I have in the past, responded to inquiries & reader’s questions as posts on the blog, such as this latest one from Carrie, about emotional spending.
I think I’d like to make it a more regular feature of the blog.
After all, if one person is asking the question, chances are others are wondering or dealing with the same thing.
I admit there’s nothing more annoying to me than a know-it-all. Believe me. I don’t set myself up as an expert on anything, expect maybe as an expert of changing diapers & asking questions & administering hugs & kisses, but I’m not the kind of authoritative voice where you say, “I believe *everything* she says.” (That would be a little creepy, if you ask me.)
Because if I do know one thing, there’s very little of expert opinion that applies to everyone, particularly as it applies to individuals, who are unique & have their own histories.
So with that, here’s a recent email from Rose. (Sorry Rose, it’s taken so long to respond!)
I must admit I read a lot on the internet regarding health/health related issues, but never thought I would actually sit down and ask a question about it!? But you seem to be on the money with how to stay slim/healthy, myths, etc.
I am 5’1″, 46 years old and have been active all my life. Eating vegetarian (with some fish), AEROBICS, a runner, ELLIPTICAL… a poster child for health and fit. Then a year ago (to date) I had a bi-lateral bunion-ectomy. So I stopped running. However, I had been doing 30 minutes of core training the year prior and continued doing that now. At this time I started to get terrible pains with certain foods and after several doctors, I just changed my lifestyle to vegan.
I also began walking 2 miles a day and feel good but since changing my lifestyle to vegan 9 weeks ago, I have gained about 12 lbs!! I am figuring too much olives, oil, beans, NUTS!, but thought that I needed a protein with at least two meals. Hence the weight gain?? I don’t know and that is why I am writing you!
I feel terrible with all this weight!! I have worked so hard my whole life to stay fit and lean, but now I am unable to wear my clothes comfortably or at all!! It’s actually depressing. With my age and high fat, it’s not coming off in a week, if you know what I mean.
Is there anything you could suggest to get my slim figure back? I know this seems ‘trivial’ but at my age I want to continue to feel healthy and LOOK it too. One thing that I love is that my husband says I still look great to him.:) But honestly and frankly, my ‘mojo’ (if you know what I mean) has taken a walk because I feel very insecure in my skin suddenly!
Dearest, I understand the frustration.
12 pounds on a small frame is more than you’ve bargained for, I’m sure.
If I’m doing the math correctly, you gained 12 pounds in 9 weeks, which averages to a little over 1 pound a week. Every pound gained is an excess of 3500 calories, so let’s say you were eating 4,000 extra calories a week, more or less, which is a daily average of 600 extra calories a day which you ate but did not use/burn.
600 calories a day is like a serving of dessert & a handful of nuts. So, not too difficult to do this. So before you beat yourself up about it, realize how easy it is to gain weight (especially when you cut out a good chunk of activity) & it’s no moral failing on your part.
The good news, is that while not necessarily easy, losing that weight over a period of reasonable time is not rocket science.
If you had written me this email even a year ago, I think my response would have been different (maybe a lot) than it is now. I would have said, something like, cut out nuts, seeds, olives, & all high calorie foods.
Wahlaa! The weight will melt off.
I might have also said to track calories, & to weigh yourself every week.
[If you don’t believe me, read this post I wrote over a year ago on how to lose the last 10 pounds.]
But time & experience has changed my perspective on weight, & in the wise words of the Ms. Ellen, “it’s about being healthy & happy,” not about achieving a particular size or weight.
[See this post for my definition of healthy.]
Before you go off & exclaim that I think that weight doesn’t matter at all, let me interject & say, weight does matter, to the extent that it affects your ability to move & be active & participate in day-to-day functions.
[Read this post, from the ladies at Beauty Redefined, who shed a different light on BMI, & why it’s not necessarily representative of a woman’s health.]
Beyond that, the numbers are rather arbitrary. There is a correlation (but not necessarily causation) between obese individuals & chronic disease, but I’d say it’s more a result of poor habits–sedentary lifestyle &/or diet is calorie rich & lacks essential nutrients.
You mentioned you were vegetarian prior to going vegan.
So I assume you cut out all animal foods–fish, cheese, milk, & other dairy products–which are all fairly calorie dense foods. If you replaced them with even more calorie-dense foods (which maybe you did as you suggest you’ve been eating more nuts & oil), this would, in part, explain the weight gain.
When many people switch from an omnivorous or semi-vegetarian or vegetarian diet to a vegan one, there’s a loss for some. That emotional connection to certain foods, cheese is a big one, &/or missing the “heavy” feeling you get after eating meat (fish in your case), makes it easy to over eat at first &/or eat too much of the tasty high-calorie dishes.
I know I went through a period where I over ate simply because I didn’t feel “full” enough.
Plant foods are lighter than animal foods, so you’re going to feel differently after eating. As long as you’re getting the proper nutrients & calories, this is nothing to be worried about. But it does take time to adjust.
You can read what I wrote about the secret to weight loss, but as I said, my perspective has changed a bit over time.
I believe strongly in mastering intuitive eating rather than following a prescriptive &/or restrictive diet plan. Don’t get me wrong, calorie counting & restriction does work, but for many people, it’s just not a long term solution.
I’m more interested in long-term solutions, rather than quick fixes.
If you’re committed to a vegan diet for life (which if you are, yay! good for you) & you want to maintain a healthy weight, here’s a list of a few main things to focus on.
A few tips for happy vegan eating
1) Respect your hunger.
Try to pay attention to hunger/satiation cues & eat regular consistent meals. Meal skipping is a pretty horrible way for most people to cut calories. I wouldn’t recommend it.
2) Eat lots of vegetables.
(& some fruits too.)
These are your best friends. You really want to hit it off with the green leafies & cruciferous ones.
3) Eat plenty of unrefined starch,
Like: potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, rice, legumes (lentils, peas, pinto beans, white beans, etc.), oatmeal, millet, even whole grain pasta. The list goes on. Starch will fill you up & give you the energy you need. I’ve found it also helps to curb sugar cravings. It’s when my diet lacks starch, that sugar cravings are the worst.
4) Go easy on all the other stuff.
Desserts (be they “healthy” or not) are still indulgences & shouldn’t be your main fare, & oils, nuts/seeds, & other high fat plant foods should be eaten as condiments (meaning judiciously). I don’t think it’s necessary to cut out fats (see, Is Dr. McDougall, right?), but if you’re finding it difficult to lose the weight you’ve gained, you may want to consider it for a time.
Though I must say, if a teaspoon of oil on roasted veggies is going to get you to eat 3 c. of veggies, or a teaspoon or two on raw salad is going to get you excited about eating a huge bowlful of spinach & green leaf lettuce, I say, go for it. It’s about the overall calorie density of your food, & a little oil on a bounty of veggies balances out.
5) Enjoy your food!
Savor it. Make time to eat, & avoid eating on the run.
Regular, consistent meals at the same time every day establishes a healthy ritual & pattern for balanced eating.
Also, know that when you’re eating plant-foods, you’re nourishing your body & eating in a compassionate, mindful way. I think that’s something to celebrate, for sure.
Best of luck,
I hope if you have anything to add to what I’ve said, please do.
I love the idea of learning from each other, which is the best kind of learning.
Also, if you have a question or inquiry for me (doesn’t have to be about food! anything is on the table) that you’d like featured in this series, don’t be shy, & send me note, will ya?
Put “Reader’s Inquiry” in the subject line, please & I’ll do my best to respond in a timely manner.