Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Where I'm at with a Plant Based Diet--the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It's been about three years since I first read Dr. Fuhrman's book Eat to Live. Approximately six months after that, I began blogging about weight loss, weight loss maintenance, emotional eating, and recipes. I was a member of Weight Watchers at the time, and, believe it or not, Healthy Girl's Kitchen wasn't an oil-free, 100% plant-based blog when I started. As time went by and my learning process continued (reading Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and The Engine 2 Diet) I was no longer interested in cooking with oil, nor in food that had a mother or a face.

But my road to peace with food is an extremely bumpy one, not without continuing trials and tribulations to this day. And in the last few weeks I have received two letters that have left me with the feeling that I really need to talk about that more. It seems that there is an impression that I have found ultimate success with this and that my struggle with food and my weight is over.

Well, it's not.

In the words of Ricky Ricardo, I think I have a lot of splainin' to do.

Here's letter #1:

Dear Wendy,
My mother sent me your blog this morning and I am in awe! You are amazing! At the start, your story is so similar to mine, except you have found a successful and happy way of living and being healthy. After losing about 30 pounds (over 7 years) on weight watchers, I am stuck stuck stuck at 164 on my 5'4'' frame. Exercise and healthy eating are a very big part of my life, but I worry that I am not eating what I should to lose weight and to be at my healthiest. You are probably well aware that staying under 26 points or 1400 calories or 80 carbs can mean many things but it doesn't necessarily mean balanced, nutritious or healthful. Point tracking and myfitnesspal calorie counting seem to fuel my obsession, frustrate me to tears, and make me beat myself up with every 'slip up' (eating 1600 calories or dipping into my 'activity points'). Like you- i love food. I love to plan meals, shop, eat, enjoy, etc. But unlike you, i have not learned to do this in a healthy, supportive, positive way. I feel desperate... how can one be so conscious and try so hard, yet see no success?
Your blog is a breath of fresh air. But there is so much! Would you mind recommending a few things to help me start? I will get the book "eat to live" and read through your blog. If you can give any advice, i would be so grateful.
Thank you for sharing your inspiring story and all your knowledge!

Then a few days later, I received this letter:

Hi Wendy:

I stumbled onto your website last night -- day 6 of plant-based eating for me -- and I'm so glad I did. The primary reason? Because like you, I have obsessions with food. I love to cook, I love to eat, I love love love to bake any kind of chocolate cake recipe I can get my hands on. Thing is, I'm constantly obsessed with my weight and I can't bring myself to stop asking myself nearly every minute: what am I going to eat next? I'm also a runner so I've managed to take my exercise to near unhealthy levels of obsession as well. Terrific.

Anyway, two weeks ago on vacation, I watched Forks Over Knives and then picked up Esselstyn's book. Thing is, after watching that movie, for the first time ever, I realized that I should be focused more on healthy eating, rather than wondering what tasty, fatty concoction I can bake, sauté or grill. What's more, it made me think how I'm affecting the way my girls see food. I decided that I had to stop treating them with food and start treating them with something more valuable: having fun and having quality time with me. It's a lot easier to hand your kid a Tootsie Pop than it is to sit at a hot playground, after all.

So much of your story rings true with me. Thank you for sharing your tips and recipes with everyone. So far, I've gone two weeks without weighing myself (a huge step) or counting calories on MyFitnessPal (equally huge for me). I hope to eliminate both for good.

I'll certainly be following your story.

All the best,
PS: I'm a part-time writer (I stay-at-home with my kids) and occasionally blog. I wrote about my plant-based idea here: kuhelrunning.blogspot.com and http://livewriterepeat.blogspot.com/

Reading these two letters has brought up a lot of issues for me. It's not easy to write about them or talk about them publicly, but to be a totally honest and truthful blogger, talk about them I must.So I'm just going to tackle the "issues" one by one until I've covered it all.

Issue Number 1:
I reached my goal weight using a combination of Weight Watchers and Eat to Live. It was not by a plant-based diet alone. I was also exercising, a lot. More than I have the time for now. About 3-4 hours more per week than I have been exercising for the past 18 months.

Issue Number 2:
Weight Watchers has always worked for me to attain my goal weight, and always fails for me at maintenance. I have worked the Weight Watchers program "successfully" no less than 5 times in my life, only to gain back all of the weight I had lost plus more when I stopped following the program.

Issue Number 3:
Why did I stop following Weight Watchers if it worked so well for me? After an extended period of time counting points and weighing and measuring food, I just can't do it any more, no matter how hard I try. No matter how much I want to. No matter how good I know it is for me.

Issue Number 4:
When losing weight on Weight Watchers, Eat to Live or any "diet" for that matter, I am pretty hungry all of the time. I am never eating until I feel satisfied. I go to bed hungry and am not able to sleep for more than about 6 hours per night.

