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Lose the Nuts, Lose the Weight - Update from Chef AJ and Others

by Chef AJ | 11/21/13

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Read More: chef aj, low fat, mcdougall, nuts, plant-based, vegan, weight loss, whole food

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I recently had the pleasure of attending the annual Healthy Lifestyle Expo in Woodland Hills, California.  As I was exiting the Ladies Room a woman came up to me and asked “did you really lose all that weight simply by abstaining from nuts”? 

I don’t think a day has gone by since my story first appeared on this website in July of 2012 where I haven’t gotten at least one e-mail asking me that question, and I am happy to answer it.  In a nutshell (pun intended), yes, I did lose a whole lot of weight when I stopped eating nuts.

But before I go on, let me say this.  If you are someone who can eat nuts and be at a weight you are happy with, by all means, keep eating them.  And if you are one of the lucky people who can actually lose weight while eating nuts, I envy you.  This was not the case with me. 

But please understand that I have never said that nuts were unhealthy, nor did I ever tell other people not to eat them.

It's been nearly a year and a half since the story of my 20 pound weight loss appeared on the Vegsource website and I'm happy to say that since then I have lost almost another 20 pounds!

And it really wasn’t as difficult as you might think. 

chefajbefore_after600.jpg

While I have continued to abstain from eating nuts and nut butters, I do now eat flax seeds and chia seeds and sesame seeds, in recipes, fairly regularly and I eat avocado occasionally.  (I did not consume them the first 7 months of my weight loss journey but I had my DHA levels checked and they were adequate.  I was also told by my physician that as long as I still had fat on my body I would not suffer from a fatty acid deficiency).

Now I eat primarily from the New Four Food Groups as outlined on the PCRM power plate - fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.  I eat as much from these four groups as I desire, as often as I desire, and I continue to lose weight.  And I eat them in their whole food form, not squeezed into juices or blended into smoothies. 

Does this surprise you?  It certainly didn't surprise Dr. McDougall, who I ran into in Portland in September. He has been telling people to do this for over 40 years while telling us that “the fat we eat literally is the fat we wear."

When my story first ran on VegSource, I received quite a few negative comments about my weight loss success experience.  Many people made brutal comments on other blogs and websites saying things like "You are still fat!" or how I was "killing people by telling them to not eat nuts!"  Several comments were made about my hair, my yoga pants and even my shoes.  I still don't understand what this had to do with the story.  

First of all, I never told anyone not to eat nuts or even that nuts were unhealthy.  Both Jeff Nelson and Jeff Novick MS RD have written extensively on VegSource.com and elsewhere about the health properties of nuts and presented myriad scientific data pertaining to nuts and weight gain. 

If you can eat nuts and maintain a weight that you are happy with, by all means, continue to consume them.  I can only tell you what my experience with nuts has been.  When I ate them, even in doses as low as an ounce a day, I simply could not lose weight.  When I ate more than an ounce a day, I gained weight. 

And as a food addict, nuts and nut butters are a real trigger food for me.  It is exceedingly difficult for me to eat them without wanting to over eat them.  Eating a tablespoon or two of flax or chia seeds just doesn’t ignite those same cravings in me. Nuts are, for me, a real pleasure trap food so it’s best I avoid them.  It’s no wonder that pretty much all of the organizations that treat food addiction do not allow them in their programs.

When my story first came out, many believed I could not have lost weight simply by abstaining from nuts. I was accused of having lost weight by several other extreme means, such as exercise. Those who know me well laugh at how preposterous this is. While I certainly endorse physical movement, I want people to know that if you can’t, or absolutely won’t exercise, you still CAN lose weight eating mass quantities of delicious food, as long as you are eating the right food! 

The only form of exercise I did while losing weight were two gentle forms of yoga called Yin (deep stretch) and restorative.  I started my yoga practice on August 19, 2011 and I have continued to practice two to three times a week since.  While these forms of yoga have multiple health benefits, including stress reduction and increased flexibility, I don't believe that either of these modalities are huge calorie burners.  In January of this year I bought a Groupon for ten spinning classes. On March 7th of this year I started spinning 2-3 times a week, when I am in town.  I still dislike exercising but I understand that if I want to maintain my weight loss it’s something I just have to do.

