It is already June and my New Year’s resolution of losing 25 pounds by summer is blown. I lost about 12 lbs and then gained 10 lbs of it back over the last six months. My secret weapon was supposed to be the vegan diet - or vegan lifestyle. Some more enthusiastic vegans on the web claim that you can eat as much as you want once you change to a vegan diet. In the strictest sense, a Vegan is one who doesn’t eat any animal products including eggs or dairy, but that still leaves a lot of latitude for bad eating habits.
My original goals of going vegan:
Eat healthier to avoid cancer, heart disease and diabetes -
A diet for vegans rich in vegetables and whole foods will naturally have less saturated fats, meat steroids and cholesterol. At the same time, it will be high in antioxidants, vitamins and fiber. A diet high in complex carbohydrates regulates blood sugar more effectively.
Remove dairy from the diet because it causes allergic reactions and long term health issues -
Ignoring dairy intolerance for decades resulted in dry itchy eyes, chronic sinus infections and overuse of pain pills and decongestants.
Lose weight on a healthy vegan diet -
Whole foods leave you feeling more satiated since they take longer to digest. Because the digestion is slower, your metabolism does not slow down during the day which keeps the calories burning steadily off.
Eat in a way to promote less greenhouse gases -
Factory farms are the highest source of greenhouse gases on the planet, even exceeding automobile exhaust.
What I did actually eat on my failed diet:
My wife’s candy that she has eating during the first three months that she quit smoking -
Pure sugar is the last thing you want to eat while dieting, but it was the sweetest thing in the house and, will power being what it is, the candy disappeared quickly.
Granola twice a day with soy milk and sliced bananas -
Check the side of the granola box. They keep it competitive in the cereal industry by using sugar as the second most plentiful ingredient, after oats. The third ingredient by content is vegetable oil. This is pretty much the same order as in a cookie recipe. It’s no wonder I crave it so much. Also, most granola has honey in it, which veganism treats as an animal product.
Sweet potatoes sliced thin and baked in olive oil -
These taste incredibly good and sweet potatoes are considered very healthy, being high in vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber. This cooking method creates something akin to a sweet soggy potato chip and you just can’t stop eating them!
Large plate of fried tofu scramble and potatoes four times a week -
Who doesn’t like fried potatoes? Firm tofu has no real flavor so this is a recipe to surround it with yummy flavorful ingredients in order to make the tofu more palatable. The problem is the quantity of fat used in the frying process. You just can’t brown diced potatoes well, even without the oil, in a non-stick skillet.
Fried concoction of chickpeas, potatoes, onions and peppers on the other three nights -
Basically substitute chickpeas for tofu in the previous entry. All the problems from the tofu scramble recipe still apply to this entree.
Peanut butter (or almond butter, sunflower butter or tahini) and crackers for a snack -
Yes, nuts have the good kind of fat and healthy antioxidants but they have the same caloric density as margarine. Also most all crackers have shortening added for that melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
Hummus and crackers for a snack -
Hummus has a good first ingredient, chickpeas. The next ingredients in order of weight are tahini, or sesame butter, and olive oil, both of which are high in fat content. It is no wonder hummus tastes so good and is popular as a dip at parties.
Lots of fruit juice instead of sweet tea and sodas -
Orange juice and lemonade approach the caloric content of sugary sodas. The vitamin C content is good, but at what price?
Fruit smoothies made with fruit and almond milk -
A pound of strawberries and a glass of almond milk add up to a lot of calories. This would make more sense as an entire summer breakfast, not a snack.
Meals that appear like meat entrees but use lot of textured soy products -
An example is a taco made with textured Mexican flavor protein crumbles and humus for a spread. You end up eating 3-4 of these and creating a 1500 calorie meal. It is common for new vegans to try to emulate meals from their past with mock-meat substitutes but most of the issues with low fiber and high fat still exist in these mock meals.
What I should have eaten:
Fresh fruit -
Compared to fruit juice, the caloric content is less dense and you get more fiber and fresher nutrients. Fruit is best eaten between meals as a snack anyway, so it doesn’t interfere with protein digestion, and it is quick and easy to prepare.
Unsweetened teas of all kinds for my beverages -
There are zero calories in all teas fixed this way. You get some benefits in vitamins and antioxidants and, if it’s black tea, you get caffeine. Avoid chocolate soy milk and fruit juice for drinks, because of the sugar concentrations. Filtered water is always an option as a beverage, also.
Smaller portions of baked or stewed meals -
Eat six small 300 calorie meals/snacks instead of a 1000 calorie lunch, a 1000 calorie dinner, a 300 calorie breakfast and two 300 calorie snacks. The former choice is 1800 calories per day compared to 2900 calories for the latter method. The tipping point for weigh loss versus weight gain for a middle aged man is in in the 2000-2500 calorie range.
More whole foods -
This means less tofu, soy milk and textured soy products and more bean and quinoa dishes. Beans are inexpensive, provide more fiber and are lower in concentrated calories. Quinoa is a seed-like food that is a perfectly balanced protein.
A few whole nuts crumbled in dishes and no nut butters -
The typical Mediterranean diet includes a few whole nuts in dishes, to give some of the benefits of nuts, without overdoing it. The peanut butter sandwich is an American invention, mainly to feed hungry active growing children, but a bad choice for sedentary adults.
Absolutely nothing fried -
Always bake the onions and mushrooms for dishes instead of frying them. Switch to soups, casserole dishes and steamed vegetables.
Less potatoes and more quinoa and long grain brown rice -
Potatoes are not all bad, despite the WIC program banning them unfairly for poor nutritional content. They are high in vitamins B6, vitamin C and potassium. They just don’t taste good without butter and salt, except in soups. The real issue here is that there are even better choices to replace that starchy side dish. Quinoa is the perfect choice, high in complete protein. Long grain brown rice is another option.
What I did do right:
Cut out all sugar in tea -
I did acquire a taste for unsweetened tea, which is how most people of the world take this beverage. Artificial sweeteners just feed that sugar addiction craving, leaving you perpetually unsatisfied.
Eliminated coffee with creamer and sweeteners -
Coffee has caffeine regulation issues but the bigger problem is that most of us, me included, mask the bitterness and coffee acid with creamer and sweeteners. Even dairy-free creamers are high in saturated coconut oil and still have dairy byproducts which don’t fool the sinuses of dairy intolerant individuals, despite the non-dairy classification of most creamers.
Cut out artificial sweeteners completely -
This was pretty easy. Artificial sweeteners don’t taste good. However, the fundamental problem of craving sugar is not addressed just by eliminating sources that taste like sugar.
Cut out baked treats -
I love cake, pies, cookies and chocolate candy. Since most of the above contain eggs, I had justification not to eat them on the vegan diet. However, wholewheat waffles made with maple syrup and flaxseed still pack a wallop in calories and should also be avoided.
Cut out all fast food meals -
Take-out style hamburgers, fries and milkshakes are some of the worst things you can eat for nutrient and fat balance. Even most take-out salads have dressings and condiments that increase the calories to a very non-diet level.
Other factors that made the diet fail:
Lack of Exercise -
Whether you diet or not, exercise is important for health. I can easily blame my laziness on the soggy spring weather or spending too much time online writing articles. The fix is in making time and disciplining myself to exercise. It helps if the exercise is something fun to do, like walking two miles with a friend or your dog, each day.
Lack of a support group -
You don’t have to pay to join a group. You can, of course, but there are online forums you can join for support that are free. Having someone, besides yourself, to hold you accountable makes a difference.
Does this mean that diets for vegans will fail you? No. My failure was in the implementation and I just need to adjust it a bit then try again. As I eluded to earlier, diet is a bad choice of words. Lifestyle is the correct word for the change you make to lose weight and get healthier. It needs to be a long term game plan, not just a temporary fix.
There are many popular diets, some of which could be turned into viable lifestyles, some that couldn’t. I believe that the caveman diet and the raw food diet have some positive virtues and that any low carb, high protein or all liquid protein diet will have long term sustainable health issues. The vegan diet is the one that suits me and millions of others around the world.