Thursday, January 26, 2012

Everything-But-The-Guilt Soup Recipe (Vegan)

Most of you know of soup recipes called "Everything But the Kitchen Sink," but here's one that I've created called, Everything-But-The-Guilt.  This is literally a fully balanced meal in a bowl, you have your veggies, protein, complex carbohydrates, and a ton of vitamins and nutrients.  It's a combination of Tosca Reno's Meal-In-A-Bowl Soup and my own concoction.  The recipe in her book serves 10, and I am a single girl generally cooking for myself, so I cut the recipe in half, and rather than wasting half a cabbage I replaced the cabbage with mushrooms--not exactly the usual replacement for cabbage, but I love mushrooms and wanted the added protein.  I also changed a few other things for personal preference (for example, I didn't add any garlic because when I sweat while working out tomorrow, I'll smell like a pizzeria).

1/8 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 bunch of celery, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1.5 fat carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped baby bella mushrooms
2 fist-sized yellow potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 15oz can white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
4 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
6 cups/3L low-sodium vegetable stock
1/2 tbsp sea salt
1/2 tbsp black pepper (less if you're a wimp like me and don't like spicy food)
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried basil

Cooking Directions:
In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high flame.

Add celery, onions, mushrooms, carrots, and parsnips (since I'm adding the mushrooms here, you may want to add some more olive oil--but this will add to the fat content).  Saute until onions are soft.  Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce heat and let simmer for about a half hour or until vegetables are soft.

Tosca's original recipe has 395 calories per serving, 21 grams of protein (mine will have more, thanks to the mushrooms), 66 grams of carbs, 8 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 20 grams of fiber, 429mg of sodium, 0 cholesterol, and 11 grams of sugar.

Serves 5, serving size is 2 cups.  Remember the soup IS the meal--not an appetizer.  If you're still hungry, have a small, fresh fruit-salad.

Breakfast of Healthy, Fit Champions

Today, Chalene Johnson's facebook status for her Turbo Fire page was, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a beggar."  And it just so happens that today was my first day trying Tosca Reno's recommended breakfast for Eating Clean.  According to most professionals, making breakfast your biggest meal of the day revs up your metabolism and helps you to feel fuller longer.  And the breakfast I just ate is PACKED with fiber, and let me tell you--I feel very, very full.  Here it is:

1/2 cup of rolled oats, cooked in one cup of water
2 tablespoons millet
2 tablespoons flaxseed
(you can add or substitute wheat germ and/or bee pollen as well)

*1/4 cup scrambled egg whites--you can prepare them any way you want and feel free to add any veggies you want! (I use the the store-bought liquid kind since it would be too much of a waste to throw away all those yolks)

I think Tosca recommends drinking a LITER of water with breakfast, but I just can't stomach that much water at once, so I had a cup of hot tea (unsweetened) and drink plenty of water throughout the day.

*If you're following the Plant-Based Whole Foods Diet, which I follow imperfectly, you can try one of the many options for egg substitutes, many of which are made with tofu.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Don't Take A Vacation from Your Health: How to Stay Fit While You're Away

Well, the reason I haven't posted anything in a week is because I was in Arizona on a fantastic getaway.  And what made it even more fantastic is that I was able to maintain my healthy eating habits and active exercise regimen.  Doing this is not easy, but it's well worth it.  Many of you know (and trust me, I've experienced it) the feeling of coming home from vacation feeling like "Okay, time to get back to eating right again" or worse "Guess I should start my diet now."  But there are SO many things wrong with that mindset!!  What's more, most of us start "dieting" a month before going away, only to gain any lost weight back during vacation.  This is another yo-yo diet pitfall.  It messes up your metabolism and leaves you with a hopeless, what-did-I-do? feeling.  The trick is to make health a non-negotiable part of your life no matter where you are or what you're doing.  Without some of these tips I'm about to give you, it may seem impossible, but I assure you it's not only easy but it's also well worth it.  You'll have more energy to do all the fun things you want to do while you're away, and you will come home feeling energized--with no regrets.

