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I sent this email privately to a Meal Mentor member, which I subsequently shared in our private Facebook group and the forums. An amazing conversation spilled out of that share so I wanted to recap + post on the blog for everyone :)
Background: The member had written me saying, “I think 150-ish is where my body wants to naturally rest if I eat everything I want to, but I'm fighting it because I know there's still more fat there than there should be." She was working to reset her appetite.
I found the exact same experience with my weight and eating.
Even when I was 100% plant perfect and not "cheating" with some vegan junk, I couldn't break the 140 lb barrier.
140 is in the "normal" range for my height, but I still had visible fat, and not just a little bit here or there. My stomach was hanging over my pants. I constantly had chafing issues with my legs and arms from rubbing. I wasn’t comfortable physically and I didn’t like how I looked.
I then had my body fat measured at a gym, and I was at the tippy top end of what was considered "healthy" even though I was at a "healthy" weight.
But I kept listening to Dr. McDougall, and Rip/Engine 2, and FOK, and all the other plant-based experts who all say harmoniously:
“You can eat as much as you want. As long as it's plant foods, especially whole foods close to nature. Don't count calories.” So I did not.
As my weight continued to plateau, despite my plant food perfection, I made more change.
I stopped eating all breads, tortillas and pastas (even oil-free whole-wheat varieties). Stopped eating pureed soups. Stopped eating anything that wasn't whole. (I even gave up hummus and refried beans at one point!)
I ate lots of potatoes, lots of brown rice, lots of big “gorilla” salads, lots of kale and other greens, tons of carrots and other veggies, some beans, and fresh fruits.
I just couldn't crack the 140 lb barrier.
I wondered what was wrong with me...
But the truth is I was told I could eat a lot -- and that I SHOULD eat a lot -- eat as much as I wanted… eat until I felt "full," so I did.
I ate and ate.
I quickly developed a habit of having 4 plates of food at a meal, all the while patting myself on the back for being so healthy.
(I once ate 40 pieces of cucumber sushi and still wanted more!)
Eventually I had a "Coming to Jesus" moment that I was an overeater.
But I didn't remember ever being an overeater before…
I was overweight pre-plant-based, true, but I didn't eat a lot of volume.
I was actually rather peckish and very picky!
I just ate the wrong foods... lots of “happy meals” but never seconds.
Yet when I had gained 7-8 pounds in three weeks following the all-you-can-eat plant-based approach, I stood on the scale stunned…HOW??
Even my husband doubted me… it must be water… or muscle… it can’t be fat….
"But you eat so perfect!" he said.
Meanwhile, for lunch I ate an entire kabocha squash, two bunches of kale (steamed) with lemon and garlic, 2 big tomatoes, a can of beans, 3-4 cups of brown rice, an apple...
For dinner I would eat 4-6 bunless bean burgers, plus a huge "gorilla" salad, and 2-3 potatoes cut into fries, and still have room for 3-4 bananas blended as ice cream, plus another snack after that usually.
Perfect foods, yes, but waaaay too much for my biological needs.
(Meanwhile, the kind of volume and appetite I was setting for myself.. yikes!)
When I first started doing the 1,200 calorie meal plans strictly, I thought the weight I was losing was from my occasional “cheating” with oil and vegan junk foods, and I still do think that was some of it, but then when I broke the 140 lb barrier, and broke it EASILY, I wondered if there was more to it.
Because even without ANY oil or vegan junk in my diet I couldn't do that.
I then lost another 5 pounds, and eventually another 5, and a little while later 2 more.
I then maintained that weight for TWO YEARS.
(I’m still in shock, as I was chronically a yo-yo dieter before.)
Before strict compliance with the meal plans (but plant-perfect) vs. me last week.
I absolutely, 100% believe being able to break my barrier (and keep it off) is the result of 2 years using the meal plans consistently.
AND finally coming to terms with how much I need in a day, and that it can't be a free-for-all.
At least not for me.
I HAVE to pay attention to total calories and portion sizes, too.
It took a long time to reset my appestat (appetite thermometer) and I still sometimes want to EATALLTHEFOODS because of those habits and mental blocks I developed listening to my heroes.
(One comment a member left was, “Have you ever noticed it’s always MEN telling us to eat all we want?” and I think that is an interesting point.)
To be clear: I still love and worship all the plant-based doctors.
And I still believe what they say.
I also believe there are people who can eat as much as they want with no regard to total calories… and can even lose weight “overeating.”
But I also know that didn’t work for me, no matter how hard I tried.
And having read the comments among my members, and how many of them had (or are having) the EXACT same experience, I know my experience is not a freak outlier.
Here are a few comments:
Is it important to eat whole foods, real foods? ABSOLUTELY.
But I don’t think that plant foods have “magic calories” that don’t count.
I think there is still a cumulative effect.
And that excess is still excess.
To be clear, I don’t believe weight-loss is purely about counting calories.
It’s NOT a simple math formula of calories in (consumed) versus calories out (burned).
