Thursday, February 2, 2012

Have You Lost Weight on This Diet?

I did not start this eating plan as a weight loss program. I'm not a big fan of diets; and I haven't spent a lot of time trying a lot of different diets. My OB/GYN did tell me that I needed to eat a low carb diet when he found out that my hormones are not in balance. I tried it, and hated it. This is the story of my discovering a real path to health that includes God's healthiest foods that he has provided for mankind to enjoy.

My original intention was to focus on nutrient-dense foods. Having many family members who have suffered or who have died from cancer and heart disease, I saw first-hand the pain that these illnesses can cause. I know that genetically I am predisposed to these issues. My OB/GYN also warned me, "You cannot quit exercising, you can never give up eating healthy foods if you want to avoid these problems." The weight loss has been a very nice side-benefit. I try not to focus on weight loss, and if I do, it usually backfires (I start eating like a horse!).

I have been asked many times, so I offer my weight loss story here.

Throughout my life I have been able to maintain a "healthy" weight through eating a fairly standard diet (a tad healthier because of my health conscience Mom). But I felt heavy. So I exercised a TON, and all of the time. I mean I was an exercise fanatic. I love food so I felt that I was constantly battling and fighting against my body. Eat food (pretty high in fat) and then try very hard to work it off again through exercise. I think a lot of people feel that way -- like they are working against their bodies, instead of working with their bodies.

Picture from December 2004. Newly married, no children yet. I weighed about 140 pounds.

I have never been considered overweight except for right after having my babies. The weight came off within a year, but each time I had a baby I seemed to be stuck with an additional 5-7 pounds that I couldn't get rid of.

Prior to starting a whole foods, vegan diet, I was trying to lose pregnancy weight from baby #3. It took me 2 months to lose 10 lbs by working out vigorously 4-6 times a week at New Mexico Sports and Wellness; an expensive local gym with some of the area’s best teachers.

December 2010. I had just had my third baby 3 months previous, I am 5'6" and in this picture I weighed about 164 pounds.

I continued to exercise even more vigorously for three more months, without my weight budging a single pound. Frustrated, and tired, I just about gave up and declared that I would never get my pre-pregnancy body back again. Although I had been able to use exercise to lose the baby weight in the past, this time it just wasn't cutting it.

After those three months of vigorous and intense exercise, I weighed in at 153 lbs. and continued exercising vigorously 4-5 times a week. My gym membership cost me $120 a month plus childcare. Terrified that if I quit exercising that I would gain a lot of weight back, I dedicated my whole self to working out so hard that I would come home exhausted. I felt beholden to the gym – as if they owned me. I love exercise, but because of my weight struggles it was turning into a negative situation.

153 pounds didn't look so bad on me; but in order to maintain it I had to work out 4-6 times a week VERY vigorously, and I often tried to live on home-made protein+fruit shakes until late afternoon. I tried cutting dessert and sugar, and it didn't get me anywhere.

One night my husband discovered the documentary, “Forks Over Knives.” We watched it together, decided it was sound science, and decided to try it out. I have since read many other great books from renowned doctors such as, "The China Study," by T. Colin Campbell, and "Eat to Live," by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. My favorite is Dr. John McDougall. (See my recommended book list).

The first week of trying out whole foods was tough. I remember having some decent veggie dinners, but we also remember being very hungry. Often. I didn't eat enough starch. I wouldn’t eat bread, cereal, or pasta because of my misguided low-carb mind-set, and we eliminated all dairy, eggs, meat, sugar, and refined items from our fridge and pantry. Let’s just say we ate an incredible amount of veggies, beans, quinoa, green smoothies, and more veggies.

The weight seemed to melt off. 4 lbs the first week, and then 4 lbs the second week, I thought it was all a fluke and that it couldn’t possibly continue. I kept exercising, and in the first month I lost 12 pounds. At the end of the second month those 12 pounds turned into 15 pounds.

At which point, with confidence, I quit my gym membership. Saving $120 a month, plus pain and hassle of gym attendance, I lightly exercised at home, and continued to lose weight.

I am happiest when I stick to green leafy salads, unrefined starches, green and yellow vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains (not flour) and green smoothies; a well-rounded whole foods vegan diet.

I love the power of whole foods!

