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How did Chef AJ lose all that weight? She gave up nuts.

Chef AJ | 07/17/12

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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.

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      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



FACEBOOK COMMENTS:


25 Comments | Leave a comment

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It really does work! Chef AJ's Challenges (along with fitness guru JP) have put me on a path to wellness and helped me reach my ideal body size. I enjoy my food and never have to stress about the calories! I eat only a small amount of nuts each day and I am satisfied!

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nothing special about nuts and seeds for gaining weight. In fact, they have been shown not to be linked to weight gain. Too many calories in any area will result in weight gain. Actually, moderate fat whole food plant intake enhances nutrient absorption, increase satiety and ensures a well rounded portfolio of whole foods. Vegans regularly rank low on omega 3 fatty acids. Foregoing whole food sources such as hemp seeds, flax seeds and walnuts will nothing but increase that risk. Recommend against Chef AJs advice. Go to veganhealth.org for some solid authoritative recommendations for lifelong solid strong planning for a whole food vegan diet.

Lefty

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Sorry to burst your bubble, but I view veganhealth.org as an animal rights site giving health advice. Nothing wrong with that but with all due respect, their dietitians are the last ones I would seek health info from, and yes I mean Ginny Messina. She has written that she prefers not to recommend the vegan diets that produce optimal health because she rejects the work of McDougall, Campbell, Fuhrman, Esselstyn and the rest -- but most importantly she feels their diets are too "restrictive" and simply going vegan is restrictive enough. She wants as many people to go vegan to save animals, and she has written expressing her concerns that the diets of these health experts are harder to stick to and could lead to fewer people remaining vegan, and thus fewer animals saved. She's actually written that. Messina appears to have very different objectives than the actual health experts here (not to mention she fails on the "walk your talk" side of healthy diet if you look at her hubby...).

I prefer taking health advice from health and nutrition professionals who have a long proven record of using diet to reverse serious disease and get people off meds -- which no one associated with veganhealth.org has any experience with. Their long suit is saving animals and increasing the number of vegans, which is fine but not the same thing at all.

The "nuts don't cause weight gain" mantra is actually not so simple. There are good studies showing nuts DO cause weight gain, in addition to population studies suggesting nuts are associated with weight loss.

But a few facts to remember: there is a calorie compensation when you eat nuts so you do absorb fewer calories from nuts than they contain, and in many studies people merely gained LESS weight than would have been expected from the added calories from nut, but they still gained. Most importantly those studies showing nuts may not be associated with weight gain deal with very limited amounts, like an ounce of nuts a few times a week, and not unlimited. It's pretty clear from many posts here and elsewhere responding to AJ's article that this is the crux of the problem -- people are reading veganhealth.org or other sites with the notion that nuts are super foods or necessary for adequate absorption (they're not), and then they chow down on nuts or nut butters regularly, and then wonder why they can't lose those last 10 or 15 pounds. They aren't eating 2 oz of nuts a week, as Dr. Greger advises, they are eating 20 oz or something, along with a bunch of avocado and other high fat foods.

So thank you to AJ for sharing your story here. I expect those who follow her lead are also going to shed pounds and run faster and have less joint and other issues that extra weight can cause, not to mention it feels good when you find a way to effortlessly drop pounds you may have wanted to shed.

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First of all I am advising nothing. I am not telling anyone what to do. Jeff Nelson asked me how I lost weight and I told him and he asked me if I would contribute a blog post. Second, fat is actually the LEAST SATIATING of all of the macronutrients (Blundell JE, Lawton CL, Cotton JR, Macdiarmid JL. Control of human appetite implications for the intake of dietary fat. Annu Rev Nutr 1996; 16: 285-319 and Rolls BJ, Kim-Harris S, Fischman MW, et al. Satiety after preloads with different amounts of fat and carbohydrate: implications for obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994 Oct; 60 (4) 476-87)

The amount of fat needed to increase nutrient absorption is actually quite small, something like the amount of fat in ONE TABLESPOON of avocado. More Americans, vegans included, are suffering from the effects of obesity much more than they suffer from caratenoid absorption problems.

