This post is now a podcast episode! Listen here.
Two years ago I blogged about how the plant-based diet made me an overeater (it’s NOT all-you-can-eat, plants don’t have “magic calories that don’t count).
I then updated 1 year later with some terrific before & after pics and I kicked off the Shortcut to Slim podcast breaking down the science and research that lead to my weight-loss success. (Catch season 1 free here or on iTunes).
After getting down to the bottom of it (a.k.a. poking holes in the myths floating around the plant-based community) I stopped overeating and experienced a tremendous loss:
16 pounds of pure body fat.
Muscle mass, body water, and bone density were near identical between my July 2013 and March 2016 scan. The ONLY difference was a loss of 16 pounds of fat. (I link to the scans later in the post)
And my physical appearance? Holy smokes!15% body fat looks good.
March 2017 Scan Results:
Since last year I gained 1 pound of muscle and lost 3 additional pounds of fat.
My body also has near perfect muscular symmetry now, meaning I have the same amount of muscle on the right side of my body as I do on my left, which is awesome!! (Last year's scan showed a slight imbalance, likely due to being right-hand dominant.)
These results indicate that I am in “maintenance mode” and that my total weight-loss was (and is) maintainable.
The change in my visceral fat further echoes this.
Visceral fat is the fat around your organs and the most dangerous type of fat to have (too much visceral fat affects hormone and organ function).
I went from a level 3 (which is very healthy) to a level 2 (which is insanely healthy).
The decrease in my visceral fat suggests the minor changes in my body composition are mostly improved organ health.
I see this as my body slowly working its way to the healthiest body possible all year long. Sort of like how only after you remove all the crap and clutter from your garage can you give it a good, deep cleaning... then label and organize things for better efficiency in the future.
Above all, I’m happy to be FREE OF ALL THE MISINFORMATION.
Plants do not have “magic calories” that do not count.
It’s not all-you-can-eat and you don't get an award for eating too much "good stuff" because excess is still excess and that excess causes weight gain.
I know that for sure now.
Calories still count and calories still matter.
See episode 2 of season 1 to learn more about calories and why you can’t truly “count calories” or rely on counting calories like religion because it’s not straight math. There's bioavailability, and the cost of digestion to contend with.
I also ate “less perfect” but managed to perfect my health.
You see, there is this attitude in the plant-based community that anything that’s wrong with you is your fault for not being “perfect.”
If you aren’t losing weight, for example, it’s because you aren’t being perfect. You are eating oil or sugar, or too many nuts, or not enough greens, or "cheating" in some way.
I hate this attitude.
I want to live in a way that doesn't require perfection.
That if I skip a yoga class or eat a vegan cookie, I will still be healthy.
I wanted to embody my "progress not perfection" mantra so I stopped worrying if something had a little bit of oil in it (I compared calories instead to choose the best brand to buy).
I also bought a lot more prepared foods like marinara sauce, hummus, enchilada sauce, and frozen rice, rather than making it all myself. (It was the year of shortcuts!) I also didn't care about GMOs, organics, or sodium.
I tried to make the best consumer choices, and pick my very best options, but my #1 FOCUS was on doing whatever I needed to eat at home and follow my meal plan.
After that it was about choosing quality calories and after that, well... I was too tired to do anymore analysis.
I do agree that some "foods" (like HFCS and hydrogenated oils) are not health foods and should be avoided but occasionally consuming them isn't the culprit. When you point 1 finger at something, three more point back at you.
To echo the research in Season 1 (Read/Listen)
If you want to fear anything, it’s an overabundance of calories, no matter the source.
Excess is still excess. You don’t get an award for eating too much healthy stuff.
It’s no different than overfilling your car’s gas tank. You can put the right gas in all you want, but eventually it’ll start spraying back at you and create a fire hazard.
Is there a problem with your portion size?
I get it. It's easier (and much more comfortable) to focus on diet or some ELEMENT of food and ignore our thoughts and behaviors (both of which actually matter a whole lot more).
You can do any diet or lifestyle wrong.You can also lose weight on ANY diet. You may be miserable or increase your health risk on some diets, but that doesn't change that weight-loss is still possible.
It's also true that whatever it takes to lose weight is what it takes to keep it offand that alone should be reason enough for us to focus on behavior modification instead of the food we're eating.
Put the power back in ourselves instead of relying on the food OR fighting Sgt. Will Power (discipline).
The best part to all my success is this:
I don’t spend all my time fussing, fretting, worrying, struggling, or praying for willpower. I don’t go into heated debates with myself over what I’m eating, if I'm eating enough or too little, or if it’s a healthy choice or if I deserve it or if it “counts.”
It’s so nice to be freed from all that anxiety.
And it's AWESOME not to be controlled by cravings anymore.