WHAT goes in the mouth is far more important than how much you eat (total calories).
Intuitively you know 100 calories of carrot cake isn’t the same as 100 calories of carrots…
...so we can’t plug them into the same math formula or expect our bodies to treat them equally.
For example, my pal Beth religiously used MyFitnessPal to calculate calories (before she got the meal plans) and wasn’t losing weight even though she was on 1200 calories/day.
“Now that I’m using the meal plans, I’m losing so much weight faster” she told me.
But the meal plans are the same amount of calories… so why the sudden change for Beth?
Exercise does not cancel out low-quality foods.
And science has PROVEN the body reacts differently to different types of calories.
The source of the calorie matters most!
There’s no running off a bad diet, just like your car isn’t going to run on the wrong fuel no matter how hard you put the pedal to the metal.
BUT there’s also no such thing as calories that don’t count either.
Dr. McDougall says “The fat you eat is the fat you wear” and I believe him.
But in the same breath, all foods, even kale and bananas and rice, contain a little fat naturally.
So if I’m over eating (and I was) that fat is going to add up. It’s why I think I was still wearing so much of it despite my perfection.
In fact, even when I was only eating vegetables, it wasn’t uncommon for me to exceed 15% fat. If I also had beans that day, I could easily reach 20% fat (and that’s when I was zero oil, nuts, seeds, olives, etc.)
SO my “low fat” diet wasn’t very low fat after all if I was chronically overeating.
I think the clincher for me was when I had my metabolism tested along with all other professional (expensive) fancy testing that sent electrodes through my body to tell me exactly how much bone, water, muscle, fat, and poop I was...
The tests said even with moderate activity, on a day-to-day basis I would not need more than 1507 calories. And that was WITH activity -- if I just sat on my butt all day it was way less.
I said to the lab girl, "But that’s so little food!" I refused to believe it was right! She told me “The human body is like a Prius: very efficient. It's not a gas-guzzling Hummer."
When my husband and I first went vegan, we didn’t eat very healthfully (very “progress not perfection”) and we still lost weight initially, even eating boca burgers, french fries, Earth Balance on nearly everything, and Coconut Bliss ice cream most nights.
Eventually we plateaued and cleaned up our diet. More perfection than progress, and happily, our weight-loss resumed, only to plateau again… despite pure perfection.
It wasn’t until we started using the meal plans consistently, and paying attention to our TOTAL calories consumed, that we broke our barriers.
(And then kept it off.)
I also think it is easier to lose weight when you still have a lot to lose, but as you get closer to your healthy or ideal weight, it gets more tricky and there is a smaller margin for error.
I’m not just talking from my personal experience or my husband’s -- this echoes hundreds of experiences shared by our meal plan members.
Scott and I have both had to come to terms with portion sizes and calories; sticking to the meal plans and not engaging in a free-for-all.
We also slowly, but surely, recalibrated our appetite thermometer and our thinking on how much food we really need (and it’s a lot less than we thought).
Admittedly, I’m very timid to share all this so publicly, but I also couldn’t NOT share it -- because I remember how frustrated I felt, and I think there needs to be an open dialogue.
Lastly, if you’ve hit a plateau, even being plant-perfect, or you’re frustrated and want to see some change, I can’t recommend the meal plans enough.
Get back to equilibrium -- use them as a tool to show you EXACTLY what you need.
There’s too much portion distortion going around.
P.S. The scale is also a big LIAR. It’s NOT a good way to track weight-loss, especially once you’re within your last 20 lbs. See what happened when I weighed myself every day for a month.
Normally I don't like to feed trolls or respond to haters, but I also feel I need to defend our way of life. A lot of people accused me of being emaciated or having no muscles when I shared my weight-loss. I am lean now (thanks to the meal plans) but also the strongest I've ever been in my life. I continue to do things (like take level 3 yoga!) that I couldn't do previously. Here's a pic I just snapped with my webcam, after 90 minutes of yoga.
I was also troubled by how many people felt the need to comment on whether or not I was pretty or how they liked me before. The post was about my struggle with overeating, which was very scary to share in the first place. It wasn't about my questionable beauty. It was supposed to be a post that helped people see they are not alone with their challenges.
Everyone is beautiful. For me, this journey has always been about health and I hope that is what it is for you, too. To FEEL YOUR BEST. to be healthy and bright.
I think my friend Kelly summed it up -- as women, we need to love and support each other. Not increase negativity. Lead with light. Love yourself. Love the woman next to you (and the man too!)
"The thing that's so dumb about this is that Lindsay can't win. If she's not thin enough, her meal plan doesn't work, discredit. If she's THIN they will say she has an eating disorder. If she doesn't wear makeup, she looks "tired". If she does wear makeup she's "fake" and "trying too hard. It's so damn stupid."
Life as a public figure is really weird. If I've learned anything, it's that you can't please anyone but yourself. Live for you. You live with yourself. And I love you no matter what.