Monday, August 24, 2015

How I Gained 50 Pounds on a "Vegan" (aka Plant Based) Diet

Okay, before you get crazy angry with me about the title of this post and think that I am doing the Plant Based movement a disservice, just hear me out.

I hope that I can save a lot of people from a whole lot of self-loathing and sadness.

In response to my last "veggies for breakfast" post, I received the following comment. Since it's a bit of the elephant in the room for me, like, ALL of the time, I want to address it once and for all.

Please tell us about gaining 50 pounds on a vegan diet. I became raw vegan and gained about 50#, also. I couldn't (and can't) figure out why since I was eating so "healthy" and no matter what I do now, the pounds won't budge. I would love to hear your story. Also, I'm assuming that you don't use oils or salt when cooking. Have you eliminated them altogether or only use occasionally? I love the VFB concept that you talk about here and will definitely be trying it. This morning, I had roasted okra from my garden, but I used some olive oil and salt. Tomorrow is another day, as Miss Scarlett said. Where can I get more detailed information about this program that you follow...Chef AJ? I can't wait to learn more!

First off, I want to say that it's not Rip's fault.

It's not Neal Barnard's fault.

Not Dr. Joel Fuhrman's, Dr. John McDougall's, nor Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn's.

It's not their fault that I'm a food addict and that I am highly susceptible to the effects of sugar and flour on my brain. The plant based diets of all of these pioneers (and many more that I haven't mentioned) are successful for countless numbers of folks out there who commit to them.

Just not me.

So was it my fault that I gained 50 pounds on a whole food plant based diet?


I didn't choose my genetics or my particular brain chemistry any more than an alcoholic chooses his. Nobody wants this brain chemistry, so if you are overweight and trying your darndest to lose weight, you can stop blaming yourself and start loving yourself.

And for all of those a-holes out there who pass judgement on you for being overweight, saying things like, "she could just shut her mouth and eat less if she really wanted to," well, they're just stupid, ignorant idiots.

It takes a lot more than desire to lose weight and keep it off.

It takes a hell of a lot more than willpower to lose weight and keep it off.

It takes a stable brain chemistry.

But back to the question. Just how did I gain 50 pounds over the course of about 5 years on an otherwise healthy whole food plant based diet?

A few extra calories at a time.

Let's do the math. You need to consume 3,500 extra calories in order to gain one pound. Fifty of those equals 175,000 extra calories over the course of 5 years, which is 96.1538462 extra calories per day, to be exact.

So I gained 50 pounds over 5 years because I overate, on average, less than 100 extra calories per day.

Was that difficult for me to do? 

Not at all. First off, I'm a pretty good cook and baker, if I say so myself. I love delicious plant based, oil-free food and I wasn't shy about making recipes that delighted me. Decadent smoothies, cakes, pies, date/nut balls, muffins, nut based sauces and dressings and other high calorie treats were a regular thing in my kitchen. 

Of course, there were also loads of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans as well.

But I was just one small muffin, or one extra date/nut truffle, on average per day away from fifty extra pounds over five years.

So can you see how it can easily happen?

It wasn't so hard to do. I wasn't gorging on food. I was trying so hard to lose weight. I was following the best advice of Fuhrman, Esselstyn, Barnard, McDougall and the rest.

I was so embarrassed by my failure. I wanted so badly to be an excellent role model of health for the plant based movement that I so strongly believe in for ourselves, the animals and our planet.

It turns out that there is no such thing as an "eat as much as you want of this plant based diet and you'll be at a healthy weight" for some people. If you fall into this category, you've either got to:

(1) weigh and measure your food + count calories (seriously, congratulations if this works for you and you can do it for the rest of your life, but kill me now, please, because I'd rather die than weigh and measure every morsel of food that goes into my body)


(2) adhere to the principles of calorie density. Basically, eat the vast majority of your diet from foods that are low in calories but high in water and fiber (volume).

Both methods arrive at a calorie deficit (restricted calories).

I chose to try  #2, because #1 was something that I had done so many times in the past (Weight Watchers) and I was hungry most of  the time. Being hungry that often leads a lot of people to fall off the wagon and binge, myself included. That's why the rate of long term success on Weight Watchers is abysmal. 

#2 works for me. This is why I chose to keep blogging. I have something to share with you if you are interested in healing your brain. Your body really will follow. 

Still wondering whether or not food addiction is real? Wonder whether or not you are a food addict? Here's a fantastic interview with Dr. Pamela Peeke to listen to.

After listening to Dr. Peeke on food addiction, I'm very interested in reading her book on the subject.

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