It’s finally time for part 2 of our weight loss and veganism series! If you’re just popping in today and haven’t read part 1, please take a look here, in part 1 we debunked some of the myths surrounding going vegan and losing weight, I showed you what the latest research showed and what my experience has been like. It’s a must read before you continue reading the rest of the series. Today, I want to share some tips with you in case weight loss is one of your goals, or you simply need to get back in balance.
By now you know that I don’t believe that restriction is a good method for losing weight, at least in the long run. This for me includes counting calories, measuring your food, having forbidden foods, being fearful or anxious about anything you buy and eat. This is why, for me and many others, basing your diet on the healthy foods that are at the foundation of a vegan diet provide an actual doable system for keeping your weight in check and having the healthiest body you can have. When I crave a burger I make a delicious veggie version with all the trimmings, I eat it with my hands and have lots of oven baked fries on the side. When I crave a cheesy and creamy pasta dish I get my soaked cashews out and make a delicious alfredo or mac and cheese (recipes for these coming soon!). When I miss my mother, I make her potato latkes in the oven with minimal oil. Going vegan for me, was freedom from restrictive diets, and it made me understand the psychological, emotional and physical signals my body was trying to send me. As I mentioned in part 1, it doesn’t mean you become immune to weight gain as a vegan, but for me, it was a delicious and beautiful way to become completely tuned in to my body and enjoying every minute of it. The tips below are the ones I use when I need to get back in balance, and are not always in the ‘what do I eat?’ department as you’ll see below. In part 3 and part 4, we’ll be discussing other issues such as emotional eating, and love and acceptance of where you are, but the following tips and resources will be incredibly helpful as a side tool to your vegan diet or your venturing into a vegan diet, or your sticking your toes in the water, or wherever in this journey you might be.
– Base your diet on whole plant foods: This means the actual yummies that come from the ground: veggies, fruits, legumes such as beans and lentils, whole grains, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, mushrooms and all the thousands of varieties within each of these. This doesn’t mean you can’t have the veggie sausages, veggie cheeses and veggie meats that are now available and so yummy , it just means that these should be special foods for special occasions and that as much as you can, whole foods should be the bulk of your diet. Tempeh and tofu, although not the original form of the whole food they come from (the soy bean) are less processed than the sausages and veggie meats, so enjoy these as well when you want something meaty. As a rule of thumb, the actual soy bean is more a whole food than tempeh, tempeh is more a whole food than tofu, tofu is more a whole food than the veggie sausage. Another example: bulgur or spelt (some of the whole grains that come from wheat) are more a whole food than bread or pasta. This doesn’t mean you can’t have bread or pasta! Remember no plant based foods are off limits. It just means that by eating more of the whole foods you’ll be giving your body a bit of a push where weight loss is concerned, while still having the other goodies sparingly.
– White is out!: Repeat it as if it were a mantra until you have it in your head for good. When foods are made white (a.k.a. white flour, white pasta, white bread, white sugar), most of the fiber and nutrients that were present in the original grain have been completely stripped out. What remains is the starch, which when eaten, makes our blood sugar spike, our insulin production work overtime, and a chain of reactions begins which will have its last step in fat storage in the body, especially around our belly. When you eat the whole grain varieties, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, or even better, the whole grains themselves, you’re filling up with high quality nutrients, high quality protein, and you’ll have a glorious and steady blood glucose level that will keep you from getting hungry until your next meal. Here’s another perk, after a while of eating these foods, the white stuff will simply taste like cardboard, and you’ll be craving the yummy super chewy healthy stuff that is full of flavor and good for you.
– Eliminate refined sugar as much as possible: Besides all the reasons given above, sugar is seriously addictive and makes you crave more sugar and strangely, also fatty foods! Try natural sweeteners that come from plants such as agave nectar, brown rice syrup, maple syrup or date syrup or date sugar, among others.
– Eliminate all artificial, no calorie sweeteners from your diet: This means either added to foods or as ingredients in food. There is so much evidence showing that these chemicals (that’s what they are!) are severely harmful for the body, and have actually been linked to weight gain in spite of them not having calories. They are so much sweeter than the original white sugar they’re trying to substitute, that they make you crave even more sweets and fatty foods. Stevia, which comes directly from a plant with minimal processing seems to be better than its counterparts, but I still prefer the real unprocessed sweeteners mentioned in the previous tip.
