Some diet updates

It’s been quite a few months now doing the whole plant-free diet. My weight has stabilized around 152 lbs. which puts me well within the recommended BMI limits. My body is getting used to it’s new normal, and I’ve had to deal with purchasing some different clothes. I was already wearing a belt on all of my pants, and this weight loss pushed me over the edge into needing to size down.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that despite craving things like cheese, if I end up accidentally having some dairy, my gut rebels. The other week I ate out and had what I thought was a simple plant based item, but in retrospect it probably used egg as a binder, and sure enough the next day my gut rebelled. Based on that reaction, I’m curious if it really has always been a dairy issue for me. Maybe someday I’ll try a little bit of meat and see if that causes issues.

For now though, I’m still really enjoying a lot of great plant based meals. Friends have sent me some killer recipes, including one for a “comfort mac” that really hit the spot the other week. I’m also learning what “substitute” products I like, and which ones aren’t worth the effort. Sometimes it’s best to not try to recreate something, and just look for something new and different.

It feels like an adventure, and I’m happy that it’s working out for me. It’s not always easy (especially when traveling), but I can’t argue with the results.

The results of the health experiment continue

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I’ve embarked on a new dietary path to improve my health markers. This week was one of the big tests, as I got my cholesterol levels tested again. I can honestly say that I was as anxious for this test as I was for any test I’ve gotten.

Moving to a completely different dietary path is a challenge. I’ve been a vegetarian before (college and high school), but going completely plant-based (vegan) takes it up another notch. When I was a vegetarian in college I probably could have also been labeled a “cheese-a-tarian” with how much I loved the yellow and white stuff.

I actually gave up straight milk a long time ago, but processed dairy has always been a staple in my diet. When I went vegan at the end of May, I never really missed meat that much, it was cheese that tugged at me. I’ve tried a couple vegan cheeses and they’re OK, but not the same. Fake cheese sauces are closer to the mark for me, and some local places that make fake mac and cheese are really good. I have also developed a solid love of hummus.

But here’s the question… was it worth it?

The test results are in, and my scores are the lowest that they’ve ever been! My overall level is 157, with an HDL of 45, and an LDL of 88. To put this in to context I’ve never had an LDL below 119 (in the past 10 years), and my most recent (May) LDL was 180. This was a HUGE improvement for me, and although I want to bump my HDL a bit more, I’m very happy with where things landed.

In many ways, it would have been easier to accept defeat, get a bad test result, start taking a statin and go back to my old eating habits. But seeing such a major change makes the challenge all worth it. Now, it’s about changing the mindset and simply recognizing this as the new reality. I’ve discovered a ton of amazing foods over the past 3 months, and thankfully, living in a major metropolitan area means that I have a lot of resources at my disposal for a vegan lifestyle. I think this is all going to be just fine.

And hey, beer is still on the menu!

Seeking more health improvements through plants

Most people who have known me for a while know that I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs when it comes to general health (not any specific ailment). After my divorce I put on a lot of weight (I wasn’t terribly healthy before either), and found myself in a place I didn’t want to be. Back in 2010 I made some hard choices and overhauled how much food I was eating, and took up running. The difference was amazing. I lost around 40 pounds in 6 months and was running a half marathon by the end of the year.

Since that time I’ve kept the running going, added in biking, and generally managed to maintain a mostly healthy lifestyle. But despite all of that a few of my numbers haven’t ever been that good. In particular, my cholesterol tests has consistently shown me in the elevated range (over 200), or just right below it. After some issues earlier this year, I was sent in for a CT Angiogram. In this test they put you in a CT scanner and inject you with radioactive dye to get a clear mapping of your arteries and heart.

When I got the results back, I was told that I had a calcium score of 11. Now on a scale of 1-300 that’s not bad. However, with years of high cholesterol tests, it put me solidly in the “mild” category, and the with it came the recommendation to start a low dose statin. Not the words I wanted to hear.

Don’t get me wrong, I know statins have worked well for many people, but I really don’t want to start a drug that is basically considered a lifetime drug. I decided that it was time for some radical shifts in diet, to see if this is something that I can get under my control. I opted not to start the statin, and instead have embarked on the journey of a plant-based whole-food diet.

We picked up a subscription to Forks over Knives meal planner (review coming in the future), and for the last few weeks I have cut out meat and dairy almost completely. The meal planner made this a lot easier than doing it alone, but it’s certainly been a big shift in our eating habits. I went from a pretty big meat eater, to a 99% vegan.

However, the one thing I can’t complain about are the results. When I started this diet I started tracking my blood pressure and weight every day, as well as journaled a few thoughts on how it’s been going. One other marker that had been inching a lot higher in recent years was my blood pressure level, so I was hoping this might have a positive effect on it as well.

When I started this my blood pressure was averaging around 125/76. Not bad, but the American Heart Association considers this “elevated”. In the most recent 15 days I’ve dropped that to 110/72, which is solidly in the normal range. In addition I started this journey at 177 lbs, and this morning weighed in at 165. That’s a HUGE result just over 20 days in.

On top of it all, I’m enjoying the food we’re eating. Some recipes have been flops, but we’ve found so many that are really solid, that I haven’t missed my old eating habits as much as I thought I would. In fact, what I pine for most often is “convenience”. I miss the idea of just opening a tasty bag of chips and scarfing that down, instead of doing the work of making something that is just as filling, but healthier. This certainly takes more work, but along the way we’re finding lots of things that bring back some of that ease.

The real test will be in August when I go back for a cholesterol test. If I am not showing any signs of improvement on that test, then I’m probably headed for a statin. However, if it looks like I’m making solid progress, then I’m going to keep going, and keep getting my lipids tested every three months for the next year, possibly going in to get another CT Angiogram at the end.

It’s full steam ahead on a change that is hopefully what my body has been asking for. And don’t worry, I’m not turning into an evangelist. I’m just looking for what works right for me, and right now, this seems to be what’s getting me results.

More equals more

I’ve had a weight loss journey before when in 2010 I lost ~40 lbs. One of the things that I discovered back then, and it’s still true today, is that portion sizes are very out of whack for my body size. Once I started eating less I found myself getting to the point where I couldn’t even finish off a regular sized portion at many restaurants.

My wife today shared an article that echo’d this sentiment, and in particular the new diet fad of eating more fat. The point being that if we want to gain less weight, we need to eat less calories. But because of our social construct of never wasting food, we often eat whatever we’re given. This means that we consume whatever is on the plate in front of us, despite the fact that it might consist of 50% of our daily calories.

I’ve found myself turning to kids sized portions at various chain restaurants in a way to combat this as I try once again to shed a couple pounds. I’m not trying to give out diet advice, but simply reducing the size of the portion of food you put on your plate is a good way to start to get control over how many calories you put in your body.