Archive for the ‘dieting’ Category

Kickstart Your Vegan Diet

If you need help getting started with a vegan diet, here’s great news.  Some of the most well-informed, well-respected vegans in the country are pulling together their resources to bring you recipes, research, meal plans, and cooking tips.  It starts September 3 with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s 21-Day Vegan Kickstart.

I did the kickstart in April, and it was just what I needed.  It’s free and informative.  I tried new recipes and got to see what a healthy, plant-based, whole food diet looks like breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Check it out if you’ve been looking for an opportunity to get healthier or drop a few pounds.  You’ll be glad you did!


Does Being a Healthy Weight Really Have to Be Like Having a Part-time Job?

If it does, I’m screwed.  I won’t do it, at least not for long. 

Recently, I’ve had a discussion going with some readers about whether or not being vegan is enough to ensure a healthy weight for the long term.  A couple of ideas have emerged from our discussion and warrant a little thought.

#1.  Not all vegan foods are healthy.

Absolutely.  Oddly enough, potato chips, PayDay bars, Coke and french fries are all vegan.  But, eat a serving of those bad boys more than a couple times a month and prepare to kiss your healthy weight goodbye.  It is for just this reason that I must clarify what I mean when I say “vegan.”  Vegan is a short cut for saying a “plant-based, whole food diet.”  It’s made up of food from plants in an un-processed state.  I don’t mean raw, just not shot full of chemicals that will cause it to have the shelf life of a nuclear warhead.

#2.  You can have too much of a good thing.

The thought here is that if you eat too much food, even healthy food, even vegan food, you will still gain or fail to lose unwanted weight.  True, there’s definitely no denying that.  (After all, cows, hippos, and rhinos are vegan–not exactly slim and sexy.)  However, have you ever looked at the caloric and nutritional content of beans, spinach, barley, strawberries, etc.?  You are liable to get a serious case of the trots from all that fiber before you get a chance to over indulge yourself.  I’m not saying that you can’t eat too much plant-based, whole food.  I’m just saying that you’ll have to try really hard.

#3.  No matter what you’re eating, you’ll still have to count calories.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and give my personal, yet well-informed opinion without citing any particular research.  (I know that such research exists, I just don’t feel like interrupting my typing groove by looking for it.  Check out anything by Dr. Neil Barnard.  He’s pretty much the premiere authority on all things nutrition.)  But, it makes sense to me that my body knows what to do with natural food.  It knows what to keep and what to discard.  When I’m eating natural, whole food, I get full and satisfied.  I get plenty of fiber to keep things moving along at a healthy pace.  I get plenty of nutrients to keep cells fed and regenerating.  My body does not have to treat the food I’m eating like toxic waste.  I don’t over work my liver, and therefore it is able to convert food to energy more efficiently.  

Call me crazy, but I have to assume that my body is as capable of taking care of itself as every wild animal’s running around.  (When was the last time you saw a fat squirrel.)  But, our consumption-crazed culture has thwarted our natural instincts and undermined our bodies’ regulatory capacities (thus, there are plenty of fat domestic animals–you know, animals fed by humans).  When we get out of our own way and feed ourselves the food we actually need to eat, our bodies will behave.

#4.  Not all vegans are naturally thin.

I assume that we’re talking about whole-food vegans and not potato-chip vegans otherwise this would be a ridiculous thing to discuss.  But I agree, not all vegans are thin.  Some are more curvy, not fat, just curvy.  Some seem to carry a few more pounds than others.  Some are a little stocky.  Some aren’t very defined.   Some are shaped liked apples.  Some are shaped like pears.  No shit.  In case you’ve forgotten biology class, no two humans are exactly alike.  The shape your body assumes as it grows, matures, and ages will be different than mine.  Not necessarily better or worse, but different.  If you’re deciding the merits of healthy eating based on whether or not people who eat healthy all look like movie stars prepare to be disappointed.  Some of us didn’t win the genetic lottery. 

