Do you feel you are fully realizing the promises in the Word of Wisdom, to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint? To have the destroying angel pass you and your family by? If not, consider the benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet, a way of eating that closely follows the counsel in D&C 89:10–17. This article is part of a series discussing the Word of Wisdom from a whole food, plant-based perspective. To view all the articles in this series, see Featured Author Jane Birch.
In preparation for setting health goals for the new year, I’ve been sharing various ways a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet can transform your life in 2016.
In Why Start Now? I described some of the reasons why adopting a WFPB diet can be a game changer and why you should consider doing this now so that you can start reaping the tremendous benefits and blessings. Next, I introduced three possible approaches to changing your diet:
- Make a plan to “baby step” your way into a WFPB diet (see Baby Steps to a WFPB diet).
- Implement the “maximum weight loss” principles.
This last approach is the topic for today’s article. If you are already eating whole food, plant-based, but you want to lose more weight, following the maximum weight loss principles is a surefire way to lose additional pounds!
Why Do We Need Maximum Weight Loss Principles?
If you have been following this series on a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) approach to the Word of Wisdom, you know that following this way of eating naturally, leads to weight loss. It is common for people who switch to a WFPB diet to lose all of the weight they gained since high school and to remain at that weight as they continue this liberating lifestyle. It is difficult to overeat on a WFPB diet because it removes over-stimulating rich foods and includes only fiber-rich healthy foods that fill you up before you have overeaten.
Then why would we need maximum weight loss principles? The reason why the regular WFPB guidelines are not enough for some people is that it is possible to overeat on even a healthy diet. Healthy diets are sustainable because they provide enough calories to satisfy hunger. Any diet that delivers sufficient calories is also a diet that can be over-consumed. This was not a problem for our ancestors because they were not surrounded with food all day long, nor did they have lifestyles that allowed them to munch their way through the day. We live in a different day and time, and this is why the Lord designed the Word of Wisdom for our day!
How are we to know exactly how much to eat so we don’t go over? Fortunately, God designed our bodies so we naturally know how much to eat if (1) we are eating the foods the Lord ordained for us; (2) in a manner that is pleasing to Him; and (3) we are practicing the Word of Wisdom principle of “prudence and thanksgiving” (D&C 89:11).
The maximum weight loss principles and strategies build on the foundation of a WFPB diet, so it is important to first understand guidelines found here: WFPB Guidelines
The Word of Wisdom Way to Weight Loss: Calorie Density
The concept of calorie density is key to weight loss. Calorie density is the relative number of calories a food has per unit of measurement (e.g. per ounce or pound). Because a WFPB diet focuses on foods that are naturally low in calorie density, eating these foods naturally leads to weight loss. If you have not studied this concept, I recommend you read this article first: The Word of Wisdom Way to Weight Loss: Calorie Density.
Maximum Weight Loss Principles and Strategies
Most experts recommend you set your weight loss goal for no more than 2 pounds a week. Most people can safely and healthfully lose an average of 1-2% of their body weight a week. 1-2% may not seem like much, but if you are consistent over weeks and months, you’ll eventually lose 10, 30, 50 or even 100 lbs or more!
The following are well-known WFPB maximum weight loss principles and strategies. Pick and choose the ones you want to use based on your goals and eating preferences. This should not result in a diet that is not pleasurable and satisfying. You can both enjoy your food and lose weight. In fact, eating delicious foods that help you lose weight makes them all the more pleasurable!
Check here for a list of Maximum Weight Loss Recipes.
- Totally eliminate unwholesome plant foods.
Consuming unwholesome plant foods does more than add empty calories, it contributes to disease. A healthy WFPB diet can include a very minimal amount of these foods, but if you are having problems losing weight, it is best to eliminate them:
- Oils (including olive oil and coconut oil). These are the MOST calorically dense foods on the planet. They are 100% fat with almost zero nutrients. For best results: don’t use oil to cook, don’t buy products with oil in them, and don’t eat at restaurants where you can’t avoid oil. Even the spray oils are 100% fat.
- Concentrated sugars/sweeteners. Even if they are “natural” or “organic,” all concentrated sweeteners are basically empty calories: agave, brown rice syrup, date syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, table sugar, etc. The general guideline is to keep all added sweeteners below 5% of your total calories, but if you are a true sugar addict, total abstinence is the only road to real freedom. Also avoid artificial sugars, which keep cravings for sweetness alive. By eliminating concentrated, refined, and artificial sweeteners, we learn to savor the natural sweetness in fruits and even complex carbohydrates!
