Eating Vegan and Weight Issues2
August 1, 2012 by type1vegan
I read this post today on the Gawker site Lifehacker: How I Lost 100 Pounds. This will come as a surpise to exactly no one who reads this blog, but it has a real anti-vegetarian bent. Diets go through trends, and right now, in our post-Atkins haze, there is a major pro-meat craze going on. This will change, of course, cycle back. The conventional wisdom on food shifts so dramatically so often in this society that it’s truly no wonder people are so confused about how to eat right.
I’ve been somewhat lucky when it comes to weight issues in my own life. I do not struggle the way that many others do. However, I have type 1 diabetes, which makes all eating, well, difficult. I’ve been counting carbs since before it was cool. I have done it so constantly for so long that it’s second nature, something I could never simply forget to do because I do it without any thought (and often do wrong, truthfully). Everything I eat must be counted and followed with a shot of insulin. That’s just my life.
I first started eating vegan because I read a review of the book Veganomicon in Bust Magazine, and I thought it sounded interesting. I wasn’t even a vegetarian at the time. But I bought it, and I kept it on my shelf for maybe close to a year before I ever actually cooked anything from it. The ingredients scared me, and I didn’t know where to get so much that was listed. But the first time I ever baked anything from scratch besides the chocolate chip cookies recipe that is on the back of Nestle chip wrappers, it was the grocery store-friendly Chewy Chocolate-Raspberry Cookies from V-Con, and it was actually an utter fail. My oven, having never been used, overcooked everything at first, and the cookies both burned and melted. But I didn’t give up! I made them again, lowering the baking time, and had a success on my hands. The first dinner recipe I made was the Shepherdess Pie, once I’d located tempeh at the store. And I expanded my food and cooking knowledge from there.
What I found, cooking and eating from this book, was that when I ate vegan, it was easier to control my blood sugar. Many diabetics eat just the opposite–I know of many paleo-diabetics. They eat practically nothing but meat, it seems to me, and they say that the protein keeps their sugar level, or some such thing. But, in my experience, no food keeps your sugar “level.” Either your sugar is rising from food and you need to inject some insulin, it’s going down and you need to eat something, or your sugar levels-off naturally from not having any food being absorbed at that time. When I eat too much protein, my sugar keeps rising, slowly, over the course of hours, requiring multiple injections. I prefer to eat lower protein, lower fat. Carbs don’t bother me–I can count them, give myself some insulin to counter them, and stop worrying.
Now, look, I know that many other diabetics are on a pump, which delivers insulin constantly, so maybe I can see why a high-protein diet would work for them. Frankly, this is one of the many reasons I never intend to switch to a pump. It would not work for my diet, it seems, now that I am committed to a plant-based diet.
But back to the article.
The author, James Golick, states that he had been a vegetarian for ten years before he went on his weight-loss journey, but gave it up because he thought it made it more difficult to lose weight. His reason for believing that, actually, is sound. He writes:
At home, cooking my own meals from my own groceries, vegetarianism was perfectly fine. But, every time I ate in a restaurant, on the street, or even at a friend’s place, my options were nearly invariably some combination of pasta, bread, and sugar.
I may not be totally qualified to comment on this question of how to lose a lot of weight, but I’m going to offer my opinion anyway.
First and foremost, I think that one must cook for one’s self if he or she intends to eat well and lose weight. If you cook, you can completely avoid processed food. You can make it low fat, you can make it low carb, you can avoid stuff you don’t like, whatever. Eating out will always break your diet. It breaks mine! You have no idea how often I end up with non-vegan ingredients when I eat out. I don’t freak about it, but I always wish I were eating something I made myself that would no doubt taste better and be healthier and be vegan.
Cooking makes you appreciate food. It brings a joy to eating that does not come when you eat out, even if you eat at a good vegan restaurant. There is an importance, I think, to eating mindfully, not mindlessly. I think it’s interesting that Golick, in the above quote, mentions eating “on the street.” I’m sure he means from food carts or something. But I think it speaks to a tendency to just pick up food wherever. I do not think this is conducive to weight loss.
I do agree with Golick that one must eliminate processed food from one’s diet. But, for some reason, he considers sugar, in general, to be processed. Same with flour. I disagree. Those things might not help you to lose weight, but that does not mean automatically that they are processed foods.
My current diet is really simple: no processed carbs (that includes ‘carbless’ sugar replacements except stevia). I go through periods where I eat a ton of fruits and vegetables, but lately, I’ve mostly been eating meat and fish.
Do I miss chocolate and ice cream? Definitely. But I eat guilt-free bacon or chicken wings whenever I feel like it, and seeing results makes the sacrifice more than worthwhile.
A few things about this. First, as a person with diabetes who uses sugar substitutes (usally Equal) in her coffee and in other things occasionally, and drinks diet soda, I beg to differ. Those things are TOO carbless. They don’t raise my blood sugar. If they did contain carbs, they would raise my blood sugar. Plain and simple, dude. It’s not some conspiracy to make you gain weight. These chemical things may not be health foods, but they are not filling you with carbs.