As of now, I weigh in at 130 pounds; a total of about 23 pounds lost in since starting whole foods in September 2011. I went from size 10 to a size 2 or 4 in skirts, and from size large to size extra small/small blouse size depending on the store and type of shirt.

September 2012

For a while I taught classes and trained at a local gym twice a week, until the gym shut down. I now do housework, light exercise (walking/some running and weight lifting), and enjoy my life so much. I am not constantly paranoid that what I am eating is going to make me fat. I eat and prepare foods with confidence. I love that feeling. For the first time in many years, my new year’s resolution for 2012 did NOT include any goals for weight loss. It freed my mind to focus on other things.

I have learned that being vegan is not enough. I have to be a whole foods vegan. This means eliminating refined flours, processed foods, and minimize sugar and oils. I thrive on unrefined starches (beans of all varieties, oats, rice, quinoa, grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn, squashes of all varieties, and occasionally the whole grain pastas and breads), eat large amounts of green leafy vegetables, green and yellow vegetables, mushrooms, herbs, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

When I focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods, the cravings for refined foods disappears. Not only does healthy eating mean that I eliminate animal foods and processed foods from my diet, it also means that I focus on incorporating the healthiest, most nutrient-dense foods available, and consume a large variety of them.

My favorite part is that this is not a starvation diet. Often, the times I lost the most weight is when I ate the most. One particular meal I remember that helped me to lose weight was a 3 bean and vegetable chili spread over baked red potatoes. When I ate that I would stuff myself to the brim, and weigh less the next day!

I believe in eating dessert. I love oil free cookies, non-dairy ice cream, and other yummy stuff! Sugar is not the cause of weight loss problems, thank you, Dr. McDougall!

So I hope you explore! Try it out. Enjoy a new healthier you with a happier body! Get some plant-based cookbooks and find your favorite recipes. You’ll experience struggles, and there will be recipes that turn out badly. Don’t give up. We all have varying tastes so some foods that one person loves, you may not like. You will also find the recipes that you love; have an adventure in your kitchen, and try new foods you have never tried before.

[9/12/2012 UPDATE: I continue to experience fantastic benefits from eating whole foods. Although I am not losing any more weight (which is good!) my body shape continues to change. With a little weight lifting, my muscle mass is always increasing, and my body fat continues to decrease. My skin continues to improve, especially after removing oils from my diet. When I focus on eating leafy greens, my hair grows long and shiny, whereas previously it always broke off if it got longer than my shoulders. I cannot say it enough; I love the power of whole foods.]


  1. Do you eat any coconut ice cream? And when you say no sugar do you mean you have just honey/stevia/agave/maple syrup/coconut palm sugar as your sweeteners?

    I know I could live without any white sugar but I am not sure if I could give up all things that tastes sweet using the above sweeteners. So if you still use the above sweeteners I think I will be just fine going without white sugar!

    I have been meat free, dairy free (except for a little cheese) and wheat free for two days so far.I already strictly never drink milk or any other dairy but I do love cheese on my mexican food and am not sure how to go without that one. I have had some variety of a greensmoothie every morning since Saturday! Reduced my mtndew/caffeine intake down to one can per day. When I feel a headache coming on is when I struggle giving up caffeine from sodas. This is my quick fix for my headaches (along with 800 mg ibuprofen if they are bad enough).I still get really light headaches from eating these new recipes even with almond milk and coconut ice cream but never any migraines yet. So improvement but not quite mastered. Mom said it might be from my body cleansing itself after each item I try. I never get headaches straight from the food source-like an apple, banana, etc. So it is still a mystery exactly what causes them. And please don't blame it on stress or anxiety because I get headaches even when I am completely relaxed and stress free! I get them after I eat food and anything with preservatives, additives, pretty much anything really processed from the store. I can't even eat tostitos! It makes me so mad!Out of everything that I struggle with eating is these headaches. This will be what I have to find out how to get rid of.

  2. Carolyn,

    To answer your question, I have never been a big ice cream eater. My weakness is cookies and cakes.

    However, when first transitioning to a vegan diet, I let myself have nondairy ice cream sandwiches and ice cream whenever I wanted it. If you are getting tons of fiber and greens from plant foods, then when you are first transitioning you can allow yourself to eat as many treats as often as you want. They should be "healthy" treats.