- Highly refined/processed plant foods. These usually contain white flour and/or white sugar. These highly refined “foods” are stripped of important nutrients and are calorie dense. Eat real whole foods, not foods manufactured out of plant parts.
- “Vegetarian” or “vegan” foods. Most vegan substitutes (i.e., faux meats, faux cheese) are highly refined/processed foods that don’t compare in quality to the wholesome plants God ordained for us. They are typically high in chemicals, oil, processed plant parts, and empty calories. Vegan does not equal healthy. God ordained wholesome plant foods, not manufactured vegan products.
- Dramatically reduce even wholesome high calorie plant foods.
Another avoidable source of excess calories are the handful of wholesome plant foods that happen to be very rich in calories. While these foods contain wholesome nutrients, their widespread availability in our day makes it way too easy to consume far more calories than our bodies need. We can get the same nutrients in low fat plant foods without the excess calories. Many people can use a few of these sparingly and still manage to lose weight, but if you aren’t losing enough, eliminate even more of these calorie bombs:
- Higher fat, calorie dense plant foods: nuts and seeds, nut and seed butters, avocados, coconut, coconut milk, chocolate, and olives. Soy beans and traditional soy foods (tofu, tempeh, soy milk, etc.) are not as calorie dense, but they are higher in fat than other beans.
- 100% whole grain flour products: breads, bagels, pretzels, crackers, cookies, dry cereal, tortillas, etc. Processing even whole grains into flour greatly increases the calorie density, making it much easier to rapidly consume more calories than we need. Instead, consume relatively unprocessed whole grains like brown rice, wheat berries, oats, corn, and quinoa. Whole grain pasta is somewhat better than dry flour products because the added water reduces calorie density.
- Dried fruits: raisins, dates, plums, apples, figs, etc. Of course dried fruit with added sugar and oil is worse, but even wholesome dried fruit is calorically dense and not very satiating. These foods are packed with calories. Eat real, whole fruit instead.
- Juices and smoothies. By blending up fruits and vegetables, we can quickly and easily consume many more calories than we would have consumed if we had eaten them whole. If weight loss is an issue, make smoothies an occasional treat instead of a regular habit.
- Center your meals around wholesome starch foods.
The Lord explicitly tells us that He ordained grains to be the “staff of life” (D&C 89:14). I have a testimony that this was not a mistake, nor was this counsel meant for Joseph Smith’s day only. Indeed, it is MOST needed in our day when people all around us are actually afraid of grains and other starch foods. These foods are the cleanest source of bulk calories on the planet and are KEY to weight LOSS. Our bodies are designed to run on these foods, and we should be centering our meals around them.
WFPB experts recommend that at least half of our plate be filled with wholesome starch foods: whole grains, beans, potatoes, corn, yams, winter squashes, etc. This is where the bulk of our calories should come from so that we get the fuel we need from a healthy energy source and don’t go hungry.
- Don’t go hungry.
It is important to not skimp on food and go hungry! Fad diets almost universally rely at least in part of forcing you to go hungry, and that is why they ultimately all fail. The Lord designed our bodies to require food and blessed us with a strong hunger drive to ensure that we are motivated to eat enough. When we are hungry, we are more likely to reach for foods that are convenient, and all too often those foods are a pretty unhealthy choice.
Don’t skip or skimp on meals (unless you are fasting). Eat until you are comfortably full, then stop.
- Increase the ratio of vegetables to starch foods
While starch foods should remain our primary source of calories, these foods are the most calorically dense of all the wholesome low fat foods, so we can lower the overall calorie density of our foods by increasing the ratio of foods that are even lower in calorie density. The lowest calorie dense foods are vegetables. Make vegetables 1/3 to 1/2 of your plate, but don’t try to make them the whole meal. We need the wholesome starches to get enough calories to satiate hunger, provide needed energy, and avoid the temptation of less than ideal foods.
Make vegetables half your plate for optimal weight loss. Check out Jeff Novick’s visual representation of a Healthy Eating Placemat.
- Eat more raw vegetables.
Because they are less digestible, raw vegetables deliver fewer calories. Cooking starts the digestion process by breaking complex carbohydrates into simpler sugars which are more calorie dense. Eating uncooked foods can help you fill up and aid in weight loss.
Keep lots of raw vegetables on hand for snacking: bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, celery, green onions, mushrooms, snap peas, radishes, tomatoes, etc. Locate them in the fridge or counter where they are easy to reach. Raw fruit is more calorie dense but also makes for great snacks.
- Eat the lowest calorie dense foods first.
