1 Year, 100 Pounds Lost

Some lovely 'before' shots. These are roughly 115-130 lbs more than the 'after' photo.

Some lovely ‘before’ shots. These are roughly 115-130 lbs more than the ‘after’ photo…

Just over a month ago, I reached a pretty big goal that I had set: LOSING 100 POUNDS!  I hadn’t been actively trying to do so in one year’s time, but as the pounds started to add up, and the calendar started approaching one year, it suddenly became achievable. Now, I do have a confession to make. I missed it by a day. Technically, it was 366 days – but who’s counting, really? I was trying to figure out if there was some leap-year technicality I could make work, but what can you do…

So now that I’m minus 100 (and as of this writing, it’s actually 107 lbs in 13 months), and nearly 130 lbs from my heaviest, I wanted to take this opportunity to answer some questions that I’m getting more and more as friends & relatives are really starting to take notice. These questions range from the very common for those eating a whole-food, plant-based diet to some I didn’t expect. In any event, in no particular order:

Me in May 2014 in the largest pair of jeans I ever wore.

Me in May 2014 in the largest pair of jeans I ever wore.

Did you have “the surgery” (bariatric weight loss surgery or lap-band)?
No. That’s not something that I even considered. It may be right for some, but it wasn’t for me. I lost the weight by changing to a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle, combined with regular exercise (swimming for me).

So what do you eat?
I eat a Whole-Food Plant-Based diet with little to no added S.O.S. (Salt, Oil or Sugar). That means the four basic food groups as defined on the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine “Power Plate” of Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes and Grains, along with nuts and seeds. I consume zero animal products of any type, and I severely limit the amount of processed foods I eat, along with the aforementioned Salt, Oil and Sugar. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have a rare treat that’s processed food, or the occasional meal out of the house that was prepared with oil, but I limit those as much as I can. When I do consume Salt, Oil or Sugar, they’re used as flavorings, and not main food sources.

So, no animal products?
Nope!

Not even (fish, chicken, farm-raised meat, eggs)?
No. If it had a mother or a face or came from something that did, I don’t eat it.

The PCRM "Power Plate"

The PCRM “Power Plate”

So how does this whole thing work?
The long answer very short is that I’m eating foods that are low in calorie density (whole food plant foods) instead of processed, high-fat foods. Our stomachs have stretch receptors that tell us when we’re full. We will continue to eat until those stretch receptors tell us we’re done. If I eat 200 calories of broccoli instead of 200 calories of olive oil, or a processed food, I am full much sooner. If I’m eating celery, I can eat 1425 grams (that’s nearly 3.5 lbs of celery), but if I’m consuming canola oil, my 200 calories are done with only 23 grams (that’s only 1.5 tablespoons!) Which is going to most likely trigger those stretch receptors first – 3.5 lbs of celery? Or a tablespoon and a half of oil (or any other food high in calorie density?) The best explanation of this concept is Dr. Douglas Lisle’s presentation How To Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind. It’s the most informative 75 minutes you’ll ever spend. If you’d rather read it than watch it (I’d watch it), read this.

So what improvements have you seen after a year of eating this way?
Too many to count! I feel ‘clean’ – eating clean puts more of a bounce in your step. The lack of oil and sugar makes me feel much less sluggish and hazy (it’s hard to put into words, and you’ve never experienced it until you’ve gotten rid of them). I sleep much better – like a rock, in fact. I think more clearly. I’m told I have more color and that I look ‘healthier’. My bathroom ‘habits’ are vastly improved, and things ‘move along’ much more quickly. All prior digestive difficulties are completely gone. Oh, and I have a new body, too.

Ok, so where do you get your protein?
“The protein available in a diet of whole grains, legumes, fruit and beans, and red, yellow and green vegetables is adequate to nourish even professional champion athletes such as those who compete in the iron man races, professional football, mixed marshal arts, track and field.” (Courtesy Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s site.)

Calcium SourcesWhat about calcium? How are you getting enough calcium without consuming dairy products?
“All minerals, including calcium, come originally from the ground and enter animals through plants. Which means plants are loaded with calcium, iron, zinc, copper, etc., and the more plants you eat the more minerals you acquire. The relationship between people and plants works so well that there has never been a case of dietary calcium deficiency ever reported. To put it even more clearly: all-plant diets are sufficient to meet the needs of growing children and adults (infants need breast milk). Calcium pills have a few adverse effects like constipation and inhibition of iron absorption. The most serious mistake a person can make is to believe cow’s milk is a “good” and necessary source of calcium. Heart disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes, arthritis, and infectious disease are only a few of the common consequences of drinking milk from other animal species.” (Courtesy Dr. John McDougall’s site.) Long answer short – we don’t need nearly as much calcium as the dairy industry wants us to believe, and there is just as much (and often more, depending on the plant) calcium in plants than in products derived from baby cow growth juice.