Here are some tips:

  1. Pack healthful foods.  Do not assume that you will always be able to find healthful places to eat, even though 90% of the time you can.  Furthermore, packing healthy snacks (dried fruits, nuts, oatmeal, etc) will allow you to keep eating the recommended 5-6 meals a day, since to prevent cravings--you should eat every 2-3 hours.  Skipping meals slows down your metabolism--you do NOT want that!  Stopping to buy something every few hours is not only expensive on vacation but it's not going to be how you want to spend your time.  You can pack food (just not liquids) on your carry-on, so reserve that for the fresh foods.  Tosca Reno, author of The Eat Clean Diet, recommends that you portion out some rolled oats, wheat germ, bee pollen, raisins (and whatever else you like in your oatmeal) into plastic baggies and as long as there is a place where you can get a cup of boiling water, which is just about anywhere including in an airplane, you can have a hot cup of oatmeal.
  2. Go grocery shopping when you get there.  If possible, take a cab or the rental car to the grocery store.  Stock up on almond/soy milk, fresh fruit, veggies, and other healthful foods that need to be refrigerated and couldn't be packed.  This will save you money and keep you well-fed on foods you know and trust.
  3. Never leave the hotel without your healthy snacks.  Even if you think you're just running to the gift shop for a half-hour, have a little something in your bag.  You never know when the pool will call your name or you'll get side tracked.  
  4. Set a timer to remind you to eat.  It sounds silly, especially if you're already used to eating every few hours and your stomach usually tells you when it's time to eat, but on vacation you're often distracted and sometimes even busier than when you are home.  If you set a timer that reminds you it's time to take out those dried dates in your backpack, you'll never skip a meal.  This also prevents you from arriving to lunch absolutely starving and then overeating.
  5. Bring a liter-sized water bottle with you.  Another thing we often overlook when we're away is our need to drink water.  Health and fitness expert, Chalene Johnson, claims that slim, fit people always have a bottle of water in their hands at all times.  Many people confuse the feeling of thirst with hunger, and eat when they are actually just thirsty.  Prevent unnecessary calories by drinking water all day long.
  6. Seek out healthy restaurants.  Before you go, research the local cafes and restaurants that are the healthiest.  When you arrive, ask around about healthy places to eat.  I found that telling people I was a vegetarian made it more likely that someone would recommend a truly healthful eatery.  Even if you're not a vegetarian, this might be a good idea since very few places are completely vegetarian anyway.  When I mentioned to my manicurist that I was vegetarian, she informed me of the BEST restaurant of the entire trip!  She directed me to Dr. Andrew Wiel's Phoenix restaurant, True Food Kitchen, which consists entirely of his popular "anti-inflammatory" diet.  The food was unique, fresh, and delicious.  I left feeling really good about what I'd eaten, and seriously wishing one of these places would open up in my town.
  7. Avoid the words: "I'm on vacation; I deserve to eat things I don't usually eat."  You deserve what?  Feeling sluggish and bloated?  Undoing all your healthy eating habits prior to the trip?  No, you deserve much better!  You deserve to feel satisfied, yes, but you do NOT deserve to feel guilty, depressed, fatigued, and hungry (because as you know, less healthful foods actually leave you feeling hungrier sooner).  Stick with the words: "I'm on vacation; I deserve to feel my absolute best."
  8. Workout every day.  And no, "walking more" is not "working out."  I hear so many people say, "I walked so much on my vacation that I didn't need to workout."  Or they think they can eat more because they feel they are walking more.  Maybe I covered more mileage than usual walking from the pool to the hotel room to the spa, but I also spent a good deal of time sitting in the rental car driving to various attractions or relaxing in a lounge chair by the pool.  I also slept a little later than I usually do.  Assume that it all evens out.  Find the gym.  Learn about fitness classes at your resort.  See if there are any interesting things to do that involve physical activity such as hiking, skiing, mountain climbing, bike riding, rollerblading, etc.  I went to the gym most days for an hour.  During the trip I took a total of four fitness classes (a yoga class, a "total body physique" class, a gyrokinesis class, and a Bollywood class), and I went on one fairly strenuous hike.  Yes, I did a lot of walking, but I also did a lot of sitting, so by working out I ensured that I maintained my normal activity level and didn't lose any strength or stamina.
  9. Choose the lesser of the evils.  On my last day of vacation, we were stuck at the airport for dinner. There was literally nothing at the Chicago airport for a healthy-eating vegetarian.  I had to go with a "pizza sandwich" that was a little less than 700 calories (I ordered it without the pepperoni, so it was less than it said on the menu).  Some days this will happen.  In fact, this can happen even when you aren't on vacation.  Do NOT skip the meal altogether.  Find something that you can both enjoy and not feel guilty about.  If you've been eating healthy the majority of the time, this one meal will not break you--you can afford the treat!  Don't harp on it or feel guilty about it afterward; instead, feel proud that you still made the best choice possible, when others would have thrown up their hands and ordered a burger and fries.
  10. Keep track of what you're eating.  Because your schedule is so different, you may not realize you are eating more than usual or believe it or not, you might actually find you're eating less than usual.  You don't want to overeat or slow down your metabolism by not eating enough.  If you have a smart phone, there is a great app that I use even when I'm not on vacation called "My Fitness Pal."  It is fantastic!  Practically every food you could think of is available with full nutritional information.  You tell it your stats and goals, and it tells you how much you should eat in a day.  You just have to enter every little morsel you eat.  You can also enter in any exercise that you've done, and it will allow you the additional calories.

