How I lost 30 lbs on a High Carb Vegan Diet
In my last blog post, “Why I initially gained 60 lbs on a High Carb Vegan Diet”, I explain why my weight ballooned during my first year following a high carb vegan diet after coming from years of chronic dieting, stimulant abuse, and health problems. Three years have since passed and I’ve been able to effortlessly drop 30 lbs on an unlimited calorie high carb vegan diet! In this blog, you’ll find out how I lost the weight, how healthy weight loss actually works, and my top tips for acheiving and maintaining weight loss PERMANENTLY.
Chasing Weight Loss
After my weight reached an all time high of 185 lbs in March 2013 following an unlimited calorie, high carb, low fat, plant-based, mostly raw vegan diet for 1 year, my weight plateaued, then came down about 5-10lbs where it remained for the next year. At the time it was difficult for me to except what had happened to my body without thinking that I was overeating (despite following my natural appetite) and underexercising. Out of impatience, I ended up forcing a reduced calorie intake on several occasions while increasing the intensity of my workouts to see how fast I could lose the weight I had gained. What always followed was fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, digestive problems, headaches, sleep disturbances, and relentless hunger that I managed with stimulants (nicotine and caffeine). When I could no longer maintain this strict regime, I'd give back into my natural appetite, gain some weight back, and immediately experience improvements in my health, energy, digestion, and emotions.
How I Coaxed My Body Into Releasing Excess Weight
One of the most important realizations I came to after experimenting with forced calorie restriction (for the last time) was that it wasn’t a long term solution for obtaining the results I truly desired. The only way I was going to be able to sustain good health and a lean body was by following a diet and lifestyle that would allow it to happen naturally overtime. Up until that point, I had been forcing my body to be somewhere it wasn't, which in reality was preventing my metabolism and health from fully recovering. My body needed time to finish healing, and that meant creating a supportive environment for it to happen, regardless of how my body was going to look during the process.
So I stuck to following the basic guidelines of a high carbohydrate, low fat, low sodium, plant-based vegan diet; eating all I desired per my appetite and cravings. I quit stressing my body with high intensity exercise, and instead opted for light/moderate stationary cycling, walking, and restorative yoga. My sleep naturally increased to 10-12 hrs a night as I opted for early nights, getting to bed by 9 pm at the latest. I did my best to avoid situations that caused stress, and I started focusing all the benefits I was receiving with this lifestyle, staying positive, and forging of my true, genuine self. Taking the time to support my innate healing abilities and reprogram from the inside out was the pivotal point in my health transformation. By October 2014, my weight had come down about 10 lbs and I was feeling better than ever. As my energy gradually improved, I was able to increase my exercise, adding jogging back to my routine as well as pilates, vinyasa yoga, outdoor cycling, and body weight training. By the three year mark (March 2015), my weight had come down another 10 lbs, with a total loss of 30 lbs, 3 inches from my waist and hips, and a lean body weight of 150-155 lbs. Most importantly, I'm the healthiest I've ever been in my life!
Losing excess body weight and achieving/maintaining an ideal, lean body weight is 99% dependent on the state of your metabolism and health (the other 1% is genetic), which are direct, cumulative results of your diet and lifestyle. Nutrient and calorie deficient diets (along with chronic stress) are the main reasons people have trouble shedding excess weight and/or keeping it off long term, promoting metabolic damage within the system; a condition where the metabolism functions sub-optimally in order to conserve nutrients and fuel.
In order to lose excess body fat via diet and lifestyle, one must first go through an initial healing (metabolic recovery) phase of nutrient and calorie re-balancing, which allows for metabolic restoration. An unlimited calorie, high carb, low fat, plant-based vegan diet is the most optimal for supporting this healing process as it provides all of the necessary fuel and nutrients required to re-build, replenish, and restore the system to optimal health. The energy efficiency of the high carb, low fat vegan diet is what allows for rapid metabolic recovery as it provides the highest quality of nutrients and fuel for the least amount of energy and work.
