More Plants, Less Weight – Weight Loss for My Teens

When I took a poll on Facebook of what people want help with the most, weight loss was the winner by a landslide. Right around that same time my children came home from their dad’s, where they spend their summers, 35 pounds overweight each. They normally gain anywhere from 10-20 pounds over the summer, but this year their summer started in March, and the scale reflected it.

As soon as they were home, I started them on a weight loss plan. In the first week they each lost five pounds, and in the subsequent week they lost four more (while also fighting back-to-school colds). They’re now one-third of the way to their goal in just two and a half weeks! That, my friends, is the power of plants.

What does this plan look like? The best part is that it isn’t complicated. There is no calorie counting, no food weighing or measuring, no carb or protein tracking, no point systems to keep track of, we aren’t even logging their food. The plan is two-part:

  1. No/low fat – i.e. no meat, dairy, eggs, processed food or oils. And for the time being, keeping nuts and avocados low as well (these will be reintroduced more regularly once the weight is down). The only fat really in their diet is flax, chia, and hemp seeds for Omega-3’s.
  2. Eat absolutely as many whole foods as they want – fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

Why low fat? In short, because the old adage “you are what you eat” rings supreme. When we consume saturated fat, it requires little-to-no conversion to be stored on the body as fat. In fact, samples of human fat have been taken, and just from analyzing the sample scientists were able to see exactly where the fat came from – pork fat from eating bacon, for example – because fat does not need to be changed to be stored on the body for future use.

It also has to do with calorie density. This isn’t a throw back to the 90’s low-fat fad, where every product on supermarket shelves was suddenly labeled as low fat or fat free to entice consumers. Just because a processed food is fat free, doesn’t make it high quality or nutrient-rich. It is likely still calorie dense and nutrient poor, regardless of fat content.

As an example, one pound of oil rings in at 4,000 calories. One pound of lettuce, however – only 63 calories. A pound of apples; 237 calories. Sugar, while fat free, is around 1700 calories per pound. And a pound of beef is about 1100 calories. Calorie density is important, and choosing foods that have low calorie density is the first major step in weight loss.

When consuming a diet of plants – where a pound of lettuce is only 63 calories – counting calories isn’t necessary because these foods are not calorie dense. The ones that are a heavier in calories, like black beans, make up for it in nutrient value. A pound of black beans is 1400 calories. But a pound of black beans also has 58 grams of fiber and 286 grams of complex carbohydrates. How much fiber and complex carbs in a pound of beef? 0 and 0!

But…aren’t carbs bad for you??

Friend – no they are not! Let’s end that ridiculous claim from the Atkins generation (currently masquerading as Keto) that carbs are bad for you. Not only are carbs not bad for you, they actually help you lose weight! Yes, you read that right.

So what gives? It’s like this…simple carbohydrates are bad. Sugar, white flour, pasta, rice, crackers, anything grain-based that is highly processed…they’re bad. They’re bad because the nutrients have been stripped away, leaving them essentially no different than swallowing a spoonful of sugar. And while that may make the medicine go down, it also spikes your blood sugar, leads to a carb crash, and takes little energy to break down which means it’s easily converted to fat.

Whole grains, on the other hand, take a lot of work for the body to break down. You actually burn calories breaking down complex carbohydrates. It takes so much effort to convert them to fat that your body won’t even bother, unless you’re drastically overconsuming them. You won’t carb crash because the break down process is so slow that it doesn’t spike your blood sugar, either. Complex carbohydrates, or whole unrefined grains, therefore actually aid in weight loss because digesting them burns calories!

Now let’s talk fiber. 58 grams in one pound of black beans? The average American eating the standard American diet doesn’t get that much fiber total in four days of eating. Most Americans are getting 15 gram or less, when we should be getting a minimum of 30 grams. Any food that is high in fiber, gets an A on a weight loss plan.

What’s the deal with fiber? You’ve probably heard the craze about probiotics recently, right? Well think of fiber as the big brother of probiotics. Fiber feeds our gut. We have 39 trillion microbes in our gut, some of which are bad and some of which are good. And guess what feeds the good guys? You got it…fiber! Each microbial species in our gut feeds on fiber from different sources, meaning that the more variety you have in your fiber intake, the better. Check out Dr. Will Bulsiewicz for more on this, or read his book Fiber Fueled.

For a bulleted list, here is what I have my teenagers doing to lose weight:

  • no saturated fat, including meat, dairy, eggs, oil, unrefined and processed foods
  • as many whole fruits and vegetables as they can stomach
  • a serving of greens, cruciferous veg (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale), and berries each per day
  • Lots of beans and whole grains
  • Exercise – bike rides and BMX training at least three times per week

It really is that simple. No calorie counting or food tracking. If it’s a whole food, they can eat it. If it isn’t, then they can’t. If it came from a plant they can eat it, if it didn’t then they can’t.

For an idea of what they’ve been eating, here is another list:

  • Buffalo cauliflower bites
  • BBQ cauliflower flatbreads
  • Spaghetti with lentil meatballs
  • Tacos! Tempeh, black bean or lentils instead of meat, in a corn tortilla
  • Black bean quesadillas with cashew cheese (we use this sparingly since it’s nut-based and therefore high in fat. Not a daily food.)
  • Sushi with cucumbers, avocado, sweet potatoes, sriracha, tempeh, carrots, brown rice, and any other veg that sounds good
  • Tomato soup and “B”LT’s (made with tempeh)
  • Etouffee, made with beans and tempeh, sans shrimp
  • Black bean and sweet potato enchiladas
  • All bean chili
  • Chickpea nuggets (these went over well)
  • Whole wheat lasagna with spinach and cashew cream sauce
  • Oats and smoothies, or whole grain pancakes for breakfast, always with flax and/or chia
  • Lots of fruit – strawberries, blackberries, kiwi, pineapple, plums, oranges, apples, bananas, grapes
  • Salads with all sorts of toppings – bell pepper, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, olives, banana peppers, pea pods, and Hemp seeds – oil free balsamic or fat free ranch (not my personal recommendation, but one of my kids won’t eat veg without ranch; and he mixes hot sauce in to make it to his taste)
  • Celery, carrots, broccoli, etc. with hummus
  • Corn chips and salsa (sparingly, however, because corn chips are fried in oil)
  • Popcorn made in an air popper, sprayed with braggs liquid aminos
  • air fryer fries or hashbrowns with a shot of ketchup or BBQ

Their next weigh-in and waist measurement day is this upcoming Monday morning. I will likely take some progress photos as well. They are 15 and 13 years old, and not only are they losing weight, but they are also learning about nutrition in the process. They spend the summer eating processed foods and dining out, only getting a real meal when they visit their grandparents. But I’m hoping that through this process they will learn enough about healthy choices that maybe they will request and eat healthier foods next summer and not gain all of the weight back.

More importantly, when they are adults and health actually starts to matter to them (we all know how teenagers think they’re invincible), they will have the tools and knowledge they need to make good choices. As parents, that is the most important thing we can do for our kids; teach them healthy habits and how to make good choices. After all, familial patterns tend to be passed down through the generations; diet and lifestyle choices are certainly no exception. We can break the cycle with our own children right now, one bite at a time.

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