I really should have called this post “Eat MORE. Lose weight. Feel Free!” I still find it absolutely hilarious that I can often eat more than my husband and yet I don’t gain weight. I did not set out when we started this way of life 2 years ago to hit a certain number on the scale, however secretly I was hoping to be fit and trim for the first time in my life. When I was in high school, I always thought 125 lbs would be a perfect weight. I have no idea where I got that number, but when I got to that weight last year and then dropped below, I was flabbergasted. I not only eat until I am full, but at times even eat until I am stuffed, an old throwback to my nervous eating. The only time I notice I gain weight is when I eat something too salty when we go out to eat or when we go on our mission trip in the summer and I’m eating a lot of peanut butter and bread.
The whole idea of eating more and losing weight seemed absurd to me. I had always believed the usual wisdom that the only way to lose weight was to “eat less and move more.” I had learned from my old Weight Watchers days that there were certain zero points foods that I could eat of freely without gaining weight. I used to open a can of green beans and put ketchup and mustard on them and eat the whole can, but I was still always hungry and never felt satisfied on their diet. So, I would go off of the plan and gain the weight back.
According to Dr.John McDougall, the reason I was never satisfied on Weight Watchers is that I had to limit starches or carbohydrates, the foods that give us energy and fuel our bodies. I was constantly distracted by my hunger and despite my success at losing weight, it was not enough to motivate me to stay on the lifetime maintenance program for very long. Besides, I became weary of measuring my portions and counting points and such. It was just a little to fussy and time consuming as far as I was concerned. So, about 8 months after I started my plant based eating journey, I burned my Weight Watchers Lifetime membership card.
I now can eat as much as I want, as long as I eat the right foods. The big “secret” to this way of eating is that the food we eat is much less calorie dense than what I used to eat on the standard American diet. Not only are fruits, veggies, and whole grains less calorie dense, but they also have a lot of fiber, which helps you feel full. Win, win! Who doesn’t love to eat a lot and feel full?! Jeff Novick, RD, wrote a great article called “A common sense approach to sound nutrition,” which explains how to apply the principles of calorie density to weight loss. It can also be applied to help those who find they are losing too much weight and need to add more calorie dense foods to their diet.
Here is Jeff’s explanation of calorie density:
“Calorie density is simply a measure of the amount of calories in a given weight of food, most often expressed as calories per pound. A food high in calorie density provides a large amount of calories in a small weight of food, whereas a food low in calorie density has much fewer calories for the same weight of food. Therefore, for the same number of calories, one can consume a larger portion of a food lower in calorie density than a food higher in calorie density. On a day-to-day basis, people generally eat a similar amount of food, by weight. Therefore, choosing foods with a lower calorie density allows us to consume our usual amount of food (or more) while reducing our caloric intake.” If you check out the full article you can read more about this simple approach and also see a list of food categories and how they rate for calorie density.
According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, we can’t totally attribute the weight loss experienced by those on a whole food, plant based diet by calorie reduction or restriction alone. He notes studies that show that vegetarians who eat the same or more calories than meat eaters will be slimmer. He also talks about “thermogenesis” , or our production of body heat during metabolism, and he notes “evidence that low protein diets can shift calories toward the production of body heat (thermogenesis) thus sparing its being used to make body fat.” (http://nutritionstudies.org/obesity-debate-something-new/)
In his studies with feeding animals a low protein diet, which is provided by a plant based diet, Dr. Campbell also found that “These low protein animals also were much more physically active, as shown by their voluntarily turning an exercise wheel attached to their cages.”
Dr. Campbell concludes: “Moreover, our human study in rural China supported this same interpretation. People consumed more calories, yet had lower serum cholesterol, less heart disease, less diabetes, less cancer, lower body weight and almost no obesity.This evidence suggests that a whole food, plant-based diet without added oil/fat minimizes overweight and obesity while simultaneously repressing cancer development and reversing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This points us to one cause (whole food plant-based diet), one effect (a constellation of diseases and obesity being prevented, even reversed), a long overdue idea that really works.”
We know that a whole foods, plant based diet can improve our health, keep our weight at a healthy level, and is delicious and loaded with great phytonutrients and antioxidants. So why isn’t everyone in the health and nutrition field beating your door down to convince you to eat this way? Another post for another day!
So, Eat plants. Lose weight. Feel Great! – Rip Esselstyn, chapter 34, “My Beef with Meat”