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Vegetarian Times Magazine
April 1996

A Weight-Loss Plan You Can Live With
Sorry, no miracles here-just tasty, sensible meals

Some people assume that being a vegetarian guarantees peak fitness and an ideal weight. This is not completely true. Yes, vegetarians are healthier that most of their meat-eating neighbors, but unless they are careful, their fat intake can be as high, if not higher, than non-vegetarians. Many people make up for the elimination of meat, poultry and seafood from their diet with an increased amount of high-fat dairy foods, nuts and seeds, or "health-food" snacks such as chips, energy bars, trail mix and "natural sodas. The bottom line: Fatty, sugary, processed foods pile unhealthful pounds on meat eaters and vegetarians alike.

I'm sure we all realize by now that short-term dieting is not the way to lose weight and keep it off. The dynamics of reducing your calorie intake for a certain period of time, only to return to your normal eating habits does not promote permanent weight loss or lifetime weight stability. The so-called "miracle" diets that guarantee you'll lose 10 pounds in 10 days fail to address one nagging question: What happens when the 10 days are up? For most dieters, the answer is: "You go back to eating the way you used to and you gain the weight back." Most dieters lose and gain the same 10 pounds over and over.

If it is lasting results we're after, what we need is not another quick fix, but a healthful, low-fat diet that we can stick to every day of our lives. For optimal health as well as weight control, we need to cultivate good eating habits and to incorporate more calorie-burning activities into our daily routines. Fortunately, when armed with specific nutritional information, it is relatively simple to construct a sensible eating plan that will help us accomplish just that.

A moderately active adult woman should consume a diet averaging 2,100 calories a day. The diet should be high in carbohydrates, moderate in proteins, and low in fat. This means shooting for 55 percent to 60 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, no more than 15 percent of your calories from protein and less than 30 percent of calories from fat. The above recommendations are not for weight loss, but for general health. By consuming a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet, your chances of developing heart disease, cancer and other life-threatening diseases are greatly reduced. If you want to lose weight, you must reduce your calories. The ratio of carbohydrates to protein to fat, however, still apply.

When beginning a reducing plan, you will need to cut your daily calories back to 1,500 to lose sensibly and slowly. (The promises of diet ads notwithstanding, losing weight quickly is not desirable. Pounds that disappear "virtually overnight" have a way of returning at exactly the same speed.) You can lose about two pounds a week, assuming you are exercising three to four times a week.

Experts have come to realize that calorie restriction alone will not produce lasting results. The one weight-loss formula that definitely works is to use more calories than you take in. During your reduction phase, and to maintain your weight over your lifetime, you must choose physical activities that help you burn calories. For example, take the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator; walk off your lunch or dinner; join a dance class; or spend Sundays bicycling instead of watching television. The more calories you burn through physical activity the better you will feel- and the more you can eat! The good news for gourmands is that a muscular body weighing 125 pounds burns more calories than a sedentary one of equivalent weight.

When altering you eating habits, don't just think "low-cal" or "low-fat;" think "high fiber" too. Highly processed, refined foods such as diet cookies and crackers are often no more than sugary, salty, empty calories that leave you hungry for something more substantial. Fiber, on the other hand, in the form of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, helps you feel full and satisfied. These same foods can be as convenient as their refined counterparts and they are also packed with feel-good vitamins and minerals. Think of grabbing a whole grain muffin or a piece of fresh fruit when you are on the run. Prepare the brown rice salad with marinated tofu the night before and bring the leftovers to work the next day.

Keep in mind that a healthy diet includes a healthy amount of enjoyment. Take the time to sit down and have a meal with a friend or loved one. Set the table with your good dishes, light candles, and perhaps buy some beautiful flowers to create an atmosphere that promotes relaxation and enjoyment. A meal should be a time to savor life and your food. The more effort you make to create a lovely atmosphere for dining, the more you will feel nurtured and taken care of, and the more you food will sustain you.

The two-week vegetarian weight-loss menu plan I have developed has no more than 1,500 calories a day. Some days without desserts are about 1,200 calories a day. Keep in mind that while it is ok to snack, you don't want to overdo it. Snacks can include a piece fresh fruit; three whole grain crackers with a slice of soy cheese; rice cakes; a half-cup of dried fruit such as apricots, apples, pears or dates; air-popped popcorn; or whole wheat pretzels.

Remember that how much you eat is almost as important as what you eat. Portion sizes for the following meal plan are as follows: 1 cup for soups and entrées and about 1/2 cup for starchy side dishes (rice, for example) and desserts. When side dishes are fruit, leafy green salads or non-starch vegetables (broccoli, carrots, celery, bean sprouts, etc.) portions are unlimited.

After you have reached your newfound lifetime weight, you will be able to maintain it by increasing your calories from 1,500 to about 2,000 a day (depending on your level of activity as well as your height and build). Add back these calories carefully, eating measured portions of healthful foods.

The following menus and recipes will get you off to a good start. The rest is up to you.

Editor's Note: If you have any medical conditions that could be affected by a change in diet and activity level, be sure to check with your health-care practitioner before embarking on a program of lifetime fitness.


Bowtie Pasta with Creamy Cilantro Pasta
Couscous with Chunky Tomato Sauce
Lemon Mousse



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