Are you sure we don’t need dairy?
Look at this way. What is the milk that we drink? It’s the growth formula for a cow. We’re talking about baby cow growth juice – that was designed by nature to take a 75 lb. calf and grow it into a 750 lb. cow as soon as possible. Why would we want to consume that? Are we trying to gain 10 times our mass in a few weeks? Also – why would we find it necessary to be the only species on the planet to drink another animal’s milk? Even adult cows don’t drink cow’s milk – why would we? The only people who are insisting that you consume dairy products is…the dairy industry! They’ve got some serious skin (or milk) in the game, wouldn’t you say? Every nutrient that’s in milk is available in a plant food without the harmful toxicity of dairy.

What about your Omega-3 Fatty Acids? Where do you get those if you won’t eat fish or fish oil supplements?
“There are numerous ways to get essential omega-3 fatty acids without subjecting yourself to the potential risks of fish oils — which, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, are highly unstable molecules that can break down and release dangerous, disease causing free radicals. People are under the false assumption that taking a fish oil supplement will negate the effects of all the cheese, meat, and processed foods they throw down their throats. But fish oil is no panacea. It can actually raise total and LDL cholesterol levels, increases your chance of a hemorrhagic stroke, and suppresses the immune system.” (Answer courtesy Engine2Diet.com.) Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in a variety of plant-based foods, including ground flaxseed meal, walnuts, soybeans, and green leafy vegetables.

The Dirt on B12, Courtesy Vegans of Instagram

The Dirt on B12, Courtesy Vegans of Instagram

What about B12?
“If you follow a whole-food, plant-based diet, you do indeed need to be aware of your vitamin B12 intake. This vitamin is created from microorganisms in the soil, which animals consume, thereby making it part of their bodies and providing it to people who consume their flesh. However, it is very easy to find vitamin B12 in non-animal-based sources. Nutritional yeast and fortified plant-based milks contain ample vitamin B12 or you can take a supplement or chew some B12-fortified gum. We require 5-10 micrograms per day. This simple consideration will allow you to prevent deficiency, which does not typically show up in blood tests until it is too late.” (Courtesy Plant-Based Dietician Julieanna Hever on Forks Over Knives website.)

What foods do you miss?
I don’t miss meat, poultry or eggs at all. I do miss cheese occasionally, but there are plenty of vegan versions of any type of food that I might want. There are very tasty burgers, sausages, fake cheeses, pizzas, holiday roasts – anything I might have a craving for. Fortunately, I just don’t have them very often, so it’s not an issue (and those faux foods are not healthy even though they are plant-based).

What do you eat for breakfast?
I’ll be honest with you – I don’t eat breakfast. I never have. I don’t get up hungry, and although I understand why so many find it necessary to eat (so that you don’t pig out later), I just don’t have a need for it. I eat when I get hungry, typically in the early afternoon. For ‘normal’ people who eat breakfast, there are a ton of healthy plant-based options, like oats, pancakes, waffles, fresh fruit, silk, almond or coconut-based yogurts, tofu scrambles, as well as a plethora of unhealthy vegan ‘junk’ food (sausages, etc.)

Coffee?
I’m not a coffee drinker. I don’t consume caffeine at all. My wife, Claire, who still drinks coffee occasionally (but has really taken to herbal coffee as well) prefers soy or almond milk to replace the dairy.

What do you drink?
Water, as much as possible, or diluted Honest Ade. It is lightly sweetened with cane sugar, which isn’t great, but I never drink more than a half bottle at one sitting (50 calories). It’s not ideal, but it’s better than anything with the chemicals or fake sweeteners in it (it’s just water, fruit juice and sugar). If I have a glass that’s 1/3 Honest Ade, all-natural lemonade or limeade and 2/3 water, I’m happy. I like just enough flavor to…flavor it, nothing more. Once in a blue moon I’ll have enjoy a sweet tea at a restaurant as a treat.

How can you cook without oil?
Pretty easily, actually. Onions sauté up great in vegetable broth (great demo here from Chef Del Sroufe), with a touch of water or even red wine. There are lots of alternatives for baking, depending on the recipe.

What about the taste of the food? Isn’t it bland?
Surprisingly, not in the slightest! Here’s what’s fascinating – after a few weeks of no oil, little to no sugar, low to no salt, and no animal products, your palate completely resets. Now, anything with oil just tastes coated in a slippery mess. It’s gross! Same with sugar – anything sweetened with heaps of additional sugar is just inedible now, whereas fruits are usually as sweet as I can handle. Eating a date or a banana (or something sweetened with fruit) tastes as good as the most luscious dessert that I might have eaten before. Same with salt – you just don’t miss it, especially if your food has been flavored well with herbs and spices (and bitter, such as lemon, is a surprisingly good replacement for salt, since the bitter and the salty parts of the taste buds are right next to each other. It’s easy to fool your tongue!) There are some great no-sodium salt alternatives out there, my new favorite being Benson’s Gourmet Seasonings (thanks to Chef AJ)!

HappyCow.net lists thousands of veg-friendly restaurants, shops and stores worldwide.

HappyCow.net lists thousands of veg-friendly restaurants, shops and stores worldwide.

What about eating out and traveling? What do you do?
Eating out and traveling just takes a little forethought. There is a wonderful community of other vegans and vegetarians who document the vegan, vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants all over the world called HappyCow. Although I prefer to patronize establishments that make options available to me, we’ve been successful eating out and ordering meals all over the country quite easily. Fortunately, with the vegan lifestyle becoming more and more prominent, “regular” restaurants always have a couple of vegan options on the menu, and often mark them as such. We have even found a local pizza place here in Atlanta that recently added two vegan pizzas to their permanent menu with homemade ‘cheese’ and it’s one of the best pizzas we have ever eaten. Often side dishes are already vegan-friendly or can be made so easily. And we’ve been surprised just how accommodating chefs will be – just by telling your server that you’re vegan, you’re often presented with a list of options, and sometimes the chef will just come out and come up with a delicious and nutritious meal! We always travel with snacks for the room, so we can bring or buy our favorite snacks wherever we are (nuts, hummus, cucumber, fruit, etc.) This lifestyle hasn’t slowed down our enjoyment of traveling or eating out a bit!

I couldn’t afford to eat like that. Whole Foods is expensive!
Whole Foods is expensive, no question. And it is one of our favorite places to go, but every grocery chain from ritzy to budget has produce – and they all have some organic options, too. Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes, Grains, Nuts & Seeds are NOT expensive. Think about some staple foods – potatoes, rice, grains, veggies, beans (canned or dry in bulk) – these are very, very inexpensive foods. Dollar for dollar, we are saving money both in the grocery and in restaurants eating this way. When you’re not buying meat at several dollars a pound, your food dollar goes much much further!

Are you cooking?
More than ever! We’re cooking vegetables and starches all the time, such as potatoes, chili, oats, grains, rice, puddings, you name it! We’re cooking our own plant-based desserts, splurging on rich homemade pasta sauces, and making our own seasoning blends all the time. We have a freezer full of frozen veggies to steam, fresh and frozen fruits. We’re cooking WAY more than we ever did before. We have some favorite whole-food plant-based chefs and cookbook authors that we follow as well, such as Chef Del Sroufe, Chef AJ, The Happy Herbivore, FatFreeVegan.com, the recipe section at the Forks Over Knives site and many more. We’re finding that our Vitamix, pressure cooker and Cuisinart food processor are our three most used tools now, especially the Vitamix, which is my favorite kitchen toy of all time. One unexpected benefit of eating this way is that food, for the most part, won’t go bad easily. There’s no vigorous scrubbing of cutting boards or pans to get rid of salmonella or other raw-meat diseases. Washing cooking tools is a breeze and since nothing ‘goes bad’, there’s zero concern of cross-contamination, etc.

Lap PoolAre you exercising?
Absolutely! I have always fondly remembered swimming as a child. Since being fat throughout adulthood, I was too embarrassed to swim in public. Now I am swimming at a local health club, 6-7 times a week. I do short workouts, only about 550 meters (about 20 minutes). It’s brief enough that I enjoy doing it daily, but long enough to see great results.

Don’t you find this lifestyle limiting/radical/too extreme?
Not at all! Removing animal products from my diet has allowed me to try probably 30 different foods (mostly grains, legumes and vegetables) that I had never consumed before. Before, I would probably eat only a handful of entrees (chicken, beef, salmon, pasta, potato, etc). Now I’m eating things like quinoa, collards, kale, shockingly-good-brussels-sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and lentil chili, along with fruit-only desserts, no-added-oil concoctions like bean-based condiments and sauces, nut-based ‘cheese’ in cooking, and a hugely-expanded use of herbs and spices to achieve flavors that explode in my mouth (I like strong flavors). Regarding it being radical – I subscribe to the belief shared by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn that cracking one’s ribs open and having open-heart surgery is pretty extreme. I am choosing to prevent what I consider to be more radical by eating a diet full of foods that won’t clog my arteries! Eating this way makes you heart attack-proof.