My opinion about healthy weight has changed as I’ve gotten older and observed my grandparents.  My grandmother was about 5’4″ (she’s shrunk a little as she approaches 90), and she always fought her weight.  She was never fat, but only because she was always vigilant.  She hovered around 140-150.  If her weight crept up to 160, it wouldn’t stay long.  She’d cut out desserts and second-helpings and dive into whatever exercise was the latest craze until she was back into her size 12’s.  As she’s aged, she’s gotten smaller and smaller.  Now, at 89, she has to work to keep weight on.  I look at her healthy weight when she was 60 and it was about 20 pounds more than she wanted.  But, I think that she was just the right size for her stage in life.  Her body held on to a little extra and as she’s aged, it’s had a little extra to spare.  She’s avoided being frail and sickly.  She could get normal seasonal viruses and not turn into a walking corpse.  She still has round cheeks that make her face look cheerful.  (I thank God for genes that hold onto a few extra pounds.  I plan to save them for later when I’m old and I really need them.)  Some one could have looked at my grandmother and decided that her healthy way of eating wasn’t really all that great because she wasn’t all that thin.  They would have been wrong.  There is more to health than the number on the scale.

Realistic Weight Goal

I’ve been told to choose your weight goal based on your weight at 25.  However, I was pretty chunky at 25.  I was pretty chunky at 5!  There was a brief time in high school when I was playing sports and dieting pretty hard core.  I got down to 150 pounds and was nosing my way to wearing size 10’s.  That was the skinniest time in my life until now!  I’m still hovering in the 150’s, but I’m not working out 2 hours a day anymore to do it.  I couldn’t maintain that when I was 15, I certainly won’t be able to maintain it now that I’m pushing 40 and wrestling tweens’ schedules.  Looks like 149 will be my weight goal for now.  I’ve got a few pounds still to lose.  The good news is that being vegan has made losing, and, more importantly, maintaining my weight easier than ever!

Jumping off the Diet Rollercoaster: Change Your Mindset

Are you or do you know one of those people that lose weight on a diet and then gain it all back?  Do you have 3 sizes of clothing in your closet: your normal size, your been-on-a-diet size, and your need-to-get-back-on-my-diet size?  Are you starting to feel like there is not way to maintain a healthy weight for your whole life?  If you’re wondering what diet will work for you, the answer is probably all of them and none of them.  Let me explain.

My sister made an excellent observation years ago when we were all doing the Atkins diet, scarfing down lunch meat and eschewing carbs.  She said, “No matter how long I stay on Atkins or how much I lose, I’m never going to forget that ice cream tastes good.”  She really got me thinking.  What diet will ever work if it requires me to go my whole life without enjoying the food I really love?  I know myself well enough to know that I will eat what I want eventually.  I might be able to deny myself something sweet or buttery for a while, but eventually I’ll be at a wedding or a party or a movie, and I’ll let loose.  I’m not ready or willing to be on a diet that restricts my ability to have the food I love for very long.

I, and I think a lot of others, can watch what I eat for several weeks, maybe even months, and see some weight loss.  That’s why any diet will work.  If you become conscious of what you’re eating and eat less, you’ll lose weight.  But, I can’t live like that forever.  I don’t have never-ending willpower, and that’s why diets don’t work.  Whatever weight you or I lose by restricting our diets dramatically will inevitably return when we relax.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t fight that war forever!  I quit.  In fact, I quit a couple years ago.  No more dieting.  No more fat-free creamer, sugar-free cookies, lite bread, food journals, diet pills, cheating or binges.

The only thing that will make me a thin person for the rest of my life is behaving like a thin person for the rest of my life.  Eating good food (as in healthy and appetizing) when I’m hungry and finding something to do for entertainment other than eat are the keys for me.  Being vegan has helped me to learn to enjoy healthy food.  (I still love sweets, but I have a new appreciation for fruit salads, grilled pineapple, and vegan baked goods.)  I’m less addicted to junk food and crave it less often.  But, I’m not on a “vegan diet.”  I’m not waiting until I go on vacation to “cheat.”  I’m not planning what I’ll eat when I’ve lost my weight and I can go off my diet.