I was also accused of having an ulterior motive such as wanting to promote my new book (which still hasn't been written).  I would like to make a full disclosure, however.  I do have a new DVD based on a program I run in Los Angeles which incorporates these principles.   I am writing this post now because once again I ran into Jeff Nelson and he noticed I had lost more weight and asked me to write a follow up.  (The new AFTER photo was taken on November 3rd, 2013, right after Healthy Taste of LA).  

I'm not going to lie; at the age of almost 54, I am enjoying my new figure. 

For the first time in my life I have a slim physique while eating mass quantities of delicious food.  Twice in my life I have actually been 10 pounds thinner than I am now.  Once was in my teens when I was in the hospital with anorexia.  The second was in my thirties when I was on Phen Fen.  This is the first time I was able to achieve and maintain a normal weight while eating healthy, delicious food!!! 

I loved it when at a Hollywood party Rory Freedman said "wow, you really are a skinny bitch" or when Dr. Esselstyn says “hey there skinny”.  I love buying size 6 pants instead of 14.  And I especially love teaching others what I've learned.  (Please see the before and after photos at the end of this article, showing the success of some of my students).

But before you start singing me that Carly Simon song “You’re So Vain," let me tell you the primary reason I so desperately wanted to lose weight.  I could not say this in the previous article because there was a lawsuit pending, but in February of 2010 I was in an accident and I severely fractured my left knee.  I was in a wheelchair for 3 months and I gained about 10 pounds from the inactivity.  When I finally could walk again, with a custom brace and a walker, it hurt like heck!!!  The knee never healed properly and I was in pain every day for almost 2 years when I reluctantly agreed to have surgery. 

I was really scared because the doctor said they could only do the operation under general anesthesia and last time I had a general I had an allergic reaction to it.  Then the doctor told me something that really made me think.  He said, “Did you know that for every pound you are overweight, that’s an additional 3 pounds of pressure to your knee, and for every pound you lose, that’s a 4 pound reduction in knee joint stress?"  

While being overweight did not cause my knee pain, it certainly made it worse.  As a chef, sometimes I have to stand on my feet for 14 hours straight, and my knee would swell up something fierce.  I was in a great deal of pain so I was highly motivated.  And I really did not want to have surgery.  So I can honestly tell you, that all vanity aside, the best thing about losing weight is not having daily knee pain and swelling.

For those who were inspired by my story, the most common question I get is, “What the heck do you eat"?  I eat real, unprocessed WHOLE plant food - fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and a few seeds, without the addition of sugar, oil or salt.  For breakfast, I always start my day with vegetables.  I don't blend them or juice them, I eat them.  As weird as this may sound to most Americans, in every country I have ever visited I was served vegetables for breakfast.  When I was appearing on a television show in Tokyo, Japan, I was served salad, miso soup and rice for breakfast.  When teaching at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, breakfast was steamed veggies with beans and oil free corn tortillas. Only in the U.S. does breakfast have to be something full of caffeine, flour and sugar.

I usually steam kale in my electric pressure cooker for 4 minutes.  Sometimes I eat it plain, sometimes I add a flavored vinegar or tahini dressing.  Just because I eat veggies for breakfast doesn't mean that's all that I eat.  I will often have a sweet potato with my greens or some fruit or a cooked whole grain.   Lunch is usually a huge salad with beans and an oil-free dressing.  My dinner is almost always a chili, soup or stew, made in the pressure cooker and served over a potato or brown rice.  If I eat dessert it's always fruit.  I try not to snack, but if I do it's either fruit or vegetables.  Sugar snap peas are my favorite.   My motto is, "If I'm not hungry enough to eat kale, I'm not hungry."

I now eat according to the principles of calorie density that I learned at True North.  I eat the foods with the lowest calorie density first (fruits and veggies) and then add the whole grains and legumes for satiation.  Consuming foods from these four food groups allow me to eat freely of the foods that are 100-600 calories per pound.  I do not have to weigh or measure anything.  It's only when I eat foods with greater caloric abundance -- avocado at 750 calories per pound, bread at 1400 calories per pound, sugar at 1800 calories per pound, chocolate at 2800 calories per pound, nuts at 3000 calories per pound and oil at 4000 calories per pound -- that I get I to trouble and have difficulty maintaining my weight loss.

