diets · eating · food · Uncategorized · weight loss

Vegan for Weight Loss? Not Necessarily but Don’t Let That Discourage You!

Everyday Pad Thai. Photo credit: Vanessa Reese.
Everyday Pad Thai. Photo credit: Vanessa Reese.

It’s making the rounds again–the idea that a vegan or at least vegetarian diet is the best way to lose weight.  According to this article:

Overweight and obese adults who wanted to lose weight were randomly assigned to one of five low-fat and low-glycemic index diets: vegan (no animal products), vegetarian (dairy products included), pesco-vegetarian (dairy products and seafood included), semi-vegetarian (all food included, but red meat no more than once a week and poultry no more than five times a week), or omnivorous (no restrictions on food type and frequency).

Participants were told they could eat small amounts of nuts and nut butters, avocados, seeds, and olives in their diets but were encouraged to focus on lower-fat food options. The dieters were not given goals for limiting the number of calories they ate. As the researchers put it, “participants were free to eat until they were satisfied.”

After six months, those in the vegan group had lost the most weight, an average of 7.5 pounds. The vegetarian group was not far behind, with an average loss of 6.3 pounds. Those in the other groups lost only half as much weight (an average of 3.2 pounds for the pesco-vegetarian and semi-vegetarian groups and 3.1 pounds for the omnivores). There was no significant difference in reported activity level among the five groups.

I’ve blogged before about why this kind of thing bugs me.  First of all, any diet that restricts whole food groups for the purposes of losing weight is really just a fad diet that’s not likely to stick.

Not only that, and probably related, dieting to lose weight is for the vast majority of those who do it, doomed from the outset. It’s really hard to keep off all the lost weight.  We’ve had lots to say about that on this blog and are basically anti-diet in our approach.  See here and here and here and here for example.

Don’t get me wrong. There are all sorts of good reasons to be vegan or follow a plant-based diet.  Lots of athletes do well on a diet that’s free of animal products.  Like Rich Roll, an ultra-triathlete, and Scott Jurek, an ultra-runner.

I’m vegan, but I can’t say it helped me lose weight or perform better athletically. I continue with my vegan lifestyle (which goes beyond the diet) anyway because my motivation is ethical not based on health or weight loss or performance.

I don’t mind if people are convinced by articles like the one I quoted above to try this approach to eating. But I hate to make its virtues dependent on losing weight or improving athletic performance.

Not everyone is going to respond the same way to every approach to eating. For some people, there may be dramatic weight loss on this kind of diet. But for others, there may be none, or even weight gain.  Especially after they learn how to cook and realize that for every amazing non-vegan food out there that tempts us, there is an equally delicious vegan alternative!

So yes, try eating a plant-based diet.  It’s a perfectly legitimate and morally worthwhile way to satisfy your nutritional needs and keep your palate happy at the same time.  But it’s not a miracle diet.

Here’s a link to a recipe for “Everyday Pad Thai” from one of my favourite vegan blogs, Post Punk Kitchen by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.


Greetings from the happiness trough!

If you imagine lifetime happiness to have the shape of a letter U, Tracy and I are blogging to you from the bottom. According to recent research, young people are happy, old people are happy, but those in the middle are in a valley of despair.

Hello up there!

Luckily for us, according to recent research, after 50, things start to look up.

See Happiness Begins at Fifty:

In recent years, happiness researchers have confirmed the existence of the midlife crisis beyond popular myth, and they have developed theories for why our contentment with life follows a “U-curve”, bottoming out in our 40s and picking up again in our 50s. This dip in happiness, the so-called midlife crisis, often has to do with our immersion in professional life and a preoccupation with material wealth.

A flagship study, completed in 2011 by Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen, explains what changes as we age:

“‘As people age and time horizons grow shorter, people invest in what is most important, typically meaningful relationships, and derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments.’ Midlife is, for many people, a time of recalibration, when they begin to evaluate their lives less in terms of social competition and more in terms of social connectedness.”

There’s a good piece in the Economist which examines the causes of this phenomena. See Age and Happiness: The U Bend of Life.

What’s it like here in the happiness trough? Well, for me, I’m just less cheerful than usual. I’ve been attributing it to a bad year in terms of death–I lost my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my dog and my mother’s dog–and the stresses and strains that come with parenting teenage humans.  But maybe there’s more to it than that. Certainly, it’s a time of thinking “what next?” What will this second half of my career look like? What will it be like once all the teens have left the nest? Mostly, I’m enthusiastic about what’s ahead but there are days when it all seems a bit much. (And then cycling/Aikido/CrossFit/running all help!)

