Healthy Eating Tip:
Strike preemptively if you have to!
I talk about the fact that we all need to “own our own health” a lot. There is no one size fits all approach to lifestyle modification. If the person you are listening to for lifestyle modification advice says that their way is the only way, find another person to listen to! We all need to choose a method that is equal to our level willingness to change and the ability to follow through at this particular moment in your life. It is important to keep in mind that life circumstances change, so your plan needs to be dynamic and change as your willingness level changes.
When I first started my lifestyle modification journey, there were three things I was definitely not willing to do; count calories, starve myself, and eat food that tasted like cardboard. I have a more colorful chef-vocabulary word I use instead of cardboard, but in the interest of keeping it clean here, I’ll stick with cardboard. The plant-based whole foods diet was an excellent choice for me for many reasons. One of them was that with the plant-based whole foods diet, you don’t have to count calories at all. Instead of eating calorically dense and nutritionally deficient processed food that you have to limit, you simply change what you eat to nutritionally dense whole foods that are naturally low in calories. These foods are full of fiber, which expands in your stomach, naturally limiting the amount you can eat based on the limited capacity of your stomach. That is one of the reasons that fiber is so important. Fiber expands in your stomach and fills it up quickly.
Remember that eating isn’t something that we are supposed to think about; it isn’t rocket science! The problem is that the environmental context in which our bodies developed is not the context we live in now. Before refined sugar became widely available in the 17th century, and the advent of processed foods in the early 20th century, calorically dense foods were far and few between, and hardly any foods were nutritionally deficient. Today, many things we call “food” are full of calories with little or no nutritional value. If your chosen dieting method includes these foods, you will have to count calories and severely limit the quantity you eat. The plant-based whole foods diet allows you to eat as much as you want to, given that the food is meat-free, oil-free, dairy-free, and unprocessed. With the plant-based whole foods diet, your weight and body functions are stabilized at optimum levels by something called homeostasis. Homeostasis is a metabolic equilibrium actively maintained by several complex biological mechanisms that operate via the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is a control system that acts unconsciously for the most part and regulates bodily functions, such as the heart rate and blood pressure, digestion and operation of the intestines, respiratory rate, blood glucose control, and sexual arousal and function. If you are familiar with what excess weight does to your body, you will recognize that all of those functions I just mentioned are affected if you are overweight; and not in a good way! Achieving homeostasis is the goal of lifestyle modification with the plant-based whole foods diet. Homeostasis allows you to eat to fullness and not to have to worry about counting anything at all. In very simple terms, if you give your body what it was developed to eat and move around some, you will return to the weight you are supposed to be and be healthy. The best part is that you won’t have to think about it at all! I know that is easier said than done; you need mindfulness and patience. More on that below and in subsequent posts.
A little less than two years into my plant-based whole foods lifestyle modification, I added another component. I added what I call a “maintenance diet.” The maintenance diet is a diet that I go on if my weight is good and all of the physiological markers are good. The physiological markers I am concerned about are the things anyone my age should look at; cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood glucose. If everything is good, then I add back in some things to my diet that significantly increases satisfaction. On the maintenance diet, I reintroduce anything that I can control. I am fine with having just a few nuts as a treat, so I will have nuts in the house on the maintenance diet. This is when I will have the frozen dark sweet cherries and fat-free yogurt that I talk about. I might do a bag of baked chips every once in a while. I might indulge in a small piece of salmon or some kind of fish. There is even a version of pizza that I will allow myself to have on very few occasions. This is also when I will eat the many vegan products that mimic chicken and beef. I love Morning Star Farms hot dogs and will eat them on the maintenance diet. I call these transition foods because they can help you transition to a plant-based whole foods diet. I do it the other way around and indulge in them when I pull back from the plant-based whole foods diet and go to my maintenance diet. If I piled up all the meat and “bad stuff” I eat in a month when I am on my maintenance diet, most of you would laugh. It’s probably less than most people eat in one day! But I know my own body. I am so genetically predisposed to weight gain and everything that goes along with it that even a small amount every month means that I have to reset my metabolism by going back on the plant-based foods diet a few times a year.