But, more importantly, just what kind of ex-vegetarian is this guy? Why was he even a vegetarian before? Did he just do it because it used to be a trend he thought was cool and now it’s not? I mean, I’m mainly an environment/health vegan-eater myself, but most people do it for the animals, and the outrageous cruelty of factory farming. But this guy eats “guilt-free bacon and chicken wings whenever [he] feel[s] like it”? How can he not suffer guilt? He should REALLY suffer guilt about this, if he was ever a vegetarian. And fish! FISH??? He really should know that fish are going extinct so that people like him can fool themselves into thinking they’re eating healthy while they’re actually eating something that, at best, is filled with all the chemical pollutants and crude oil and mercury we’ve ever put into our oceans, and, at worst, will very soon no longer exist, for we’re eating them all. Feel guilty, man. Feel really, really guilty.
And, if he’s eating these things whenever he wants, he’s not keeping that weight off. I’m sorry. This dude has spoken too soon.
Golick writes about exercise:
Exercise has never helped me lose weight. For much of the time that I was grossly over weight, I was also extremely physically active, often whitewater kayaking or downhill skiing for several hours 4 or 5 days a week, and continuing to put on fat.
Man, I hear ya. I struggle with exercise myself, because it makes my blood sugar drop, which makes me have to eat more, which makes it so that you don’t lose any weight as a result of it. I don’t engage in any heavy exercise. The only thing I do is bicycle to and from work.
But let me tell you, ever since I did start that daily bicycle trip, I have become more toned. I get out of breath less easily. I don’t think my weight has dropped, but I have no doubt that it is important and healthful to add what I call “incidental physical activity” into your life. So, this doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to exercise really hard. It means you should drive less and walk more, or bicycle. A morning brisk walk to work may be just the thing. When you exercise, your body uses insulin more effectively, which is basically a fancy technical way of saying it increases your metabolism. I’m not an expert in this, but, frankly, I think that low-impact, extended, consistent exercise does more to speed your metabolism than high-impact, quick, exhausting bursts of it every-so-often does. Also, is “downhill skiing” exercise? I really don’t know, so feel free to answer that question.
Here’s where Golick says something right again, though:
The best diet is the one that you can stick to, even if the weight loss is slower.
See, I think that every diet will help you lose weight, at least for a time. Even if we take on vastly different diets, either one can and probably will result in lost weight. I do not doubt this. So, the question is, how do we eat in a way that doesn’t cause destruction to the earth, and also to our souls? How do we stick to a diet? The answer is definitely not in eating more meat and fish. One of the brilliant things about a vegan diet is that you can be driven by not just your own self-interest to stick to it, but also by a holistic desire for a better world. Personally, I’m a lot more likely to be driven by my principles than by vanity. I know not everyone is like that, but I don’t think that having principles to drive how you eat as well as your own self-interest can possibly do anything but help you stick with it.
Today, for lunch, I had some homemade vegetable stew (which I’ll post about soon), one slice of thick Italian bread, some salad with balsamic vinaigrette, cucumbers from my garden, and sunflower seeds, and a peach. If I get hungry later, I’ve got some roasted, salted peanuts to snack on. My stew has onion and garlic that was cooked in olive oil, so it’s got fat. The dressing in my salad is also oil-based, plus the sunflower seeds are fatty. The stew contains potatoes, which NPR told me is the food which, no matter in what way you eat them, correlates the strongest to weight gain (nuts and seeds correlate the strongest with weight loss). And the bread, of course. Carbalicious.
Now, I’m not trying to be bossypants here, but I’m fairly certain that if this guy ate what I ate for lunch today, and ate things like that every day, and stopped eating out, he’d keep on the weight-loss train.
But, to be honest, I do not judge him for his weight. I think if he ate a healthful vegan diet, he’d be relatively svelte, but even if he wieghed 500 lbs, I would not think any less of him. I only think less of him for eating a meat and fish-based diet, and promoting it to strangers on the internet. And, frankly, he would not have earned my notice or ire if he hadn’t stated that he was formerly a vegetarian but gave it up. I’d have just ignored his article.
James Golick, eat fruit and veggies. Nuts, tofu. Whole grains. Not too much. Eat slowly, mindfully. Cook for yourself. Don’t always deny yourself sugar, unless you just don’t want any sugar, which is fine too. If you feel you must eat animal products, get some organic eggs. Indulge in meat mindfully and enjoy every second of it, because it is a treat that costs the world both in terms of resources and suffering. Don’t write articles that discourage others from eating vegetarian and vegan because that’s not nice. So not nice, in fact, that if there were such a thing as hell, I think it could possibly cause you to go there. Writing off veg diets is like being a global warming denier. It’s both wrong and dangerous. I want you to like yourself and to be happy, but I don’t think extensive weight loss through these unsustainable diets where you’re still eating “on the street” is the way to peace of mind and happiness. Let me give you some good cookbooks.
I was wondering how you balanced your CHO counting with a vegan diet… now I wonder no more. 🙂
What's CHO — carb counting?