A good habit is to eat a large vegetable salad or vegetable soup at the start of your meal (make sure you use low fat WFPB ingredients, including the dressing). Low calorie dense foods can help you fill up, leaving less room for more calorie dense foods.
- Don’t drink your calories.
Our bodies don’t give the calories we drink the same weight as calories we chew, so drinking our calories often leads to overconsumption.
Water is the ideal WFPB beverage, though enjoying it may be a habit we need to cultivate. Some unsweetened flavored waters (such as herbal teas) are also fine low calorie beverages.
- Reduce food stimulation.
Much of the food we consume is eaten for pleasure and not because we are hungry. While we still want to receive great pleasure from our food, this is possible to do while at the same time reducing the type of stimulation that encourages overeating. Here are two tips:
- Reduce variety. For many people, having a variety of foods available at each meal encourages overconsumption. Less variety leads to less food consumed. Keeping your meals simple not only helps you eat less, it is also simpler to prepare. If you don’t mind monotony, you can even eat the same foods over and over again. If you need more variety, just reduce the variety at each meal.
- Reduce salt. Salt acts as an appetite stimulant for most people, so adding salt increases consumption and reducing salt tends to reduce consumption. Don’t use salt while cooking and add just minimal amounts (if any) to the food on your plate. When you purchase packaged foods, check for a 1 to 1 ratio between mg of salt and calories, meaning if there are 100 calories per serving there should only be 100 mg of sodium (or less) of salt per serving. Your tastes will naturally adjust to the lower salt levels. Focus on the flavors of the foods themselves.
- Don’t eat at places where you can’t find 100% WFPB foods.
Even if you’re ordering a “vegan” meal, most restaurants overload their food with salt, sugar, and oil. If you’re trying to lose weight, order healthy, oil-free foods such as steamed vegetables, rice, baked potatoes, vegan whole beans, and vegetable salads with fresh lemon juice or balsamic vinegar (or your own WFPB dressing).
Be careful when you go out to eat or eat at other people’s homes (or even attend church activities!). Remember: it is more about socializing with others than it is about the food. If it is too difficult to find wholesome foods, avoid eating out (or eat before you go). Considering inviting people to your home or suggesting potluck to your friends. If you take healthier options to church activities, you may be surprised how many other people will appreciate it!
- Eat mindfully.
When I honestly evaluate why I am eating at any given time, hunger is not always the primary motive. Pleasure ranks very high on my list. I find myself eating because it is more enjoyable than the task at hand or to procrastinate doing things I don’t feel like doing. It is also easy to mindlessly consume food while we are doing other things. I think the Lord intended for food to give us pleasure, but there are other ways to feel joy that do not involve consuming unneeded calories!
Eating mindfully involves paying attention to hunger cues, slowing down to enjoy our food instead of mindlessly gulping it down, and listening to our bodies to know when we are full. It does not mean going hungry! It means getting much more pleasure out of much less food.
I’ve written more on this topic here: Eat With Thanksgiving.
- Address emotional needs in ways that do not involve food.
One significant cause of overconsumption is the habit of using food to address emotional needs. This is similar to using alcohol, tobacco, or even serious drugs to cover, dull, or stuff down emotions we don’t want to deal with. Experiencing these emotions is a natural part of the mortal journey and addressing them in healthy ways does takes courage!
One way to keep from using food to address emotional issues is to cultivate healthy habits that don’t involve food: wholesome recreation, sports, crafts, games, hobbies, social interaction, etc. Sometimes professional help or working in a good support group is critical to learning to deal with difficult emotional issues.
See also: Overcoming Food Addiction
- Move more!
While movement and exercise can’t take the place of changing your diet for dramatic weight loss, they are important to health and self-confidence and can help us both lose weight and maintain weight loss.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week and try to include some vigorous activity. See: The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life
These Principles Are Not Just for Maximum Weight Loss
I believe these principles are helpful for more than maximum weight loss. They are sound principles that can help us make wiser decisions about how and what we eat. Even though I don’t need to lose more weight, I use most of these principles as part of my normal diet. That way, when I have a special “treat,” those treats are usually no worse than calorie dense wholesome foods (like dried fruit, avocados, nuts or 100% whole grain flour foods). The fact that these foods are not a large part of my regular diet not only helps with weight control but also makes them special treats when I do enjoy them.
Recipes and More Information on Weight Loss
Check here for a list of Maximum Weight Loss Recipes.
For more help with weight loss and understanding calorie density, see: The Word of Wisdom Way to Weight Loss.
Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective (2013) and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. Watch the video Discovering the Word of Wisdom: A Short Film.