The best diet is the one you’re not always thinking about.
A quick note about my parents and my age.
My parents were 35 and 36 when they adopted me. They thought they were too old to be parents. They cried at night worried they wouldn’t live long enough to see me graduate college.
My 35 is not their 35. If you ask them, they will tell you they feel better now at 70 and 71 than they did at 40 because they went plant-based at 65, challenging a lifetime of beliefs and bad habits, and that simple act completely changed their life.
NOW FOR THE BALLSY CONFESSION!
A few weeks ago I read an editorial piece in Argot magazine where the author said she lost 30+ pounds, and although it was intentional, she didn’t want applause.
She went on to say that yes, she was afraid of dying, diabetes, heart disease, and the cancer that haunted her family reunions, but what she was most afraid of was being fat. She was afraid of workplace discrimination and social erasure.
Her candid honesty gave me the courage to say this:
My life is easier now.
For example, as soon as I walk into a clothing store, salesgirls rush over to help me and bring over clothes I didn't ask for, telling my how perfect my body is for this or that.
Men (and women) hold doors for me.
I almost never have to speak up to get attention when trying to order a coffee, or a drink, or pay for gas. I'm noticed immediately.
When I first started noticing this all happened consistently, I said to a pal:
I’m smaller in size, but somehow people see me more now.
Perhaps most noticeably: Friends and family pay attention and actively listen when I talk about health, nutrition, or even just the weather.
In fact, no one challenges me anymore, at least not about being vegan.
Perhaps some of that is wear and tear after 10 years, but I don’t think that’s all of it because 7 years in, people still tried to tell me all the ways in which vegan was unhealthy and I think that’s because I was still "chubby" at the time.
Strangers stop me to ask about my exercise regimen (which ends awkwardly when I tell them I don't workout I just eat right).
Men honk at me like they used to do when I was 16.
And when I stopped wearing my wedding ring, because I had lost enough weight and took it to get resized? I got asked out. That day. In Trader Joe’s.
No one has asked me out on a date in 12 years.
I got married when I was 24. I don’t think it was just the wedding ring.
I feel guilty about this, sad about this, shameful sometimes.
For years I was embarrassed to tell anyone I went vegan for vanity; I wanted to be skinnier. I didn’t want embarrassing acne anymore either. I loved animals too, but really it was all about me.
Of course the reasons I stayed vegan multiplied like rabbits in the Spring, and I hold all of those reasons very dear to me still.
I also had a health scare (pre-vegan) that did make me seek a healthier diet, but even while I was reading about how plants might protect me from cancer, there was still that thought circling in the back of my head that “maybe this will make me skinny too.”
And sometimes (am I really going to admit this) I worry I’ll gain it all back again.
In fact, this is why I started researching behavior modification.
I was so tired of fretting, worrying, struggling, and asking myself "why why why do I keep doing this?" I came to accept that real, lasting change and success came from changing WHO I WAS. If I wanted to change my LIFE I had to change my Life-style(my thoughts, habits and mind).
I'll be sharing what I learned about brain science and behavior modification in Season 2 of Shortcut to Slim. For now, let me end with this:
It’s not just diet or the food that brings results.
It's not about exercise either (because you can’t out-exercise your mouth).
It’s also NOT about being perfect.
A good diet certainly makes losing weight (and achieving great health) a lot easier, just like it is a lot easier to run a marathon if you quit smoking first, but a good diet works BEST when it is PAIRED with behavior modification and appropriate environmental changes like portion control.
Behavior modification (including meal planning) has been my solution.
Final thoughts: The reason I stepped off the scale and started measuring my body fat percentage with these scans is this: I was "happy" with my scale weight but I still didn't like how I looked.
“You have a really high percentage of body fat for your weight,” the technician told me. I was at the tippy top end of what was considered “healthy” in terms of body fat even though I was at a “healthy” weight. I knew right then that body fat percentage (body composition) was the only true standard of measure.
When you say "I want to lose weight" what you really mean is you want to lower your body fat percentage or change your body composition. If you only cared about seeing a lower scale number, you could cut off your leg and see instant weight-loss ;)
For me, I wanted to fit into this one pair of jeans I’d been carrying around for 10 years as “inspiration”. You can see me in the jeans here. In retrospect, I didn’t care if I fit into them at 116 pounds or 160 pounds.
Now I care about my visceral fat, muscular symmetry, and quality of life which means being less perfect but perfectly healthy. You can see/compare the scans here.
This post is now a podcast episode! Listen here.
P.S.The meal plans I use to stay sane and healthy will be on sale (yearly membership) on Wednesday, April 19. If you sign-up on sale day, you'll get the best vegan plant-based meal plans on the Internet for $3.44/week. It's worth every penny. Learn more and download a free sample here.