Vegan Update, Week 3: From 211.7 lbs To 210.3 lbs…
…with a brief layover at 209.1 lbs before falling off the wagon (and climbing right back on).
Not that scale weight is everything – your weight is a combination of lean muscle mass, body fat, and retained water – but the slowing of the 3 lb per week weight loss coincided with a short but sharp deviation from the vegan principles. And this led to a series of instructive teaching moments.
Nixing Animal Proteins Was Easy – In Week 1
Full disclosure: I wasn’t coming from a diet-naïve background, with Tommy’s Burgers and spicy chicken wings galore. I’d been following a Slow Carb variation of the Paleo diet about 70% of the time, which has 3 basic food groups (proteins, veggies, and beans). I’d gotten used to that approach to assembling meals long ago – one item from each column – which made most meals pretty basic rather than lip smacking (aside from periodic forays into Cheat Days that expanded into Cheat Weekends).
Taking the “protein” column and switching it to “vegan protein” was a piece of cake. I went to zero animal proteins for the entire first week without hardship. Being Asian and having a thing for tofu definitely helped, and though I didn’t need it, a boost to protein intake was just a scoop or two of vegan protein powder plus 10 seconds of blend-on-high away.
Weeks 2 And 3: The Revenge Of The Cheat Days
Again, from my Slow Carb days, a cheat day per week (usually Saturday), kept me from feeling too deprived. Going vegan á la Forks Over Knives involves kissing dairy products goodbye, and cheat days meant the joyous return of cheese, butter and dessert ice cream. So far, so good.
But then the Cheat Saturday became a Cheat Saturday plus Sunday morning, and then a Cheat Weekend. In one weekend I gained 4 lbs, erasing the weight loss of the entire preceding week. This was a harbinger of more breakaways to come.
Gateway Foods Are A Clue
Tim Ferriss refers to tasty-in-moderation goodies as “gateway foods”: a spoonful wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it’s dang hard to stop at just one. Nuts, peanut butter, and sandwich bread quickly surfaced as my gateways. Nuts in the muesli was no problemo, but a container of the same salted nuts on the countertop was an invitation to caloric infidelity.
This had to stop; from a health standpoint, certain vegan foods are fine as occasional treats, but not as regular staples. But I was a dietary veteran, where was the sideways sneaking coming from?
Late Nights Are Another Clue: Foraging In The Fields Of Regret
At about the 2.5 week mark, I had to pull a series of nearly all-nighters, resulting in the instant return to mindless, stick to yer ribs munching.
I’ve never fed my own or anyone else’s pie hole at 2 AM with carrot sticks and quinoa.
When you’re banging your head against the wall and struggling to work through something difficult on black coffee and a prayer, the munching mode defaults to comfort foods: pizza, reheated lasagna, and all that leftover ice cream. It’s as though your higher better self is totally done for the weekend, and the faithful hound left behind is hungry for Some Really Tasty Good Smelling Chow. And that’s pretty much what happened – the key phrase not being Chow, but rather, hungry.
Dial Up The Calories When You Have To, You WILL Have To
We all have an inner hound that is generally well-behaved: we don’t eat out of control and fall down in a food coma, to be repeated thrice daily. But use up your inner reserves of resilience, will power, and common sense, and the superego checks out. Low on sleep, high on stress, past a certain point of pain or discomfort, and your inner hound is sitting there, all by itself.
So don’t let it get hungry.
One of the strong points of a vegan diet is that you can eat a lot of volume with not a whole lot of a calorie bump. Broccoli has a whole lot fewer kilocals than chicken fried steak, and you can eat a bunch of florets and feel totes full for less than half the calories of a tiny piece of meat.
Avoiding added oils (even vegetarian oils) is also one of the vegan tenets, as is nixing dairy – both very calorie dense foods. You make up those calories with moderately calorie dense intact grains and tubers – which end up making up about 80% of your caloric intake (the remaining 20% being half protein and half fats inherent in the vegan foods). Trouble is, most folks going vegan for the first time will underestimate their caloric needs and eat a similar volume of vegan foods to what they used to as meat eaters, and their inner hound starts to salivate.
So in summary, learnings from Week 3:
1. Nixing meats, dairy, and oils means your caloric intake will drop a LOT
2. Cheat Day infidelities, gateway food temptations, and stress eating aren’t failures, they’re common signposts on the road to veganism
3. Buck up and dial up your intake of intact grains, tubers, fruits, and some nuts
Going overboard the other way is a definite possibility, but learning to adjust is part of the journey. The main thing is to stick with it. It is definitely not time to bail.
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