    The following are criteria that I use to judge if a treat is healthy:

    1. Is made primarily or completely from whole grains (if it is a confection)
    2. Does not contain white sugar (or evaporated cane juice, same thing), AND sugar is not the first ingredient. The lower sugar appears on the ingredient list, the better.
    3. Vegan - no eggs or milk in it - not even milk chocolate (vegan chocolate -- yum!!!)
    4. And now, for me, contains no refined oils. (oil-free, but for transitioning this is totally optional)

    When I mention sugar in the above post, yes, I am referring to white refined sugar and I should clarify this. Maybe an alternative sweetener blog post in the future?

    Here are some of my favorite (that I probably use too much and need to cut back on) alternative sweeteners:

    1. Agave nectar
    2. Maple Syrup
    3. Stevia powder
    4. Dates!!! YUMMY!
    5. Raisins
    6. Brown rice syrup
    7. Molasses
    8. Barley Malt
    9. Coconut palm sugar
    10. Honey (I know, it's not technically considered vegan)

    But I have to be careful with these and make sure I am not eating a lot of any of them. The number one choice would be stevia because it contains no calories. The number two choice of mine would be coconut palm sugar because it is granulated and has a very low glycemic index (35). Not sure if it contains less calories than white sugar.

    But, sugar is sugar. ALL of these (except stevia) really are sugar, and your body treats it as such. We need to remember that.

    I have a book that I am going to do some more reading about your headaches and see what it says. It seems like they are so debilitating for you, and that if they could go away by healthier eating then that would be awesome!!!

    I am rooting and cheering for you here in NM! Whoot whoot! Go Carolyn! Awesome job on your road to eating healthier.

    Love you!

    1. I need to add that humans are built to enjoy sweetness. It is a taste receptor on our tongue, for crying out loud!

      Dr. Joel Fuhrman says that if we can get out sweetness needs met through nature (God's natural sweetness) i.e. fruit, then we will be so much better off. Many diets tell us not to eat fruit. What a shame! So instead we reach for white sugar to meet our needs.

      Many desserts that are particularly delicious can be made from fruit -- baked apples, fruit crisps, berry pies and tarts, etc.

      I am just now thinking that it would be wise for me to move from the cookies and ice cream to the fruity desserts, that are more naturally sweetened. Hm. That would increase the fiber of the food, making it healthier.

      One of my favorite quick treats is a pitted medjool date stuffed with 3-4 pecans. This meets my needs for sweets immediately and I feel really good after eating 2 or 3 of these. Natalia Rose calls this her version of pecan pie. It tastes like pecan pie! It has been probably my number one quick go-to treat when I am needing something sweet.


    2. Yes just having dates & pecans gives you ton of fiber! I have never been able to eat ice cream, I always have had to watch others being able to enjoy it. It is to the point now that eating regular ice cream does not even appeal to me since I associate it with a migraine. But when I started to eat Coconut Bliss I was so happy I could enjoy something very similar! I do get a slight headache from it but it is a treat that I could somewhat enjoy again.

      I have always loved fruit desserts and am excited to try some new ones that may be even healthier!

  3. So here is something interesting for me to dissect and you may be able to help me figure out even further!

    When I made Aimee's Cinnaburst Almond Milk, I first followed her exact recipe which has way less dates, coconut sugar and coconut oil. So I had four quarts of almond milk total made, the first with the least sweetness and toward the last, the most sweetness-which is my favorite tasting blend! So yesterday I drank the one that was more sweet and today I drank the one less sweet. I had about a medium headache come on yesterday and then today I had a hint of a headache from the less sweet one. So there are not very many ingredients in this recipe and I know I can handle almonds by themselves. I have not tried a batch where it was just plain almonds and water yet. So that would be a real test! So the sweeter batch had more coconut oil, coconut sugar and more dates. Out of those 3 additions I must struggle with one of them more? If I were to make a guess right now I would guess the oil. I have always struggled with things that had alot of oil in it. Could that be why I cannot eat any of the salad dressing from the store, even the ones with the olive oil? One time I had potatoes that were fried in alot of butter prepared for me for breakfast and I ate them trying to show I appreciated it and then about an hour later I started throwing it up! I had absolutely no sickness and nothing else wrong with me! I have also thrown up after drinking some Crystal light one time! Also when I eat fries, sometimes my body will only have a light reaction (a headache) to them and other times it will have a big reaction(like diarrhea, sorry to be gross but it is what my reaction is!)So Brandon and I figured it had to be how old and the quality of the oil the fries were fried in. So I have known for a long time that I am extremely sensitive to oil in any form!

