kitchen table math, the sequel: the secret of my success - weight loss

Monday, December 27, 2010

the secret of my success - weight loss

Every few years I think I've found the secret of weight loss and maintenance.

One year it was Strattera.

Another year it was Seth Roberts and eloo.

Both Strattera and eloo seem to work, but eventually one of two things happens to people following any sort of diet regimen: either the effects wear off or your ability to stick with the program wears off.

This time around, I think it's possible I've found the secret not just to getting thin but to staying thin: quasi-veganism.


I adopted a heavy-duty vegan diet (no animal food, no added salt, sugar, or fat) at the end of September 2009. I didn't stick to it altogether, but pretty much.

Over the next six 5 months, I lost 11 pounds. Which for me is huge. The most I've ever lost on a normal calorie-counting and exercise diet is 5 to 7 pounds. While I was on the vegan regimen, fat just melted away; you cannot be overweight - you cannot even be middle-aged chunky - eating all plant foods with no added salt, sugar, or fat. Guaranteed. (update: or maybe not)

So I lost 11 pounds over the next six 5 months.

Then I promptly lost all desire to carry on eating all plant foods with no added salt, sugar, or fat.

So I switched to a quasi-vegan diet. Veganism (with salt, sugar, and fat) is my default setting, but I eat meat* when the spirit moves me, or when I'm out and about.

"Out and about" means "in a restaurant." It's almost not possible to be a vegan inside an American restaurant. Inside a restaurant, everything is meat. The appetizer is meat, the salad is meat, the main course is meat, the side dishes are meat, the dessert is meat. Just about the only things in a restaurant that aren't meat are the alcohol and the rolls.

If you want to know just how much meat everyone is eating, try opening up a menu and asking yourself what you would order if you wanted to be a vegan. Which I realize you don't. But try the  experiment and you'll see.

We're eating a whole lot of meat.

When I switched to quasi-veganism, I figured: this is it. This is the point where I go off the wagon and gain everything back.

That was last spring. 

Now it's Christmas 2010, and I'm still thin. (Which you can kinda see here.)

As far as I can tell, quasi-veganism works. We'll see.

The weird thing is: I seem to be the only person on the planet who knows this. Assuming I do know it, of course.

Also, I seem to be the only person on the planet who can even conceive of quasi-veganism being the Holy Grail of weight loss and maintenance. I'll be sitting around a table or a living room filled with  middle-aged people who've gained weight over the years, and I will be obviously, manifestly thinner than everyone else except Ed, and when the topic of middle-age weight gain comes up and I mention that the reason I'm thinner than everyone else except Ed is that I have become a quasi-vegan, people stare at me blankly. Most of the time, no one expresses the slightest curiosity as to what I'm talking about.*

Which is weird, don't you think?

If two years ago someone thin had told me "I've found a diet that's easy to follow and works even when you're cheating" I think that would have piqued my interest.

Anyway, assuming quasi-veganism does work - or, rather, will continue to work for me - I have an idea about the mechanism or mechanisms:
As to appetite, you can test the proposition that animal fat stokes appetite for yourself just by observing what foods people do and do not binge on.

I binge on butter; I don't binge on peanut butter. That's what it comes down to.

If I eat one toasted English muffin dripping in melted butter, I want to eat another English muffin dripping in melted butter.

If I eat one toasted bagel dripping in melted peanut butter, that's plenty.

If I eat ice cream, I want to eat more ice cream.

If I eat a bag of potato chips before dinner, which I do, I spoil my appetite.

That's another thing. Remember when parents used to worry about kids "spoiling their appetites"? I have never uttered such a warning to my own kids because until I discovered quasi-veganism, I had never seen an appetite actually get spoiled.

I have now discovered that it is in fact possible to spoil your appetite, but not by eating ice cream. Ice cream makes me hungry for lasagne. Bring it on.

Junk food made with plant fat spoils my appetite.

Junk food made with animal fat does not.


These things may or may not be true:
  • tofu makes you fat - no idea whether this is true, but when I come across photos of overweight vegans on the web, they seem to be of people who've put a fair amount of time and energy into knocking off fatty desserts using tofu as a substitute for butter and eggs.
update: I am not the only person on the planet who knows that quasi-veganism causes weight loss. It's me and Bill Clinton.

Junk Food Makes You Eat More

* By "meat" I mean fish, chicken, eggs, meat, and dairy.
* No one except Susan S, that is. Susan S was willing to read several dozen emails on the subject of veganism during my phase of maximum obsession. Thank you, Susan!