How long will you be eating this way?
I have no plans to change how I eat. After learning what I have, why would I want to revert back to an unhealthy lifestyle?

Are you done losing weight/You should stop losing!
No, I’m not quite there yet. Ideal BMI is 18.5-22, and I’m still a good 20 lbs from there. I’m certainly a lot closer than when I started, but still have a little ways to go. Let’s face it – the only reason that humans carry fat is to carry them through times of famine. I don’t foresee any famine on the horizon, so I have no need to carry around fat. If that changes, I can assure you I know how to put weight on very quickly!

Do you have any excess skin from all the weight loss?
Some, but not as bad as I had feared. Hopefully some of that will disappear with time. Come on over, I’ll show it to you. It’s pretty.

Ok, so where do I find information about Whole-Food Plant-Based living?
Glad you asked. That’s what this site is for. Please browse around, specifically at the resources section, where you can find all the books that I have read and learned from, the YouTube section where you can sit in front of your own computer and watch fascinating lectures, and of course, the section on the movie Forks Over Knives, which is what started my journey!

Comments

  1. Really cool article. Thanks for sharing! And congrats on your accomplishment!

    • I am extremely glad I became a vegan about 4 years ago….I delight in knowing I am doing the best I can for my body and my health. I too traveled the country while eating a vegan diet..I found it easy to get the type of foods I wanted to eat and restaurants were very accommodating….I sincerely wish more of my family would join in the vegan lifestyle as many of them are suffering with diabetes and other serious health problems…Prevention is always easier than managing a disease..Rock on to everyone trying to prevent heart disease, cancer and diabetes..along with so many other problems.

    • Thank you!

  2. Awesome in every respect! I plan to refer friends to your blog when they have questions about the FOK way of living, which I have adopted.

    Congratulations and thank you!

  3. WOW! This is amazing! Congratulations on your healthy weight loss and lifestyle change. 🙂 What an inspiration!

  4. dosouth says:

    Well done. I must make note that one of the ads at the top with the banana take you to the Trim Down video which states that soy is extremely toxic to your body and you promote soy here. Not a good mix do you think? I certainly will take some of your ideas here to modify my lifestyle (aka diet) It is always great to find options to fit the lifestyle.

    • HI dosouth, the banner ad at the top is syndicated by a third party (google). We have no control over the content. You are correct, definitely a conflict there. I certainly wouldn’t endorse that…

  5. Great story. I used to be a vegan for a couple of years, but I was one of those vegans who ate vegan processed foods, faux junk! I finally quit being vegan for two reasons, one for the faux foods I was eating way too much of as well as in social settings… I was the odd one out. But I’ve been thinking for some time now about going back, BUT no processed foods. Or at least minimize processed foods.. make meals from scratch! I also like what you said about eating when you are actually hungry! I feel the same way. 🙂 Congratulations! You are an inspiration for me. Thanks! 😉

  6. Awesome job. Do you count calories with the plant base diet, if so about how many calories a day do you eat? Do you limit fruit because of the sugar?

  7. Hi, Benji! Many congratulations for you… quite a feat, Sir. I’ve been a vegan for nearly six years, and I’ve never felt better, truly, I’m also an exercise enthusiast (runner). I hope that you find your new lifestyle continuously pleasing. You have accomplished the impossible, for some folks. I’m inspired. Best to you… Chris!

  8. I am so happy for you and it is always so inspiring to read stories such as yours. I have been vegetarian for 6 years, vegan for 4 years and recently raw food vegan with very little cooked foods. I also cut out oils, salt, and sugar from my cooking. I am a long distance runner in my 40’s and have seen my times increase all season. I hope to qualify for Boston in October. I make everything from scratch and I love cooking and trying new recipes. I wish there were more people out there that would realize the benefits of eating this way. I am surrounded by people who are deteriating before my eyes plaqued with sickness and other ailments. Although I was never over weight, I was unhealthy smoked cigarettes and ate tons of processed foods and drank soda with the occational alcohol drink. I decided 12 years ago it was time to change, and it has been quite the journey and learning process along the way. I am in better health now than I have been my whole life, I feel happy, enegetic and alive. Congradulations to you on your 100 lb weight loss and I hope you continue on your optimal health journey in a whole foods plant based diet. We need more people like you.

  9. Monique L Matthews says:

    ok I love that you are sharing . I am a strict Vegan and I would have it no other way , I am also gluten free so I cant wait for ,them like Baca Burger to be gluten free as well as Vegan…. But even with that said I have plenty to eat and my blood sugar is in a good place 109 as it use to be 400 to even 600 for many years tell I came back home to being a Vegan..

  10. Anja Orom says:

    This reinforced pretty much everything I just read in the China study. I admit I find the change difficult and have not conquered it yet. Like you I do not typically miss meat, but I grew up in Denmark where cheeses and yogurt are stable foods. I would ideally like to quit coffee, alcohol and all the meat based and dairy products, but I realize that for me it is a process. I rarely eat meat now, and I have cut back on dairy and alcohol, yet I find it a daily struggle. i usually start my day off right, but as the day progresses I loose my resolve. I know how great I feel when I do it all, yet it is so hard to do, is that just human nature I wonder.

  11. Thanks for sharing your story! You did a great job of debunking all of the myths around this way of eating! We started about a year and a half ago and no turning back here either!

  12. Sara Beaudoin says:

    I had no problem stop eating meat and dairy products cold turkey April 1st 2013. An inspiration that came from my Uncle that had a heart attack and survived after open heart bypass surgery. I cut back on oils, sugars, etc earlier this year. I have come a long ways from those habits we learned growing up. I’m actually tired of people asking me how J get my nutrients because I don’t feel like they believe me. I purchased ten copied of Forks Over Knives documentary and I randomly give them to people I know in hopes they are ready to listen and to pass it to another. I have to admit that I don’t exercise much these days. I will be doing some major changes with my exercises because I miss that level of energy. I very much enjoyed your journey you have shared. Something that is amazing to accept. I enjoyed you bringing up swimming because I think that is something I could enjoy very much. Keep up the great goals.

  13. Hi,

    Wow!! What an inspiring and amazing story!!! Thank you for sharing it with us 🙂 My family (hubby n kids) have been vegan for a little over a year now, and although I am so glad we went plant based , I now realize you can still be vegan and eat junky food!! My husband managed to lose weight when we made the change (even though he didnt need to) but I am overweight and haven’t lost a pound. I am 5’4 and weigh 230lbs. MY QUESTION FOR YOU IS—> what finally motivated you to start the process of losing weight? What clicked inside your head that said “enough is enough”?
    I am a nurse, and I know what the ramifications are for being overweight, especially as people age, and the obesity takes a toll on their health. BUT, I can’t get motivated enough to START to exercise, eat less, etc. I know how much better I will feel, how much more energy I will have, etc. but I feel like I’m standing at the bottom of Mt. Everest and I need to climb it alone and unequipped, lol.

    Thanks for listening and any input/advice would be greatly appreciated!!!!

    Thank you,

    Ilene

    • Hi Ilene, thanks for your feedback! I’ll be honest, the change just found me! I actually talked about it a bit in my “Star McDougaller” interview here: https://www.drmcdougall.com/health/education/health-science/stars/stars-written/benji-kurtz/. What made me try it honestly was just stumbling onto Forks Over Knives. I wan’t looking for the answer – the answer found me! I would highly recommend reading and joining the forums on DrMcDougall.com – you will NOT be at the bottom of Everest alone – there are a tremendous amount of people in the same boat and those who were in the boat and are now standing on top of Everest with a helping hand! You can do it – you just need to decide that the time has come!

  14. Could you post a menu?
    What is in your red lentil chili?
    How do you make sure you are meeting all
    of your dietary requirements?
    Good job and thank you.
    It is nice to know it can be done without
    beating yourself up doing P90X workouts.

    • Hi Shari,

      We’ll be posting recipes very soon – stay tuned! A balanced plant-based diet meets all dietary requirements with the exception of Vitamin B12. For more information, please see some of the books in my Resources tab, especially Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition by Julieanna Hever!

  15. stanley kagunda says:

    This is an awesome informative article.It is very interesting for all people(General population, trainers, instructors, academicians, researchers etc

  16. Keep up the good work. The information is awesome. Thank
    you.

  17. I am into my 12th week of the plant based diet as recommended by my heart doctor. I have not “suffered” because of the change I am making. Absolutely no cravings. Your information is concise and to the point. Giving up animal products was not problem at all. The most difficult and I use that term reluctantly, is finding bread (whole wheat) that does not contain oil.
    Thank you for the upbeat and positive attitude. Jan

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