From Junk Food Vegetarian to Whole Foods Vegan- How I Started Making Healthier Choices

Me in 2013 with tostitos, Goldfish, and two bags of potato chips

Me in 2013 with tostitos, Goldfish, and two bags of potato chips

A few years ago, eating healthy food and spending time preparing meals used to be my absolute last priority. I was the definition of a junk food vegetarian, subsisting almost entirely on cheese flavored crackers, frozen pizza, and boxed mac and cheese. I was anxious, depressed, and I hardly had an appetite so I didn't think about my food choices at all and thought that spending money on food was a waste. I'd actually do the majority of my grocery shopping in the frozen/processed section of the dollar store, and only visit the grocery store when I needed to buy kale... for my rabbit. 

I was tired all the time, my BMI was dangerously low, and I felt like I had to wear makeup every day because my skin was constantly breaking out, but I thought that because I was thin it didn't matter what I ate. Since I've been underweight my whole life, as a teenager my pediatrician would even encourage me to binge on junk food so that I could possibly gain some weight, but what I didn't realize until I got older was that being thin does not equate with being healthy and that junk food was just as unhealthy for me as it would be for someone struggling to lose weight. 

The more I ate this way, the more I hated food. Every time I'd eat, I'd have less energy and feel a little more sick, so in an attempt to feel less sick I would eat smaller portions of the junk food, but that wasn't making me feel better either. 

I knew that I'd eventually have to learn how to cook and prepare healthy foods, and even before learning anything about nutrition I instinctively knew that whole fruits and vegetables were the magical foods that I needed to be eating more of- the problem was that they just didn't taste that good to me and I had no idea how to prepare them. It took a lot of daily practice and about one full year of cooking every day before I felt comfortable in the kitchen. 

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1. Allow yourself to spend a lot of time in the kitchen at first.

When I first started learning how to prepare whole unprocessed plant foods, chopping a sweet potato was terrifying. I had rarely used kitchen knives before and since I didn't have the skills, the process of preparing these foods went by painfully slowly. It would take me fifteen minutes to chop a single vegetable and after all that time spent chopping, I wouldn't even know how to flavor it so I'd end up with something that tasted bland, boring and seemingly not worth the effort. Overtime though I got a little faster at chopping and tried many recipes which taught me how to use different spices and flavors to make the food actually taste good.

I realized that a big part of what held me back from learning how to cook was the frustration I had with myself for not knowing my way around a kitchen. When I decided that eating healthy foods was going to be a priority, I had to remind myself every day that it's okay to be a slow and unexperienced cook and that the only way I'd ever get better was if I prepared food every day, several times a day, until it became easier. 

After about a year of cooking every meal from scratch, chopping seven different kinds of vegetables for a soup became no big deal. I'm glad I took it slow while I was learning because now I have the confidence to use big sharp knives and to work a little faster-and I kept all my fingers in the process! It's more than okay to work slowly and make mistakes, it's a necessary part of the learning process and it gets so much easier with practice.

2. Pay attention to how you are feeling after each meal.

My "Dinner" in 2013- It's been almost 4 years now since I last had alcohol and 3 years cheese-free

My "Dinner" in 2013- It's been almost 4 years now since I last had alcohol and 3 years cheese-free

Making the choice to chop a bunch of vegetables for a salad or soup instead of having a frozen pizza might seem like an incredible feat of willpower and discipline, but there's no force involved when I make the choice to eat healthy foods. This is because I actually don't want or crave junk food anymore and the idea of eating highly processed foods is entirely unappealing to me these days. Here's how I got there-

Around the time that I got into making healthier food choices, I was also learning about managing my anxiety and depression through the practice of bringing my focus back to the present moment and letting myself experience the feelings I had been running away from. Along with letting myself face difficult emotions, I was also being more present with the physical sensations in my body including the way my body felt after I'd eat certain foods.

When I first went vegan I ate a lot of oil-based faux cheese and plant based meat substitutes, but after eating them I'd take a moment to check in and see how they were affecting me. I realized that when I'd have poor digestion or skin breakouts, it directly correlated to what I had been eating. On the other hand, the more whole plant foods I ate the better I felt. 