    Today I experimented by having my bean & guacomole mixture with Multigrain tortilla chips made with flax, quinoa & brown rice. Still got a headache. It has sunflower oil as the 2nd ingredient. Darn.

    So I will have to continue to experiment with the almond milk and use that as a base to form a theory on what I can and cannot eat.

    1. It sounds like your body does not like oil! When you were here I made hash browns with oil as the second ingredient. My tummy hates those. I went oil-free (or dramatically minimized oils)and since then have not bought those hash browns again. I now have hash browns that are oil free.

      Most people get rid of oil last. It sounds like oil needs to be one of the first things to go in your diet.

      Your head tells you when you don't like something -- my stomach speaks to me. If I "listen" very closely it will tell me what it doesn't like. It hates sugar (of all types and sorts, even alternative). It hates oil. Especially in large amounts. Sometimes I am stupid and eat those things anyway.

      If I put dates in my green smoothie I can count on a stomach ache for sure. If I add agave nectar to my oatmeal while it is cooking, count on a stomach ache. When I tried those very yummy hash browns with oil -- definite stomach ache.

      Robyn Openshaw says that so many shelf oils are rancid. I agree. However, I think that all oils are still best minimized.

      You could try one really small batch of almond milk that is just almonds and water, and see, as an experiment, if you get a headache or not. This is still hard to be definitive though, because you may be getting cleansing headaches. Have you tried coconut milk from the store? Unsweetened?


    2. Well then I really agree with Robyn!
      And yes I am stupid too and eat those things anyways!

      For a whole year I ate an apple every single day on the way to Weber State and was the healthiest ever (I was also taking aerobics and walking everywhere). After a year unfortunately, I got so sick of apples plain! Don't get me wrong I still love them but to eat it plain every single time? It gets too repetitive for me! But if I add a little variety than I look forward to it more and then will actually eat it instead of avoid it which then I end up eating junk food to fill my hunger!

      I really think the Henrikson sisters bodies are so alike we just have different reactions! Aimee was thinking this too. So if we can figure out together what our bodies do like than surely we will be able to do it faster and more thouroughly thought out!

      That sucks though if you can't even have any alternative sweeteners either! That might mean that I might not be able too either! If I really want to give up trying to eat like everyone else in america I got to figure this out or I will have to continue just trying to cover up the problem with worse things like caffeine! I just know that my body will crash if I keep going the way I was!

      Which is why I am also seeking yours & Aimee's help, you might come across something that explains this, surely we are not the only people that struggle with this!

    3. Try making the almond milk with a little less water per ratio of almonds and add stevia instead of sweetener. This is good too. Or just leave out the coconut oil. You don't really need the coconut oil with quality almonds. Keep it simple.

  4. Just 2 or 3 dates by themselves or with pecans never cause a tummy ache. Maybe it is mixing the sweet stuff with other complex foods (i.e. oatmeal, almonds, green smoothie) that tummies and heads have problems with?

    1. That is what I am wondering, it totally feels like when I mix things is when things get complicated and then come the headaches!

      Straight from the source it is fine but once put with other things it gets confusing! Isn't that wierd?

      In the past so that I can mix right in with the average american diet I would make sure and eat bread with protein and then it would confuse my body not to get such a headache! But if I ate that bread alone then heaven help me-I will get a migraine within 20 minutes! How do you explain that to other people? I sound like lunatic when I do. "I am allergic to this but if I eat it with this then I don't get a headache."???!!!

    2. Sounds like you may need to go on an elimination diet. Most people dont have the time or money to do this but it may save your life. Look up "elimination diet" on google. I am going to bet that you need to stick to whole foods like a fly on glue. Oil is not a whole food despite what anyone tells you. Oil is an extract of a whole food. Bread is not a whole food. Not even most breads that say "Whole wheat" is not even a whole food, (look at the label, its full of crap). Stick to whole fruits, vegetables and startches. See if you have any probelm with those and then slowly add things in one at a time like grains, oil, corn, soy etc. and record your reactions carefully. I bet your allergies are 1)ALL Oils (even raw, cold virgin pressed!) 2)chemicals and food dyes 3)Hybridized wheat 4)refined processed foods 5)Animal Milk (any animal).