Again, I never told anyone not to eat nuts and seeds and I will definitely add back a tablespoon of ground flax seeds once I reach my ideal weight. And after 6 months without a single nut or seed I did have my Omega 3 fatty acid levels tested and they are fine.

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You say you lose weight because you gave up nuts but you are not telling people to not eat nuts and seeds. I do not understand. Most people who need to lose weight will view the article as a suggestion to do just that whether you say so explicitly or not.

You might have lost weight just as easily by cutting down on a portion of starch or fruit or beans or exercise more. Given the benefit of nuts and seeds in stopping heart attack and cardiovascular diseases, in moderation say a one tbsn of flax per day or other nuts or seeds as Jeff Novick has recommended, I think a message to cut them out completely while pursuing weight loss is premature.

Lefty

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If nuts and seeds stop heart attacks, why is heart disease still the number one killer of all Americans?

And if someone still has fat on their body and they give up nuts as an experiment for 3 weeks, I seriously doubt they will have a heart attack. Excess weight, on the other hand, carries great risks.

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Congratulations AJ. You have the right formula and the correct information. Everything you have said is right on.
Darrell Woodruff MD

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AJ, I loved your honesty in this article. Thank you so much. Some times I think those we look up to have all the answers, and for you to bring all you did to share was refreshing.

My goal is to visit True North. I know it would be a life changing experience, and I would love just to hang out with the staff and the people visiting.

I do fasts on my own, but as time goes on, I'm finding it harder to do a protracted fast.

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What an wonderful chapter...can't wait to read your entire book AJ.
People tend to think that in order for something to work it has to be difficult. I am glad that you were able to state the truth in such simple terms. If only more people could realize how truly simple it is to live a healthful life.
You always were beautiful AJ now you just seem to glow a bit more! Way to go.
Peace and Raw Health,
Elizabeth

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Chef AJ, do you consume soy milk or almond milk. Is that included in not having any nuts.

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In general I do not. Once in a blue moon I have a green smoothie as a treat, but in general no. When I do, I make my own.

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This article is troublesome in several ways. The beauty of a vegan diet is its nutritional diversity and density. The idea of eliminating the powerhouse nutritional density of nuts and seeds is a big mistake. Cutting back, sure. Eliminating, a big mistake.

Also, the discussion of excess fat calories being more fattening than excess carbs or protein is not accurate. Just look at the link between obesity and diets high in suga and refined grains. Virtually all excess calories are converted to fat. True, if it is already fat, that gets stored first. But excess anything is converted to fat. The body doesn't waste or dump energy from any source.

Finally, losing more than a pound a week is satisfying but bad practice. A pound a week represents about a daily 570 calorie deficit. Losing weight at the rates described in the article can cause metabolism to down-regulate. Plus, a higher deficit becomes a "diet" in the sense of a temporary way of eating. It is better to be patient and establish a sustainable way of eating, with minor adjustments to achieve a modest calorie deficit. People doing this are less likely to revert to the old way of eating once their weight goals have been reached.

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Sorry but you have been buying into several myths here, Stevie.

First, nuts are not nutrient dense. That is a myth. Look at the ANDI scale, it's a very problematic scale that I wouldn't actually rely on, but it still makes the point about nuts. If you look at Dr. Fuhrman's new scale, see: http://www.drfuhrman.com/library/article17.aspx you will see that nuts are only slightly more nutrient dense than milk or fish. They are in last place as an unprocessed plant-based source of nutrition. So are you also recommending fish and milk, since they are very close in "nutrient density" with nuts? Get real...

Of course many people are allergic to nuts. It is one of the leading food allergies out there, and they live quite well without them. What are all these nut allergy people doing to offset their nut deficiency? Nothing, because there's no such thing.

