This post is part of my ongoing Reader Questions Series.
Hi Diane, At age 56, and struggling with menopausal weight gain, I watched The Game Changers and read Dr. Greger’s book, “How Not to Diet.” My husband and I switched to a plant-based diet about 3 weeks ago. After losing 2 lbs., the weight loss stopped and the 2 lbs. came back on. My husband lost 7 but regained 4. I am finding it hard to stay positive.
I think one of our problems is that we’ve tried substitutes like vegan butter for cooking but we hate the taste. I stopped drinking coffee when I couldn’t find a palatable substitute for cream. We’ve tried soy products and other vegan staples and just find them disgusting – so vegan cookbooks are of no use to us. Quinoa, couscous, tofu. It is so gross that we feel like maybe this is not for us? How can we find food we like?
We were eating plain vegetables sauteed in a small amount of olive oil, but I read that is probably stopping our weight loss. How do I cook without butter or oils? We try to suck it up and eat things like brown rice and we don’t even like it.
Giving up meat is easy for us. But trying to find joy in dry vegetables and grains that taste terrible is disappointing. Reading that pasta is okay, that this plant-based diet includes things we like, only to read elsewhere that it’s those things that are stopping our weight loss, is depressing.
I don’t know whether we should give up or not.
Advice would be appreciated!
PLANT-BASED COOKING ANSWERS:
The answer you’re looking for is how to curb these persistent desires for unhealthy foods and start enjoying your new plant-based way of eating.
Don’t feel too frustrated, you’re not alone and it’s totally normal to feel this way. After all, you’ve probably been eating the old way for your whole life. It’s natural to want the sweetest, fattest, tastiest food available because of our body’s instinct to put on fat.
Long before there were 24-hour supermarkets, we needed fat reserves to help us make it through the day and survive lean times when food was scarce. Meat and dairy are filled with fat and calories, so no wonder we like and crave them. We’re wired this way.
If you grew up on steaks, butter, sour cream, and the rest, you’ll likely crave those foods for a while, but tastes can and do change. Knowing this can help. I remember switching from milk in my coffee to plant milk and it was weird at first, but I started enjoying it more and more. Eventually, when I tried cow’s milk again out of curiosity, it tasted strange.
Just remember, much of today’s processed and restaurant food contains supernormal food stimuli that were not in our ancestral environment. Unfortunately, our eating has been gamed by the food and restaurant industry to create super tasty dining experiences that make people want to come back for more, and more, and more. The goal is not about your health but increasing profits.
You’ve made a great start with The Game Changers and Dr. Greger’s book. Hang in there! I hope my answers will help you and your husband forge on to a healthy victory and that you don’t give up prematurely on this new way of eating. You’re moving forward on a path that will need a little grit and perseverance to get to the other side.
Your health is so worth it!
You know enough now, especially since you’ve read Dr. Greger’s book, to make a conscious choice not to succumb to those ancient bodily cravings which are against your better interests in today’s world. That doesn’t make it easy, though, right? That’s where using mindfulness can help. Meditate on how terrible the standard American diet is for you. If you can develop an emotional reaction to bad foods, that’s half the battle.
Make a list of why you want to make these changes. This tip comes from “The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person,” which I highly recommend. The idea is to keep these reasons close by and read them daily or put them on your mirror. If you’re frequently reminded of your aspirations it will help you stay strong and positive.
Think about what’s happening to your body when you eat unhealthy foods. Start to associate eating these foods with weight gain, clogged arteries, diabetes, and heart disease. You certainly don’t want these health problems and when you can create an emotional aversion to unhealthy foods, you’ll start to feel even better about eating a whole food plant-based diet.
PROGRESS OVER PERFECTION
You can also decide to make the transition to plant-based a little slower if an all-or-nothing approach isn’t working for you. Check out my article, “Go For Plant-Based Progress, Not Plant-Based Perfection,” for helpful tips and strategies.
Your taste buds are adjusting after eating an unnatural diet for so long. It’s understandable that “normal” whole foods taste less than desirable.
Don’t expect a whole food substitution to taste exactly like its original. For example, take a plant-based mac & cheese. Expect it to taste a little different, but different can still be satisfying. I can tell you from experience, it’s also very satisfying to know that what you eat is also good for you.
YOUR CHANGING TASTEBUDS
From your question, it appears that you both aren’t used to eating healthy new plant-based foods such as tofu, seitan, couscous, quinoa, and the rest. However, I wouldn’t give up on vegan cookbooks just yet. You’ll want to keep experimenting with recipes and becoming exposed to these new ways of eating to see what you do like.
Remember that a plain ol’ piece of boiled skinless chicken isn’t all that interesting either. It takes some sprucing up to make it more palatable. It’s the same with plain tofu or plain brown rice.
I would guess that dinner is the most difficult meal for you. When you’re looking for recipes, try to find those that are popular and have good ratings, as these will likely be delicious and satisfying. Here’s a link to my top 12 whole-food plant-based recipes.
Cheese can be one of the hardest foods to give up because it actually has a touch of opioid-type molecules that keep us wanting more. Just say ‘no’ to the dairy aisle! I’m proud to say I can walk right by the cheese case now. There are some pretty decent vegan cheeses on the market that might help you make the transition. Treeline, while pretty expensive, is a good one made with cashews and without added fat. Or you could try Miyoko’s line of cheeses which are tasty. Just keep in mind that they are made with coconut oil so these are better as a once-in-a-while treat.
Think about recipes that you love with meat. Can any of them work by just removing the meat and dairy? Often these dishes can still be quite satisfying even without meat or dairy. Think chilies, pasta, burritos, tacos, soups, stews, and hearty salads with grains or beans.
I don’t use oil or any vegan butter to sauté food because I find that water, stock, or a little wine works quite well. I remember my “why,” and oil is unwanted calories and contributes to heart disease. Check out my article “Cooking Without Oil.”
Thankfully there are many plant-based substitutions for unhealthy foods these days. And, yes, as I mentioned, they don’t always taste like the originals, but they’re still good. For example, I have a Spinach Artichoke Dip made with potato, cashews, some nutritional yeast, and other flavorings – it was a huge hit at a holiday party this past year. Gone is the sour cream, cheese, and mayonnaise that makes this recipe downright dangerous. But I can enjoy eating this and feel really good that I’m doing the best for my health.
GIVE YOURSELF TIME
I hope these suggestions help you adjust. Be sure to give yourself time. Keep experimenting and try to be open.
I’d love to hear how it’s going for you.
Do You Have a Question?
This post is part of an ongoing series of questions from my readers about eating a plant-based diet. If you have a question that you’d like me to answer, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I read every question and answer them personally, so if you feel stuck, or are struggling with something, or feel overwhelmed, I’d love to help you!