Here is a typical vacation day for me:

  • Rolled oats with almonds, dried fruit, and one tablespoon of honey
  • Coffee with soy milk and one packet of sugar in the raw
  • One protein shake mixed with almond milk (I packed several portions of my spirulina protein powder in my suitcase)
  • Sea salt pita chips with red pepper hummus (when sharing appetizers, I recommend putting the portion you intend to eat on your plate, and not going back for more)
  • Veggie burger with lettuce, tomato and onion on a whole wheat bun--hold the mayo (my gut told me to make sure that I ordered the bun dry--I just knew this restaurant, like many others, would slather it with butter, but of course I didn't ask--lesson learned)
  • Mixed baby green salad with balsamic vinaigrette on the side (I substituted this for french fries).
  • Banana
  • 1/4 cup of pistachios
  • Guacamole with gluten-free tortilla chips
  • 2 grilled vegetable fajitas
  • 2 mini churros (remember, this was calculated into my day--I knew I could afford the calories/fat because I kept track of my intake and exercise.  I only ate half of what was served on this plate, and I enjoyed every bite.  The next day, I passed on dessert)
  • 5 miles on the eliptical for 45 minutes, average heart rate at 152bpm (I set the trainer to "cross country" to vary the pace/resistance)
  • 20 minutes of upper body weight training

Final verdict: 
When I got on the scale this morning, I was exactly the same weight as when I left!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fitness Class Etiquette

Well, I just got back from a fantastic kickboxing class, and it occurred to me that somewhere, in every gym, there should be a class etiquette code, posted in a very conspicuous location--maybe even members should have to sign some sort of etiquette contract before entering.  We all know that there is gym etiquette, but not too many people seem to realize that there is an unwritten (though it should be written) fitness class etiquette.