Issue Number 5:
When I stopped Weight Watchers and began following ONLY a plant based diet, I regained a significant amount of the weight that I had lost. This is absolutely not a failure of the plant-based diets. It is simply a matter of fact that without the calorie restriction of a plan like Weight Watchers, I consume more calories than I burn over the long haul and therefore, I gain weight. These calories can come from no-oil, plant-based recipes. Or they can come from food that is totally off the plan. It doesn't matter, I am still consuming more than I burn.

But I have kept much of the weight off. Back in my Weight Watchers only days, that NEVER would have happened. I would be confessing to you now that I had gained all of the weight back plus more. That is not at all the case here. I am at the upper end of the healthy weight range for my height.

Issue Number 6:
Emotional eating is a beast. Just when I thought I had it licked (forgive me), it comes back to rear it's ugly head. I'm a work in progress, and I continue to work on it regularly. I thought everything was settled after working and reworking the book The Beck Diet Solution, but over time, even that just sort of wore off. Right now I am reading the book Shrink Yourself by Dr. Roger Gould, at the recommendation of Chef A.j. Is this book the final answer for me? I have no idea, but every little bit sure does help. I plan on enrolling in his online course any day now. Chef A.j. swears by it.

Issue Number 7:
I fully believe that Plant-based diets--really any of them (Fuhrman, Esselstyn, McDougall, Barnard, etc.)-- work, IF YOU WORK THEM. So if you are not an emotional eater, for most people, once you get the principles down for plant-based eating, achieving a healthy weight should be no problem. But even if you are an emotional eater, a plant-based diet is a godsend. More on that below.

Issue Number 8:
Plant-based diets are incredible for people who struggle with food. Why? There is so much guilt tied up with food and eating for people who love food and carry around extra weight. I probably don't need to explain this to most of you, but for those who are reading who don't know what I'm talking about, here's what it's like in the head of many of us over here at HGK: 

We think about food a lot. Some of us feel that we are thinking about food all of the time. When we eat, we wonder if we have made good choices about what we ate and how much we ate. We feel bad about eating. We want to eat things that we know are not healthy for us and yet we don't know how to stop. This bad feeling is there much of the day, every day. Every day we wake up and think, "today I am going to make good choices about food." At some point in most days, we realize we are failing. The guilt and shame feels awful.

How does an oil free plant-based diet change that dynamic? It gives us confidence. Confidence that what we are eating truly is healthy and will not lead to weight gain. Confidence that our food is nourishing on a level that we have never experienced before. Plant-based food is high fiber, so it fills us up. I feel completely satisfied after every meal. I feel great about what I just ate, not guilty and ashamed! I can have all of the fun that I want to planning what I am going to eat, doing the cooking and sharing it with loved ones, but with none of the guilt. It's pure pleasure this way.

Issue Number 9:
Where I'm falling off the wagon and why:
Restaurants. I go to my fair share of restaurants. I tend to do pretty well in restaurants. I'm not shy ordering food outside of the menu. But where I get into trouble is with actual vegan food on a menu. It's always loaded with salt and oil. Always. And I eat it anyway, 'cause I don't want to be a party pooper and I don't want to not eat at restaurants. It's part convenience and part just life enjoyment.

Parties/social events. I also go to my fare share of social events. I feel very fortunate in that regard--I have a big social network of wonderful friends and family . . . who are not . . . can you guess it? plant strong. I do my best, but even my best is far from good enough. I avoid food with a mother or a face. But sugar and white flower don't say moo or baa. They call to me in their very own language and say, "Eat me! Eat me now! F*%# it!" And most of the time, I just give in. Sad, I know.

Night time eating. It seems I can be plant-perfect all day long and completely lose it at night. Tiredness is my #1 emotional eating enemy. Now matter how rational I can be during the day when I am not tired, once I get tired I totally lose my s#!%. And for me, totally losing it means eating food when I shouldn't be eating.

Issue Number 10:
Even a plant-imperfect diet has all of those benefits. But plant-imperfect means I'm still carrying around weight I want to get rid of, and that doesn't feel good at all.

Plant-imperfect is still pretty darned healthy. I have had my cholesterol, triglycerides, etc. tested every year since going plant-based. I was so, so afraid of getting my blood work done this year. I was scared that the weight I had gained would have caused my cholesterol and triglycerides to go up. But do you know what? It hasn't. My numbers stayed exactly the same! And they are awesome.

Issue Number 11:
I never want to count Weight Watchers points again, ever. I don't want to weigh and measure my food. No matter how much I want to lose weight, it isn't worth that level of hell. I will continue to work on my emotional eating problems, because that is where the problem is. It's not too many nuts here or there. It's not starches versus nuts. I wish it was, things would be so much simpler.

I am completely convinced that no matter which oil free plant-based doctor's plan you follow, it will work if you work it. It's the working it over the long haul that, at least for me, has been challenging.

Issue Number 12:
I would give my right arm to be PLANT PERFECT, a real Nutritarian 100% of the time. (Not really, that was an exaggeration, but you get the point. Right arm, I love you!)

Plant-strong? I'll take it!

But even Plant-imperfect is better than counting calories or points any day of the week.

Phew, it feels good to share that with you.


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