– Reduce excess salt: Besides being very unhealthy for your blood pressure, salt can make you crave more salt, and can also lead to sugar and fat cravings! Who knew!? It can also make you retain water which will not feel good and appear as temporary weight gain.
– Reduce the amounts of oil you use for cooking, including olive oil: Don’t get me wrong, I love my olive oil and of course it’s a part of my diet and healthier than some of the other oils. But here’s the thing, when it comes to trying to lose weight, reducing extracted oils and focusing on getting them from the actual whole foods (nuts, avocados, olives, etc.) is much better for you. When it comes to breaking down the number of calories per gram of each macronutrient, 1 gram of protein has 4 calories, one gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories, but one gram of fat has 9 calories! That’s more than twice as much. This shows us that if our diets are heavy in extracted oils (you’ve already cut saturated fat and cholesterol from your diet by going vegan so yay!), we might be getting a huge calorie bill at the end of the month, and most of us don’t even realize that we’re using a lot of it. It also shows that CARBS ARE NOT THE ENEMY! Hooray for that! Eat your carbs in their whole plant forms and be happy. Getting back to the oils, I rarely use oil in my salad dressings (some recipes for oil free dressings are coming soon), instead I use things like miso paste, a bit of tahini, the juice of an orange, tangerine or grapefruit, some ground pre soaked cashews if I want a really rich dressing, mustard, grated tomatoes, mashed avocado, roasted garlic or nutritional yeast and I simply rely on water, vinegar and citrus juices to thin out the consistency if needed. This way I can use my olive oil in dishes that make me smile, like bruschetta or pastas with a little drizzle on top, or a drizzle to coat the pan before I grill some tofu or tempeh. There’s no need to remove it completely, just pay attention of where you might be able to cut back. A good example is roasted potatoes, one of my favorite things to eat. Instead of tossing them in oil before sticking them in the oven, toss them in a bit of veggie broth or even water! Then remove the liquid, add your herbs and seasonings, place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until they puff up and get golden. Nobody will ever know the difference! Don’t believe me? Take a look at this pic!
– Eat whole plant foods which are naturally heavy on oils like nuts and avocados, but don’t go overboard: A bit every day is just fine, but reduce large amounts if you’ve been having them (this includes nut butters), if you feel your weight loss isn’t moving forward.
– Include different textures and flavors in each meal: This is one of the principles behind Ayurveda, the Hindu tradition of natural healing. It helps curb cravings and extra calories. Emotionally, it makes you giddy to follow a sweet bite with some crunch and then something tangy. Yum!
– Reduce your ‘automatic’: We all have that little habit that is so ingrained we’ve never even considered trying to remove it. In regards to food, this is usually where many of the calories hide. Take a look at your day, and find the little eating habits that you don’t even think about and do every day. For me, it was the need for something sweet at the end of lunch and the desperate need for chocolate after taking a nap. For you it might be an after dinner snack or midnight visit to the fridge. Remember this is not about deprivation, but many of the things we do as little automated robots can be easily substituted for something else until we manage to lose these security blankets. I switched my chocolate craze for a cup of tea (and then I have my chocolate when I really consciously want it), and my post lunch sweet for a walk in the forest with my husband and doggie. This last one has brought so many changes to my life I can’t even tell you. Now, on days in which I simply can’t go for a walk, the thought of something sweet doesn’t even cross my mind. So strange this habit business!
– Make friends with the natural sweets of life: Fruits! Especially decadent ones include mangoes, bananas, persimmons, chirimoyas, and dates! We’ll have a post celebrating these babies soon.
– Stop drinking caffeinated beverages as much as you can: This includes all soft drinks, diet or not, and coffee if possible. Caffeine has had the reputation of curbing hunger for years which might seem great at first glance, but after the caffeine high, comes the caffeine low, and that’s where the cookie monster in you comes out to play. I kicked caffeine almost a year ago and it has changed everything! I have decaf with almond, rice or soy milk when I want something warm and creamy in the morning, and I simply stopped having soft drinks. Weight loss, better skin, and more energy (there’s an ironic twist for ya!) immediately followed.