  1. Don't stand directly in front of or behind anyone else.  After being on the receiving end of this one, I came up with the idea to write this post.  It's bad enough to stand directly in front of someone so that the person behind you can't see themselves in the mirror, but it's just as bad to stand directly behind someone.  For one, the person in front of you is constantly afraid of kicking/punching you.  And what's more, he/she is going to feel like they are breaking the etiquette rules and continually try to move away from you.
  2. Quit your whining!  If it's hard, march it out.  Don't start complaining or making up excuses; it brings morale down.  Most people are at the class for motivation.  When one person starts the negativity, it brings the rest of the class down.  And yes, I'm the girl that will tell you, "Oh, come on, you can do it!"  Perhaps it's obnoxious, but you're not going to break my drive to push harder and go faster.
  3. Be on time or be in the back.  Arriving a little early to pay up and set up should be obvious, but things happen.  If you show up late, find a spot in the back, don't go scooting in front of other people to get a spot front and center.
  4. Personal space is golden.  This is another one that should be obvious but often isn't.  You should be standing far enough away from the people around you that if one of you kicks or punches in the wrong direction by accident, no one is going to get hit.
  5. Pipe down!  Don't chat during class.  A lot of people make comments to their friends during class and it drive me nuts.  As a dance teacher, I know it can make the instructor feel uncomfortable, but it also distracts everyone else (not to mention you and your friend).  On that note, turn your cell phone off, too.
  6. Talk to the instructor before/after class.  Don't try to hold up the class by asking questions or discussing your deepest thoughts in the middle of class.  If you have an injury, you should let the instructor know before class so he/she can tell you the proper modifications you should make.  If you think you're doing something wrong, the instructor is there to tell you and will let you know.  If you're still not sure, wait until there is either a water break or until the end of the class to ask questions about form, technique, modifications, etc.
  7. Don't complain about how fat you are.  This is one that no one seems to know about.  And it's especially offensive if you're the thinnest one in class.  But even if you're not, it makes people feel uncomfortable and it appears as if--and it may very well be--you are just fishing for compliments.  Feel free to discuss goals and challenges your having so you can get feedback and support, but nobody wants to hear, "Look how fat I am."
  8. Stay for the whole class.  Do not, I repeat DO NOT, leave because a class is too hard or, even worse, too easy.  It's offensive to the instructor.  If you have to leave early because you actually have somewhere to be, ask the instructor if it's okay ahead of time and stay in the back so you can sneak out without disrupting everyone else.
  9. Be a humble hero.  If you're the best, strongest, fittest one in class, don't let everyone know it.  Tell others that you notice improvement or that they're really doing great work.  Chances are everyone is looking up to you or even envying you.  You'll motivate them to try harder and come back each week only if you're not a jerk about it.  And you just never know when someone fitter is going to show up and put you in your place.
  10. Always say thank you.  After every class, thank the instructor and any assistants for their time.

Are there any I've forgotten?  What bugs you during fitness classes?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Your Sleep Habits are Sabotaging Your Diet

I have been having trouble getting out of bed on time--not just your normal "I don't wanna go to school, mom" and hitting snooze once or twice, but literally feeling incapable of forcing myself out of bed and then hitting the snooze button for an hour, always arriving to work a few minutes late, which then made me feel some shame for the rest of the morning, not to mention feeling rushed, groggy, and unprepared.

Desperate for some help to make it stop, I purchased an app for my iPhone called Sleep Cycle, which tracks your sleep cycle based on movement in your bed (so if you sleep with a partner or pets it may not be as effective) and then very gradually and soothingly wakes you up during a half-hour interval that you set when it senses you are in the waking stages of sleep.

According to a quick Google search, waking up during deep sleep or REM sleep, can cause your body to release the hormone cortisol, which is a stress induced hormone that can cause increased appetite, fatigue and weight gain specifically around the belly area.

After reading that information, I realized that had to be my problem--my alarm was going off during the wrong time in my sleep cycle and that's why I couldn't get out of bed; however, that was probably only part of the problem.  After the first night of using the Sleep Cycle app, I checked the graph that tracks your sleep cycles through the night.  I was getting only 5 hours of sleep and not nearly enough deep sleep!  I headed back to Google to find out how I could remedy this problem.  I was also sold on the Sleep Cycle app and intend to use it every night from now on.  Here's what I learned:

Adequate Sleep is Important because it enhances your:

  • mental sharpness
  • creativity
  • productivity
  • emotional balance
  • physical vitality
  • maintenance of a healthy weight
Adults need 7.5-9 hours of proper sleep a night.

