To have Ginny Messina (The Vegan R.D. herself!) and JL Fields (from the fabulous JL Goes Vegan) guest writing today’s Thought for Food column — together, no less! — is pretty much a dream come true. Not only are the two of them constant sources of inspiration to us hens, but they are also about to be the co-authors of Vegan for Her: The Women’s Guide to Being Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet, coming to all of us eager vegans this July. Ginny, of course, is already the author (alongside Jack Norris) of Vegan for Life (don’t miss the OHH review), and both Ginny and JL have joined us on our podcast. Lucky for all of us, they are going to be regular contributors to the Thought for Food column (did you catch JL’s Multivore Holiday Challenge last month?). Today’s post is one that so many of us will be able to relate to (and, if you’re like us, you’ll want to relate to the recipe beneath it pronto!). One of our favorite things about these two powerhouse women is that even though they are all about living their lives in a healthy way, and encouraging others to reclaim their own health and vitality through a plant-based lifestyle, their primary reason for being vegan is, hands down, the animals. Enjoy today’s Thought for Food…
Moving Beyond the Scale for a Happy Healthy 2013
No matter how many weight loss attempts you’ve made over the years, the call of the New Year’s diet is often too hard to resist. But by this time, a mere few weeks into the year, most people have abandoned their calorie-controlled plan for one reason or another.
That’s okay. If January 1 is the official day of resolutions, consider January 15 to be the day to step back, reassess and think about what’s really going to work for you in 2013 and beyond. To that end, I’d like to recommend a shift away from a weight-centric focus toward one that honors healthy habits.
It’s a paradigm adjustment that might be just a little bit easier for vegans. First, we have the edge regarding overall health at any body size. We naturally eat more fiber and less saturated fat. We eat healthy foods like legumes, nuts, and whole grains much more often than the average omnivore. Just as importantly, we also view diet a little differently – as part of something that has a significant positive impact, whether it produces weight loss or not.
There’s Nothing Happy about Being Hungry
When I was getting my master’s degree in public health, one of our first assignments was to write a definition of “health.” It’s not as easy as you might think. And in the thirty years since then, my perspective has evolved considerably. Today, experts understand that optimal health is defined more by lifestyle habits and markers like blood cholesterol levels than by body size.
That is, overweight people can be in perfectly good health, while many slender folks are at risk for all kinds of chronic diseases. If you’re overweight and you have risk factors for chronic disease, making lifestyle changes related to food, exercise, and stress management can lower your risk, even when the changes don’t produce a weight loss.
Still, you probably have some vision of your “happy weight” – some number that shows up on all those BMI charts as the “ideal” weight for your height. But weight is a complicated thing. It’s affected by some complex interplay among habits, genetics, and environment, which explains why certain people struggle much more than others with weight control.
The truth is that your “best weight” is dictated more by your habits than by some arbitrary number. It’s the weight you reach when you are eating healthful plant foods that you enjoy, exercising regularly, and eating in response to appropriate signals – that is, in response to hunger as opposed to boredom or stress or because the clock says it’s time for lunch.
Sure, you might be able to get down to a lower weight by cutting calories to the point that you’re often hungry. But being hungry all the time isn’t ideal and neither is the weight that demands that constant hunger.
Embrace Healthy Habits
Trading in the scale for a focus on healthy habits can improve your physical and emotional health. It can also be liberating. Not just from an emotional standpoint, but from a culinary one as well. Healthy eating eliminates the “diet” mentality that demands deprivation or lists of “forbidden foods.” For vegans, it’s pretty simple: Have at least two to three servings of legumes every day, load up on fruits and veggies, choose mostly whole grains, include small servings of nuts in your menus, and use added fats in small amounts to enhance flavor and texture. When you’re eating whole plant foods most of the time, there is room in your menu for healthy treats like JL’s Cinnamon Walnut Banana Bread (recipe below).
The other components of a healthy lifestyle – exercise and stress management – are every bit as important as food. Both reduce chronic disease risk, take the edge off depression, and protect against cognitive decline with aging.
Be an Intuitive Eater
I’m a multi-tasker and a workaholic, which means I eat many (okay – most) meals at my computer. And if I’m stuck on a project and feeling frustrated, bored, or stressed, I might grab a quick snack without stopping to determine whether I’m actually hungry (or maybe without especially caring). Lately, I’ve been trying to change that through mindful eating, also called intuitive eating.
Mindful eating strips away distractions and helps you assess physical hunger, and then respond to it in a healthy way. That is, you eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are full. When you eat mindfully, you also pay attention to the experience of eating by really tasting food, enjoying it, and taking breaks to assess satiety. It sounds simple, but try it and you’ll see how dramatically it can change your relationship with food. (If you’re a member of the Our Hen House flock, don’t miss my bonus tips for which foods help you feel satisfied, and can prevent overeating.)
Mindful eating can curb overeating while enhancing your enjoyment of food, and it can even reduce binge-eating. It can give you a much better understanding of where your weight should be and help you maintain that weight.
Celebrate Your Veganism
Some people get skinny when they go vegan and others don’t. If you’re thinking of veganism as a weight loss diet, it may not live up to those expectations. This doesn’t diminish veganism in any way. A vegan diet is a personal expression of compassion and purpose – with some nice added health benefits. You don’t have to be any particular size to reap its rewards.
In the end, you may or may not be able to get down to the weight that you believe will make you happy. What you can do is eat and live in a way that protects your health and that makes a world of difference for animals.
RECIPE: Vegan Cinnamon and Walnut Banana Bread
by JL Fields from JL goes Vegan
I spent most of my thirties, and early forties, jumping on the January diet bandwagon. A few years ago, about a year after going vegan, I discovered that my love of plant-based food was healthy, and that deprivation and over-exercising was not. I decided that rather than diet I would simply buy bigger clothes and learn to become comfortable in my own healthy, not-so-skinny skin. Gone are the days when I would say, “I don’t eat bread.”
Try this simple Cinnamon and Walnut Banana Bread recipe and enjoy it with a side of compassion…to yourself!
by JL Fields Ingredients Instructions YIELD: 1 LOAF
by JL Fields
YIELD: 1 LOAF
Virginia Messina, TheVeganRD.com, and JL Fields, JLgoesVegan.com, are co-authors of the forthcoming Vegan for Her: The Women’s Guide to Being Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet (Da Capo Press, July 2013). In Vegan for Her, nutritionist Ginny Messina tackles the issues pertinent to women who follow or who are considering a vegan diet, and JL Fields provides health-supportive recipes and tips for taking your veganism beyond the plate. With specific guidance on meeting women’s unique nutritional needs throughout the lifecycle and information about food choices that relate to many health concerns, Vegan for Her is a practical and realistic guide to making sure your plant-based diet is as healthy as it can be.