Today, a reader asks:
I went vegan on May 1. I have been struggling with 20 pounds I need to lose for a few years. No matter what I eat, it seems to stick around. I went vegan for health and moral reasons, so I am not changing that, but I wonder-should I do strict Eat to Live diet or something and keep out carbs and oil for awhile to lose it? I also don’t want to run or lift weights.
I like your approach–it seems really balanced. Can you share your vegan/exercise path with me, please?
Dear New Vegan,
Congratulations on embarking on your vegan journey!! You are in for an amazing transformation–and physical change is just one of the changes, although a really joyful one. But you shouldn’t expect to get to your goal weight overnight. Although some new vegans lose a substantial amount of weight quickly and keep it off, don’t feel anxious if your body doesn’t react the same way. After all, 20 lbs is a whole lot of weight. Imagine 20 lbs of free weights–and trying to get that much off of your body.
For most women, losing more than 5-10 lbs of weight quickly can lead to sallow skin, dull hair, even temporary loss of your period–making you feel less pretty and vibrant, not more. This is on top of the psychological burden that comes with depriving yourself, both physically and emotionally. For most of us food isn’t just fuel; it’s nourishment, culture, love, and delight. To reach your “happy weight,” where you feel confident and sexy as well as healthy and vibrant, it’s important to emphasize these qualities of food and not just view it as either forbidden or fueling.
I haven’t always had such a beautiful relationship with my body, but these days I feel better than ever. I haven’t counted calories in five years, or weighed myself in about two years. I never obsess over what I ate/will eat, or keep a food journal. I always eat as much as I want and almost always exactly what I want. And I still fit into clothes from 5 years ago. In most stores I wear a size 4, size 27, or a medium (I’m 5′ 7) and I feel happy in clothes. Here are some tips about diet and exercise that helped me reach a healthy relationship with my body.
1. Don’t count calories. Instead, eat mostly whole, unprocessed, and home-cooked foods. Despite what the mainstream “experts” tell you, it’s not a calorie math. If it were simple as calories in v. calories out, we wouldn’t have a weight problem. There is no one, myself included, who could feel satisfied and stay thin on a low-calorie/low-sugar/low-fat diet of un-wholesome foods. Your body is not a machine that burns all food equally for a single calorie currency. It’s a complex organism and the nutrients you receive from food determines your metabolism, your brain, your gut flora, and ultimately how lean you are. Here’s a study that shows that even controlling for the number of calories, people who eat more fruits and vegetables have lower BMI and smaller waistline than others.
When you’re eating home-cooked, mostly unprocessed vegan foods, your taste buds and satiety levels will change. And when you’re eating wholesome, lovingly prepared foods, you are much less likely to have cravings and much more likely to have energy to go to yoga or for a walk.
2. Don’t think of foods as just good v. bad. Think of meals as a time to reconnect with your body and share with your loved ones. How do you want to nourish yourself and your family? When you think this way, you make healthier choices naturally and enjoy them more. Most health magazines say you’ll lose weight eating a mesclun salad with bottled dressing and a tiny piece of protein (most likely meat). Who would feel satisfied eating like that? But a delicious vegan peperonata over polenta or sushi bowl with carrot ginger dressing, say, or vegan sunshine burgers, something colorful, fun, and flavorful, will truly satisfy you.
Involve your family in a positive way. Make meals something you enjoy together as a couple. Go to the farmer’s market together and pick out vegetables, or make a date night out of cooking aromatic foods with fresh herbs (so romantic!). If you have a backyard, plant a little garden!
3. Stock up on produce. The only thing in a box that I keep in my pantry is pasta. There is literally nothing processed in my kitchen I can snack on (not even bread), except non-dairy milk. It was never a conscious choice but something that became a habit. Spend your money on ingredients, nothing pre-made. If I need to snack, I might make a quick smoothie or homemade hummus, steam some vegetables, or (most often) just eat a piece of fruit.