Proper sleep has four stages:
  • Stage N1 (Transition to sleep): Lasting about 5 minutes, your muscle activity slows down, eyes move slowly under closed eyelids, and you are easily wakened.
  • Stage N2 (Light Sleep): As the first stage of true sleep, it lasts about 10-25 minutes.  Eye movement stops, heart rate slows, and body temperature decreases.
  • Stage N3 (Deep Sleep): You are difficult to awaken, and when you do, you do not adjust immediately and feel groggy/disoriented.  In this stage, brain waves are extremely low.  Blood flow is directed away from the brain and toward the muscles to restore physical energy.
  • REM Sleep (Dream Sleep): About 70-90 minutes after you fall asleep, you begin to dream.  Eyes move rapidly, breathing is shallow, heart rate and blood pressure increase, and arm and leg muscles are paralyzed.
This is a typical sleep cycle in one night:

Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation:
  • Needing an alarm clock to get up on time
  • Relying heavily on the snooze button
  • Having a hard time getting out of bed
  • Feeling sluggish in the afternoon
  • Getting sleepy after sitting for long periods of time or in warm rooms
  • Getting drowsy after heavy meals or driving
  • Needing to nap to get through the day
  • Falling asleep while watching TV or relaxing in the evening
  • Feeling the need to sleep in on the weekends
  • Falling asleep within 5 minutes of going to bed

Negative Effects of Sleep Deprivation:
  • Fatigue, lethargy, low motivation
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Reduced creativity/problem solving skills
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Reduced immunity; frequent colds/infections
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Weight gain
  • Impaired motor skills or increased risk of accidents
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems
Tips for Getting Better Sleep:
  • Set a regular bedtime and don't break it on weekends.  If you need to change your bedtime, do it in 15 minute increments
  • Wake up at the same time every day and don't break it on weekends.  You should wake up naturally without an alarm clock if you are getting enough sleep.
  • Nap to make up for lost sleep rather than sleeping late.  Limit your nap to 30 minutes.  Don't take naps if you have insomnia.
  • Fight after-dinner drowsiness.  If you feel sleepy after dinner, do something mildly stimulating so you don't fall asleep.  Do the dishes or laundry, call a friend, walk the dog, etc.  Falling asleep too close to bedtime could cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep
  • Increase light-exposure during the day.  Open the curtains in the morning and turn on the lights.  I find it really helps me get out of bed if I open my eyes right away and keep them open even before it's actually time to get out of bed.
  • Boost melatonin production in the evening.  Melatonin is naturally produced when your body senses it's getting dark outside and will soon be time to go to sleep.  Turn off your television or computer before going to sleep; it's tempting to wind down with a TV show, but the light from the TV can throw off your body's interpretation of time.  Try reading or listening to music instead.  Don't read from a backlit device at night (such as an iPad).  When it is time to sleep, make sure your bedroom is completely dark.  If you get up to go the bathroom, use a flashlight or nightlight to guide your way rather than turning lights on.
  • Keep your bedroom/house quiet.  If you live near a busy highway (like me), turn on a fan or white noise machine.  Don't sleep with the TV or music on--even if you think it is soothing, it is hurting your sleep.  
  • Keep your room cool--around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  • Make sure you have a comfortable bed.  You should have enough room to stretch and move.  
  • Reserve your bed for sleeping (okay, and sex).  If your mind associates your bed with working on your laptop, it will assume you are meant to stay awake there.  This is why I find it's best if I nap on the couch and not my bed.  If I nap in bed, my body seems to think I should take a nap that is WAY too long.
  • Stay away from big meals and alcohol before bed.  Avoid heavy, rich foods before bed, as it takes more energy for your body to digest those foods.  Although alcohol seems like a good way to make you drowsy and tired, it reduces your sleep quality.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon (or altogether).  
  • Avoid drinking too much liquid before bed.  Getting up to use the bathroom frequently throughout the night disturbs your sleep.
  • Quit smoking.  There are hundreds of reasons you should quit smoking, but nicotine is a stimulant that disrupts sleep.  And people who smoke throughout the day will experience nicotine withdrawal while asleep, also disturbing their sleep.
Hope this helps!  Nighty night!

