I have wanted to stay on a plant-based healthy diet and get off my processed vegetarian diet for a long time. I knew it would be better for my health and the environment.
After learning about the concept of processed food addiction, I tried a lot of different programs to help me get free from processed foods.
I had always known I had a problem with food, and now it had an identifiable source and shape to it.
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I couldn’t stay on a healthy diet until I found Chef AJ
Even though I was trying healthy diet systems, I kept failing because a piece of information or understanding was missing. After seeing Chef AJ on YouTube, I had the answers I needed.
Before Chef AJ’s information on plant-based volumetric eating, I didn’t identify or remove all the foods that were triggering my cravings.
Food has always been my go-to addiction to deal with stress and negative emotions, but I discovered it was going to take more than mindfulness to get free from this addiction.
I needed to address the chemical reactions that were happening in my gut and brain from eating specific foods as well as dealing with emotions in a healthy way. Find out where you are on the food addiction spectrum.
Maybe I wasn’t just a “piggy-poo” after all!
Since I have identified my processed food addiction and started abstaining from specific refined foods, I have lost 30 pounds and counting in the last year.
I have had a dramatic reduction in cravings and binges even though life has been just as stressful as ever. I simply do not crave these foods as often anymore.
First I tried the Spudfit Challenge
Andrew Taylor lost around 100 pounds in one year eating nothing but potatoes for the whole year! Andrew ate white potatoes, sweet potatoes, yellow potatoes, purple potatoes; you name it; he ate it.
He was so inspiring and warm on his videos that I wanted to try it.
He realized he was a food addict and wanted to do something close to fasting but not quite as difficult. He is now on a plant-based program and has an online course and a book. Read my experience with Spudfit here.
I had lost weight on spudfit but regained it back as soon as I went off of it because cravings kept pulling me back into refined foods.
When I discovered Chef AJ and watched her volumetrics video, I immediately saw what I had been doing wrong all this time.
Plant-Based with Chef AJ
Spudfit feels like another diet. At some point, it is going to be over, and you are going to have to deal with eating a wider variety of foods. Chef AJ teaches you how to eat for life from the start.
Chef AJ eats a ton of food every day. I was amazed when I watched her “what I eat in a day” video. She is tiny and eats huge piles of greens, sweet potatoes, beans and grains, and some fruits, but she does not eat any nuts, oils, seeds, or processed foods at all.
She suggests trying to work your way up to eating two or three pounds of greens and other non-starchy veggies per day, and to try eating at least half of them raw in salads.
I just have to repeat that this might seem like a massive volume of food, but these vast portions of non-starchy veggies only add up to about 300 to 500 calories per day. Most of the calories on her diet come from grains, beans, and potatoes.
Chef AJs Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss program taught me how to eat
I was resistant at first because I had tried many other plant-based programs over the years and failed. I tried Macrobiotics back in the 80s at the original center in Boston. And I had tried to stay on the Fuhrman system over the years only to topple off every time because I wasn’t eating enough food.
Eating by volume cuts cravings
But Chef AJ’s has been at it for ten years and stayed thin and helped a lot of other people lose weight. One of her keys was identifying how much volume of food one needs to eat on a plant-based diet, especially at first.
It was way more than I had been eating. Since I was used to dieting and eating tiny portions, I needed it spelled out. Processed foods are much more calorie-dense than high fiber fruits and veggies.
I thought it was extreme at first to cut out oil, salt, and flour along with sugar and other processed foods But it rapidly wipes out cravings for processed junk foods.
I was on board with no oils, meat, dairy, flour products like bread, or pasta. I just wanted to get free and lose weight and feel better.
Letting go of salt was hard
But when it came to letting go of salt, I just sort of skipped the whole idea. After all, even McDougall allows some salt. But for some people, too much salt can make the food hyper-palatable and make you hungrier.
Kelly Brogan is another favorite of mine when it comes to overall health and nutrition. She is Paleo and uses lots of fats, meat, and even has this unique Sol mixture that is supposed to help you retain water better and be very healthy. Still, she is not a food addict, so she doesn’t understand how stimulating to the appetite extra salt can be.
I had followed Dr. McDougall’s diet of high starch and low fat, but this included whole wheat pasta, brown rice pasta, whole grain bread, and I had an inkling that maybe these pasta and bread products were still too refined for me and were causing cravings.
Veggies for Breakfast!
This little tweak helped me change my diet for good. I know it sounds strange, but veggies for breakfast has a reason behind it.
Chef AJ recommends that you eat a pound of greens first thing in the morning as steamed greens and or salad greens with other veggies and again first thing at lunch and dinner because the least caloric most bulky water-filled foods are most filling and give the most satiety.
Another reason for eating greens first is that the bitter flavor of the greens reprograms the brain so that it is not overly primed for sweet flavors the rest of the day. Another reason for lots of greens is the high mineral content.
