A few years ago, I became a vegetarian because of my animal rights beliefs and the horrors of factory farming. Last year, I went vegan as I kept learning more and more about dairy and eggs farming. In the beginning, I felt better emotionally knowing that I was not harming any animals through my dietary choices. It felt like liberation. Yet, over the first six months, I started to gain weight, which I thought was strange due to having cut dairy and eggs from my diet as well as meats. I became frustrated and decided to try giving up coffee and sugar to see if that would help, and it did, but only a little. Then I thought that it had something to do with too many carbs. Mind you, I rarely eat processed foods. I'm talking about fearing that whole grains and complex carbohydrates were making me gain weight.
I got more exercise and tried my best to lower my intake of sugars and excess carbs and still nothing seemed to work. Plus, I was starving most of the time. I almost went back to eating lean meat, and then I re-watched "Forks Over Knives: The Extended Interviews", and my world was turned around. "Forks Over Knives", which can be instantly streamed on Netflix, examines a plant-based diet from the perspective of a 30 year study which was done in China, called, "The China Study". Several physicians are interviewed in the extended interviews and what the documentary reveals is that while veganism is healthier, much of what vegans eat is not, mainly too many fats and processed vegan foods. This was an "aha" moment for me. I started writing down what I was eating on a daily basis and discovered about 500 calories in the form of nuts, avocados, olive oil, soy milk, Earth Balance Buttery Spread, and vegan mayo.
One of the doctors interviewed in the film is Dr. John McDougall and what he puts forth is a diet that is heavy on plain (or nearly plain) starches such as brown rice, beans and legumes, potatoes, and whole, fresh corn. All veggies and most fruits are part of the program, but fats are not. He has a website and has written many books on the subject. Just search for Dr. John McDougall, and you'll find the site. I eat a fraction of the fats that I was once eating. I haven't been able to cut them all out, but I'm much more mindful of how much fat I am adding to all of my meals, and since May, I've lost 8 of the 15 pounds I had gained over 2 years. I feel so much better and healthier and I'm never, ever hungry. If you follow the program, you can eat as much of the starchy foods (brown rice, beans, corn and potatoes) you want as long as you don't add a bunch of fats to them. Salsas, ketsup, and other non-fat condiments can be used. Beans and rice are easy to make without fat, corn on the cob this time of year is delicious all by itself, and I've moved from soy and nut milks to rice milk in my morning beverage and on my cereals.
Switching to this way of eating was a challenge because I had thought of my fats (nuts, oils, and avocados) as "good" fats. But fats are fats and too much of them can be just as unhealthy as eating artery-clogging meats and cheeses. Most of the convenience vegan foods are highly processed rendering them unhealthy as well. Soy isolates, which are highly processed and added to virtually every packaged vegan food, are not good for you, either. I eat very little soy, but when I do, it's in the form of tempeh, edamame, or miso.
Dr. McDougall also suggests that supplements are a waste of money. We can get all of our nutritional needs met by eating good, fresh, whole foods. B12 is the only vitamin he mentions, but one can supplement one's diet with fortified alternative milks and cereals which is all we really need. The same is true of protein. Western diets call for far too much of it. Plant-based diets provide all the protein we need to be healthy and strong, not to mention less apt to suffer from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. There is such a thing as too much protein, which ultimately causes our bodies to be in an acidic state, resulting in illness.
I haven't cut all fats from my diet, because frankly, I can't eat a kale salad, or do a stir fry without it. Potatoes need a little fat, too. Though I've tried steaming new potatoes and drizzling lemon and salt on them, and they are quite tasty and filling. I have, however, cut back significantly in my consumption of fats, have kept to a daily exercise routine, and have never felt more energized. The only processed food I eat is at breakfast when I might have rice milk on corn and millet cereal. The bottom line is simpler is better, and while I occasionally opt to make something rich and delicious, I have begun to prefer my foods prepared in simple, non-dressed and non-sauced ways.