The human body was designed as a miraculous healing machine, but can only exhibit 100% capacity when it’s able to work under the least amount of physical and chemical stress. What many people don’t realize is that a high functioning metabolism requires a consistent, regular fuel/food intake. Carbohydrates are the most energy efficient marcronutrients for the human body as they are simply polymers of glucose, our primary fuel source (see Carbohydrate post). The effortless conversion of carbohydrate to glucose causes virtually no stress to the system thus maximizing the rate of the metabolism (healing, elimination, hormone regulation, and energy production) as long as enough carbohydrate calories are provided consistently by the diet. When the carbohydrates coming in consist of fruit and other nutrient dense foods (like potatoes, corn and vegetables, grains, and legumes), the system is also able to recover from most (if not all) nutrient deficiencies.
Fat and protein on the other hand, are large, complex molecules that require massive amounts of energy and nutrients in order to be converted into glucose (for energy production), which creates stress on the system, and results in a metabolic slow-down as the body is forced to cope with the large energy demands. As we’ve learned in previously (see Protein and Fat posts), the conversion of fat/protein to glucose results in a toxic condition known as ketosis, which further taxes, damages, and poisons the system; which requires massive amounts of body water to flush and eliminate the toxic ketones (resulting in chronic dehydration. When continued long enough, this situation results in severe metabolic damage, nutrient deficiencies, and health consequences (heart disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, gout, cancer, etc.). Excess ingested fat and protein is also primed for fat storage from the second it reaches the blood. Keeping intake low will ensure minimal fat storage, and create a deficit for excess body fat to be removed from the body overtime (as long as enough carbohydrate calories are regularly supplied in the diet).
The combination of high carbohydrate and high nutrient intake (in the absence of excess dietary fat and protein) overtime creates a condition in the body that allows for the proper elimination of excess fat, protein, fluid, and toxins within the system that disrupt normal functioning. As these nonessential (and potentially harmful) compounds are eliminated from the body, the entire system is able to function most efficiently. The high carbohydrate, high nutrient diet also allows for the rebalancing of all hormones such as leptin, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, serotonin, melatonin, insulin, thyroid (T3), and adrenal (cortisol). It also provides the ultimate protection from future toxins, stress, genetic mutation, excess tissue and fluid accumulation, aging, and damage. The outcome of this entire process of healing via metabolic optimization is an effortlessly healthy, lean, fit, youthful individual.
Factors that slow/stall weight loss
The number one factor that prevents/slows weight loss in 99% of people is chronic stress. Stress caused by a high fat, high protein, low calorie diet, lack of sleep, too much exercise, the wrong kind of exercise, not enough exercise, dehydration, excess sodium, ingesting chemicals/preservatives, stimulant abuse (caffeine, nicotine, theobromine, amphetimines), appetite suppressants, medications, negative thoughts, social, financial and/or work-related problems, lack of fresh air and sunshine, exposure to extreme climates, etc.
Ironically, most people cope with stress by doing the same things that created the stress in the first place! All causes of stress, (especially an inadequate diet, dehydration, overtraining, and sleep deprivation) result in a lowered metabolic rate to conserve valuable resources (nutrients and calories) in order to necessary maintain the essential health of the organism. Low metabolism=delayed healing, delayed energy production, compromised organ functioning, etc.
Stress in itself isn’t a bad thing; it is a necessary component of life, BUT whether or not we are able to handle that stress is a whole other story. In order for stress to be properly processed and handled, we need to be taking on enough nutrients, calories, water, rest, and movement on a consistent, regular, daily basis in order to prevent our body from responding to stress in a negative way.
How long does it take and how many calories do you need to heal my metabolism?
The human body requires a consistent, regular daily intake of ample amounts of calories in order to properly fuel the metabolism and run all systems optimally in order to generate health and prevent the accumulation of excess fat, protein, fluid, and toxins. The metabolism is like the engine of your body and it needs regular fuel in order to keep burning/working properly to keep all systems running smoothly.
The appetite of the recovering individual will largely dictate the extent of nutrient and caloric repletion that is required to adequately and optimally heal from the metabolic damage caused from the previous diet and lifestyle. It’s not uncommon for a recovering individual to initially require massive amounts of calories (4000+) coupled with easy, low intensity exercise, adequate fluid intake, and lots of rest to aid metabolic recovery, nutrient repletion, and health restoration. In fact, according to the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, the patients fed the most during re-feeding (post starvation), re-gained their body weight the fastest and recovered their health, metabolism, and mental poise the quickest (I mention mental poise because a large portion of the starved subjects went crazy). On average, it took these recovered individuals approximately 8 months to resume a normal body weight post re-feeding. *Note: the participants in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment had no prior history of dieting.
