I just finished Dr. Fuhrman's 6 week plan on Sunday! Okay, for those who know me, I'm a long-time nutritarian (at least 5 years) so why would I go on the 6-week plan? Because I needed some motivation! I was overeating the healthy foods and even craving the unhealthy foods! I was in a dangerous position. So I figured I needed a reset. The 6-week plan did it. I feel great, motivated, and not at all desirous of unhealthy foods. Those Paul Newman peanut butter cups no longer call to me. Though I might try one some day, I'm totally not in the mood for it right now.
Here are some things I did that aren’t exactly what Dr. Fuhrman recommends:
1) I monitored my calories (using CRON-o-meter). Not only does it help me to eat enough calories, it also shows me the foods to limit. It teaches me that nuts and seeds are a condiment, not to be eaten in large quantities. And it shows me that I can eat a lot more of some of my favorite foods like sugar snap peas, yum! It also helped me proportion my food during the day so I wouldn't go too hungry before exercise. As time went on, I saw my appetite correspond with my calorie intake, so I was getting in touch with my body's true hunger signals. Now i don't feel like I need to monitor my calories.
2) I ate rather enormous amounts of raw veggies during the week (Dr. Fuhrman recommends ~1 lb raw and ~1 lb cooked a day, and I eat at least 3 lbs of raw veggies per weekday). Every weeknight when I get home I prepare tomorrow’s meals, which consist of confetti salads, which I divide into 2 meals. The third meal might be manna bread or sweet corn, bean soup and raw carrots and sugar snap peas. I make big batches of bean soup on the weekend and freeze it in 1-cup servings for the week. The salads taste great, and take a long time to eat and I enjoy that.
Here is what motivated me:
A friend of mine likes to get streaks going to motivate her to exercise. For example, she has a daily walking streak going that started in February. I asked, how do you deal with breaking the streak? I mean, if you end the streak, do you lose your motivation? I’m worried if you applied that to dieting, you could set up that binge routine where if you go off plan, you say, okay I’ll start my diet tomorrow and go crazy today. She said she has a little flexibility: If she misses a day, she can make it up by walking twice in 1 day within 5 days, and she can bank days for later by walking twice in one day. That factors in real life. So I came up with these rules for myself to be in the healthy-eating streak:
1. Allowed: unlimited veggies, 1-2 lbs fruit, beans(1-2 cups/day), whole grains (1 serving/day), nuts & seeds (max 2 oz/day), very limited dried food on occasion (max 2 oz).
2. Not allowed, mostly (see item 9 below): Animal products, refined grains, processed sugars, oils, salt, caffeine, alcohol, chocolate (the caffeine bothers me, unfortunately!).
3. Eat lots of GOMBS: greens, onions, mushrooms, beans/berries, seeds.
4. No Overeating.
5. Limit snacking
6. Limit tea (herbal)
7. Max calories per day: 2000. That's way more than enough for me, but allows for an occasional splurge. Typical calories should be at or below 1500 for me to maintain.
8. Try to eat while sitting down most of the time. Try not to eat during food prep most of the time.
9. To stay on streak, no more than 500 calories of "unhealthy" food allowed in the last 7 days. This is not expected to be used every 7 days! Just on special occasions.
My streak is now 43 days and counting. The only unhealthy food I ate was a spoon of a nut-apple mixture that contained honey--I didn’t know it until later, or I wouldn’t have eaten it (it was supposed to be made with figs). Overall I was more strict than my own guidelines because I was doing the 6-week plan, so limited to 1 oz seeds per day and 1 cup beans and no dried fruit until the last night (1 small fig).
Here are some of my observations:
1. I feel great. I’ve felt great for about 3 weeks now. I’ve been happier and more alert than I have been for months. I need less sleep.
2. Prior to this, when I overate on Fuhrman allowed foods, especially fruit and nuts, I felt crummy. And they led to food cravings, including SAD (Standard American Diet, i.e., junk food). Conclusion, overeating on even Fuhrman-allowed foods is not healthy, especially fruits, dates, and nuts. For me, Dr. Fuhrman desserts need to be carefully portioned. But I welcome them occasionally!
3. The 6-week plan does a great job resetting your taste preferences. Dr. Fuhrman and others are right: this is enough time to change your habits and preferences. It really does work to do this as close to 100% as you can for a period of time. I’d say it was at around the 30 day mark when the habits and preferences were established. I have no desire for SAD treats that I was craving a few months ago. Now I’m wondering why I was craving them, why would you want that? In other words, now it’s not hard to stay on plan, it’s a preference. I don’t want to spoil my taste buds with too intense sweet because I really enjoy the subtle flavors I taste in vegetables now.
4. My weekly treat was a portion of the smoothies I make for housemate. Other than that, I don’t eat smoothies. They are a bit too sweet, go down too fast, and leave me wanting more. I prefer my more leisurely eaten chopped salads. They are finely enough chopped that I think I am absorbing plenty of nutrients from them.
5. My average calorie intake over the 6 week period was 1370. It increased a bit over the 6 week period as my activity levels increased. I suspect that 1400-1500 is a good maintenance value for me when exercising regularly. My calorie intake varied with activity levels. This shows I was in touch with true hunger. Also of interest to me was my average protein intake of 58 g per day. That’s about 1 g/kg of body weight for me, sufficient for an endurance athlete but not a strength athlete, according to Dr. Fuhrman’s newsletter #42 (Fueling the vegan athlete). That’s good enough for me because I’m not an athlete, just a person who likes to exercise.
6. My weight dropped a little. I am already thin, though I gained a few lbs after I broke my elbow in January, because my activity levels were low and I wasn’t paying attention to true hunger. I weigh a few lbs more than I did 6 months ago but I think I prefer this weight. It feels right. I am 5’9”, weigh 121. Now I know what you are thinking--you are too thin! No, I actually saw Dr. Fuhrman last summer and he said I was fine. I just naturally do not make a lot of muscle mass which is why I'm not a great athlete, darn it.
7. I need goals and motivation. I posted recently about the excellent books I've been reading on positive psychology and meditation. Sarah Taylor said at last year’s Health Getaway: motivation is a daily practice. I lost my motivation for a while both as a nute and in my work. Fortunately I have both back now, and realize I need to actively work on my motivation. Right now, the streak is a fun game for me.
8. I listen to audiotapes while preparing food (lately on books mentioned above). This is very enjoyable and it also helps me not to eat during food prep because it’s harder to hear the audio when I’m crunching on a carrot.
9. I learned what exercise I really like to do. This was an accidental discovery during my arm rehab. My pre-broken elbow workouts were intense exercise classes that I think wore me out too much. Now I do a gentle and relaxing stretching and dumbbell weight routine in the morning (1 hour), ride my bike to work (1 hour), and do swimming or yoga in the evening (1 hour). I’ve realized that I love these forms of exercise and will give up other things to include this in my daily routine. I might try to add running into the mix. In the summer, weekends will be more biking and kayaking.
So yesterday started my new 6 weeks. What should my goal be this time? I think I will try to get in touch more with hunger and fullness. My secondary goals can be to try to eat mindfully, eat while sitting down and not eating while preparing food—most of the time, (let's go with 51%, heh).