Catherine Johnson said...

Clinton read the same books I read:

Caldwell Esselstyn (primarily, in his case) Reversing Heart Disease
T. Colin Campbell - The China Study

He also cites Dean Ornish, who I didn't read (but who is referenced by Esselstyn & Campbell)

I read Joel Fuhrman, too

And Neal Barnard

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

You're far from the first to discover veganism as a means of weight control (it supposedly is also good for cholesterol control).

Check out
for a bunch of vegan cooking videos.

MiaZagora said...

My Mom (who just turned 67) has been on a no/low carbohydrate diet for almost exactly a year and has lost over 60 pounds. She's at a good weight for her height (about 5 feet!) She has gone most of this time without some sort of regular exercise. About a month or two ago she bought herself a home gym, so she could tighten up her flab and strengthen her muscles.

She's my inspiration!

I may not be able to stick to a very strict diet like she is doing (I still have kids and a husband to feed), but I'm going to try exercising my keester off (which, with the size of my keester) will take a lot of doing - lol!). I have a Wii Fit Plus and I just purchased an Mp3 from Personal Running Trainer - the 4 weeks to 1 mile program:

Good luck in your efforts, and wish me luck in mine - because I'll need it! :0)

Catherine Johnson said...

I am most certainly the first in my circles.

Wolf Blitzer doesn't seem to have heard the word, either.

Plus which, as I say, you can find plenty of overweight vegans on the internet.

I'm talking about easily dropping down to near my college weight while eating beaucoup potato chips.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Mia--

Keep me posted (and good luck!)

This diet is bizarrely easy.

Plus, as I just mentioned, I'm eating a lot of junk food and STILL not gaining weight.

I eat junk food because the one aspect of the Esselstyn/Campbell/Ornish diet that I absolutely could not handle was the no-added-fat requirement.

Neither Ed nor I could handle it. We would have severe fat cravings.

I often find myself, by the end of the afternoon, ravenously hungry for fat specifically.

But - and here's the thing - EATING THE JUNK FOOD I'M CRAVING WHEN I CRAVE IT does not cause me to gain weight.

Which makes me think there's a lot to the idea that plant food affects metabolism.

Must fine the Esselstyn study to link to.

Catherine Johnson said...

I also, pretty routinely, eat pumpkin pie.

Not low fat & not vegan.

It's as if my metabolism has completely changed, which I think is possible.

80% of the time I'm on a vegan diet. (I'll have to figure out whether 80% is accurate.)

The other 20% doesn't seem to matter.

That's the part that is hard to get across: this is a diet that works when you cheat.

Or at least it has worked for me so far.

Catherine Johnson said...

My rule is that if something seems too good to be true, it's not true.

That's the way this diet seems, so I consider it still to be on probationary status.

OK, time to go bake the rest of the chocolate chip cookies.

Catherine Johnson said...

Thanks for the link!

I desperately need a green smoothie recipe; I've been resisting for a year now.

Susan S sent me one, but I'm not sure I can put my hands on it.

Board Certified Doc said...

Work hard and control your eating/Food habits, there is no other short cut to weight Loss.

Anonymous said...

Mmmm... peanut butter. We can't keep it in the house because I will eat an entire jar of it with a spoon. Especially the creamy type.

I suspect that this is because I am a "non-taster" and for me food texture is far more important than flavor. A super-taster, on the other hand, would find this unfathomable.

Lisa said...

I'm an R.D. We know it. Moderation, etc. It's a hard sell. Especially, when as you said, we are surrounded by meat, meat, meat. And huge portions of it. And it makes you crave more meat, meat, meat (or also animal fat/salt/sugar).

palisadesk said...

I wonder whether, as the saying goes, "your results may vary." Perhaps people with different metabolisms (and/or genetic predispositions) respond differently to the same diets. I have tried variations on vegan diets with negative results. A couple of years ago I went on a salad-only binge -- heaps of lettuce, spinach, broccoli with a smattering of other greens -- for over two months. Negligible dressing, just enough olive oil and vinegar to toss the stuff -- and gained 15 pounds. Yikes. On the other hand, various low carb/no carb regimens work wonders. I don't really like meat all that much, so that makes Atkins diet variations not sustainable long-term. But, I don't find meat makes me crave MORE meat, still less sugar or salt. On the contrary, after a hearty serving of baked chicken or salmon fillet, I would have no desire to eat anything else, however tempting, for many hours.