I will write about this some more in the coming months, but today I want to give you a picture of what one of these “resets” looks like.
I have several things that trigger a reset for me. When I am near 200 pounds, I start experiencing noticeable physical issues like back pain and knee trouble. Any of you who have had back problems know that it is something you want to stay away from if at all possible. If I have eaten enough “bad stuff” to get me near 200 pounds, my cholesterol is also high and I have other physiological issues. The icing on the cake is that I have absolutely nothing to wear at 200 pounds! I threw away all but one pair of pants when I initially dropped weight in 2003. If you are serious about weight loss, then burning bridges behind you like that might be something you want to do as well; it works!
I wasn’t at 200 pounds this time. I started on 9/12 at 193.4 pounds. Something else triggered a reset for me. Tomorrow I am traveling back to one of the places I grew up, and there will be some unavoidable emotional eating involved with this trip. The reset this time is a preemptive strike. I am losing the weight I may gain on this trip before it happens. Part of being honest with yourself is recognizing when you may have a setback and dealing with it in any way you can. Failure with my lifestyle modification journey is not an option.
The one piece of equipment you need is a decent scale that weighs in 2/10th of a pound, at least. You may be at the point that you don’t think that small increments of weight matter, but they do, and yes, you need to weigh yourself. It’s part of being honest with yourself, and knowing the weight ramifications of what you eat is something you need to learn. If you are embarrassed by what you see when you weigh yourself, use it as a motivator. You should not be above using any trick in the book as a tool to help you, even if it hurts a little! Weigh yourself at the same time every day wearing the same things, so the data you collect is meaningful.
Besides the scale, you will need to muster all of the patience and mindfulness you can. My resets are short term, so there is no room for playing around. The diet is meat-free, dairy-free, exceptionally low, but not void of fat, with no processed food whatsoever. Besides that, there are no limitations at all. I don’t need to worry about sodium because nothing I eat is high in sodium. I don’t need to worry about fiber because everything I eat is high in fiber. I don’t need to limit amounts of food because nothing I eat is calorically dense, and my stomach capacity limits calories. I don’t need to worry about nutrients because everything I eat is packed with nutrients, including protein, and I take a multivitamin every day, as the three of you that read this healthy eating tip every week already know. That’s the whole thing; no counting, no starving and the food tastes great! I’ll come back to that in a minute.
The chart below follows my weight for 28 days, from 193.4 on 9/12 to 187.4 a few minutes ago on 10/9. Six pounds isn’t a ton of weight, but it is what I could do this time, and it will offset whatever I gain in the ten days I am in Connecticut. That was the goal. Let’s take a look at the chart and make some observations to help you do the same thing.
First, notice the vertical red line on 9/28. Notice that the weights fluctuate up and down sometimes daily to the left of that line. I start going up to 194.4. Those were fun mornings to weigh in; I’ll tell you what! I start a nice decline, and then on 9/20, a full eight days after I started, I am back up to 193.6, which is 2/10th of a pound above where I started!
Right here, just eight days in, is where 99.9% of people give up! That is a terrible mistake because they are only halfway through the process of reversing the weight momentum of their body. Now, look to the right of the vertical red line on 9/28. In the last 11 days, there are only two increases. Besides that, it was a steady decline in weight for nine solid days. What happened on 9/28 was that the momentum of my body switched from weight gain to weight loss. It’s like turning a huge ocean liner around. There’s no stopping on a dime and heading the opposite direction. It is a very slow process. If I could continue from today, I would lose a tremendous amount of weight in the next two weeks because my physiological momentum has changed. I am flying tomorrow, so today is the last day, but I bet I am closer to 185 tomorrow morning when I weigh before leaving!
So, what are the takeaways for people here?
- I am very good at this. I have done this countless times since I added the maintenance diet component to my lifestyle modification plan somewhere in 2005. Don’t beat yourself up! I have developed mindfulness and know my body extremely well, and I know what to expect. If I learned this, so can you, that’s the take-home for you!
- It works this way every single time. First, you have to reverse the momentum of your body. Then you lose weight. Use the first two weeks to develop mindfulness and patience. It gets easier!
- You can’t cheat. Not even a little. Either do it or don’t. You don’t have to use my dietary protocol. Use your own, but pull back your expectations if you are going to do something less than a plant-based whole foods diet and enjoy counting calories and being hungry all the time!
- Exercise can help. There are two sides of the weight-loss equation; calories in and calories out. I started stretching on my Total Gym and jumped up on my stationary bike just one time, and then my schedule and hatred of everything exercise got the better of me. If you hit both sides of the weight-loss equation, the weight comes off faster and your momentum reverses quicker, but there is no way to avoid at least some time to reverse your physiological momentum.
- Collect data and plot your own weight loss chart. If you are not going to use a plant-based whole foods diet, then what you eat matters tremendously. Keep a food log and look at what that food does to your weight. That will help you pay attention to what you eat and how it affects your body. It will help you develop mindfulness.
- Pay attention to the trend line, not the daily snapshot. I posted a few months ago about diet investors and day traders. Investors watch the trend line while day traders are only interested in daily moves. Investors lose weight and gain health while day traders become yoyo dieters that never keep weight off. If I was just watching daily movements, I might have quit on day three when I wasn’t going down at all. I would definitely have quit on day 8 when I was above where I started. There was no reason to panic at all, though. The vertical red line shows a clear downward trend from day one! As soon as I started, I had already won the fight; it just didn’t look that way every day. The take away is for you to stay the course. If your plan is sound, you have already won the moment you start!
Okay, so what did I eat? I ate exactly what I make and serve at Hometown Café! I was just selective about it. What I ate was meat-free, dairy-free, exceptionally low, but not void of fat, with no processed food whatsoever. When I write the nutrition comments about the week’s menu, I sometimes mention that items are meat-free, oil-free, dairy-free, low in sodium and will fit into the plant-based whole foods diet. Those are the foods I ate. On Monday, 9/24, Hometown Café served Beyond Beef bratwurst, chouxcroute, red potatoes, butternut squash, and Brussels sprouts. I skipped the bratwurst even though it was meat-free because it is high in fat, but I ate very large portions of everything else for two days. On 9/16, we served the Italian rice bowl and I ate huge portions of the brown rice and wheat berries, white beans, and ratatouille for a good three days. I ate salads with pico de gio or salsa as a dressing. I took a shockingly large salad home with as many beans and grains as I can find, maybe three days a week. I ate a massive bowl of air-popped popcorn with a small amount of Parkay margarine in the spray bottle. Probably 8-10 spays per batch. That is my indulgence, and I am willing to trade anything for it! I did that pretty much every single night and ate ½ bag of those frozen cherries every night. No yogurt. I ate the spaghetti squash and broccoli we served on 9/22. The bean and vegetable soup from 9/22 was supper for at least three nights. I ate a full quart every night with 3-4 whole wheat pita breads plus the popcorn and cherries, and I lost weight! I ate massive bowls of brown rice and pinto beans from the burrito day on 9/24. The Spanish rice, pinto beans, and corn we served on Mexican rice bowl day was supper for another three nights. The vegetable lentil soup came home with me for another three nights, and I am still eating that kale and potato soup from last Monday! I ate a 12 oz bowl of the oatmeal I serve in the morning for the staff pretty much every single day and made Vitamix smoothies with celery, carrot, apple, beet, banana, cucumber, and hemp protein powder with tons of fiber in it just because I want my monthly ration of hemp!
Starving is not something I did! In fact, I felt stuffed pretty much every night going to bed. I never counted a calorie, and it tasted great. The weight loss wasn’t substantial. I could have lost more easily, but that wasn’t the goal, and I am not presently willing to do more than that, and that is okay. The goal was to account for the weight I will gain next week and keep myself away from the critical weight of 200 pounds. That was achieved!
I’ll be writing from Connecticut next week; see you then!