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‘Eat fat to lose weight’, says athlete and fitness expert Donal O’Neill

Confused? We were too. So we met the man who spreads this message — athlete and filmmaker Donal O’Neill — to decode it

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Oct 20, 2016 17:55 IST
Meenakshi Iyer
Meenakshi Iyer
Hindustan Times
Donal O'Neill,HT48Hours,Stepathlon
Donal O'Neill is an international athlete and a filmmaker(Photo: Aalok Soni/HT)

In 2014, Irish athlete Donal O’Neill (45) ate about 4,000 calories a day (think lots of bacon and butter), with just 8 minutes of exercise in a week. He continued this routine for 28 days, and filmed his lifestyle for his first film, Cereal Killers. “At the end of those 28 days, I discovered that I’d lost body fat and gained muscle weight,” says O’Neill, who was in the city recently as Stepathlon’s “unofficial” brand ambassador. Stepathlon works towards achieving better public health by involving physical activity in everyday life.

He was making a point. Eat a high-fat, low-carb diet to lose weight, now popularly known as the Banting diet. Named after William Banting, the first person to try this, the diet was recently featured in a book called The Real Meal Revolution by professor Tim Noakes, a well-known sports scientist. This diet now has many takers, including Australian cricketers Shane Watson and David Warner.

Poster for Cereal Killers

Starting point

Coming from an athletic family, O’Neill was always lean and healthy. His father, Kevin, and uncle, Sean, were both elite Gaelic footballers. “My uncle was like the Sachin Tendulkar of Gaelic football,” says O’Neill. However, in 2010, O’Neill’s father suffered a severe heart attack. It confused him. So he started on a quest to find out what ‘healthy’ really means.

“When you look at the common wisdom that prevailed, and still prevails, it suggests that heart attacks are caused by high cholesterol. I started researching and found out that at least 50% of the people who suffered heart attacks had normal cholesterol levels,” he adds. This led O’Neill to challenge every established health notion and also his first film, Cereal Killers.

Fat is good

Two years since his first film, O’Neill — who now lives in Cape Town, South Africa — still follows the high-fat, low-carb diet. His everyday breakfast consists of three eggs (yes, with the yolk), lots of avocados, bacon and coffee. The logic is: reverse the traditional food pyramid, which keeps high-fat food at the lowest, and allow the body to learn to function on fat instead of carbohydrates. O’Neill’s newest film, The Big Fat Fix, also talks about the evils of carbs and sugar.

“Carbs such as sugar, cereals, refined flour and bread burn faster than fat. So, the body gets used to using carbs as the source of energy. It never gets to the layer of fat, which keeps accumulating,” he says. According to O’Neill, there is a lot of misinformation being pushed by commercial and pharmaceutical interests. “Sugar is public enemy number one. The biggest danger lies in hidden sugar,” he says.

While there is growing conversation around the evils of sugar, we may have just scratched the surface. Years of sugar consumption have affected millions of people. “Things like carbs and sugar have long-term damaging effects. Issues like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes will take 20 years to develop. It’s like a stick of dynamite with a long fuse,” says O’Neill.

A still from Cereal Killers

However, the conventional diet followed by our ancestors is the key to a healthy and long life, he adds. “The traditional Indian diet would have included ghee, coconut oil and whole grains. So, ditch the sugar and bring back the ghee,” he adds.

To know more about Cereal Killers, visit

First Published: Oct 20, 2016 00:00 IST