What I'd like to add is that I am a food addict in recovery.  As far as I know, none of the food addiction programs that have ever existed (OA, RFA, FAIR, or CEA-HOW) have ever permitted the use of nuts in any of their programs.  For many of the people I work with, nuts are a huge trigger food. It is almost impossible for us to eat them without overeating them, or at least wanting to overeat them. (That never happens with kale :).  When I ate nuts and nut butters it kept the cravings for those high fat foods alive.  It is just so much easier for me to avoid eating any food I will overeat on. Moderation has never worked for an addict.

I also would like you to know that I did a great deal of work to help me manage my emotional eating. In addition to making several visits to True North, I read two wonderful books which were an enormous help to me.  One was “Shrink Yourself” by Roger Gould, M.D. and the other was “The Emotional Eaters Repair Manual” by Julie Simon, MFT.  I also did the online program at www.shrinkyourself.com and took Julie Simon's program in person at www.overeatingrecovery.com.  I received great value from both of these books and their corresponding programs.  And of course, I highly recommend "The Pleasure Trap" by Dr. Lisle and Dr. Goldhamer.  If you need more help than a book can provide, consider going to True North and seeing both of these amazing doctors in person. 

What I’ve learned from my journey is that whatever I do, I will never be able to please everyone.  When I was 40 pounds heavier people were leaving messages on my Facebook and You Tube pages saying things like, “If the vegan diet is so great, then why are you so fat?" Now other people are saying that I’m too thin, and I am sending a bad message shaming fat people.  Ya just can’t win!

I know that my story may upset some of you who insist on holding onto your nuts.  If you can eat fat and not get fat, or even better, actually lose weight; by all means keep doing what you are doing. 

But if you one of the 154.7 millions of Americans who are either overweight or obese, perhaps you might consider "doing an experiment" like Dr. Doug Lisle encouraged me to do in January of 2012. Try decreasing the percentage of calories from fat in your diet and see if you actually lose weight, like I did. 

If you are currently eating a lot of the high fat plant foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, olives, soy products or refined oils, why not go 30 days without them and see what happens?  There is an ancient Chinese saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you have always gotten."  Sometimes, changing just one thing in your diet, changes everything. 

Hey, if you don't lose weight, I'll make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Day 31.  What have you got to lose?

- - - - - - - - -

Here are some before/after photos of Chef AJ's students who followed her low-fat, no salt, sugar or oil approach, and got great results:

Shayda says: Since starting on this program I have lost over 80lbs, and I'm no longer on any medications.  I was on cholesterol and triglycerides meds.  My CRP, which is the inflammation in my body went from 14 to 1, my triglycerides went from 180 to 140 and my glucose went from 98 to 78.  I'm no longer pre diabetic.  I finally have my life back and I owe it to chef AJ and her unprocessed challenge.

shayda_before_after.png

 

Rebecca says: Thanks to the 30 Day Challenge my cholesterol dropped from 212 to 157 (my Dr. has stopped threatening me with statins), I lost 65 pounds and my energy levels have increased! Amazing what a whole food, plant based diet (free of sugar, oil & salt) can do!!!

rebecca_beforeafter.jpg

 

Melanie says: When I was introduced to Chef AJ in January 2011 I was overweight, my cholesterol was 237, my body ached from inflammation and I was on medication for depression.  It was through her unprocessed 30 day challenge that I learned about nutrition and adopted an unprocessed whole food plant based diet.  By April 2012 I was off all meds and my cholesterol dropped to 169. Since working with Chef AJ, I've lost 40lbs and have absolutely no inflammation. I am physically active and enjoy my life with emotional clarity.

melaniebeforeafter600.jpg

 

Rob says: During the 30 day challenge I lost 23 pounds, my LDL went down 50 points. I no longer crave the processed foods I was eating before, I now crave a nice big bowl of kale every night!. A year after the challenge I had my cholesterol tested and my LDL was 59, the lowest it has ever been in my life. I have continued this healthy lifestyle for 1 1/2 years now and couldn’t imagine my life any differently. Chef AJ showed me how much fuller life is when you fill up on whole plant based foods!

rob_beforeafter600.jpg

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Editor's comment:  Nuts are healthy food, but do not believe the nut industry-funded studies that purport to show nuts do not cause weight gain when added to an ad-libitum diet.  The truth, as we've shown in multiple articles here on VegSource, is that all of the studies done on nuts and weight show that adding nuts to one's diet causes weight gain.  In some cases, adding nuts does not cause the "expected" amount of weight gain, but they do cause weight gain.  The evidence of this is in the data tables of every such nuts/weight study undertaken, as we've shown in other articles. Other plant-based nutrition websites which previously posted information and videos saying that nuts do not cause weight gain have deleted those videos, after our articles came out, and replaced with new videos with titles like "Nuts do not cause the expected weight gain."  But the studies all show adding nuts to one's diet does cause weight gain.

It's important to note that most of the plant-based diets which encourage nuts are calorie restrictive diets. They specifically encourage nuts to be consumed but only to replace other calories, and to limit the nuts (unless one is very active) so as not to cause weight gain.  These diets generally focus heavily on very low calorie dense foods (fruits and veggies) and limit the amount and types of other foods consumed (grains, tubers, etc.) and limit the amount of meals and/or meal frequency by employing the old Natural Hygiene concept of "true" hunger.

The diet Chef AJ followed is "ad libitum" which means "at one's pleasure" or "at one's liberty."  It is the opposite of a calorie restrictive diet.  Chef AJ eats when she is hungry and until she is full, and does not concern herself with whether she feels "true" hunger or another kind of hunger. She eats when hungry and until she is satisfied, and still loses weight. This ad libitum style is like the diets taught at True North, the McDougall program and Dr. Esselstyn's program. 

The issue of whether to limit or eliminate nuts comes into play only for those people who are not at their ideal weight and need to lose weight.

"But you won't have optimal health and you will die sooner if you don't eat nuts!!!" That seems to be what nut pushers claim, but there is no evidence whatsoever to back it up. 

Previously we have also noted many of the health claims made about nuts are exaggerated or false. In any case, all of the claims are extremely weak and based on dubious or very weak evidence.

Even today, another such nut industry-funded study has come out and is being touted in the media. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine today, the study purports to show that "eating nuts may make you live longer."

Here is a link to a media report about this study, and here is a link to the study itself.  As you can see from the study, it was paid for by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation, a trade group formed by nut manufacturers.

All you really need to know about today's nut study is that it is an obvservational study.  Every so many years, study participants write down how much they smoke, how often and hard they exercise, what they eat and drink.  Then researchers look at this data many years later, look at who died or what health issues participants had, and try to see if there is a correlation between a certain food, drink or behavior, and a health outcome.

Of course the problem is it's impossible to pinpoint one food and one health outcome, and that's because the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.  Someone's overall lifestyle is more predictive of health outcomes than one particular nutrient or food.  But the food industry needs to sell their products, and this is why we see businesses like the nut, dairy, olive oil, fish and other industries paying to have reviews done in case they can use the sketchy results to sell more of their product.

Some of the data in today's study came from the Nurse's Health Study, which not only showed that nuts are healthful, but show that low-fat dairy is healthful, that olive oil combats heart disease and is healthful, and that you should be adding fish to your diet in order to beat disease and live longer. Here a compilation of many studies using the same Nurse's Health Study data, which shows findings such as that higher intake of fish may reduce risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, fish intake reduces risk of stroke, and a Mediterranean-type diet which includes olive oil and dairy reduces risk of Coronary Heart Disease and stroke.

So are you ready to follow the findings of the Nurse's Health Study and add dairy, fish and olive oil to your whole food plant-based diet in order to be healthier and live longer?  I didn't think so. So why would this same unimpressive data suddenly become true or relevant to a vegan diet, only where it pertains to nuts? 

Also, if you click on the link to today's latest study on nuts and mortality and open Table 1, you will see the differences in various habits between the nut eaters and the non-nut eaters.  The nut eaters, who lived longer, also just happened to smoke a great deal less than the non-nut eaters, they ate way more fruits and veggies than the non-nut eaters, and they weighed less at the start and throughout the study than the non-nut eaters.  

The study authors admit in the study:

"Given the observational nature of our study, it is not possible to conclude that the observed inverse association between nut consumption and mortality reflects cause and effect."

Right, they can't possibly say that nuts make you live longer, but that doesn't stop the nut industry and our soundbite media from pushing the notion.

If you buy this research that nuts will make you live longer -- rather than being thinner, smoking less, and eating more fruits and veggies is the key -- then you would again have to agree with that data that also purportedly shows that dairy, olive oil and fish will make you thin and healthy and live longer. Otherwise you are just cherry-picking from data in order to try to prove your point. 

