same mission. How so?

Our body essentially breaks MCFAs into 2 groups. One group heads directly to the liver via hepatic portal vein for energy conversion. The other go via bloodstream to each and every cell of our body. (Learn more @ Digestion of short- and medium-chain triglycerides)

You'll feel the burning sensation somewhere near your stomach and below your chest when MCFAs are burned in the liver as fuel and heat is produced (thermogenesis). The feeling is particularly more apparent in cooler environment and of course, when you consume more coconut oil.

Energy conversion (burning of MCFAs) in the liver produces heat (thermogenic effect). This in turn excites the entire body cells. Cells that are closer to liver get more heat energy. Just like when you heat up water its molecules move rapidly. And molecules that are closer to the fire move faster.

At the same time, MCFAs in bloodstream also enter directly into other cells of our body to throttle up our metabolism.

As MCFAs in coconut oil are all saturated fats. They do not oxidize easily and change into something else that cannot be burned off. For this reason, MCFAs remain as a very stable energy source for cells. (More on why saturated fats in coconut oil are good.)

When cellular activity increases, your cells naturally demand more energy to stay at that level. MCFAs alone can't sustain for long. In view of that, your body will obtain energy from carbs and LCFAs via the food you consume. It'll draw on energy from your fat stores as well, resulting in body fat burning.

This chain reaction will continue as long as you keep your MCFA supply incessant. Just one meal alone can activate your metabolism and keep it elevated for several hours. Of course, depending on the amount of coconut oil you eat with that meal.

Imagine you include coconut oil in every meal you eat, you're literally setting your body to a full-day fat-burning mode, even while you're sleeping like a bear.

You can consume as much coconut oil in the daytime as possible to induce fat-burning. But take it in moderation at dinner. This is because the thermogenic effect from coconut oil might work against the body temperature-lowering mechanism that helps to prep you for sleep.

This unique way of handling MCFAs by our body makes coconut oil a perfect metabolism booster for those who need to lift up their metabolism for weight loss, regardless of whether their sluggish metabolism is caused by low thyroid problem, genetic issue, diabetes, age, fatigue or whatever.

Alright, you now know how coconut oil works to help lose weight. Let's quickly get started to burn some of your excess fat off with coconut oil.

3. How to lose weight with coconut oil

I've had people asking me whether they can simply massage coconut oil into their skin and get the same fat-burning effect as eating the oil.

Well, I did come across people who rub coconut oil on their belly get 1-2 inches off after many weeks of sheer topical application. But not all get the same result. Some reported the exact same waistline before and after the rub. But almost all experienced the same thing – their belly skin felt a lot smoother and softer than before.

That's because coconut oil speeds up the removal of dead cells on the surface of our skin, allowing new cells to quickly take their place. It also helps to hold water in the skin.

So when you applying coconut oil to your skin, coconut oil actually benefits your skin more than it does for weight loss.

For those who do really get some inches off their waistline, I think the act of massaging itself is more likely the "culprit" that helps to "scrape" some inches off as massage might break down the fibrous tissue that holds the fat in place, dispersing (not burning) the fat as a result.

Additionally, repetitive massaging encourages your lymph glands to flush out excess fluid, which might also have a slimming effect on your belly.

Having said that, don't be surprised to rub off some belly inches even when you use other oils or just normal cream on your skin instead of coconut oil. It's essentially the act of massaging that works.

You might argue that the MCFAs in coconut oil can enter our body via the skin and offer the same weight loss benefits as eating it. I don't deny that fact. But there's only that much coconut oil your skin can absorb. And that's definitely not enough to boost the metabolism of all your cells to achieve the same level of fat-burning effect as ingesting the oil.

Actually, if you want to use coconut oil for weight loss, why not just eat it? It's so much easier and convenient that way!

4. How to eat coconut oil for weight loss

You can't shove any coconut oil in your mouth or simply add coconut oil to your meals and expect it to burn fat just like that. You must get these 3 things right for best result.

4.1   Which coconut oil for weight loss?

Go with virgin coconut oil (best, organic) because this type of coconut oil contains the best combination of various MCFAs for boosting metabolism and toughening immunity. It benefits both weight loss and health.

If you want to soar your metabolism to greater heights, mix some MCT oil into your virgin coconut oil diet. (MCT oil is the edible version of fractionated coconut oil.)

Organic MCT oil
Organic MCT oil for weight loss

Supply quick energy to fuel high-intensity workouts. Flavorless and odorless. May trigger diarrhea, like virgin coconut oil. Recommended to start off with just one teaspoon per day first.

This is because MCT oil carries purely caprylic and capric acids, which are very short medium-chain fatty acids (usually extracted from coconut or palm kernel) that can infiltrate into your cells easily and then convert to energy quickly, thus providing a quick boost to your metabolism.

For that reason, some people take only MCT oil for weight loss.

As an advocate for healthy weight loss, I hope you can lose weight and gain health at the same time.

Hence, I encourage making virgin coconut oil as the staple in your weight loss diet and MCT oil a supplementary for weight loss. This is because eating virgin coconut oil really offers plenty of health benefits besides its fat-burning property.

Another thing is, if you find the distinctive natural coconut scent in virgin coconut oil a bit too strong for your liking, either you learn to like it or you mix and match MCT oil with virgin coconut oil until you get the perfect degree of odor to your preference, without sacrificing too much of the health benefits.

What if you cannot stand even the mildest coconut smell after mixing virgin coconut oil and MCT oil? Pick up RBD coconut oil then.