After making a conscious effort to notice how these foods were making me feel, eventually when I saw a bag of potato chips or vegan cheese crackers at the grocery store, I didn't see it as food anymore. Real food became the colorful fresh items in the produce section, which gave me energy and lifted my mood, not the stuff with ingredient labels that made me feel low and clouded my head.

Don't expect to stop craving junk food overnight, but when you do occasionally have processed junk food just take the time to check in and see how it's affecting you. After making it a habit to pay attention to how each meal affects how you feel, it gets much easier to make the healthy choice. 

Our gut bacteria, which communicate directly to our brain, will cause us to crave more of whichever foods we're currently eating, so after a few weeks of consistently eating unprocessed whole plant foods, you'll find yourself craving a nice bean soup instead of something processed. Alternately, if you were eating healthy foods but then decide to have a bag of chips, for the next few days you'll likely spend a lot of time craving more chips and will find it harder to make the healthier choice again. This is why complete abstinence from these factory made food products is the most effective strategy for longterm healthy eating habits. 

Instead of this...

Instead of this...

Prepare  This!

Prepare This!

3. Find healthy whole food alternatives for all of your favorite comfort foods.

No cow's cheese, vegan cheese, or nuts required to make this  creamy cauliflower-based sauce !

No cow's cheese, vegan cheese, or nuts required to make this creamy cauliflower-based sauce!

Ever since I can remember mac and cheese was my #1 favorite food. Growing up as a vegetarian in a house of meat-eaters meant that I always had to have my own separate meal, so to make things easier I ate a lot of frozen veggie burgers and boxed mac and cheese. I always had some vegetables on the side, but only if they were covered in a cheese sauce. Needless to say, giving up cheese was bound to be a difficult process for me. When I went vegan and learned about what happens to dairy cows and their babies I stopped eating all dairy products including cheese overnight, but my cravings for heavy, creamy foods continued. 

At first I curbed my cravings with processed vegan cheeses, then when I got confident enough in the kitchen I started making my own cheese sauces from soaked cashews and almonds. Most of the vegan mac and cheese recipes I found called for a whole cup or more of nuts, and I was finding that while these sauces were so heavy and delicious, I would break out after eating too much of them and they didn't make me feel my best, so I started lowering the amount of nuts in the cheese sauce recipes and I experimented with making my sauce bases from mostly vegetables instead. 

I was surprised to find that these vegetable-based homemade sauces were just as good if not better than the ones that contained mainly cashews! I developed cheese sauce recipes made from sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and even cauliflower, all of which taste creamy and delicious with very few nuts or seeds needed. While the processed vegan cheeses will definitely taste more like cow's cheese, these savory creamy sauces made from vegetables are just as satisfying in their own way, and the best part is how great I feel after eating them. 


Making the decision to fuel myself with nutrient-dense whole plant foods is the best decision I ever made and sticking to it has been easier than I'd ever imagined it could be.

Patience with yourself while learning how to prepare these foods, paying attention to how you feel after eating, and finding healthy alternatives to your favorite recipes will make the process fun and not feel like such a chore. Take things day by day and overtime you'll find that no willpower is required anymore and you'll naturally gravitate towards the foods that your body really needs.

I hope you found these tips helpful and I'll be back with more healthy recipes and tips very soon! ❁

Complete Guide to Cooking Without Oil

Coronary angiograms of the distal left anterior descending artery before (left) and after (right) 32 months of a plant-based diet without cholesterol-lowering medication, showing profound improvement. ( source )

Coronary angiograms of the distal left anterior descending artery before (left) and after (right) 32 months of a plant-based diet without cholesterol-lowering medication, showing profound improvement. (source)

Oils, like any other food, aren't either good for you or bad for you, they're simply better or worse for you when compared to other foods. Oils shouldn't be avoided because they're a "bad foodand it's true that certain oils like extra virgin olive oil are certainly less bad for you than than other oils like coconut, corn, and palm. Even so, it's important to keep in mind that less damage is still damage.

From a health perspective, there's no reason to include oil in our diets. Most of us have about 2200-2500 calories in our calorie bank for the day, so it doesn't make sense to eat a highly refined, calorically dense food product, when instead we could be spending those calories on whole, unprocessed plant foods, which provide necessary fiber and nutrients. 

For the most part, I don't use any oil in my home cooking, and ever since learning to use the right substitutions and methods I don't find myself missing it at all. Lately, I rarely seek out specifically oil-free recipes since it's become easy enough to make any recipe I find without any oil. 

A few reasons to avoid oil:

  • Within hours of ingesting any kind of oil arteries stiffen and their ability to dilate is impaired.

  • The Mediterranean Diet is healthy in spite of olive oil- not because of it. The lowered heart attack risk on this diet is due to the high consumption of whole plant foods rather than the addition of olive oil.

  • The plaque that builds up in our arteries causing arterial lesions and blockages can only be cleared up by reducing total fat intake, not by choosing different "better" kinds of fats.

  • By age 10, almost all kids have fatty streaks in their arteries which is the first sign of atherosclerosis, the leading cause of death in the United States. So most of us should be eating for the purpose of reversing the heart disease that we likely already have.


How to cook without oil on the stovetop:

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  • Use nontoxic, nonstick cookware made of stainless steel, enamel-coated cast iron, or ceramic titanium.

  • Instead of frying vegetables in oil, use small amounts of vegetable broth, water, vinegar, or tamari/coconut aminos to keep things from sticking to the pan.

  • The key to this method is to add whichever liquid you're choosing a few teaspoons at a time. Just enough to release some steam and keep things from getting stuck to the pan, but not so much that the vegetables are sitting in a puddle. The pan should be hot enough that the liquid you add boils away somewhat quickly, but never turn the heat higher than medium-high to protect your pan from heat damage. Once it boils away completely, add another very small splash of liquid and stir things around to free them up again. Repeat this process until your food is fully cooked.

  • Note that things won't always brown as much when using this method vs. when using oil. If want to something to brown or char slightly, let all of the liquid evaporate from the pan, or don't use any liquid in the first place, then let the food cook in the dry pan while watching carefully to see when it browns. Once it browns, you can add a very small amount liquid to the pan stop it from overcooking and burning or remove it from the pan entirely depending on the recipe.

  • Consider the temperature of the pan. Too much liquid added in during cooking time will cool down the pan and greatly slow down the cooking speed, so be sure to add as little as possible. Or if you accidentally add too much, adjust the temperature so it can boil again and evaporate away.


How to bake without oil:

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  • For baking, I like to use silicone cookware. It's nontoxic and the flexibility of it allows baked goods to just pop right out, no greasing the pan needed. Silicone bakeware will require that you increase the baking time, usually about by 3-6 minutes, depending on the recipe.

  • Some baked dessert recipes call for cups full of oil. When this happens there are many options for replacements: nut butters, dairy-free yogurts, applesauce, sweet potato or squash puree, pureed prunes or dates, or mashed banana.

  • When choosing an oil replacement in baking, take into consideration the recipe you're making and try to discern what the oil is being used for in that specific case (to add moisture, to add structure, etc.) . Be sure to also choose a replacement with a flavor or texture that would best suit that particular recipe.

  • This sometimes takes a bit of trial and error, but after a few attempts you'll find what works best for any given recipe.


How to roast without oil: 

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  • Instead of greasing the baking sheet, use a silpat or parchment paper to keep the pan lean and the veggies from sticking

  • Use another liquid to get the spices to stick to what you're roasting such as water, vegetable broth, tamari, maple syrup, mustard, vinegar, etc. depending on the recipe (full list down below).

  • If you have a spray bottle, it can really help to use that to mist water or liquid of choice on to the vegetables you're roasting, then toss to coat with seasonings.

  • Oil-free roasted veggies can dry out, but to avoid this as much as possible roast them low and slow

  • To achieve a shiny glaze on the surface of the vegetable without any oil, brush on some aquafaba, the cooking broth leftover from cooking beans.

