Editor's Note: We ran into our friend, Chef AJ, at a local vegan fair not long ago and were struck -- she's lost a lot of weight! She then told a story of being in excellent health, but being questioned about her own weight when she is teaching healthy weightloss, and how working with a top plant-based clinic in Northern California led her to change her diet, and get some amazing results. We asked if she would share her story, and she said she is finishing a new book, and has a full chapter telling what she did. With AJ's permission we are running that chapter below, which is from her forthcoming book, The 30 Day UNPROCESSED Challenge.
In a country where Americans consume over 90 % of their calories from animal products and processed food, eating a low-fat whole food plant based diet isn’t always easy. Temptation exists on every street corner and on every television commercial. You can’t even go to the pet store or hardware store anymore without gum and candy being sold at the cash register. That’s why many people take the 30 Day Unprocessed challenge more than once. Even people who have reached their slim ideal weight come back for the support and to make sure they stay on the path of healthy eating.
When I started running this program four years ago, the only rules were that people had to consume a whole food plant based diet without the addition of processed food, in general, and without the use of added sugar, oil and salt in particular. We did not put any restriction on the amount of whole foods higher in fat like nuts, seeds and avocado people could eat because we wanted to make the food as palatable as possible and get the participant off of all oils. It is interesting to note that the majority of the people who take my classes and do my programs are not even plant based initially. I find it so much easier to get an unhealthy, overweight individual eating the Standard American Diet to follow my program than a junk food eating vegan. Most vegans I know are just as addicted to, and defensive of, their high fat staples like Daiya cheese, Earth Balance, Gardein and Tofutti Cuties. They fail to realize that processed foods high in sugar, fat and salt is just as addictive to their brain chemistry and harmful to their health if it’s made by a reputable vegan company using all GMO-free organic ingredients as if it were made by Kraft.
First, let me say there is nothing wrong with whole food fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado when used in moderation as part of a healthy diet, especially for people who are at their ideal weight and don’t wish to be slimmer. All of the overweight participants had tremendous success on the program even while including an ounce or two of raw nuts or seeds daily if desired. But the people who were only 10-15 pounds over their ideal weight, myself included, did not. Clearly, something had to change and the change had to begin with me.
As most dieters will tell you it’s those last stubborn 10-15 pounds that are the most difficult to lose. Like the people in the previous chapter who one day just “woke up fat” I honestly didn’t think I needed to lose any weight. My BMI was < 25 and all of the numbers from all of my blood tests were exemplary and showed that I had no risk factors for diabetes or cardiovascular disease. My total cholesterol was 99 mg/dl, my LDL was 57 mg/dl and my triglycerides (which measures fat in the blood) were 36. My weight had been stable for at least the last 15 years and so I figured all was well. That is, until I started teaching health and wellness. Apparently, there is one weight that is considered acceptable for regular folk and another for people who are in the public eye.
I have several videos of my recipes on You Tube and one of the viewers wrote “if your diet is so great, then why are you so fat”? I felt like saying “I don’t know, why are you such an asshole”? but I’m a lady! (Yeah, right!) As rude and insensitive as this may sound, he wasn’t the only one who expressed this sentiment. After one of my classes at Whole Foods a man came up to me and said he wanted to talk to me privately. He was a personal trainer and said “you would be a much more effective communicator if you lost weight”. Even a family member remarked “don’t you think you’re too fat to be teaching this stuff”. So, I got off of my fat ass went to True North, and it changed my life.
The first thing they assured me of was that I was extremely healthy and that this was merely an aesthetic problem that I could either choose to address or not. Living in Southern California, being even 10 pounds overweight is like being 100 pounds overweight in Los Angeles pounds. I truly thought I was eating a plant perfect diet by consuming only fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts and seeds without the addition of any processed food or sugar, oil and salt. And while I enjoyed perfect health and truly was eating all of nature’s most perfect foods, I was not eating them in the correct amount to achieve a slim physique. It took a session with resident psychologist Dr. Doug Lisle to figure this out.
Those rude comments did not hurt me as much as they made me feel like a complete failure. How could everyone else lose weight on this program except for me? I know that research shows that most overweight people underreport what they truly eat. But I was eating perfectly and Dr. Lisle believed me. He took a look at my food journal and said “this is an easy fix”. “Currently you are eating about 25-30% of your calories from fat.. In order to lose weight you need to decrease that number to 10-15% of your calories from fat”. (Dr. Lisle used to be a statistics professor at Stanford University). It turned out that I didn’t have emotional problems causing me to be overweight after all, I had MATH PROBLEMS!!!