  5. I know I've already posted twice already, but I've got another question for you :) What do you do when your kid has a birthday party or has a playdate at someone else's house? Do you bring along your own plant-based foods? Or let your kids eat whatever is provided? This is one thing I really struggle with because I don't want my children to feel deprived or different (in a negative way). I would love to hear your thoughts.

  6. I love posts and comments and questions, so please keep asking!

    It depends on the situation. When we visit grandparents I bring dinner. It's extra hassle, but they love it because my mother-in-law doesn't like to cook, and I feel good about helping my kids eat healthy.

    However, when they go to birthday parties of friends I let them eat whatever the other kids are having. That may change in the future. And actually, because my baby girl, Megan, is prone to ear infections, I am adamant that she NEVER eat foods with dairy in them. It has completely changed her life. So for Megan, I will probably continue that on into her school years and I will have to start packing her foods to take with her. She will have the excuse that she is allergic to dairy, however, making her not so "weird."

    Often at my older daughter's school the party is a potluck, and I can bring whole foods that my daughter loves. I have brought fruit trays, and homemade cinnamon sticks (posted on my blog) and could also bring things like cookies or muffins. I have brought vegan cupcakes for her birthday celebrations at her school (if done right, no one knows the difference and I don't say anything).

    I would say that if your child has a birthday party to attend every weekend, you may consider bringing alternatives. But for my children, birthday parties are a once-every-three months occasion.

    They also eat whatever they want at restaurants, but have naturally stayed away from meats as I have tried to educate them on making healthy food choices wherever they go. They do still like to eat dairy at restaurants.


  7. I really like that you emphasize that we are trying to get "losing weight" or "getting healhty" down as a habit and then take it off of our resolutions. We have other things to do in our life. A healthy diet is supposed to FUEL LIFE not be the focus of life. I am reading a book by Ann Coulter, to quote "our culture's idealization of the perfect body and of ideal beauty is worse today than Hitler's glorification of the ideal Ayran." You look amazing Ashlee, but I think your spirit and your habits is what was truly set free from incorrect diet pressures. I love that you have found a way that works for you to sculpt your body and nourish your skin. But what I love most is that each day you don't have to battle against your body. Isn't that great!? It is amazing how much help people need to care for their mortal body. I often feel like an alien spirit stuck in a body of flesh and bone, and a world that is so foreign to me. I'm always experiencing these "ah ha" moments where I am like "OH!, thats how they do it here on earth" LOL. And, "oh! this is an endive [holding a vegetable up in amazement)!" I wonder if other people ever feel like this...

  8. Omigosh, Aimee, you make me laugh so hard!!!! I don't think I know what an endive is! hahahah LOL!!! Of course we ALL feel like this. We're all trying to figure this world stuff out...what a mess! I truly feel quite freed from pressure and bad societal ideas! I think that's why I want to teach women about this so badly-- I want them to be happy and free. I can't believe that quote about Hitler, I mean, yeah, I DO believe it, but what a perspective, yikes! LOVE YA!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Ha ha! I know! When I read that quote I was like "WHAT!" and then you think about it... slowly.. all the advertisements of models, all the diet programs and the various modalities devised to make you feel insufficient is overwhelming! To think that only a generation ago TONS of people were rejected from war drafts because they were malnourished! Historically we are in a strange time when people are now over-fed and STILL mal-nourished while being bombarted with the beauty ideal. To quote Joel Salatin(organic farmer: "We live in a time of historical aberration. We are experimenting as a guinea-pig culture with profound deviations from the foundations that have glued and held cultures together in the past. The challenge right now is not money, resources or information, our true lack is participation." Something I think everyone should get as a standard of schooling is a produce guide. At Smiths they now sell a produce guide with all the many fruits and vegetables with explanations on what is what, how to pick it out (ripe, etc) and how people traditionally eat it. Apparently enough people go through the produce section in utter confusion that they figured a produce guide might turn out to be a hot seller LOL. Google "endive" its a rather pretty lettuce with lots of colors and variaties :)

    3. Don't ya just love google? I'm gonna learn about endive. Right...NOW.