I guess what I’m saying is that before you can change your weight, change your mindset toward food.  Read these success stories from the National Weight Control Registry and see if you see what I saw.

I identify with this guy’s food addiction. Maybe that’s why both of us found help in being vegan.

The change in food (and subsequently their weight) came after the changes in the way they thought about themselves.  They took an objective look at what and why they ate.  No gimmicks.  No diets.

I need to lose a few pounds. Please pass me some carbs.

My biggest obstacle to being vegan is my own headtrash.  I’ve been told for so long that I need a certain amount of protein and that I need to stay away from carbs that I find that mindset sneaking back in.  In my gut I know that feeding oneself should not require a degree in chemistry.  But, in my head, I can’t always shake off all those tired old formulas for weight loss.

Yesterday, I  read a wonderful book that makes losing weight and keeping it off with a whole foods, plant-based diet simple.  It’s called Foods That Cause You to Lose Weight:  The Negative Calorie Effect by Dr. Neal Barnard.  Although this book is a compilation of some pretty technical research, Dr. Barnard’s conversational style makes it accessible.  He spells out in plain language how carbohydrates are used for energy, are not easily stored in the body as fat, and are the key to keeping your metabolism healthy.  I made it through the whole book in just a few hours while I waited for my son’s baseball practice to end.  Dr. Barnard’s explanations make sense and are grounded in science.  I’m going to make a conscientious effort to eat more grains (like brown rice, barley, and whole wheat pasta), beans (like black beans, chick peas, and lentils), vegetables and fruit.  In fact, I’m going to eat until I’m satisfied, and when I get hungry, I’m going to eat some more.  No deprivation allowed.  I’m just going to fill my plate with grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, and food that comes directly from them (like tempeh, soy milk, smoothies, low-fat vegan desserts, salads, cereals, breads, etc.) and enjoy!

Doesn't that look filling? I didn't make this dish of it, but I could...

Dr. Barnard’s work warrants lots of attention really.  I read another book of his last week called Breaking the Food Seduction:  The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings–and 7 Ways to End Them Naturally. 

I think this book might be the key to what I’ve been missing all along.  I have been fighting against my cravings my whole life.  I can beat them back for a while, but eventually I’ll have a moment (or month) of weakness and they’ll get me again.  How many times have I marveled at people who can eat a single slice of cake and then forget that the rest of it is beckoning from the kitchen?  How many times have I wished that I could be one of the people who could effortlessly pass the doughnuts in the break room at work?  Why is it that junk food has had such a hold on me when I don’t want it to?  How can I break away from it long enough to establish good eating habits that don’t dessert me at the first sign of stress?  I think Dr. Barnard might have the answers, and they lie in embracing a whole foods, plant-based diet rich in carbohydrates and low in fat.  If you struggle with emotional eating or stress eating or food cravings, you need to read and reread Breaking the Food Seduction. And, then you need to tell me what you think about it.

How much protein do we really need?

I get asked about protein and calcium every time I tell someone I’m trying to be vegan.  It amazes me how well we’ve all been brainwashed into believing that only meat has good protein and only milk has good calcium.

Let’s go over a few simple facts that have put my mind at ease about my potential deficiencies:

1.  Behind these questions about protein and calcium is the assumption that non-vegans have all the nutrition they need.  In fact, that is not always the case.  Vitamin D, C and E deficiencies are common among meat eaters.  Omega 3’s also have a tendency to be out of proportion with omega 6’s because of the inordinate amount of omega 6’s in processed foods.  Beta carotene intake is often lower than it should be, and so is fiber intake. Vegans, on the other hand, may have low levels of one B vitamin, but only if they don’t drink fortified soy milk, which I do. Otherwise, the vegan diet is complete without supplements.