  • Give them some room to breathe and don't overcrowd the pan- this should help them to get more brown and crispy.

  • Another trick to get your veggies to brown more is to use a glass baking dish with no parchment paper at all, just place the chopped veggies right on the glass. This will help them to get slightly more brown than if you used parchment paper.

  • Make sure to chop everything you plan to bake in chunks that are pretty much the same exact size to prevent uneven cooking.

  • Stir the roasted vegetables around a bit after about 10 minutes of cooking to ensure they don't get stuck to the pan if you're not using parchment paper or other non-stick surface. This will also help them to cook evenly.


Deep Frying Alternatives

My favorite kitchen appliance by far is my Air Fryer

It makes any whole plant food I put in there turn into the most crunchy and evenly crispy treat, all with no oil needed! 

It's very easy to use and clean, and the best part about it is you don't have to wait for it to preheat.

This device has greatly cut down on the amount of time I spend in the kitchen and it makes the best crispy tofu I've ever had.

While it's not necessary to have an air fryer to eat an oil-free diet, it certainly makes it a lot easier!  

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What to Use Instead of Oil

I mentioned previously that I like to use a glass spray bottle to evenly spritz my roasted veggies with liquid. While this isn't necessary, I find that it makes it much easier to lightly coat the veggies with a liquid instead of using oil. 

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While these liquid oil-substitutes wont prevent stuff from sticking to the pan (that's what parchment paper is for!) and they will evaporate over the cooking time, they still add in a bit of moisture to help prevent things from drying out while roasting and impart a really nice flavor.

It's also been nice to have a reason to save my cooking broth rather than pour it down the drain, especially when I make a nice salty broth and use lots of flavorful fresh herbs. These cooking liquids are so much more flavorful than most oils. 

Here are some of my favorite oil-alternatives for roasting veggies:

  • Tamari (low-sodium)

  • Coconut aminos

  • Vegetable broth

  • Leftover cooking broth, the one I'm using now is leftover from cooking white beans and thyme

  • Vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar or balsamic

  • Leftover liquid from steaming vegetables, a.k.a. pot liquor such as from steamed beets, potatoes, greens, etc.

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Those are all of my best tips for cooking without oil! Hopefully you've found these tips helpful and can start to cook oil-free with confidence. 

It will definitely take some time and experimentation to get it right the first few times you try this but after a while it will become much more intuitive. Expect a little trial and error in the learning process. Cooking without oil isn't the easiest thing- my partner calls it cooking on hard-mode, and that's exactly what it feels like initially, but once you get the hang of it you'll have a valuable skill that could actually improve the quality of your life and your long-term overall health. 

Notice: This blog post contains affiliate links, which simply means that I earn a commission if you purchase through those links, but your price remains the same. Thank you for your continued support! 

Making The Connection Between Diet and Depression


Pomegranates are high in vitamin c and contain antioxidants which can help prevent depression

Pomegranates are high in vitamin c and contain antioxidants which can help prevent depression

We all experience sadness every now and again, especially during certain times in our lives and in the face of extremely difficult circumstances. There are times when it’s completely appropriate to feel sad, and that sadness is something that we can’t expect to be cured through diet, it’s a normal part of the human experience. But when the sadness is persistent and seems to follow us around wherever we go, that is called depression.

Clinical depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in our brain, which is a problem that can sometimes be solved through making better dietary choices. 

There are many studies demonstrating the relationship between higher fruit and vegetable consumption and a lower risk of depression. Generally the research shows that the more whole plant foods you eat, the lower your risk of depression.

There are a number of components through which which fruits and vegetables prevent depression. Lycopene, the red pigment predominantly found in tomatoes, but also present in watermelon, pink grapefruit, red cabbage, and carrots, is the most powerful antioxidant amongst the carotenoid family. If you measure the levels of carotenoid phytonutrients in nearly 2,000 people across the country, a higher total blood carotenoid level was associated with a lower likelihood of elevated depressive symptoms, and there appeared to be a dose-response relationship, meaning the higher the levels, the better people felt.

Polyphenols, found in fruit and vegetables fight oxidative stress and improve the functioning of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for regulating our moods. And vitamin C, found in high amounts in many fruits and vegetables, is actually a cofactor in the production of Dopamine

So with this direct effect on our neurochemistry, it should be no surprise that fruits and vegetables have the ability to lift our mood. Does this mean that the answer to depression is just to eat more fruits and vegetables? Well, not quite.

It turns out certain foods actually have the ability to make us more depressed. Arachidonic acid is a type of Omega 6 fatty acid found in animal-based foods with the highest amounts found in chicken, eggs, beef, sausage, and fish. The oxidation of Arachidonic acid creates pro-inflammatory compounds in our body. This inflammation in our brain adversely impacts our mental health.

In this study on women, higher levels of Arachidonic acid were associated with a 45% higher risk of suicide and 47% increase risk in major depressive episodes. 

When people are put on a plant based diet that limits Arachidonic acid, they experienced an improved mood after just 2 weeks. Plant based diets were also associated with 30% less markers for inflammation. So when choosing a diet that will have the greatest affect on our mood, it's not just about adding in more fruits and vegetables, but also removing the animal based foods that cause inflammation, as depression may actually be a physical disease which is exacerbated by proinflammatory compounds. 


Thank you to Mic. The Vegan and Dr. Michael Greger of Nutritionfacts.org for gathering and organizing so many of these studies on diet and depression and making them visible and accessible to more people. Watch Mike's recent video on the subject and also this video by Dr. Greger to learn more about how our diet affects our mood. 


 

 

Introduction to Plant Based Cooking & Healthy Recipe Substitutions

When making the switch towards a diet of whole plant foods, it can be a confusing and frustrating experience finding the right substitutes for certain ingredients in recipes. Here are some solutions for alternative plant based foods which you can use to replace animal foods or unhealthy processed food products in recipes to make them healthier. 

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Eggs

Eggs serve many purposes in recipes that involve baking and beyond, but they contain the most artery-clogging cholesterol of almost any food, with the exception of brains. They can have an inflammatory effect on the body and lead to chronic disease if consumed every day. Luckily, I've found that eggs have been so easy to replace in many recipes. 

In baked goods, depending on what sort of recipe you are making and, try some of the following options:

  • Flax egg- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water, let sit for 3-5 minutes and stir until jelly-like
  • Chia egg- 1 tablespoon ground or whole chia seeds + 3 tablespoons water, let sit for 3-5 minutes and stir until jelly-like
  • Coconut yogurt
  • Applesauce
  • Mashed banana
  • Pumpkin or sweet potato puree
  • Prune puree

When trying to decide which replacement to use in a certain recipe, consider the flavor profiles of the replacement and use the neutral flavored replacements like flax and chia for recipes where you don't want to add too much moisture or flavor from fruit or vegetable based alternatives. 

For times when you want scrambled eggs, try a tofu scramble instead. I find the key with these is choosing your favorite spices, adding water to the spices to form a spice paste, and then adding that into the pan with the tofu to fully coat and marinate it. 


Milk

I have found shifting from using cow's milk to nut based milks to be relatively easy, but the process has not been free from error. There are many plant milks out there that have wonderful creamy neutral flavors that can be used in any recipe as a milk replacement, but then there are other plant milks that claim to be unsweetened and plain and yet somehow have an aftertaste or additional flavor that comes through unpleasantly in certain recipes. Before using a certain plant milk in a recipe, make sure to taste it first to make sure it has a neutral enough taste to go in a savory dish without altering the flavor. 

Here are some of my favorite neutral tasting brands of plant milk:

  • Almond Breeze Original Unsweetened 
  • Forager Cashew Milk, Unsweetened Plain
  • Califia Farms Almond Milk, Unsweetened Plain

Try out many different brands that your local grocery stores offer and find the most neutral tasting ones available. There are all kinds of plant milks available, from nuts and seeds to grains and legumes, there are so many plant milk options out there!

  • Almond Milk
  • Cashew Milk
  • Coconut Milk (can be dangerously high in saturated fat, choose low fat when available)
  • Hemp MIlk
  • Oat Milk
  • Rice Milk
  • Soy Milk
  • Flax Milk
  • Macadamia Milk
  • Buttermilk (take any plant milk and add 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar to 1 cup milk)

Cheese

Giving up cheese was something I knew wouldn't be easy for me. When I first went vegan I relied on the realistic vegan cheese substitutes, which are actually very realistic and get better and better each year. There are brands like Treeline, Miyoko, Chao, Follow Your Heart, and Parmela's Creamery who make delicious alternatives to dairy cheese which are great for while you're transitioning off the dairy, but if consumed daily long term, they can ultimately be unhealthy as they are mostly made of processed oils. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find many ways to replicate a cheesey flavor in my recipes without using oil. The answer is mainly in using ground or blended whole nuts and a magical yellow powdery substance called nutritional yeast, which as you may guess from the name actually packs a pretty decent amounts of nutrients. 

Here are some ways to make your own cheese substitutions:

Parmesan- 3/4 cup cashews + 1/4 cup nutritional yeast + 1/4 teaspoon salt

Blend in a food processor or high speed blender until powdery in texture. 

Cheesy Sauce- There are so many ways to make a creamy cheese-like sauce. Certain recipes call for cashews or other nuts as the base of the sauce, which are so creamy and delicious but can be high in fat. While nuts are still whole foods they shouldn't be consumed in excess. I use them in limited amounts in some of my recipes like this Creamy Alfredo Sauce, or the sauce in my Cheezy Potato Quesadillas

There are also many lower fat sauces that use a base of potatoes, carrots, or squash, often combined with plant milks and nutritional yeast and spices like onion and garlic powder to give a savory flavor. Try out this Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese for a nut-free surprisingly cheesy sauce. 

 


Meat

When looking for the right meat replacement in your recipes, consider where you are at in your transition. If cravings from meat are leaving you in a place where whole foods like potatoes, beans, lentils, squash, and hearty grains aren't cutting it, it may be time to try some realistic replacements like Gardein, Beyond Meat, or the Impossible Burger. These processed foods are not healthy, but they are lower risk to your health than actual animal meat, and in the short term they can be very useful in managing cravings.

As you continue your plant based journey, foods like tofu, tempeh, and seitan can be even healthier replacements than the heavily processed realistic food products. Make sure to season and marinate these well, as they are flavorless but provide a great texture and backdrop for any flavors you wish to add. Try combinations of low sodium tamari, liquid smoke, spices and herbs, tomato paste, tahini, and maple syrup to infuse savory, sweet and spicy flavors. 

There are plenty of whole foods which can be very meaty and filling when included in recipes like tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, where the meat can be replaced mashed beans or lentils. Beans and lentils also make a great addition to stews, soups, chilis, and sauces. Try out these beany recipes for a high protein alternative to meat:


Oil

Cooking without oil can be a daunting process. When I first made the switch I was terrified everything was going to burn to the pan or I was going to end up with soggy vegetables, which is possible but avoidable with the right precautions. 

For sauteing vegetables in a pan, instead of oil use small amounts of liquid such as water or any of the following:

  • Vegetable broth
  • Tamari or coconut aminos (low sodium)
  • Vinegar (balsamic, white wine, apple cider) depending on recipe

Using a nonstick pan will be especially helpful when cooking without oil, but even in a regular pan it can be a breeze to saute foods in other liquids. Start by adding the ingredients into a dry pan, once the edges get golden add small splashes of water (a tsp or 2) to the hot pan and use the steam to free up the ingredients and allow them to unstick from the pan and be moved around. 

The key isn't to add so much liquid that they sit in boiling water, it's to keep the pan as dry as possible while using a bit of liquid to keep things moving in the pan. 

When replacing oil in baking there can be some trial and error involved but my go-tos are usually nut butters like peanut or cashew, apple sauce, mashed banana, coconut milk, coconut yogurt or I simply omit the oil and hope for the best!

To coat pans and keep things from sticking while baking, I like to use non-stick silicone cookware or line the pan with parchment paper. 

 

How to Go Plant Based and Not Go Hungry

A very sad salad, circa 2015

A very sad salad, circa 2015

No one wants to be out and about and and suddenly be slammed by a lack of energy caused by under eating, but we've all been there. 

Often we hear people say that they tried a vegan diet and gave up because they just never felt satiated, and this something I dealt with at first too. When you give up meat, dairy, and processed foods, which are very dense in calories, and try to replace those calories with plants, you're going to inevitably run into trouble if the plant foods you are choosing are calorically dilute. For example, when replacing your beef burger with a portobello mushroom, that's about a 500 calorie loss. Of course you're going to be hungry! Or another food trend: replacing whole wheat pasta with zuchini noodles, which are also much lower in calories. 

Mushrooms and zucchini are great whole foods, but they hardly contain any calories. This might seem like a good thing at first, especially if you're trying to lose weight, but restricting calories in this way might actually do more harm in the long term as it's not sustainable. Say you have a bowl of zucchini noodles for lunch- an hour later you are going to be starving. When you become that hungry due to caloric depletion, it's going to be incredibly difficult to say no to the cravings you'll inevitably have for super calorie dense processed foods. In a world where hyperpalatable factory made foods are everywhere, those unhealthy foods will somehow find their way into your shopping cart, and at that point after your bowl of watery zucchini noodles, when your willpower is at it's weakest, your biological adaptation to seek out the most calories possible will set in. Once you become that hungry, having a couple potato chips will turn into eating a whole family sized bag (been there too many times to count). 

Instead, we must base our meals around the whole plant foods which are more calorie dense. These are typically starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grain breads and pastas, beans, lentils, winter squash, etc.

Instead of that portobello mushroom burger, put a mushroom on top of your black bean burger. Now you've got a healthy meal that will also keep you feeling full. Instead of zucchini noodles, eat a bowl of whole wheat spaghetti and add some chopped zucchini into your sauce. It's not that these low calorie veggies shouldn't be in our meals, it's just that they need to not be the base or focus of the meal.  

I know it can be tempting to choose lower calorie options, as the current paradigm around weight loss in our culture is all about losing weight as fast as possible, but when you lose weight that quickly by restricting calories, it will cause initial rapid weight loss but it will not be sustainable long term because you will eventually give in to your body's cravings and overeat at some point down the road to make up for the deficit. 

On a whole foods diet based around hearty plant foods like whole grains, starchy root vegetables, and legumes, you will be fueling your body so that you will have actually have energy. While the weight loss will happen more slowly, (about a pound or two per month is healthy and typical), the changes that come will be long lasting and you don't have to sacrifice your quality of life by restricting food and running on empty all the time. 

In a randomized control trial called the BROAD Study, a whole foods plant based diet was shown to be the most effective all you can eat, no added exercise diet, for weight loss. So you can reach your ideal weight, without having to starve or even exercise! Though you should exercise lightly anyway, probably not for weight loss, but for plenty of other benefits. 

I can't finish this post without talking about salad, specifically the very sad raw kale salads my partner and I used to make in the first few months we were vegan. I'm so ashamed of how much time was wasted, hours of chopping low calorie veggies: kale, onions, cucumber, and tomatoes with some oily dressing... all for a meal that took so long to chew that you'd probably burn most of the calories off just using your jaw muscles. As soon as I was done eating I'd be already hungry, so it was back to the kitchen for me, and after all that preparation you'd better bet my next meal was a damn frozen veggie burger or otherwise processed microwave entree.

These days, I like my kale cooked, usually mixed into bean soups or pasta sauces. Or if I choose to eat it raw, I have it over a bed of filling whole plant foods, like quinoa and beans, and never add any oily dressings. 

Hopefully, now you've learned from my mistakes and won't ever have to suffer through unreasonably complicated meal prep for a measly low calorie meal that will leave you with no energy. Stay away from recipes that focus on watery vegetables, base your meals around starchy carbohydrate rich foods, add in some healthy whole plant fats, and enjoy the boundless energy that comes with meeting your caloric needs. 

Try out these satisfying, filling, whole plant recipes: