This content is sponsored by Flat Belly System.
Over the next three months, I will be attempting to lose weight “the Epicurean way”: while not depriving my body of nutrients or of the pleasure of great food. I’m not obese, just slightly overweight and recently set a goal to attempt to lose about 15-20 pounds in the next three months. I was at 173 pounds last I checked (a week ago at my brother’s house)–however, today I just had to readjust my belt buckle for the first time in years down one size, so I assume I’ve lost a few pounds this week already. I attribute the pounds I’ve lost thus far to Huel, and to Glucomannan (see below).
I love a good challenge, and I love learning new things in the kitchen so I do not feel that losing weight needs to be an austere project–and this is also an opportunity to share my learning adventure with my readers.
Prebiotics and Weight Loss
One of the most complete introductions to prebiotics that I found online is a Guide to Prebiotics and Probiotics for Weight Loss. It cites a study that involved fecal transplant in mice and humans, and showed that transplanting fecal matter from a skinny subject to an obese one will make the obese subject lose weight, and vice-versa. This means that body weight is, to a great extent, a function of the types of microbiology that is found in our guts. If we change the gut flora, the body shape will change.
This is something that I’ve always found intuitive. If we have lots of yeast in our stomach, we will crave more sugar (well, THE BUGS INSIDE US will crave it, but since there are enough neurons in the gut that it has been compared to a brain the size of a cat’s brain, obviously these cravings are passed on to us). And the more sugar we feed the yeast in our guts, the more the yeast in our guts will grow, creating a feedback loop–hence the notorious “beer belly” effect.
The good news is that the same logic applies to bugs that feed on healthy food! Furthermore, we now have evidence that prebiotics reduce body fat in overweight children, and these studies are further reinforced by another study that confirms prebiotic fiber works for weight loss.
Now, I’m a fairly disciplined eater. I do not drink alcohol, and usually don’t have dinner. I have two large meals at breakfast and lunch, lots of yerba maté and other teas during the day, and typically on weekdays I replace dinner with kava. And so my small excess of weight, I think, must be attributed to the gut flora. For all these reasons, I will focus on the gut flora this year, and will also incorporate a prebiotic supplement into my diet.
Pleasure Starts in the Belly – Epicurus
More importantly, I’m changing my diet to feel better. There are studies that show that gut flora also has an effect on moods. As an Epicurean, I’m very interested in how our choices and avoidances affect the quality of the experience of the sentient being. I personally experienced in 2009, and many times after that, the mood-boosting effects of chocolate, durian, and other feel-good foods.
When we’re sick, we feel depressed and lacking energy due to–usually–certain kinds 0f germs or bacteria in some part of our bodies. Similarly there must be bacteria and microbiology that have the opposite effect of lifting us up and healing our moods–and in fact, this New York Times article on microbiota and moods discusses several studies, including one in which mice that were fed certain gut bugs “behaved as if they were on Prozac“, were more chill and relaxed. The article elsewhere says:
It seems plausible, if not yet proved, that we might one day use microbes to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders, treat mental illnesses and perhaps even fix them in the brain.
For all these reasons, I prepared kombucha and bottled it in four flavors: blueberries, turmeric-ginger, maca-cinnamon-clove and Greek Mountain tea. I also made sauerkraut and kimchi. I won’t share the recipes here because a quick search on google or YouTube will yield dozens of recipes, and it’s pretty hard to mess up sauerkraut.
My Weight Loss Plans
Some of my plans for weight loss include: I will continue to brew kombucha, and make homemade sauerkraut–these fermented foods bring probiotics into the gut. I may even make kim chi from scratch (I’ve done it before). I have miso paste in the refrigerator, and may make miso soups with seaweed and veggies, and I will add more yoghurt to my diet.
As part of my efforts to nurture the right balance of gut flora, I’ve brewed maví at home. This is a homemade root-beer-like beverage that the Tainos of the Caribbean used to make. Today, we brew it with ginger, cinnamon, and I add a little maca to make it a superfood. It’s great for the summer months, and typically enjoyed very cold. It’s naturally bitter, but can be sweetened with brown sugar, agave nectar, or other sweeteners. Lemon water is also recommended for weight loss, as it helps us to feel full, and so is green tea–and I have decaf green tea available to me at the lunch room at work. I’ve been mixing these with yerba maté, which I drink daily.
I must say a word here about Dandy Blend. Dandelion and chicory are both known to be great prebiotics–that is, they are food for the healthy gut flora. Dandy Blend was recommended to me by Jarvis, a friend of mine who delves into live foods from time to time. It is marketed as an instant drink that can replace coffee. People who are trying to overcome caffeine withdrawal might benefit from slowly replacing regular coffee with both decaf and Dandy Blend, which is the best similar-tasting alternative to coffee out there. Another alternative to try is the Teeccino products, which have some of the same prebiotic benefits, and are made to brew and taste like coffee, but are not (in my opinion) as tasty as Dandy Blend.
I wrote a testimonial a few years ago on How I Overcame Caffeine Addiction. I stopped drinking coffee in 2009. In fact, overcoming caffeine addiction is what made me want to detox and delve into the live-foods lifestyle that year. My relationship with my body and with my diet changed completely that year. I unfortunately discovered a few weeks ago that I still have a strong reaction to caffeine to this day. I experienced jitters after drinking a whole glass of Japanese matcha tea, which is otherwise nutritionally dense and good for you, but its caffeine content is comparable to regular coffee! Instead, now I would recommend wheatgrass juice, which is actually very sweet and tasty.
I am incorporating Dandy Blend to my Huel (see below), as their flavor combination is actually pretty tasty!
Pineapples and Juicing
Pineapples (because of their fiber and other nutrients) are known to help lose weight, but only in moderation because of their high sugar content. The so-called pineapple diet is overhyped–in fact, any diet that omits a large variety of the nutrients we need is probably a bad idea. People need a balanced variety of nutrients. Having said that, I love pineapples and am incorporating them and grapefuits into my food plan.
Concerning portion control, I will never forget something that I learned from Chicago food entrepreneur Karen Calabrese, who would form a fist with her hand and say: “This is the size of your stomach! You do not need to eat more than this!”. Karen is an advocate of the live-foods philosophy, which involves juicing fruits and vegetables frequently and never cooking foods. I will never be a raw-foods fanatic, but–since this is a learning adventure–I’ve been juicing kale with fruits. The idea is to make the flavor of the greens more palatable by sweetening them with fruits, juicing or blending them in green tea, yerba maté, or coconut water as a liquid base.
Huel and Glucomannan
I do not believe in using only one method to accomplish anything. One should always have a Plan B, and a Plan C, etc. In addition to the above, I have begun to use a meal replacement several times per week. I recently stumbled upon Huel (which stands for “human fuel”) randomly, and since I had been thinking about losing weight and writing a diet plan blog, I decided it would be a good idea and a fun experiment to purchase one-month’s worth of meal replacement from them. They offer me and whomever I refer a 10$ discount if you use this link.
Huel is convenient and inexpensive. For less than $70 I got pouches of both chocolate and vanilla flavored powder (enough Huel for one month if used daily), plus eight flavor-boosts (which will allow me to try different flavor mixes), two scoops, a shaker, and a free t-shirt. Each meal comes to about $ 1.77 if both scoops are used to make a shake (400 calories), but if one is on a diet one may only use one scoop (200 calories) and one would be paying half the price per meal. The shakes are filling and taste like a yummy cream of oatmeal.
Huel markets itself as a complete and convenient vegan meal replacement product which supplies all the nutrients one needs and is prepared in less than two minutes. From the reviews, it seems that most other people enjoy the flavor as much as I do. I’m fairly good at blending various ingredients to produce the meal experience I’m looking for and–unlike some other weight loss products–it has no caffeine. I have been replacing an average of one (sometimes two) meals per day with Huel.
As for recipes, my favorite thus far has been a combination of Vanilla Huel (2 scoops) with peanut butter, a teaspoon of maca powder, and Ovaltine chocolate powder. This adds a few more calories, but since I’m well below my required intake of daily calories, I do not worry about this. Plus, drinking the same shake every day would be too boring for me, so I will continue to incorporate bananas, fruits, and other ingredients into my Huel shakes.
Initially, at one point I felt awkward not having something to chew, and went and bought Cheetos just for the crunch! I think this is more habit and psychology than the body needing any extra nutrients, since Huel meets all of our nutritional needs. I just wanted something crunchy, but these cravings subsided and I now look forward to my daily Huel fix.
I looked into various weight-loss supplements in pill form, but many of the marketed ones have caffeine, which my body does not agree with. After a few hours of research, I chose Glucomannan in pill form (it’s also available in powder form). It’s the main ingredient in a tuber–a root, a kind of Asian yam–known as konjac which is rich in fiber and expands in our stomachs when mixed with water, absorbing into it much of what it finds in the gastrointestinal tract. Glucomannan is natural, promotes healthy gut flora, helps with bowel movement regularity, and has no caffeine or stimulants. There are numerous educational videos on it on YouTube and much more information online. I take 2-3 Glucomannan pills about 20 minutes prior to each meal, which contributes to a feeling of fullness for a longer period of time. I started on it about a couple of weeks ago.
I’m avoiding exercise, other than long walks, because I do not want to hurt my lower back again. I believe that, with all these various systems in place, I will continue to lose weight.
Is there an Epicurean way of dieting? Epicurus’ Epistle to Menoeceus discusses only engaging in luxury dining on rare occasions and deriving pleasure from simple foods daily, and we know from his biography that Epicurus drank plenty of water. He would have also grown up eating the Mediterranean diet, based on geography: lots of fish and vegetables, lots of cheese–another probiotic dish–and only rarely would he have enjoyed meat.
I suppose that mindset (diathesis, or attitude) is important: we should not do this out of self-loathing, and we should definitely take PLEASURE in whatever it is we eat. In my recent exploration of the hygge lifestyle, I quoted this, which still strikes me as good advice (although a little vanity ain’t never hurt nobody):
“It’s never about looking good, it’s about feeling great all year round.”
“You can’t be healthy if you’re always anxious about food, body, and about life in general.”
As an Epicurean, I want to make attempts to keep the dieting from being too austere. I am not interested in punishing myself or feel guilty for what I eat, or engage in any of the unhealthy emotional eating habits that I’ve seen in some of my friends. I want to enjoy simple foods that have good nutritional value and help with weight loss. I will update my readers within three months.
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