Let me explain myself. I didn’t just decide one day to go vegan and proceed to clear my fridge of two pound bags of shredded cheddar. I made the attempt at a totally plant-based diet no less than four times before it stuck. The problem? The first three tries added a whopping nine pounds each to my middle in the first two months. I love animals. I do. But I love my rear end inside my pants, not flowing over. So what was the difference the fourth time? And why the weight gain? Aren’t vegans supposed to be skinny?
The fourth try actually happened by accident. At this point I had been a lacto-ovo vegetarian about four years and had about forty pounds I was looking to drop. Not a huge deal, but when you stand (if you’re stretching) at just five foot two, forty pounds can wreak some havoc on your body. I had leg cramps during the night, bouts of fatigue during the day, and a double chin every time I passed a mirror. I had already tackled the low carb, no carb, healthy carb diet plans. Really, I just wanted to figure out what I was doing wrong. And I wanted something I could do forever. That’s when a friend confessed to paying for Weight Watchers meetings. Was she actually telling me she plunked down her hard earned cash to stand on a scale somebody else was going to read? Who in their right mind would even think to do something that insane!? I guess that who would be me. I signed up the very next week.
Turns out sitting in a room full of people who have the same issues with food as I do proved not only helpful tip-wise, but was also extremely therapeutic. As I looked around at the faces in the folding chairs, I realized that I wasn’t the only one present who had hidden the chocolates in the bag of spinach. Nor was I alone in my need to finish everything on my plate or to make sure I got back for seconds before the catering company cleared the buffet. And though I didn’t take a poll, I’m almost positive that others had asked for thirds on the basket of endless fries at my favorite veggie burger spot.
Now I had a decision to make. Weight Watchers offers two plans from which to choose. I could go with the “flex” plan and count points for the foods I ate, or I could go with the “core” plan and eat from a prescribed list of healthful options. I went with the latter. On the core plan, I could eat without measuring, weighing, or counting. My only two rules: eat only from the core list of foods, counting points for items off list, and eat only until satisfied. Eating from the list was easy—broccoli, vegan burgers, whole wheat pasta, bananas, oatmeal, my beloved Silk plain light soymilk, and all of the other fruits, veggies, and whole grains I had become so attached to. I could even have olive or flaxseed oil every day. I was supposed to have oil every day! Definitely, choosing from the list was the easy part.
But what was this eating until satisfied? As far as I was concerned, every time I ate I was satisfied! What the plan was getting at was portion control. My pitfall. Definitely my pitfall. Not only was I in the habit of licking my plate clean, but my plate was huge and I almost always covered it with food again after the licking part. And when you consider your stomach is only about the size of your fist, no wonder I felt like crap.
Here’s where the accident part comes into play. I discovered that on my previous attempts at going vegan I had relied too heavily on nuts and dried fruits. I mean, a handful of nuts a day? Fine. A huge cereal bowl full of trail mix for lunch and another for a snack? No way. Not when you consider that “trail mix” meant loads of cashews, the sweet kind of banana chips, garlic chippy things, and an extra heaping of my favorite vegan chocolate. And where’s the nutrition in that, anyway? I know what you’re thinking, the nuts. I was slowly learning that in order to lose weight I would need to focus on fresh fruits and vegetables instead of calorie packed treats. What a concept!
Well, heck, while I was at it, why not try the vegan thing again?! Eggs were on plan and so were certain fat-free dairy products. But they didn’t have to be. So I jumped into plant-based cooking with my eyes wide open. And it clicked. Can I tell you how weird I sometimes feel? Not only have I been vegan for a year now, but you should see the faces when I share that I’m a vegan Weight Watcher. I know. I know what they’re thinking. Well, now that’s an oxymoron! But you would be so surprised at how many of us current and former hefty vegetarians walk the streets. I take great comfort in the numbers. Weight Watchers provides online community support through their message boards at www.weightwatchers.com . And, glory of all glories, there is even a vegetarian board! And some of those vegetarians are, get this, VEGAN!
For those reading who have never had issues with weight, just think of all the processed foods, of all the junk foods that are vegan—-French fries, soy ice creams, Fritos, vegan chocolate chips, Duncan Hines cake mixes, vegan chocolate chips, Cracker Jacks, Wonder Bread, soft pretzels, vegan chocolate chips. Stop me, I’m salivating! PETA has even compiled an unbelievably huge list (www.peta.org/accidentallyVegan/ ) of tons of grocery store foods that are totally animal free. While convenient, the items on their I Can’t Believe It’s Vegan website are still processed foods. Eating too much of the wrong foods, vegan or not, is eating too much of the wrong foods.
The American Heart Association also cautions against a nutritionally weak vegetarian diet. While the AHA maintains that plant-based diets generally prevent against the likes of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, even the sacred vegan meal plan can be unhealthy “if it contains too many calories and/or saturated fat and not enough important nutrients.” (See complete article at the American Heart Association website). In addition to a nutritionally sound diet, the AHA also recommends thirty minutes of physical activity at least five days a week.
So, I had the healthy vegan diet going, I was walking half an hour a day, and guess what?! I started losing weight! It worked! After about eleven months on plan, I had reached my goal and was enjoying a healthful strict vegetarian diet. I was moving more, eating less, and only had one chin. I loved the earth. I loved the animals. And I loved my butt in my jeans! And what was the secret? Commitment, support, and creating a new I-love-myself attitude. Plunking down money to let someone else look at your weight turns out to be extremely motivating. Go figure! And research shows that support groups of any type build positive emotions and reduce stress. As far as the I’m-worth-it part? Yes, I am!
Getting started on your weight loss journey:
Clean your shelves—toss anything with trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, added sugars. Stick with whole grains, pitch those white refined noodles and rice. And quit hiding things from yourself. If it’s in the pantry, you will eat it.
Buy smaller dishes—nothing fancy, just not so big. Check out garage sales or thrift stores. Or use the set you have, just serve yourself on the smaller plates. Even a saucer can be a dinner plate. A mug can double as a soup bowl. This way you can clean your plate and even go back for seconds.
Try natural flavors—instead of calorie and fat laden dairy alternatives. A little olive oil and garlic is just the thing for a baked potato. A dash of nutritional yeast can substitute for parmesan or shredded soy cheese on noodles. Have fun experimenting! Think outside the soy margarine tub.
Don’t eat in the car!—So many times when we eat on the run, we forget that we’ve actually had a meal. Instead we get home and search the shelves for something to satisfy our hunger. Give meal time the “time” it deserves.
Slow down—it takes awhile for your body to register satisfaction. As I tell my kids, it’s not a contest to see who can finish first. Put your fork down between bites. Focus on the company and conversation instead of the food.
Sit down to eat—set the table, use the pretty dishes, make an event of it. Not only will this slow you down and force you to focus on the meal in front of you, but will give you a moment of calm in an otherwise hectic day.
Move more—scientists suggest that fidgeting—leg shaking, finger tapping, head bopping– helps keep the scale in the tell-other-people-your-number range.
Drink plenty of water—the American Dietetic Association recommends drinking at least eight cups of water a day, more if you’re exercising.
Are you trying to lose weight but need a program and some motivation? Want diet plans, worksheets, journaling, success stories, and other weightloss support? Check out VegFamily’s Weightloss Club VegDieters!