Next, nuts are only a tiny part of several of the long lived plant-based populations. In Okinawa, for example, they are less than 1% of the calories.

I don't see AJ saying that excess fat was more fattening. She said fat is easier to overeat on and that it is stored more easily for less energy cost. And that is true. The energy cost of storing fat is 0-3%, for carbs about 15-20% and protein around 20-25%. That means fat is stored as fat way more efficiently than carbs or protein can be. Hence "the fat you eat is the fat you wear" is true.

In addition, because carbs are harder to store, excess carbs/sugar are often burned off as heat first. You have to really overeat carbs to push it to store it as fat. But fat is stored as fat period. So, its a little tricky and complicated but AJ is right.

Because you seem in need of nutritional education, Steve, check out a little way down this page:

http://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2006nl/sept/sugar.htm

This is a pretty decent summation. The body can turn sugar and carb into fat, especially if it is a continued excess. And for the record, sugar consumption has been steadily going down per person since 1999, and yet obesity continues to rise. It's not the sugar.

Now on your final point, that losing a pound a week is bad practice, I am not familiar with anything in the scientific literature that supports your claim. So please produce the studies you can reference that confirm that. And don't provide me some "expert's" opinion on the matter, just the studies that show fast weight loss is a bad practice.

The only risk I'm aware of that has been documented relating to speedy weight loss is gallstones. See James W Anderson, Shannon B Conley, and Amy S Nicholas. One hundred-pound weight losses with an intensive behavioral program: changes in risk factors in 118 patients with long-term follow-up. Am J Clin Nutr 2007 86: 301-7

In other words, AJ is right on and the article isn't troubling in any way.

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Thank you Mark Simon. I appreciate your comments because people are saying many unkind things about my "dangerous" weight loss methods. First of all, I am not saying nuts and seeds are not healthy, nor am I telling others not to eat them. One year before I tried this experiment I was eating the recommended amount per day and my weight did not budge. I was eating 1.5 ounces of nuts a day and 2 Tablespoons of flax seeds. I know that there are folks out there that say nuts help you lose weight. If just didn't for me. Some people are worried they will get cardiac arrythmia if they don't eat nuts or they won't be able to absorb the caratenoid from their greens. I had no idea that this would be such a controversial hot topic. On a more positive note, in addition to the hate mail, I am getting many supportive emails from people who are still eating oil in addition to nuts and seeds. They are saying that this article really made them think about their fat consumption and what affect it's been having on their weight, and they are now ready to give up the processed oil. So that's a good thing!

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Here's how easy it is to be tricked and why this fats and oils issue is so necessary to pay attention to.

On the run, I recently bought a box of Doctor Kracker flatbread crackers. Vegan and Certified USDA Organic no less.

Eight (8) crackers to the box. How bad could it be?

Very hungry, I ate them. THEN I read the label:

100 calories per freaking cracker!!! Not a typo.

Eight not very large crackers: 800 calories (about the same as a Big Mac with Cheese.)

Hey, the crackers were great, but not so great to have consumed 800 calories from eight freaking crackers!

It's frighteningly easy to be fooled by the Food Manufacturing Mafia (and that includes you Doctor Kracker. Shame on you!)

Read labels and review the great info on this site about fats and oils. Thanks to VegSource for being the leader in getting this info out to people.

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If you don't eat dehydrated foods and foods with added fats like vegetable oils, olive oil, etc., and do not eat a lot of nuts and seeds, and avocado then you don't have to think about calories, reading labels or restricting food intake. you can eat all you want, according to instinct.

Bread and crackers are not just dehydrated (and hence confuse the body, the stomach senses fullness and uses that as a signal that aids your aliesthetic instinct), they usually have added oils (some crackers are 1/3 fat by calories). The added oils are not whole foods, the foods they come from are either low in fat in their natural state (and often inedible since they must be cooded, a denaturing process) or were not superabundant in the environment in which man evolved, which supplied most calories as raw carbohydrates.

