I seem to have started eating for the holidays sometime back in September. Though I had spent much of the early part of the year watching what I ate, exercising regularly, and losing around 25 pounds, a sinus infection in late August coupled with a quick trip to Portland (vegan Mecca) threw me off balance. Maybe I thought I needed comfort food, maybe I was just looking for an excuse. Whatever. Today I sit here having regained 5 of those hard-lost pounds and, even more troubling, a couple of food addictions I thought I’d put behind me–sugar and its partner in crime, flour. Both drive me crazy with cravings but make me feel bloated, lethargic, and queasy when I give in to them; of course, by the time the cravings hit again, I’ve managed to forget the effects indulging will have on me, so the cycle repeats.
I know from experience that the only way for me to get control over my eating is the tough love approach. Like any addiction, a compulsive desire to eat sugar and starch won’t go away if I string it along with small doses. For me it’s all or nothing. But just as important as getting rid of the anti-nutrients (which is what I consider sugar and flour to be) is filling my body with nutritious plant foods. I’m talking vegetables, beans, and fruit. A few raw nuts. A couple servings of whole grains. Simple whole foods.
Changing What You Crave
I know that at this time of year, a lot of people are taking stock of their health and committing (or recommitting) to healthy eating plans. Some are doing cleanses or detoxes, which, for the record, I don’t believe in. I think that you should start in the way you hope to continue, and short-term, stringent detoxes, which often are downright dangerous, don’t do the body any long-term good or lead to healthy eating practices. My goals are to make vegetables the center of my diet, loosen the grip that sugary foods have on me, and change my habits so that I’m not reaching for a gooey granola bar or bowl of vegan ice cream every night after dinner. I know from experience that with time and effort I can change what I crave. It’s been a long time since I’ve really craved a big honkin’ salad, but I will get back there!
This is not about weight loss, though I could stand to lose quite a few pounds and expect that I will. It’s about eating the way I know is healthiest for me. It’s about feeling better, more energetic, more focused, more alive.
I would love for you to join me on this journey, even if you just try it for a week or two. But I have to point out that I have absolutely no nutritional training (B.A. in English, M.A. in English, and 1/2 of a Ph.D. in–you guessed it–English). If you have health issues and decide to follow my plan, please okay it with your doctor or at least let her know so she can monitor your need for medication. If you’re coming to this from the Standard American Diet and are taking medication for blood pressure, cholesterol, or high blood sugar, your need for it may decrease after you start eating this way, so get check-ups at regular intervals.
Keep It Simple, Soups and Salads
I have a tendency to make things overly complex, so while I was figuring out exactly what my healthy meal plan would be and what I wanted to say to you about it, I kept telling myself, “Keep It Simple, Soups and Salads.” Abbreviated, that’s KISSAS, which I shortened to KISSS because, well, think about it.
My plan looks a lot like Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live 6-Week plan, and I’ve adopted his mantra, “The salad is the Main Dish,” though I often stretch my definition of salads to include cooked ones. I’m a little less rigid about amounts and tend to eat more grains and starchy vegetables and fewer nuts and seeds than he advocates, but overall, if you’re strictly following the 6-week plan, you’re basically doing what I’m doing. I also tend to view salt as a necessary evil–a little bit helps me enjoy my meals so much more than without it, helping me stick to my vegetable-centric diet–though hard-core ETLers would tell me (and you) to cut it out.
I concentrate on soups and stews, in addition to the salads, because it’s possible to pack a lot of vegetables into a soup, eliminating the need for vegetable side dishes. When the soup contains plenty of veggies, all I need to add is a starter salad and perhaps a serving of whole grain or potato to have a filling dinner.
So Here are the Details
(Click “Print” to print this section.)
- at least 4 fruits per day
- At least 1 huge and 1 regular salad per day (containing fresh greens such as lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage)
- As many cooked, non-starchy vegetables as you can (broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, onions, carrots, kale, peppers, zucchini, etc.)
