Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Don't call it vegan (my plant-based diet experiment)

21 Days of Being Better Than You

It's been a good year for me fitness wise.  I stuck to my new year's resolution and completed the P90x program, including the diet.  In the first month I stuck to the meals religiously and lost almost 10 pounds.  The second and third months weren't quite as successful diet-wise, but I still feel good saying I completed the program.  I'll save the details of the P90x for another post, but the important thing is that I learned some important basics about diet and nutrition and added some good recipes to my arsenal.

Unfortunately, I could tell people were starting to get jealous of my new smokin' hot bod, so I decided to put a few of those pounds back on.  At least that's what I told myself.  Actually, without a laid out diet to stick to I stopped putting in the effort to plan and shop for the right kind of meals.  Throw in a couple of vacations and I reacquainted myself with about half of my lost poundage.  So when Ernie, one of my workout buddies, handed me the 21 Day Weigh Loss Kickstart by Neal D. Bernard, MD and challenged me to try 21 days of a plant-based diet, I decided it couldn't hurt to give it a try.  I need goals, and this seemed as good as any.

The philosophy behind Dr. Bernard's diet is that the fats we consume with animal products slow down our cells' ability to process the nutrients/energy that comes with our foods.  The little mailmen in our cells that deliver the nutrients from the blood stream to the nucleus have to wade through the fat, kind of like swimming through oil.  If we eliminate the fat/oils, they can process the food much quicker which will boost our metabolism which will give us more energy and help us lose weight.

Dr. Bernard is very clear that this is not a calorie counting exercise.  You should be able to eat as much as you want as long as you follow three rules:

  1. No animal products, including cheese, eggs, butter, etc.  (Basically vegan without the need to make other people feel like they're destroying the planet by eating a burger)
  2. Minimize all oils, including plant based oils like those found in nuts, olives, avocados, etc. 
  3. Stick to low glycemic index foods (i.e. minimize sugary foods and bread - even wheat bread)
I'm totally on board for #1 and reluctantly on board for #3 (I hate giving up dessert, even vegan dessert), but I know I'm going to struggle with #2.  And frankly, I'm not sure if that's a bad thing.  My cholesterol is naturally low and my family has no history of heart problems.  Is that an excuse to eat corned beef and pork rinds every night?  No.  But hopefully an olive oil dressing on my salad won't be what kills me.  I'll do my best.  I'll skip the avocado, cook with vegetable broth instead of olive oil, and not binge on peanut butter, but I'm not going to kill myself avoiding the oils.  Now if at the end of 21 days I haven't lost any weight or gained any energy, then I guess Dr. Bernard can say "I told you so."

I started my plant-based adventure on May 31st with a nice bowl of cereal, which couldn't have excited me more.  I LOVE breakfast cereal.  With the P90x diet, most breakfasts were egg whites of some kind.  They did a nice job of mixing it up with different vegetables, cheeses, and spices, but I missed cereal bad.  Unfortunately, my first plant-based meal of the program was also my first fail.  I used soy milk and had a Special K that's not super sugary, but it dawned on me when I went for another bowl later that day that I had picked the Fruit and Yogurt variety.  Doh.

Since then I've been pretty good.  I've made a couple mistakes like grabbing the regular milk from the fridge out of habit instead of the soy/almond/coconut milk or accidentally taking a bite of Adria's pasta that has the Parmesan cheese on it, but I'm sticking with it.  I won't give a play by play of the last week and a half, but here are some of the highlights and takeaways so far.


Ernie's advice for eating out was, "Eat before you go."  I wish I could do that, but that's like getting your presents in grocery bags on Christmas eve then getting up the next morning to watch everyone else unwrap theirs from under the tree.  I can't do it.  Even if I know I'm going to be unwrapping socks while everyone else gets iPods, I just want to be a part of the fun.

Cheesesteak, hold the cheese and steak

The first night of the diet, we were invited out to get cheese steaks at the Cheesesteak Shop in downtown San Jose with some friends.  I did a quick Google search to see if cheese and steak are plant based, but it turns out that's a bit of a stretch.  Instead I ordered their veggie sandwich with no cheese.  It was a good blend of sauteed peppers and onions, but there's something disappointing about having a cheese steak without any cheese or steak.  Go figure.  I'd be willing to bet their bread wasn't vegan, but I didn't check.  I figured if I asked and found out for sure I'd end up eating an $8 bowl of lettuce (none of their salads were vegan either).

Wrappin' my veggies

The next night I had more of a chance to pick my restaurant.  A quick Yelp search on the word "vegan" brought up one of my old favorites called Rojoz Wraps.  It's an affordable little wraps place with a creative menu and some pretty good smoothies.  Turns out they've got a couple of vegan options that didn't look too bad (here's the menu:  I went with the Taj Mahal, mostly because it sounded coolest.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The potatoes, curry, and jasmine rice blended great and I honestly didn't miss the meat.  I'd order it again.  The all fruit smoothie was disappointing, though, in comparison to the ones I've had before.  Just not the same without some frozen yogurt mixed in there.

What is it good Pho?

We also went out for some pho on Day 5.  Nothing super special about it; I just wanted to write that header because I think I'm funny.


Here are a few other thoughts/learnings I've had over the last week and a half:
  • Asian food seems to be the easiest to veganize... er, veganate or whatever.  It's a lot of simple sauces with lots of vegetables and rice.  The meat isn't the main event, just more of an add in. Plus there isn't a bunch of cheese. milk, or butter mixed in. 
  • I do find myself hungrier than usual.  That leads me to more snacking than normal.  That doesn't seem to be a big problem.  I'm already at a lower weight than I was when I finished P90x.
  • I don't THINK my muscle gain is suffering from a lack of protein.  I did P90x/Insanity all week and had the energy to get through the workouts.  It's hard to tell from just a week and a half, but it seems like I'm putting on a more lean/toned muscle.  
  • I'm hungry right now.
  • I've always chosen meals by picking the meat then planning vegetables and grains around it. This diet forces me to think more broadly.  I don't think I'm going to stick with the vegan after my 21 days are over, but this will change the way I plan for meals.  Hopefully plant based meals become a 3-4 dinner a week kind of a thing going forward. 
  • I miss my BBQ.  I grilled myself dinner at least 4 days a week before starting this diet.  I looked out the window this morning and saw her sitting there lonely and unused, and had to look away before I teared up.  One of my goals for the rest of this challenge is to figure out two or three good vegetable or fruit recipes to do on the grill.
So that's it for now.  I'll try to throw together posts about vegan camping, tempeh, and a few other recipes I've tried and post them soon.  Until then, go have some tri tip or a nice piece of salmon in my honor.

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