Bitter foods like greens tend to help you avoid cravings. Most of us eat a breakfast of sweet foods like fruit or oatmeal with fruit or a muffin. Chef AJ explains that these foods first thing can set us up for cravings when the first taste of the day is something sweet.
The rest of the diet consists of higher caloric foods like fruits and then cooked starches like potatoes, whole grains like rice or quinoa, and legumes.
After a few weeks, whole foods taste great!
I am not going to lie; at first, things didn’t taste as great as the highly palatable high-calorie foods I love so much, but you get used to it and start to enjoy eating this way.
The one thing about chef AJ that I don’t agree with is that she thinks supplements are not necessary except vitamin B12 though she does mention briefly in her book that you can take an algae-based EFA.
People may think you are weird, but don’t let that worry you!
Two or 3 pounds of produce a day was a much higher volume of food than I was used to eating, but it worked because the fiber is filling and satiating, and the greens are full of phytonutrients I needed.
Chef AJ describes one of her students in her book who was still very overweight but was losing weight steadily and feeling a lot better, by eating huge volumes of green leafy foods with some beans and starches.
One day this student was eating her lunch in the cafeteria at work, and a co-worker came by, looked at the heaping plate of veggies and commented
“No wonder you are so fat! You simply eat too much.”
The massive plate of salad the woman was eating couldn’t have contained more than 300 calories and had a non-fat dressing of balsamic and lemon. But her co-worker was too ignorant to figure this out.
We are programmed for tiny portions
We are so programmed to diet on tiny servings of high-fat, high-calorie processed foods like weight watchers, etc., that it is tough to break this stupid habit and eat enough high fiber whole plant foods.
Once I read about that experience, I was cured of my tendency to under-eat on my non-starchy greens.
I began to eat a lot more greens than I was used to, and suddenly for the first time, my cravings went away!
What I eat every day
I have a big pile of steamed greens with each meal or a huge salad. I also have a scoop of whole beans and a scoop of sweet potatoes or whole grains for my starches. And I eat a lot of fruit as desert or a snack if I need it. It is really simple. I season things with some salsa, tomato sauce, chipotle pepper, or rice vinegar, onions and garlic, and other spices. I discovered smoked paprika recently and have been sprinkling it on everything. There are so many natural herbs and spices that it never gets boring.
Chef AJ uses no overt fats relying only on the fats in her beans and starches and veggies and fruits. Her plant-based meals give her the 10% fat in her diet that she needs to survive. She doesn’t use any nuts, seeds, or avocado in her meals because she feels that these lead to binges if she tries these.
But I have found that I can have a handful of nuts, or some avocado ground flax, chia, or black seeds every day without having my cravings triggered or binging out on the bag of nuts that I know are in the fridge.
Detoxing: my first day without salt
I lost 2 pounds the first week on her recommendations and had absolutely no cravings for junk foods. Maybe this was it! I was finally free!
I was excited to keep going. Finally, after finishing the whole book, I decided to go salt-free and left out the mustard and miso I had been using and switched to salt-free tomato sauce.
I noticed an immediate reaction to cutting all salt. I got a sore throat and earache on the left side of my head, where I have had sinus problems for years. I had mild flu-like symptoms, a few aches, and pains, and I had a minimal appetite for about a week and was down to one or two very small meals per day with no cravings and very little desire to eat.
I trusted that my body was detoxing as needed and let it run its course.
Just getting 100 percent of the salt out of my system was an amazing cleanse. A week later, I had lost a total of 12 pounds and was pretty excited to keep going. I know most of it was water weight from the salt, but it was still exciting!
In about a week, my appetite came back. Taking all the salt out had heightened my taste buds, so the plant-based diet was delicious and satisfying. I still use a few items with salt, like seaweed now and then, but I have dramatically reduced my salt intake.
The Pleasure Trap
My cravings do pop up out of the blue every few weeks but with diminishing frequency.
I found out from reading The Pleasure Trap that cravings naturally return every few weeks or months out of the blue for a while. This is a natural part of the process and diminishes over time, the more the body gets what it needs from a healthier high nutrient diet.
It is our natural, instinctual reaction to the memory of the old food. When our defenses are down, or we see the old food, we can be triggered again.
Processed food tricks your brain every time
Processed foods give the survival part of our brain a false feeling that we are doing something good for us. But the flavors and highly processed high caloric foods throw our system into confusion.
Our primitive limbic system thinks we should stock up any time there is something with highly concentrated calories. But in our culture, that means many of us are eating non-stop and getting super fat because there is so much processed food everywhere we go.
Obese no longer
I still have managed to lose 30 pounds with the occasional cheating and am presently down to 160. I probably need to loose more weight but, even 30 pounds is better for cardiovascular health. My highest weight of 190, at 5 ft 3 inches tall, pushed me over into obesity.
If you are done with diets and calorie counting, weighing your food, and you want a more intuitive approach, I suggest getting chef AJ’s book The Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss, which has a lot of delicious but easy recipes.