Although I found the scientific basis quite problematic, the "Eat Right 4 Your [Blood] Type" diet worked well for me. It calls for different diets based on your blood type. Type O (comme moi) require high protein intake but no grains, no dairy and no high-glycemic-index fruits. My Type B and A siblings require something quite different, I forget what.

Key to making any of them work is a good exercise routine. I used to be able to work in a lot of biking, hiking and swimming. Unfortunately now with leaving for work at 6 a.m., no lunch break and getting home at 8 p.m. it's impossible to do properly. Haven't found a work-around for that yet.

Catherine Johnson said...

Mmmm... peanut butter. We can't keep it in the house because I will eat an entire jar of it with a spoon. Especially the creamy type.



So far, I don't think I've found a single plant-food I 'binge' on (binge meaning a 'can't eat just one'-type reaction).

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Lisa -

I had NO idea how much meat there is out there ---- how much we eat all day long.

It's pretty amazing.

Bob Darton's essay on peasants and folk tales is intersting on the subject of meat. The peasants were hungry all the time, and they dreamed of meat; the prize in folk tales is very often a big meal of meat and wine.

Darton says the peasants were "de facto vegetarians."

Catherine Johnson said...

palisadesk - wow

that is amazing

after my experience, I would have said (actually, I DID say!) it's impossible to gain weight on a vegan diet

that's fascinating

i was on a stringent regimen; I pretty much stuck to a whole-foods, all-plant, no added salt, fat, or sugar

but again, the astonishing thing was that when I went off the strict regimen I didn't re-gain weight

Catherine Johnson said...

funny thing....I spent years operating on the belief that protein is highly satisfying & thus a good thing to eat if you want to be thin

that appears to have been completely wrong for me

i am a person who finds potato chips filling

blood type: A+

le radical galoisien said...

Health fad people give tofu a bad name in America.

Tofu is for eating with meat guys, not replacing it. Of course it's not going to taste like meat. It supports the existing taste.

Eat Ma Po Tofu with ground beef. mmm. Traditional Sichuan cuisine.

Catherine Johnson said...

It's Bob Darnton

Not Bob Darton


Independent George said...

I've lost over 15 pounds in the last 18 months or so, and have kept it off. My secret diet plan?

I have a dog with a short attention span and really, really sad eyes.

I now walk between 3-6 miles daily, with the occasional jog sprinkled in each week. I eat smaller meals and stopped snacking altogether because every time I sit down to eat, my sweet little con artist plops her head right in my lap and stares at me with the absolute most pathetic expression I've ever seen.

The best part about my weight loss plan is that the weaker your willpower, the more effective it is.

TerriW said...

I've lost 21 lbs in the last year and a half (and still trending downward). The things that have worked best for me:

* Interval workouts (the ones where you raise and lower your intensity/heart rate during a given workout).

* Writing down what I eat and leaving the notebook open on the counter so anyone walking by can see it. My consumption went *way* down after that. Heh.

* Following the tip I think I mentioned here last time apples were mentioned: "If you aren't hungry enough to eat an apple, you aren't hungry enough to eat." And keeping lots of apples around.

* Oh, one last one: drinking a glass or bottle of water before starting a meal. Get the sensation of being full quicker.

K9Sasha said...

I lost 30 lbs. 3 years ago and have kept it off. What works for me? Low carb.

It makes sense to me that not all calories are equal, and that what the body does with food is the more important factor. The book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes is a fascinating read. Well, it's full of fascinating information, and for a science-heavy book is not hard to get through. The book is well researched and extensively footnoted, and is not based on unsubstantiated ideology. One thing that's clear from the book, as well as other diet studies that are coming out, is that a low carb diet does not cause risk factors for heart disease to rise, in fact the opposite happens - they get better.

For me protein leads to satiety, and like Palisadesk, after eating a protein rich meal I'm not hungry for several hours. In fact, after entering my data in an online food counter program I discovered that if my carb count gets too low, I don't eat enough calories because I'm not hungry and have no interest in eating. Now, that no-interest-in-eating thing is completely new to me. I LOVE to eat. At one point in the past I had even made the decision to stay heavy because I didn't want to give up eating as much as I wanted. It's obvious to me that the difference in the amount I want to eat has a direct line association with how many carbs I eat.