Information courtesy of Help Guide

Motivational Picture of the Day: Health

Monday, January 9, 2012

Books to Go Out and Buy Right Now

Okay, if you're like me, I'm sure many of you received Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Target (etc) gift cards for the holidays.  I strongly suggest you put some of them toward one or all of these three books (filled with facts, tips and recipes on how to transform your health and life):
  1. Tosca Reno's The Eat Clean Diet Recharged
  2. Chalene Johnson's Push: 30 Days to Turbo Charged Habits, A Bangin' Body, and the Life you Deserve
  3. Gene Stone's Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health
I don't have them yet, but you might also want to check out Rip Esselstyn's The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighters 28-Day Save-Your-Life that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds as well as Dr. T. Collin Campbell's The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long Term Health

Motivational Picture of the Day: You Sneaky Liar

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Motivational Picture of the Day: Chalene Johnson

Here she is, my favorite fitness instructor, Chalene Johnson, creator of Turbo Jam, Turbo Kick, and Turbo Fire (of which I'm on week 19!!) and author of the latest New York Times Bestseller, PUSH: 30 Days to Turbo Charged Habits, A Bangin' Body, and the Life you Deserve.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

REV IT UP: Fitness Magazine

This month's issue of Fitness magazine features an extremely enlightening article on how metabolism works.  I'll venture to say it's entirely necessary to anyone interested in health and fitness.  The article is called Rev It Up, and it offers plenty of tips (such as eating frequently throughout the day and not skipping meals) that many of us probably already know about metabolism, and some that are secrets kept by an elite group fitness gods--the ones wearing the matching sports bras and booty shorts at the gym (also the ones doing "high intensity interval training").  What makes this article so important, and different from other articles, is that it explains the science behind metabolism.  It also helps that the author took on the task of not only publishing her dangerously high (yet incredibly surprising) body fat percentage but also drastically changing it in a relatively short period of time--and she did it the RIGHT way.

The author, Melissa Roth, talks about how two seemingly identical body types could have drastically different flab-to-muscle proportions.  And that is the difference between who is more likely to maintain their weight over time and who will gain an extra eight pounds per year.  This is important (that's why it's bold):

"Metabolism drops off 2 to 4 percent every decade as we tend to lose muscle mass ... So, if as a twenty-something you burned 2,000 calories a day, fast-forward 10 years to your mid-thirties and you could be burning as few as 1,920 calories a day.  Doesn't seem like a big difference until you do the math.  Just 80 extra calories a day translates to eight pounds over a year, unless you pick up the slack with exercise."

According to the article (bold again), "The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.  In fact, lean tissues, including organs and muscles, on average burn 14 calories a pound a day, while fat only burns about three calories per pound..."

Yes, I used to be the one who always said, "But I don't see results from working out."  First of all, I know now that I was not doing the right kind of working out.  I was not doing a healthy mix of strength training and cardio.  And I never worked anaerobically (way too hard for my lazy butt).  I also never stuck with any workout regimen long enough.  I'd give up after a week (literally a week!) because I didn't see results.  Real results, results that won't stunt your metabolism in the long run like the deprivation diets I'd put myself on to see immediate results, are those that take time and happen a little bit more slowly, but they are also those that will last.

Oh yeah, and real results are the ones that make you feel GOOD.  When you have a healthy metabolism you feel energized and awake, but when your metabolism is slowed down because you're practically starving yourself on some extreme diet, you feel irritable and tired--which often leads you to "cheat."  "Cheating" on a slow metabolism will undo everything you worked for and then some.

So, please, please go read all four pages of the article (be sure to see the part where it says "pages in this story" and click the links below to go to the other pages).  It's incredibly important to know the facts.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why a Plant-Based, Whole Foods Diet?

Let's first get one thing straight.  What does a plant-based, whole foods diet look like?
  1. Eating whole grains instead of processed, refined grains whenever possible
  2. Eating fruits, vegetables, and beans, especially in the raw (it's recommended that for optimal vitamin absorption and nutritional value, 51% or more of your diet should be consumed raw).
  3. Not eating snacks, meals, or condiments that are highly processed.  Look at the ingredients before looking at anything else on the package.  If it doesn't grow in the ground or on a tree or a vine (i.e. it came from a lab), it is not a plant-based, whole food.  Beware especially of high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils
  4. Not eating (or if your like me, eating an extremely limited amount) of animal products, including dairy.

But why go through all that trouble?  Can't I just look at the nutrition facts for the fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol, and calories?  The package said "low-fat."