Given that the average American has chronically stressed their body in some fashion to create metabolic damage, it can be assumed that it will take most 1-5 years to assume optimal health and a lean body weight. The least damage you have done to your body through diet and lifestyle choices, the faster your recovery will be. Younger people and those who have never dieted or taken a lot of medication or stimulants will have a faster recovery rate than someone who has spent the last 20 years abusing their body with low carb/low calorie dieting and stimulants. Example/ takes time for body to adapt to sports training- requires years of practice and consistent effort to get good. Body responds the same way to regular metabolism promoting habits- become more efficient (fit).
In general, the adult female will require a regular intake of 2500+ calories/day to recover and maintain a high functioning metabolism; with adult males requiring 3000+ calories/day. If you’re used to a lower calorie intake or lower volume of food, it can take a bit of initial “food forcing” for your body to start regulate how much it needs via your appetite. Don’t be afraid of “overeating” on low fat plant-based foods, as your body will become more efficient at utilizing the calorie and nutrient content of your meals overtime. It’s not uncommon for individuals coming from calorie restrictive backgrounds to feel lethargic and fatigued after meals as this results mainly from weak digestive organs and a slow metabolism. With time and consistency, the functioning of the digestive organs and metabolism will increase in strength and speed. It can help to have smaller more frequent meals if you are particularly distressed from a large volume of food. As your digestive function and metabolism improve overtime, you’ll be able to handle more calories and volume with ease. In order to determine your personal calorie needs, check out my post How Many Calories Do You Need per Day.
What other factors aid metabolic recovery and weight loss?
Now that you’ve got the diet down, let’s focus on other factors that influence our metabolism and health:
Water. Drinking enough water (by itself) daily is necessary for staying properly hydrated. Water allows our cells to function optimally and efficiently, eliminating waste byproducts of normal cellular metabolism and keeping our cells primed for energy production. Symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, headaches, and low energy. Check out my Water post for more information.
Rest. The body needs adequate nightly and daily rest so that it can repair, restore, and replenish cells, tissues, nutrient stores, muscle glycogen, and hormones. Consuming enough high carbohydrate foods daily will supply the adequate precursors for serotonin and melatonin production, which are hormones involved in mood and sleep regulation. Human growth hormone is also released during sleep, aiding in metabolic recovery and prepping the body for fat metabolism. It’s ideal to rest when you feel stressed, exhausted, fatigued, or whenever you feel you need to rest!
Exercise. In order for the metabolism to maximize to its optimal potential, the body must be moved regularly and consistently. Regular, consistent, daily exercise tones the body and pumps the lymphatic system, aiding the elimination of stored fat from the system. It also increases the rate of the metabolism, as it increases the rate at which oxygen reaches the cells (the other main ingredient in energy production). In general, exercise makes the body more efficient at converting fat into fuel. Sustained, low intensity cardiovascular exercise is the best for enhancing metabolic recovery and overall fitness as it strengthens and tones the systems of the body in a gentle, non-stressful way. Strength training and flexibility exercises are also important for improving overall fitness.
Fresh Air and Sunshine. These outdoor components aid in increasing the metabolism by enriching the system with vitamin D and oxygen, making it easier for the body to heal, become more efficient, and eliminate stored toxins and body fat.
Positivity and Patience. While it’s great to have an aesthetic goal that encourages you to prioritize your health and fitness, you’ll need to find other things than your weight to focus on, especially if you are experiencing uncomfortable body changes. Many people like to blame the high carb vegan diet and lifestyle for their undesired initial body outcome, but it’s important to understand that whatever happens to the appearance of your body is a necessary step of the healing process that we don’t have any control over. The sooner you can let go of forcing or trying to control the shape of your body, the sooner you will experience food freedom and happiness on this lifestyle. This approach is not a quick fix 30-Day fad diet, but a long term solution to achieving and maintaining health and a lean body for life, which will require time to manifest. I like to use the analogy of sports training. For instance, when I first started playing basketball, I had the intention of becoming a good player but I knew that was going to require loads of practice. After years and years of consistently engaging in the sport, I was able to play competitively at the college level. This lifestyle works the same; you have to put in consistent daily effort (supporting your health and metabolism) FOR YEARS in order to achieve and maintain the results you desire FOR LIFE!