- At least one cup of cooked beans/legumes/lentils
- 1-2 tablespoons of raw nuts or seeds (try to have walnuts and ground flax seeds daily—good sprinkled on salad)
- About 1 cup of cooked whole grains or potato
- Meat (including poultry or fish), dairy, or eggs, of course!
- Oil, including olive and coconut oil and margarine
- Sugar, including agave nectar, maple syrup, Sucanat, date syrup, dried fruits (including dates)
- Flour or flour products (bread, pasta, etc.)
I find that getting into the habit of eating the same basic breakfast and lunch every day helps me stay on-track. Where I shake it up is at dinner because I’m one of those people who don’t like to eat the same thing two nights in a row. I tend to eat fruit for breakfast, but not everyone feels satisfied with that, so I’m including some other options.
- Or 1 bowl bean/veg soup plus fruit
- Or 1 cup cooked oatmeal plus fruit
- Or 1 serving Chickpea Omelets
- Or fruit or green smoothie
- Mega-huge salad with beans and dressing (plus 1 tablespoon nuts if dressing is fat-free). Consider Taco Salad or Hummus Salad.
- Or bean and vegetable soup
- Or soup and salad
- Starter salad
- Vegetable and bean soup or stew
- Whole grain, potato, sweet potato, or winter squash, if desired
I try to stick to fruit for snacks, but I’ve listed some other options to include only if you don’t feel satisfied after eating your fruit. Eat your fruit first! After that, if you’re still hungry, have more of anything on the “Do Eat” list.
- Fruit, including frozen all-fruit desserts.
- Raw vegetables and fat-free or nut-based dressing, hummus, or baba ganoush
- Air-popped popcorn with nutritional yeast
- Roasted chickpeas, homemade potato chips, or kale chips
Soups and Stews for the Week
Having a nutritious meal already made can mean the difference between staying on-track and reaching for some processed junk. I usually start every week by making a big pot of my “Dirty Little Secret Soup,” which I keep on-hand for lunch when I don’t feel like a salad or for dinner when my family is eating something else. I always plan for at least 4 different dinners during the week and count on a combination of leftovers and the secret soup to feed us the other nights.
Here are my dinner soups and stews for this week:
- Spicy Collards and Black-eyed Pea Soup (for New Year’s Day) served over brown rice
- Eat the Rainbow Black Bean Soup with a sweet potato
- Ridiculously Easy Lentil Stew
- Curried Split-Pea Soup with Cauliflower (delicious served over a baked sweet potato)
About the Salads
Eating a big enough salad is essential to both feeling full and taking in enough nutrients on this plan. When I talk about Mega-Huge, ginormous, or big honkin’salads, I mean a salad that fills a serving bowl. Start with greens–lettuce and spinach are my base–and add tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli slaw (basically shredded broccoli stems, which you can make or buy), and any other vegetables you like. Toss it with an oil-free dressing (I have a new ranch dressing that I will be sharing soon), add a heaping serving of beans (hot or cold) or hummus and, if your dressing doesn’t contain nuts, a tablespoon of raw walnuts or other nuts. (Walnuts have the most Omega 3’s, so I tend to stick with them.) Add some ground flax seeds if your dressing doesn’t contain any. Even this small amount of nuts and seeds helps the absorption of nutrients, provides essential fatty acids, and makes us feel full longer.
My two favorite salads are Taco Salad (made with canned chili beans for the sake of time) and Hummus Salad. Other times I top my salad with my vegan buttermilk dressing along with chickpeas and slices of apple or pear. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your salads and your salad dressings. See this post for some tips on removing the oil from your favorite dressing recipes.
If you decide to join me, I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments below. Feel free to post here or on my Facebook wall and tell me how you’re doing.
For much more nutritional information than I can supply, be sure to read Eat to Live.
A few other sites that support this way of eating (though possibly more or less strict in some of the details) are
- The Engine 2 Diet
- Healthy Girl’s Kitchen
- Happy Healthy Long Life
- Chef AJ UNPROCESSED
- Dr. Fuhrman’s Holiday Challenge
- Dr. McDougall
- Forks Over Knives
- Vegan Hope
- 21-Day Vegan Kickstart
Happy, Healthy New Year!