– Drink WATER: It’s really all you need. Please read Verena’s post ‘Glass of Water‘ for some inspiration, and if you don’t like the taste, add a bit of lemon, mint, ginger or cucumber to your water (or all of the above!), and as you detox from the bad stuff, you’ll start craving nature’s perfect drink.
– Alcoholic beverages should be treats, not a part of your meal plans: Cutting down on alcohol remarkably reduces cravings and prevents over eating. Have it as a treat, and enjoy it even more when it’s this special.
Now that we’ve covered some of the eating basics, here are some of the more personal, emotional and spiritual tips that will help you in astounding ways in your efforts. Don’t skip over them thinking food is all you need to worry about.
– Toss the scale: Unless you have a serious weight related condition, or are overweight or obese, stop weighing yourself, as counterproductive as this might seem. The number on the scale can be affected by so many factors, that it might not be the best tool for gaging your weight loss efforts, especially if you’re just looking to lose a few pounds. Water retention, muscle mass, bone mass and constitution, the time of the day, or of the month if you’re a woman, can strongly affect your number which can cause you to have all sorts of yucky emotional reactions which ironically can make you binge, go back to old habits or simply get discouraged and ruin your day. For some of us a few pounds of weight gain and for others a few pounds of weight loss can trigger all sorts of emotional eating signals which help us make unhealthy choices. Measure your weight by the way your clothes fit, this is much more accurate and it takes your mind away from THE NUMBER, often unrealistic for our body types. When I recommend this to people everyone starts freaking out. It’s a strong unhealthy bond we have with our scales and it’s time to break it. Test it out, try it out for a month and see how you feel. Pay attention to how your clothes are fitting and how you feel. However, if you have a serious weight related condition, are overweight or obese, periodic weighing especially by a health care professional might be important. Just don’t center your life around a number you think you should see. Getting healthy is the goal, when you’re healthy, your weight naturally goes where it needs to.
– Gratitude ‘grace’: Before you sit down to eat, take a breath, look at your meal, and mentally, or out loud if you wish, say a little gratitude prayer. By prayer I don’t mean religious unless this is your choosing. Even if you don’t believe in any higher power, I’m sure you know and believe how grateful we are to be able to sit safely in front of a meal that will nourish us. We’re just so lucky! Take a moment to acknowledge this. What does it have to do with weight loss? It gives you a moment of pausing before you eat mindlessly and makes you eat consciously, it helps you slow down and realize when you’ve had enough, and when it’s time to get the tupperware out. Try it, you’ll be amazed at the bliss and joyful eating that will follow.
– The magic of yoga and meditation: Activities that involve the body and the act of being mindful and calming your mind, are perhaps some of the most helpful weight loss tools I’ve ever encountered. Years after going to my first yoga class (and I’m not a super yogi at all!), I still crave a plate full of vegetables even after a three hour super tiring class. It’s like my body is screaming for the good stuff. When your cravings are of the healthy kind, you can start jumping for joy and crack open the champagne my friends, this is the goal! Follow a yoga session with a few minutes of meditation and this effect lasts even longer. It completely curbs emotional eating for me as no other form of exercise does. When I say yoga seasion I don’t mean you necessarily have to enroll in a class (although it’s preferable if you can), or do asanas for an hour or two. In the resources below I’ll link to great, short, basic classes you can do at home, and don’t miss Verena’s posts on meditation in the Health and Wellness section of our blog!
– Keep a food journal: This tip works wonders for some. Write down what you eat as well as what you were feeling when you sat down to eat and how you feel afterward. You can learn so much from your food journal, from realizing you eat fatty foods when you’re tired, or salads when the sun is shining and you spent a few minutes outside. You can even see that some foods make you feel better than others and that some can make you bloated or crave something else. You can download an app to your phone if you don’t feel like doing it in a notebook. Choose one that doesn’t include calorie counting, I like Dailybook, which lets you add pictures. Once you’ve written what you ate, consider writing some more, about anything that pops into your head. The act of writing what’s on your mind can make you realize incredible things that will help you resolve conflicts, reduce stress, feel grateful, and leave emotional eating behind.
– Don’t restrict: Restriction, and forbidden foods are two dangerous things in the psyque of a human. This may sound strange coming from a vegan who has restricted all animal foods from her diet, but give me a chance to explain. For me, animal foods are not forbidden, I can eat them anytime I want, but I never do, because I simply don’t want to. There’s a big difference. When I saw the truth about what happens in the industries that raise animals for food, when I realized how harmful they were to our health and our planet, when I saw the pain and horror that my habits caused the beautiful animals I had spent my life admiring, I simply didn’t want to eat them anymore. This does not mean I didn’t have cravings or wanted a big slice of chocolate cake, or a big juicy burger, but I could have vegan versions of all of these foods, and they were all equally delicious, even more so because now I was living according to my values. This is why photos of yummy vegan food fill this post, to show you that abundance and health can go hand in hand. It was by going vegan and restricting these foods, that the actual restriction for weight loss ended for me forever. This changed my life and it will change yours if you give it a chance.
– Get enough sleep: Seven to eight hours is the goal. Being tired and stressed almost always leads to bad choices at the table.
– Exercise is just as important as sleep: Sorry everyone, I know for some of you this was the one tip you’d be hoping you could avoid, but trust me when I tell you, this is the stuff a beautiful and happy life is made of. Why is it in the spiritual and emotional section and not in the more obvious eating and lifestyle section? Because I truly believe, that the way we look at exercise will change our habits for life. When we see a treadmill and think heart rate, calories, sprints and fat melting, we’re also kind of seeing the anxiety behind weight loss, time restraints, excuses, we anticipate how tired we might feel, we close the door and leave it for tomorrow. Soon six months have gone by and you’re still saying ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. Guess what, your body, not only your weight, needs it right now, today, a little every day. When you stop viewing exercise as the enemy you have to beat to death for the pounds to come off, and start looking at it as the daily habit that will connect you with yourself, will develop you spiritually and will make you smile for days, you’ll put your sneakers on before you’ve even brushed your hair! This takes time, as all habits do, but you will soon crave moving your body when you view it as something that is essential for your happiness. And neurologically, it has been proven time and time again that this is true. I grew up with my mom, she had a disability and for most of our lives couldn’t walk. On the years in which walking was possible, I still never once saw her run. I did however see her swim, every day for years. I saw her do physical therapy three times a week no matter how much it hurt. She even had hand weights she would lift as best she could while we watched tv or talked about our days. Her dream was to be able to run, jump, hike. For me, running, walking, exploring, and simply moving is a treasure I will never take for granted. I exercise every day except for when I’m sick, and it’s as if I feel I need to run for the both of us and walk as many woods as I wish she could see. Find a way to personally connect with exercise, make it a part of your spirit, of what makes you tick. Feel free to use my mama as inspiration if you wish, she was the most incredible person on this planet. Move every day, doing something that you love. The more you do it, the more you will love it.
– Watch Dr. Michael Greger MD discuss the leading causes of death in the US.
– Watch Dr. Michael Greger MD talk about Combating Common Diseases through diet.
– Watch the gorgeous Kathy Freston speaking on TED about her journey.
– Watch the film Forks Over Knives and the film Vegucated.
– Read Victoria Moran’s books Fit From Within which inspired some of these tips and has over one hundred more. As well as her book on overcoming compulsive overeating The Love Powered Diet.
– Read Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet and cook some of her recipes, especially from the superhero section.
– Join the 30 Day Vegan challenge online program by Colleen Patrick Gouddreau.
– Read Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution by John Robbins.
– Read The Engine 2 Diet and watch the film The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue.
– Read Skinny Bitch and laugh until your neighbors call the cops, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin.
– Read The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual by Julie Simon.
– Listen to actress, writer and activist Alicia Silverstone at Google talking about veganism and her book The Kind Diet.
From our blog, enjoy the following posts related to weight loss and exercise:
– Move it!
– Make some yummies from our recipe section and meditate with Verena and exercise with us in our health and wellness section. Step into our going veggie section and let us guide you through everything you need to know about veganism.
YOGA AND MEDITATION VIDEOS
– Great short yoga and meditation classes for beginners, the Alan Finger series Yoga Zone.
– Incredible beginners classes by the awesome Colleen Saidman.
– More in our Move it! post.