  1. Processed foods are not as filling.  About 500 calories of whole foods will fill your stomach, sending signals to your brain that you are full.  The same amount of calories in processed foods fill only a small fraction of your stomach, sending signals to your brain that you are still hungry and require more food.  When your body thinks you need to eat more, it doesn't care if the package said "low fat" or "sugar free" it just thinks that you will not survive without more food.  As an animal with instincts, you actually have very little control over not eating when these signals are being sent to the brain--all the willpower in the world may not stop you.  This is why processed foods are often to blame for the rise of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.  They trick your brain into thinking that this highly processed food is nutritionally valuable because of its rich taste.  We humans are still a hunter-gatherer species, but we are no longer hunting and gathering; however, our bodies don't know that.  Our bodies assume that if it is easy to get and elicits pleasure, it must be good for you; this is why our ancestors liked foods like mangoes or avocados.  Any hunter-gatherer is programmed to think that a bag of Doritos must be nutritious.
  2. Processed foods, even ones marketed as "low-fat" or "sugar-free" or "high in fiber" or "great source of calcium," lack essential nutrients.  In fact, many of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that were once in the ingredients of that can of Chef Boyardee (because hey, the can says it's equivalent to a serving of vegetables) are completely lost once they've been pumped full of chemicals.  Not to mention, many of the chemicals used in processed foods are known to have carcinogenic properties (i.e. nutrasweet, off of which I'm slowly weening myself) and are linked to certain types of cancer, specifically breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.  
  3. Processed foods often contain trans-fat, which puts you at risk for a high LDL cholesterol level (that's the bad one), type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  
  4. And because these foods lack nutritional value, they do not provide the energy your body is meant to receive from food; thus, you feel tired and sluggish and have a slow metabolism, which you're likely to remedy with a can of soda or energy drink.
But what's wrong with lean meats and dairy?  Don't I need meat for protein and dairy for calcium?
  1. Meat, eggs, and dairy products are high in cholesterol and fat.  No plant food in the world contains cholesterol--not one bit.  Fat and cholesterol clog arteries causing cardiovascular diseases.  People following a plant-based diet have 2.5 times fewer cardiac events, including heart attack and stroke.  According to the renowned Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (a favorite of mine), the average vegan has a cholesterol level of 133, the average vegetarian has a cholesterol level of 161, and the average meat-eater has a cholesterol level of 210.  Many professionals in the field of nutrition argue that if everyone adopted a plant-based diet, cardiovascular disease could be completely eliminated, as in cease to exist.
  2. As for the protein argument, a wealth of plant-based foods contain protein.  Soy, spirulina, cocoa, quinoa, pinto beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and lentils are just a few plant-based foods that are as high, if not higher, in protein than meat products.  While dairy products can provide protein, it is rich with casein, which has been linked to constipation, leading to gastrointestinal diseases.  Interestingly, casein is such a strong polymer that it is often used to make plastic.  Casein is also a histamine that creates an undue amount of mucus in the body.  
  3. As for the calcium argument, would you say that cows have big bones?  In case you're not sure, the answer is yes, they do.  From where do you think the calcium comes to support those massive bones?  Grass.  While dairy products can make bones stronger in the short-term, in the long-term they actually erode bone-producing cells, thus increasing the risk of osteoporosis.  In a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk.  According to author Russell Eaton, "Dairy milk does increase bone density, but it comes at a terrible price.  The latest research is showing that far from protecting bones, milk actually increases the risk of osteoporosis by eroding bone-making cells.  Also, people with osteoporosis have a much higher risk of heart disease and cancer, and the evidence is pointing at milk as the common factor."  
  4. Furthermore, dairy poses an increased risk of cancer because consuming it causes an increased production of a hormone called "insulin-like growth factor" (IGF-1).  Higher levels of IGF-1 cause higher levels of estrogen in women and testosterone in men, and abnormal levels are responsible for most breast and prostate cancers.

    Okay, this goes against everything I've learned from the time I was a child.  I want to know more.

    So glad you asked.  Check out the following websites, films, and books: