Do you get cravings? I do! In fact, right now I am diving in to a bag of my favorite tortilla chips – Late July Sea Salt by the Seashore multigrain tortilla chips. It’s been a long day at the computer, writing my newsletter for July which is due out the end of this week. Yikes! I needed some easy energy and the brand new bag was calling my name. Does that ever happen to you?

What else do I crave, food-wise? Well, I was craving green veggies this week. I had been out of town and meals were – light, scattered, and not full of green stuff. So I wanted salads! Besides, it’s hot and salads make a cool, no cook meal often in our house. Sometimes I crave chocolate – just a piece of a good quality, dark chocolate bar. Wine – I sometimes crave a nice glass of red wine with pasta, or while I’m cooking. (I have a small poster of Maxine saying “I love to cook with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food” hanging on my refrigerator!) About four or five times a year I crave a good burger – usually I avoid beef but when this one hits, it’s pretty strong. Peanut butter calls me at lunch now and then – a good PB&J never hurt anyone, right? Soups when it’s chilly or I’m not feeling well. Cheese is another food I usually avoid but sometimes I’m driven to buy a hunk of cheddar and dig in. Not to say I don’t eat these foods other times, just that sometimes the pull is strong.

Do I indulge? Normally, yes, for two reasons. One, I feel like my body knows better than my mind at times, and I should listen to it. Maybe I’ve been unknowingly short-changing some nutrient element of food or using it up more than usual, so my body says “get some of this.” Two, I believe moderation is best in most things, so a little treat of chocolate or a burger is good for the soul. Asceticism generally leads to even stronger cravings. We always want what we ‘can’t’ have, right? It’s why so many ‘diets’ fail – they are too restrictive and often not right for the person trying the diet.

That said, these cravings don’t rule my life, they don’t cause guilt – because they are not constant, overwhelming, and harmful. When people have any kind of addiction, it can be so powerful they give over control of their life to the addiction. The cravings of which I speak are not addiction-related. If you crave something now and then and aren’t restricted medically, then go ahead and indulge! If the craving begins to rule your life, that’s another matter. But an occasional splurge is harmless and only you can decide the degree of its strength. Mostly, I think you’ll feel pretty darn good and move on with life.

So what if you have cravings for something you should not eat due to a medical condition? Like diabetics who crave dessert after every meal, or lactose intolerant individuals who really want some cheese or a glass of milk? Or what if you swore off alcohol (not addiction related) and really want to join a friend in a glass of wine, or you decided to switch to a plant based diet but that burger smells so good?

  • Willpower is essential. Many people believe they don’t have any but really what is often lacking is conviction, not willpower. If you don’t really believe in the reason you are avoiding a food it will be harder to pass on the craving.
  • Substitute something else. I might go for peanut butter on crackers when a cheese craving hits, or a handful of fresh or frozen berries instead of that ice cream dessert.
  • Distract yourself. When I am staying away from wine but feel the urge, I will make a cup of tea. The preparation occupies my mind – filling tea kettle with fresh water, getting the mug out, choosing a flavor of tea. Then I can peacefully sip the tea and no longer care about the wine.
  • Support and accountability are helpful. Maybe your friend will agree to help you by not having dessert when dining with you, and will remind you why you aren’t eating sweets.
  • Know your limits – can you have a little bit or none at all? If none, don’t keep any of the food or beverage you need to avoid nearby, and try to steer clear of places it is featured. If you are diabetic and absolutely love ice cream, don’t keep any at home and stay out of ice cream parlors! If you are refraining from alcohol, stay out of bars.

Mostly, just don’t let a craving make you feel like a failure, even if you give in to it. It’s normal! You’re human! Let it go and carry on.

My last post was about embarking on a whole food, plant based way of eating. (Again, it’s basically a vegan diet but with the emphasis on whole foods, foods in their most complete state.) I wanted to see how well I would do avoiding all animal and seafood protein, all dairy, and eggs. I did promise weekly updates but March has been a very busy month so I missed updating my progress last week.

I had stated I would try this for the month of March but actually started February 26. So it’s been three full weeks as I write this. How do I feel? Physically I feel great; lighter, not so dense. I notice I have longer periods of satiety and don’t feel the need to snack between meals. The occasional intestinal issues have improved. I may have lost a bit of weight, although that was not my aim. I believe I was not eating enough in week two since I found myself feeling lethargic, so I made sure to eat more food to get the calories I need for my activity level. Eating WFPB doesn’t mean restricted intake, I was just finding my way around a different way of thinking about meals and what to prepare, and not eating enough.

Mentally I’m a bit frustrated. The mental frustration comes from two areas. One is not having a partner in the experiment, someone to support the transition and share ideas with. Like a health coach, you ask? Well, yes, that would be a help, lol! Or someone to travel the path with me since it’s harder when those close to you aren’t willing to give it a try and don’t really understand why you want to do this.

The other area of frustration is eating out. Restauranteurs for the most part cater to omnivores, and understandably so since they are the majority. But could restaurants please, please have an entrée other than salad that is fully plant-based? One that I do not have to ask – “Is there milk in that?” or “Please omit the cheese.” One where there is flavor without resorting to ‘fake’ meats, cheese, or eggs. Certainly there are some restaurants that are all plant-based or have many options for vegans, but not often the kinds of places my dining partners want to go to. And some of those places do rely too heavily on highly processed ‘meat’ replacements – not something I want. Trust me, I understand the whys of this and trying to please a variety of palates and encouraging reluctant omnivores to try meatless eating. But I would also like to be able to go to the places we like to go and know there is something to order without a fuss. Maybe like-minded people will keep asking for better options as interest in WFPB eating increases and that will encourage chefs to add an item or two.

Have I been successful? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I am trying new recipes and some new foods, I feel great, and I know I am balancing my nutrition needs. I had one oooops! And one deliberate choice due to the frustration I mention above. The oooops was in the lovely spring lasagna I made early on – it used pesto rather than marinara sauce and I used a store-bought pesto (Kirkland’s from Costco – best stuff ever!) quite forgetting it has cheese. Oh, well. Then this past weekend we wanted to watch some of the March Madness at a local pizza place. NOTHING on the menu was cheese-free, and leaving the cheese out of any sounded tasteless and troublesome so I ordered pizza. A Margherita so there was no meat but there’s the cheese. I was quite ready to quit the whole experiment but a clearer head the next day told me to keep on it!

Has it been difficult? Well, no and yes is the answer here too. I am not a big meat eater anyway so that has not been burdensome for me. Maybe a little tiresome for my husband, as he misses some of his favorites that have chicken or fish. And I stopped using most dairy products long ago, although cheese had crept back in to our meals a little. I miss eggs more than meat or cheese. And of course avoiding cheese in restaurant meals has been a little tough. I think it does take more planning and effort to cook meals that satisfy hunger to the same extent a hunk of animal protein does. Much more prep work than popping a chicken breast in the broiler and tossing a quick salad! Here are some of the dinners I’ve eaten since the last post:

  • ‘Mexican’ salad cups – quinoa, beans, raw zucchini, tomatoes, salsa dressing in lettuce cups
  • Lasagna with beet greens filling, marinara, tofu, and vegan mozzarella-style cheese; simple side salad
  • One Pan Farro with Tomatoes; sautéed cauliflower
  • My ‘Everything’ salad – bits of all the vegetables I have on hand that work in a salad
  • Italian restaurant (veggie panini, hold the cheese)
  • Thai Noodle salad – lettuce, carrot, cucumber, bean sprouts, red bell, rice noodles in spicy peanut-ty dressing
  • Vegetarian sloppy joes on whole grain buns; cabbage slaw
  • Broccoli with udon noodles in spicy peanut sauce; Roasted Brussel sprouts in Momofuku sauce
  • Crunchy Salad – lots of crunchy vegs like raw carrot, celery, daikon radish, toasted seeds
  • Creamy carrot and sweet potato soup; spicy garbanzo fritters
  • Mexican restaurant (veggie taco, arroz side)
  • Pizza restaurant

I try to alternate hot meals vs. chilled salads, all veggies vs. veggies with beans or grains, eating in with eating out, and of course, what works with other plans on a given day. As well, the weather turned hot this past week so appetites go down. More salads will appear on the menu.

I would say a word about the meat replacement products. They can be a bridge to switching to a plant-based way of eating, especially for someone concerned about missing out on certain favorites or about not feeling full after a meal. But there are so many plant foods and so many ways to prepare them, that looking for ways to replace meat with a meat replacement may keep you from fully exploring all those plant foods and methods. Also, be careful of the replacement products – some are full of ingredients you really don’t want to eat and are highly processed. Read labels and know what you are buying.

All in all, I’m feeling good about this process and what we’ve been eating. By the end of the month I believe I’ll have the hang of menu-planning, which will simplify my food shopping. Right now I have an overabundance of vegetables in the fridge! Will I stick to it for life? I can’t say for sure, maybe I’ll know by April 1. Stay tuned for more!

20160426_coach thyselfCoach, coach thyself. That’s what I told myself a couple of weeks ago. I had been having uncomfortable digestive issues for some time; not constant but getting more frequent and more annoying. I knew I needed to step back and reset my digestion but was reluctant to get started. Always an excuse – “I’ll be traveling” “We are going out with friends” “There’s a party in a few days” – and so on. Doing a reset on digestion meant changing what and how we eat – lighter foods and certain foods eliminated – at least for a time. This was complicated by the fact that my husband has great digestion and didn’t really need to reset, although he sometimes has concerns about gaining weight. Since I cook most of our meals, making separate foods was not something I looked forward to eagerly. But there came a day when I was simply tired of feeling off-kilter and he too was feeling a bit heavy, plus spring is a good time to cleanse. So we agreed to go for it and the planning began.

I decided the first week the focus would be on eating light foods and would be an elimination diet. This helps lighten the overall load on my digestive system, and provides a clean slate to test certain foods for intolerances. So I eliminated all meat, dairy, eggs, fermented foods, added sugar, alcohol, beans, wheat, caffeine, and soy. We also switched to having our larger meal of the day at midday rather than evening. This may have been the biggest challenge for us, since our lives are so accustomed to daytime activities – work, errands, exercising, play – where we’ll grab a simple lunch and then have a heavier dinner at the end of the day. Many cultures have the main meal of the day at midday and studies have shown it to be a healthier way to eat if weight control is a concern. The theory in this is that you are more active throughout the day and thus use up the calories better. Then in the evening when relaxing and preparing for sleep, a less substantial meal is eaten.

So what did we eat, after eliminating all those foods? Well, there’s a huge world of recipe ideas and I tried a number of them. The first few days our meals were all vegetables; later in the week I added some dishes with grains, although no wheat grains. We had several soups, like borscht, cream of celery, cream of carrot, and spinach soup. All of those were homemade versions, using fresh vegetables and no dairy milk or oils. I made several grain dishes, using rice, millet, or barley, with a variety of vegetables and seasonings. One day I made wraps using collard leaves as the wrappers and filling them with a cashew ‘cream’, carrots and cucumbers and daikon radish in matchsticks, and some parsley leaves. Served these with a simple lettuce and grape tomato salad dressed with a bit of olive oil and lemon juice. We had a couple of variations of this simple but refreshing salad several times during this week, usually as the evening meal. Breakfasts were oatmeal or barley as cereal, or veggie smoothies. No snacking! We drank lots of water and I had herbal teas that were soothing for my tummy.

The worst day for me was day three – it’s when all my cravings kicked in and I really wanted some of my favorite Late July chips and a glass of wine! I was pretty cranky that day, but was over it by the next morning and realized I was feeling much better in my gut too.

After the first week I was feeling pretty good, and I decided it was time to start testing for food intolerances. I already knew dairy and I don’t get along but wondered if any other foods were causing issues. If you know me, you know I really like breads – craft breads, muffins, crackers, etc. None of that white, fluffy stuff, but most any kind of whole grain goodness.  I was afraid wheat had become a problem for me. Not gluten, as I had been eating gluten-containing grains throughout the week and felt fine. So it made perfect sense to me to test wheat first. My belly was feeling fine, and if wheat was going to be a problem it should certainly show up now. Test one: a piece of my yummy homemade whole wheat bread, toasted, with coconut oil spread on lightly. Just one piece, then wait and see. Felt fine all day. Next day, same test. Still felt fine. Next day, pancakes. Still good!! What a relief!

Second test was caffeine. Now, I am not addicted to caffeine, don’t even drink it daily. But I do like the ritual of making coffee and sitting with a cup, and I was missing that. So I made some coffee, and as I expected, no reaction, no issues.

Note that during these test days, I added no other omitted foods. One at a time and give each some time to check for reactions. I gave each re-introduction of omitted foods about two days of watching. I have not added all items back in yet, but so far, so good. Dairy will stay out of my diet and meat will remain a minor part. We don’t eat of lot of sugar-laden foods anyway, so they too will be a minor part of our diet. We are still eating lighter meals for the most part.

It seems that since none of the omitted foods have caused me problems since consuming them again, it may be that my system simply was overloaded. Maybe I have been eating too often and too fast, and because my digestive fire is not as strong as some people’s it just couldn’t keep up. I don’t eat a lot at one sitting but I eat frequently, and sometimes I eat too fast. So I was also more careful to slow down and chew more thoroughly, and I feel this helped along with focusing on lighter foods for all my meals. Not only is the bloating and cramping gone, but I also lost some of the belly fat I’d recently started to collect. Not my aim, but obviously my body is happier with the changes.

This is an example of how paying attention to your body and its signals can resolve many ills without medication or extensive tests. If after this testing period I still did not feel right, I would see my doctor to rule out more serious issues. But your friendly, neighborhood health and wellness coach is a good first step. I can help you figure out where and how to start, provide support when the process seems difficult, and cheer you on to success and feeling better. Working as a team with my husband as we are going through the process has been a huge help for me.


Image courtesy of sattva at