For myself, it helped to focus my efforts on understanding how this lifestyle worked and participating on forums where I could assist and learn from others. I flooded my brain with youtube videos (particularly Freelee the Banana Girl, Durianrider, and Nutritionfacts.org) un-program and re-educate myself on how to eat and live properly, which kept me moving forward. Also, I found it helpful to follow people on social media that inspired me to meet my goals. If you’re struggling with body image issues, check out the instagram account and facebook page Health is the New Skinny; their focus is on promoting health over aesthetics and a positive body image regardless of your size and shape. Buy new clothes that fit and make you feel comfortable in your skin. Love your body now for all it does for you; be grateful for that you are alive and able to move, breathe, think, and talk! Take up yoga and learn that self-love extends beyond your physical form. Love your body enough to nourish it properly so it will function more efficiently and keep you healthy. Outer transformations begin from within!
My Top 10 Tips for Achieving and Maintaining Weight Loss Results PERMANENTLY:
1. Eat enough calories daily from your favorite high carb, low fat plant-based vegan foods! I consume anywhere between 2500-4000 calories per day, with my main sources being large meals of ripe fruits and creamy starches like potatoes and rice. Check out my Recipes for meal ideas!
2. Follow an 80/10/10 macronutrient calorie ratio of carbohydrates/fats/protein. A 90/5/5 ratio is the most ideal for increasing the rate of recovery and fat loss. I’ve personally averaged a 90/5/5 ratio over the past 3 years and prefer it very much!
3. Keep your sodium intake below 1500 mg /day (under 1000 mg/day ideal). Excess sodium in the diet will create fluid retention (that often looks like fat) and place unnecessary stress on the system. My sodium intake averages somewhere between 500-1000 mg/day.
4. Stay Hydrated. Aim for 2-3+ liters a day, more with exercise, hot, dry temperature and if spending a lot of time indoors. I typically consume between 3-4 liters of water per day, and start the day with 1 liter of water before any food.
5. Get the majority of your calories from nutrient dense fruits, vegetables, and starches! I love to start the day with a large meal of fresh fruits or a smoothie. Water rich meals aid in flushing the system of waste accumulated overnight. Lunch is usually more fruit or a smoothie and dinner is either baked potato fries with greens, sushi rolls with vegetables, or a homemade pizza with lots of veggie toppings!
6. Exercise! Cycling, walking, jogging, swimming, hiking, yoga, resistance training, and pilates are some of my favorites. Do what you enjoy! I average 60 mins of low intensity exercise per day, and do 30-60 mins of cardio first thing every morning.
7. Rest! Aim for 8-12 hrs of sleep/night and rest during the day as needed. I like to get to bed by 9pm so I can wake up early to train!
8. Avoid situations that cause metabolic damage/stress: undereating, avoiding carbohydrates, binging on fatty foods, late nights, skipping meals, dehydration, taking stimulants/drugs (nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, etc.), prescription medications, overexercising, underexercising, extreme climates, etc. I used to do many of these things when I had a “night life”, but have been retired from that lifestyle for years now. Start small, give up what you can, and slowly implement healthier habits!
9. Take a B12 supplement. Most people are deficient in B12 from poor diet and lifestyle habits and intestinal disorders. B12 aids metabolic functioning as it is a key element of energy metabolism. I’ve used both injections and sublingual supplements of 1000 mcg methylcobalmin/dose.
10. Get your sunshine and fresh air by exercising/spending time outdoors. I used to be a gym rat but switched to outdoor exercise which I now prefer and very much enjoy! There’s nothing like exercising in the fresh air. Plus nature adds a whole new element to training, which I think helps one to get fitter faster because you’ve got to work against nature. My skin has also adapted to the sun from being outside regularly. I started with minimal exposure and gradually built up my time in the sun (I have fair skin and live in the Southwest US). In summer I avoid peak hours to avoid skin damage and dehydration.