2.  If increasing your protein made you thin, than the United States should be the thinnest country in the world.  We have a protein-heavy diet and yet we are getting fatter and sicker all the time.

3.  When was the last time you heard of a cow, hippo, giraffe, or whale with a protein or calcium deficiency?  They don’t eat meat.  They don’t drink milk once they’re adults.  The largest mammals in the world are vegan.  How many gorillas suffer from osteoporosis?  They don’t drink milk either once they’re out of their infancy. 

4.  Countries that consume the most dairy have  higher rates of osteoporosis.  The condition is almost unheard of in areas of the world where milk is not consumed (rural Asia).  Here’s why:  Excessive protein, like the type found in animal products, causes your body to become more acidic.  Your body, in order to keep its pH balanced, uses the calcium stored in your bones to bring your body chemistry into balance (like a Tums for your circulatory system).  Thus, your body loses calcium at a higher rate when animal products such as milk are consumed.  If you didn’t need to leach calcium out of your bones to straighten out your body chemistry, you wouldn’t need to consume such high amounts of it or risk lower bone density.  By the way, grown cows don’t drink milk.  They get their calcium the same way vegans do–from greens.

 I should follow the protein question with a few of my own.  The conversation may go like this:

“As a meat eater, where do you get your fiber since animal products don’t have fiber and a lack of fiber has been linked to certain cancers?”  …Pause for interesting answer…

“What about the calcium deficiency that comes from having an acidic pH?”…pause for another answer that will probably cite some experts called “they”….

“Where do you get your vitamins?”…pause for explanation of how some of their meat and cheese has vegetables under it in a salad…

I wouldn’t ask any of those questions obviously because that’s obnoxious and really none of my business.  Besides, meat eaters may have very complete, well-rounded diets.  They’d have to be very conscientious and plan their meals carefully to fit in all the nutrition they need without exceeding their caloric boundaries, but they could do it.  I respect that and wouldn’t dream of interrogating them over it.  Maybe someday my well-meaning friends will feel the same way about me.

Raspberry Ketones? Let’s take a reality check.

I know Dr. Oz recommended that folks struggling with obesity and Type 2 diabetes should look into taking raspberry ketone supplements.  Apparently, in recent studies of fat mice, raspberry ketones helped them melt off body fat.  The mice eating raspberry ketones secreted adiponectin, a hormone which regulates the metabolism of sugar and fat.  The more adiponectin on has, the less fat one stores.  Thus, the group conducting the study released data suggesting that raspberry ketones could be a potential fat burning wonder drug.

Here’s the part that may be a bit of a buzz kill for anyone looking for a fat-burning wonder drug.  (But, we should have read enough press releases on scientific studies to know to look for the fine print by now.)  These mice were fed exorbitant amounts of ketones–up to 2% of their daily caloric intake.  Now, for an adult, that could be 200 calories.  And, remember, we’re not talking about raspberries.  We’re talking about one chemical in raspberries, the chemical responsible for their smell.  To get the same environment that rats in the study got, you would have to eat over 90 pounds of raspberries a day.  Not possible, right?  Not even desirable.  Clearly, nature did not intend for us to have 2% of our daily calories originate in ketones.

Also, the natural compound is extremely expensive.  The stuff we’d get in the supplement is manufactured synthetically.  When humans upped their normal intake 200 times, no effect on body weight was observed.  Check out the article on wikipedia.  It’s very well documented and was published before the Dr. Oz show mentioned the supplements.

For folks who are struggling with obesity and type 2 diabetes, I’m sorry that somebody got your hopes up again.  I know they have because GNC sold out of their raspberry ketone supplements within days of Dr. Oz’s show.  You rushed out to get it.  Just like we scrambled to buy chromium picolinate back in the day, then green tea extract, then hoodia.  I can’t even begin to list the not-so-natural ones like Dexatrim, phen-fen, Hydroxycut, Redux, Xenical, Alli, etc., etc. 


There is a natural way to lose weight–eat the highest quality, most natural food you can afford and enjoy your life.

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