I have never gone a day without food.
But I have gone 28 days on a low fat, low sugar, low sodium, no dairy, no meat, no alcohol, no caffeine, no oil diet. Also, I only ate whole grains. Well, technically, I only went 27 days. I cheated once in the 28 day span because there was oil in my vegetable soup.
A little background: I was working for a “wellness club” that promoted this restrictive diet. According to studies, this diet is fantastic for the heart. I had read books like the China Study, Dr. Esselstyn, Joel Fuhrman all promoting this “lifestyle.” It was something we were selling so I figured I should give it a real go.
And so, on February 1st, I began the 28 day challenge. I planned my meals, switched to decaf and did my shopping. I really thought I managed it pretty well. I even maintained it during a bout of stomach flu. In a month, I had lost 5 pounds. In a lot of ways, it was great. I got to flex my culinary muscles. I learned to cook a bunch of new things. I got really creative with my food purchases to stay within my budget. I saved money not buying meat, dairy, alcohol, and caffeine. I even discovered a few new foods that made me feel really good.
HOWEVER….. there were problems with this "lifestyle" that made me reconsider the value of the diet:
1. I got a little nuts and judgey about food.
One time during the 28 days, my boyfriend and I ordered sushi. I forgot to ask him to request brown rice but hoped that he would remember because he knew that I was doing this challenge. When he did not remember, I was a little hangry and kind of lost it when I realized my tiny sushi roll had white rice. I then marched back to the sushi place to buy replacement sushi with brown rice.
In short, I was a pain in the ass and pretty neurotic about food. Even after the 28 day challenge was over, I didn't feel comfortable eating foods on the “no” and “low” list. I had a hard time feeling okay around foods on the bad list and spent a lot of time feeling guilty for indulging.
2. I didn't really feel that great.
In the depths of winter in New York City, it’s pretty hard to go fully vegan. When it’s cold outside, eating lots of cold fruits and vegetables is challenging. I was cold ALL THE TIME. This is likely because heme iron, or a more absorbable form of iron, is more prevalent in animal products.
I was also HUNGRY all the time. I realize now that I didn't have much protein or fat which are both digested more slowly than carbohydrates and, therefore, keep you fuller longer.
I was tired and a little weak. I think it’s because my body just runs a little better with animal protein and living without coffee is HARD. Also, I was calorie deficient. As calories are literally a measure of energy, it makes sense that I had less energy.
3. I was a little anti-social and it was hard to go out with friends
Going out to eat or gathering with friends was its own animal. A few of my friends had birthday parties that month so it was a bit of a bummer to show up to those parties with guacamole, whole grain pretzel sticks, fruit and seltzer and then proceed to not partake in any drinking or eating festivities. No pizza. No cake. No booze. I’m not saying those are necessary to a good time but they certainly help. Even though I don’t remember minding that much, I just felt like a weirdo.
Going out to eat was basically a no-go unless I had full control of my food prep, so that wasn’t great for my romantic or personal relationships. I stayed home a lot.
4. I was straight-up obsessed with macaroni and cheese.
Because macaroni and cheese was forbidden for 28 days, I became obsessed with it. I’d walk the frozen aisles of the grocery store perusing ingredient labels seeing if it could somehow fit into my crazy diet. Inevitably, there was oil or too much salt. I did end up making my own version of vegan macaroni and cheese which was delicious but did not stop the cravings.
And so, when the 28 days were over, I proceeded to eat macaroni and cheese for the next two months. This resulted in about a 10-15 pound weight gain which undid my challenge weight loss and left me heavier than before. In the end, it was a lot more trouble than it was worth.
I’ve talked about this in previous blog posts; restriction often leads to the very thing we don’t want. Our intelligent bodies compensate for starvation. Dieting isn't really that great for your social life. It's not guaranteed to make you healthier or even help you feel better. It can leave you with some long-term issues around the food you restricted.
So, save yourself the trouble. Just eat the macaroni and cheese.