In other words, don't be fooled into reductionist nonsense science, generally used by people trying to sell you something.

The single most important factor for health and longevity on a plant-based diet is exactly what Chef AJ cites above -- calorie density.  

Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian Jeff Novick MS RD has been teaching about the importance of Calorie Density for over 20 years, including all the concepts Chef AJ alludes to above.  Here are links to more of Jeff Novick's invaluable information on calorie density:

 



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7 Comments | Leave a comment

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I am quite bothered by this.

Firstly, everyone has "trigger" foods.

Nuts are a fantastic food source and every single individual should only allow themselves a handful of nuts, mixed or otherwise daily. The old eating rule that proteins should be the size of the palm of the individual hand still applies and applies to all nut intake.

Beans, tofu and nuts are a fantastic food source for all individuals. I occasionally over indulge in nuts which means that I cut back on all other caloric intake.

As a thirty year plus vegan, nuts have been a steady standby easily transportable high energy food and eliminating them would I feel be a nutritional mistake.

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It is simply not true that everyone has trigger foods. Binge eating disorder, as described in the DSM-5 states that "A trigger food can be described as any food that, when eaten, makes one crave more of either that particular food or just food in general. This often leads to a binge - a period of uncontrolled and compulsive overeating"

There are many people who do not binge or overeat.

I have been vegan for 36 years and have never been able to safely include any amount of nuts in my diet. I am truly happy for you that you are able to but please don't just assume that everyone can.
That is like telling an alcoholic to just drink less alcohol.

By avoiding nuts in other high fat foods, I am never tempted to overindulge so I don't have to cut back on anything.

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I'm afraid you are not correct in the statement that not everyone has trigger foods. Place a bag of potato chips or similar food in front of virtually anyone and they will be "triggered" by the bodies fat sensors on the roof of the mouth to eat more.

These individuals would not consider themselves to be binge eaters but rather over indulgers. Rhetoric aside, I believe it to be a mistake to publicize nuts as being a factor in losing weight. By "losing the nuts" a fantastic nutritional source is lost. Tofu is a high fat food, so are most beans, avocado, and a score of other wonderful plant based and necessary food products. These natural fats are vital in maintaining body functional health.

Compulsive and binge eating is primarily environmentally/emotionally triggered. I know this because as a nurse I worked with these individuals.

As I said in my first comment, the palm of each individuals hand is the correct measure size for each high fat/protein portion per day.

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NUT-EATERS LIVE LONGER AND WEIGH LESS

This is the headline from one of Dr. Gabe Mirkin's ezines. According to this article;

"An analysis of 76,464 women (The Nurses' Health Study) and of 42,498 men (The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study) showed that those who eat a handful of nuts each day are 20 percent less likely to die from any cause over a 30-year period than those who do not eat nuts (New England Journal of Medicine, November 21, 2013) The more nuts a person ate, the less likely he or she was to die over this 30-year follow-up period."

The rest of this article can be read in its entirety on Dr. Mirkin's website.

Please keep open minds about this. It is for the sake of good and wholesome nutrition.

Any and every food can easily be eliminated for weight loss. But quality nutrition is vital for everyone and nuts play an important role.

Happy holidays and healthful eating.

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All seeds were discontinued? What about flaxseeds? Flaxseeds are one of the few sources of omega 3's for vegans. I m interested because I would like to lose a few pounds.
Thanks

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Greetings MPoison. I hope you don't mind my responding to your comment.

As a nurse of many years and a Vegan for over thirty, I don't ever embrace dropping a good plant food source from the diet. It's a question of just two things. Intake and expenditure. Calories in and calories out. A strong regular exercise regimen is imperative. When one overindulges in something, then cut back the next day in calorie intake.

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is a plus along with a serving of beans daily. A huge fresh green salad is also a good daily habit. Along with exercise the pounds will melt off and to maintain is then easy.

As you can see from my previous comments, I don't believe that discarding nuts is even a good idea. Just a palmful daily and good nutrition is optimized. Best of luck.

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Dear Chef AJ,
Your story and experience with weight loss is very inspiring. So I went to look at your book, Unprocessed, only to find that many recipes require nuts in one form or another. How would this be helpful?
thanks.

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