4.2   Best ways to eat coconut oil for weight loss

For best fat-burning result, take coconut oil raw. When I say 'raw', I do not mean to eat it straight out of the jar. Of course, you can do so if you can stand the greasy feel lingering in your mouth. But I'd suggest to add it raw to your food or beverages. It's easier to consume coconut oil for weight loss this way.

If you choose to ingest coconut oil directly from the jar, make sure your stomach is not empty. Taking coconut oil internally on an empty stomach may bring about diarrhea, stomach cramp etc.

Besides taking coconut oil raw, you should also cook with coconut oil. This way your food is loaded with the fat-burning MCFAs. But here's the kicker. Cooking involves heat and heat will more or less diminish coconut oil's metabolism-boosting effect due to some loss of its MCFAs.

So, what can you do to compensate for the loss of fat-burning MCFAs due to cooking?

Simple, just add a tea- or tablespoon of coconut oil raw to the cooked food before serving. This will make sure you're not losing MCFAs that will make you lose pounds.

4.3   How to burn fat with coconut oil

Let's say you've all along piled up your meals with 4000 calories every day. Boy, that's a lot!

And now, you want to use coconut oil to help manage your calorie intake. But you didn't cut back on those calories on your plate. Instead, you simply add 2 tablespoons (250 calories) of coconut oil to that 4000 calories and total it to 4250 calories. How much do you think coconut oil can burn off?

Remember coconut oil also contains some LCFAs which may get stored as body fat? If you're just getting started with coconut oil, I'm afraid you won't burn much body fat at the end of the day. You might gain some fat instead.

This is where it goes wrong for some people.

If you're adding 2 tablespoons of coconut oil to your meals, you should take away 250 calories or more from your meals. In other words, replace the take-away with coconut oil and you'll lose weight without losing your satiety.

Replacing some energy value in food with coconut oil for weight loss

You'll still feel satisfied after the meal as before but with some calories burned off instead of storing in your fat cells. What's more, you'll feel full longer thanks to the effect of MCFAs.

At this rate, you'll be able to gradually reduce your calorie intake from 4000 to 3500 to 3000 and so on until you get down to your desired shape and size.

Do you get it now?

Besides, you should try to reel in some exercises as they can help step up your metabolism for more burning of fat. Exercising can help to suppress your appetite too so you'll be able to cut back on more calorie intake naturally.

5. How much coconut oil for weight loss?

Unfortunately, I can't tell you exactly how much coconut oil you should consume for weight loss. Why?

Look, when you ingest coconut oil, it doesn't just stimulate your metabolism for burning fat. It also helps to cleanse your colon.

Sounds good if you have chronic constipation issue. The problem is, we each may react differently to the detox effect of coconut oil due to different body constitutions and if any, medical conditions.

If I were to give you a fixed amount and that amount triggers diarrhea on you, the runs can zap you out.

"Okay, but at least tell us how much coconut oil we should start off with."

5.1   How much coconut oil to start with for weight loss?

Begin with a small amount such as one teaspoon per meal or two teaspoons per day. Add coconut oil to food. And always, spread out the amount.

Then observe to make sure your body feels good with such quantity for at least 5–7 days before you raise your intake of coconut oil.

The reason for doing this is to gradually condition your body for more coconut oil intake as you progress. The more coconut oil you consume, the more fat it'll burn.

If you're new to coconut oil and you take too much coconut oil in one sitting, I'm afraid it'll over-loosen your bowels or cause severe stomach discomfort. Things may get worse if you consume coconut oil on an empty stomach.

Lose weight with coconut oil, but don't let it cause diarrhea on you that may affect your work or sleep.

It's worth noting that you should try to eat less coconut oil during dinner. This is to help you avoid the diarrhea symptoms (in case it does trigger) throughout the night that may affect your sleep quality.

Taking coconut oil in the morning or afternoon allows you to at least have some buffer during the day for multiple bathroom visits. By the time you hit the sack at night, the effect should wear off and so you can sleep soundly.

As a seasoned coconut oil eater, I take more coconut oil in the day than at night. I do pour some over my meal at dinner but probably just a teaspoon. For your case, I would suggest that you stick to morning and afternoon until you become a seasoned eater like me.

5.2   How much coconut oil to take after weight loss?

If you ever succeed to shed off your excess pounds with coconut oil and achieve your desired shape, continue with your consumption. Don't stop.

"But I'm afraid coconut oil will make me too skinny."

Trust me. It won't. The amazing thing with coconut oil is that the more stored body fats you have, the more will get burned. In other words, if you have less stored body fats, of course, you'll have less to burn.

What's more, it can help maintain your metabolism so that you won't easily grow back to the size you were having. So, why stop?

Actually, coconut oil is primarily meant for lifting immunity due to its high content of saturated fats and antimicrobials. Saturated fats neutralize free radical reactions while antimicrobials fight off harmful pathogens.

I started taking it in the first place for such reason. It just happens that it also helps to move bowels and lose weight as the "side effects".

That makes coconut oil a powerful constipation relief as well as a fat-burner for many people.

So, how much coconut oil should you take after a successful weight loss?

Keep to the amount you have been taking. That should be fine. For example, 3 tablespoons per day. This quantity is what I recommend for obtaining health benefits from coconut oil.

But if you want to cut back a little bit, by all means. Just make sure you have enough to keep your immunity in good condition and maintain your metabolism at fat-burning level.