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I don't recommend people give up nuts while simultaneously switching to a healthy plant-based diet. The change is too drastic and people can fall of the wagon too easily. I lost a lot of weight just by giving up meat and dairy. (I had never really incorporated much processed food in my diet to begin with, so I was lucky there.)

My suggestion: work in stages and set yourself reasonable goals. If you've given up meat and dairy and all processed foods and still have not met your weight goals then you can start looking at the next set of culprits, such as nuts and seeds as well as olive oil and avocados.

However, readers should also keep in mind that not everyone lives in the public eye, and part of their weight problems may be in their expectations. AJ herself wrote that she needed to lose those last 10 or 12 pounds for cosmetic reasons not health reasons. We seem to think that everybody needs to be thin as a reed but the reality is that each of us has a unique ideal figure.

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Good points. I think it all depends on where you are and what your goals are. People transition to plant-based with fake meats and fatty fake cheeses, and can still lose weight. That's fine, maybe not optimal health-wise for the long run, but I agree you don't want to make something so restrictive that they won't do it.

Everyone is different. Some people go in stages and give up a little each week or month -- Rip Esselstyn has a great program like that, going in degrees. Others just pick up McDougall, Fuhrman or Esselstyn's book and go from zero to all the way, right from Day One. Whatever works for a person, is the right approach, in my view.

By the way, AJ lost the weight not only for cosmetic reasons (which are very valid reasons if it's important to someone, in my opinion), but also due to a knee problem which has thankfully improved with the lost weight.

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I'm also a vegan chef and have a background in nutritional biochemistry (but am not a registered dietitian). My experience with a weight loss plateau was identical to AJ's. I've put on about twenty pounds over two years from medications and a good serving of old-fashioned laziness. Without thinking about it, I've also added too many very flavorful oils and nuts to my diet. I was able to start paring down the flab only after I returned to my lifelong low-fat diet, even though total calorie intake before and after was the same. When I decreased the proportion of fats and increased starchy vegetable consumption a bit, I finally started making progress.

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I think Chef AJ makes sense...maybe nuts don't cause weight gain (or prevent weight loss) for many, but they obviously do for her. How this issue can generate hate mail is beyond me.

But...I am just wondering why a photo of yoga pants and high heals??? I think--and I am saying this as a person in the SAME position--Chef AJ has at least another 15 lbs of abdominal fat to lose. She will then not need to pose in heels for the thinnest angle possible.

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Dear Vegrunner,

As someone who has a regular yoga practice, I can assure you that what I am wearing are not yoga pants. They have absolutely no elastic or spandex and if I wore them to yoga they would most assuredly fall off when I do headstands or handstands. They are called capri pants and are 100% cotton. I purchased them in Big Bear, where there is not a single yoga studio.

Why heels? Because the person who took the photo said to put shoes on and those were her shoes. I was barefoot.

I have lost at least another 10 pounds since that photo was taken. You can see it on my Facebook page. I was recently called "skinny" by Dr. Esslestyn.

Love & Kale,
Chef AJ

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Chef AJ looks good in whatever she chooses to wear. Lighten up folks.

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this is a very good weight loss for men

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Chef AJ: As a former Souther Californian, I love your classification of Los Angeles pounds vs real world pounds. So true! Thank you for your "Quick Six" and House Dressing. They are fabulous!

Vegrunner: I met Chef AJ live and in person this past weekend in Marshall TX and she is lean and beautiful even when converted into LA pounds. Also, those tiny little heels on the back of her cute sandals are by no means meeting the standard of "high". For those of us standing at 5 ft 5 or less, they are just enough to keep our heads at shoulder level in most company and keep our pant legs from dragging without benefit of a tailor.

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Thank you! I've just been informed I am being invited back to Marshall next year to speak and be the Emcee of their now annual New Year, New You fest.

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