Dr. Lisle explained it to me this way, or at least this is how I understood it. He said that the concentration of calories from fat in my diet was too high and I needed to decrease it in order to lose weight. I was very mindful of the amount of nuts and seeds I used, carefully measuring out every teaspoon of nut butter or tablespoon of ground flax seeds. But for someone like me who is hypothyroid with a slow basal metabolic rate (which I had accurately measured at Loma Linda University), even a moderate amount of healthy fats was too much. One ounce of walnuts has 20g of fat. And while eating the recommended amount of nuts kept me healthy and didn’t cause me to gain weight, they also prevented me from losing weight.
Dr. Lisle had me think about it like this. He said to imagine that you need to eat 2,000 calories a day to neither gain nor lose weight. Let’s say you ate one extra cashew a day which would contribute an additional 20 calories. He explained that when you overshoot your caloric needs from fat, those calories are immediately stored AS FAT. And in the course of a year you would gain a pound. But if those 10 extra calories came from protein or carbohydrates they would not be stored as fat because protein cannot be stored as fat and the additional calories from the carbohydrates would be burned as heat. It’s not that carbohydrate can never be converted into fat but it is extremely difficult and does not occur under normal circumstances. It takes something like eight times the amount of energy to turn carbohydrate into fat so you could ostensibly overeat on calories if they did not come from fat and actually lose weight Well, being a volume eater, this was certainly good news to me!
Dr. Lisle gave me this information the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2011. Still, I was reluctant to implement his suggestion because I feared I would experience mental discomfort if I gave up my beloved nuts, even though I really was not eating that many of them. I waited until the New Year and decided to do, as Dr. Lisle suggested, “an experiment”. I knew that I could do anything for a period of 90 days. I figured I would give this a try just until my birthday which is on March 22nd. If nothing happened I would just go back to what I was eating before and then enjoy a delicious fruit and nut based dessert on my birthday. Well, I almost could not believe what happened. A mere 12 weeks after giving up nuts and seeds I lost 12 pounds effortlessly!!! And I didn’t suffer at all. I literally ate all I wanted, mass quantities in fact, of everything else – fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. And I experienced no metal anguish whatsoever!!!
I remember hearing Dr. McDougall say for years “the fat you eat is the fat your wear” but I really did not fully understand this concept until Dr. Lisle explained it to me in terms of math. Oil is 4,000 calories per pound. Nuts and seeds are 3,000 calories per pound. It would make sense that one would not experience a tremendous amount of weight loss from switching from a 4,000 calorie per pound food to a 3,000 calorie per pound food. And what about those creamy, delicious avocados? They are still 750 calories per pound, and while significantly lower in calories than nuts and seeds, they are still much higher in calories than the rest of the foods in the plant kingdom. And practically all of their calories come from fat. I also stopped eating avocados unless they were mixed with something like beans or peas so that the fat calories would be cut in half. Then I would only use a dollop atop my stuffed Mexican potato and occasionally eat it in my brown rice vegetable sushi. If you are one of those people who need the scientific proof to be convinced of what I am saying, it is all outlined in Dr. McDougall’s new book “The Starch Solution” on pages 16, 21, 22, 24 and 26. He provides the exact references to each of the scientific journal article discussing this subject.
Now when we run the program we advise all of those who are wanting to lose weight to abstain from all added fat and the results we are getting are nothing short of spectacular. People are now losing an average of 16 pounds in a month - that’s a half a pound a day. The heaviest people lose more than 20 pounds in 30 days and even the thinnest who don’t even need to lose weight will lose 5 pounds. We don’t tell people that they can never enjoy nuts, seeds, or avocado ever again, we just have them be very mindful of them while they are losing weight. Once they reach their ideal weight, they can eat more of them if they wish if they can still maintain their desired weight loss and good health.
What has been really fun for me is creating new, delicious recipes that are significantly lower in fat. I was able to take many of my original recipes from my book UNPROCESSED and make them challenge friendly and create many more that were very low in fat.. Now when I get a participant whose weight loss is stalled I have them look at the percentage of calories they are eating from fat and tell them “you do the math”. Thanks, Dr. Lisle!!!
Copyright 2012 –The 30 Day UNPROCESSED Challenge
Learn more about Chef AJ at www.EatUnprocessed.com
To read the latest scientific information about nuts and health -- do they cause weight gain, as they did for Chef AJ? Are they crucial health food? (No) Read THIS ARTICLE