Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Neal Barnard’

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!

Jumping off the hormone rollercoaster: Is there a cure for chocolate?

“You can tame estrogen with rather simple diet changes.” 

Does that sound too good to be true?  Well, according the Dr. Neal Barnard (whom I consider to be the nutrition rockstar!), by controlling you diet, you can mitigate the spikes and drops in you estrogen levels during a month and lessen your PMS, cramps and cravings.

I read Dr. Barnard’s simple explanation about how estrogen is linked to diet in his remarkable must-read Breaking the Food Seduction.  According to his research, estrogen levels peak right before ovulation and then drop to nearly nothing after ovulation.  Over the next few days, estrogen levels rise again until they hit a second peak immediately before menstruation and then drop off when you start your period.

Here’s a less scientific but infinitely more practical interpretation of his data for me.  At the beginning of my cycle, I’m a nice person with lofty health and fitness goals.  About two weeks later, I come to the realization that none of my goals will ever be reached because I’m just not good enough or lucky enough.  In fact, the only thing that will make me feel better is enjoying something sweet, like a pastry or really moist cookie or maybe just a few spoonfuls of cookie dough.  Why not?  What else do I have to live for?

This mid-cycle breakdown in will power and common sense will be followed by a tenderness in my lower abdomen.  At this point, I will realize that I’m ovulating.  (My husband, oddly enough, will have realized I was ovulating about 24 hours sooner than I do.)  Pleasantness and lofty health and fitness goals will return.

About 12 days after ovulation, I will get hungry, really hungry, for salty food.  (Did the kids finish off all the chips?) But, salty food will need to be followed with something sweet to achieve the perfect food balance.  (Is there any cookie dough left?)  No doubt, the sweets will hit part of the spot, but not quite all of it, because I will really need something crunchy—crunchy and sweet with a touch of salty.  (Do we have kettle corn? Or, better yet, Crunch ‘n Munch?)  It may take the better part of a day to find exactly what I need to satisfy the insatiable demon that has possessed me.  I worry that one of my kids will spill chocolate sauce on her fingers and I’ll bite off her hand before I can stop myself.

Once the demon has been fed, he expects more.  He’s like the talking plant in Little Shop of Horrors.  For about 3 days, I will be a slave to the voice inside my head that’s singing, “Feed me, Lynda” in impossibly low octaves.  The spell can only be broken by excruciating cramps and five straight days of anemia.

Naturally, when I read Dr. Barnard’s claim to control estrogen with diet, I perked up.  Using the research that links estrogen levels to certain types of cancer and certain types of food, his team identified two key ways that diet affects estrogen.  First, fatty foods encourage estrogen production.  In other words, if you eat a high fat diet, your estrogen highs will fly higher.  High highs make for more dramatic (and traumatic) lows.  Second, high fiber diets help to dispose of excess estrogen in your body.  Your liver filters the estrogen out of your blood and sends it packing into your intestinal tract.  If you have plenty of fiber in there, the fiber absorbs the estrogen along with other toxins and ushers it out of your body.  If you do not have enough fiber in your diet, the estrogen will pass right back through your intestines, back into your bloodstream.

Dr. Barnard’s prescription—eat plant-based, whole foods with no added fats for a month, starting on the first day of your period, and see if your PMS, cramps and cravings improve.

I did it.  Here’s how last month went.  I started the month with lofty health and fitness goals.  About 2 weeks into it, I got teary-eyed watching the preview for the Chimpanzee movie.  My husband said, “Are you about to cry?”  I laughed and said, “I must be ovulating.”  About 10 days later, I got hungry.  I really wanted a cookie, but I had a couple fruit smoothies over the course of a few days because I was a little hungrier than normal.  The smoothies hit the spot.  Five days ago, the eagle landed and things started doing what they do down there.  (I’m not very progressive when I talk about female stuff.  My husband will be shocked that I even used the word “period” in this blog.)  I had cramps the first day only, and everything was done by day 4.

Dr. Barnard rocks.  I know one month of “much better” does not constitute a life-changing discovery. So, I’m going to do it again and see if it helps.  If you need some help, you try it too, and let me know how it goes.

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.

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