I was fascinated to read that humans aren’t the only primates to have the U: The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis

A lot of eyebrows went up when Oswald and four other scholars, including two primatologists, found a U-shaped curve in chimpanzees’ and orangutans’ state of mind over time. Zookeepers, researchers, and other animal caretakers filled out a questionnaire rating the well-being of their primate charges (more than 500 captive chimps and orangutans in Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, and the United States). The apes’ well-being bottomed out at ages comparable, in people, to between 45 and 50. “Our results,” the authors concluded in a 2012 paper, “imply that human wellbeing’s curved shape is not uniquely human and that, although it may be partly explained by aspects of human life and society, its origins may lie partly in the biology we share with closely related great apes.”

Photos from






Green belt!


I did it! I tested yesterday for the rank of 4th kyu in Aikido. Usually you have to wait a week to hear if you passed but Sensei Sheppard broke the rules for me and immediately pulled the white stripes off my belt once the test was over.

Thanks Nat, Michel, David, and Jeff for coming to watch. Loved having friends in the room.

Thanks to the senior belts in our club who’ve all been helping me get ready for the test.

It was a very lovely day. First, the test. Next up, celebratory lunch with friends. Then, listening to three family members perform, as part of the Karen Schussler Singers, John Rutter’s Magnificat. And the evening ended with dancing at a friend’s anniversary party, twenty years of non-wedded bliss! I missed another friend’s 40th birthday in Toronto but you can’t do everything.

I train at the Aiki Budo Centre in London, Ontario. You can read about our dojo here. And you can read past posts about Aikido here.


body image · link round up

Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #10

This is where we share stuff we can’t share on Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Read why here. Usually the posts are about body image. Why? Because those are the posts that usually have bare body bits in the image attached to them. This first one is a perfect example.

New York Women Draw Their Own Boobs

Nora Ephron didn’t just feel bad about her neck. She called breasts, or her lack of them, “the hang-up of my life.” In a 1972 Esquire essay, she wrote, “If I had had them, I would have been a completely different person. I honestly believe that.”

To find out how women see their own breasts, the Cut polled 57 New York women, ages 17 to 72 (plus one 4-year-old who grabbed the marker from her mom) and asked them to draw their boobs and write one sentence explaining how they feel about them. In cafés and bars, on playground benches and on the way to work, women laughed when they heard the question, disparaged their drawing abilities, and gave it a shot.

Toplessness, the Victorian taboo that won’t go away

French perception of what was acceptable for women was always different from British. In this our near neighbour provides a useful contrasting view and always has done. While Oliver Cromwell buttoned up every aspect of British society from the celebration of Christmas to the celebration of female flesh, there was a sigh of relief in England when Charles II returned to the throne in 1661 and brought with him a liberal attitude to female behaviour from the French court.Necklines across the country quickly plummeted so far that lady’s dressing table sets of the day might include pots of carnelian nipple make-up. Nell Gwyn, the king’s mistress, was painted nude and even Frances Teresa Stuart (the court’s It Girl) was painted with a top so low that her nipples are clearly visible. This fashion trickled down to common women (also portrayed in portraits of the day – often in landscapes) though the royal court with its taste for high fashion was the most extreme version of it. It’s interesting to note that in contrast to today, the sight of an ankle was considered vastly more shocking than the sight of a female breast.
So when did our culture change – when did the Puritan breast-haters have their way? Like many 20th and 21st Century taboos, we need to look to the Victorian era when the Queen’s innate prudishness tightened restrictions on women as surely as bone corsets stopped them taking in a deep breath.

Shimmy your way to body love

Belly dancers are more satisfied with their bodies and have better body image than young women who don’t belly dance, new Flinders University research shows.
In a survey of more than 200 Adelaide women, the belly dancers scored higher marks for positive body image and lower on measures of body dissatisfaction and self-objectification than a group of university students who had never belly danced.

Move over, Barbie. Realistic doll Lammily is on her way ..

And you can see the differences when you watch Lammily get morphed into a typical fashion doll.

Also, Guess What? Kids Really Like Lammily, the Realistically Proportioned Doll

athletes · competition · fitness · fitness classes · Guest Post · health · motivation

Giving Up Giving Up: On Becoming an “Athletic Learner” (Guest Post)

  • I can’t.
  • I’m going to be no good.
  • I don’t know how.
  • I give up.

Never in my life have I thought of myself as an Athlete. In high school gym class, and later in social activities and sports as an adult, I have always had just enough coordination to pick up the basics, but never enough inherent athletic talent to excel or become an expert.

But the biggest impediment to my non-starter athletic career has been my deep, long-standing fear of failure. Fear of living up to my potential. Fear of letting the team down. Fear of getting hurt and being in pain. Fear of giving 100% that still results in a poor performance.

These fears have been cultivated not within a culture of sports but within academics. High achieving students and faculty have strong intrinsic motivation to achieve excellence, but they work in a demanding culture that can be extremely competitive and heartbreakingly critical. Even if one’s work never makes it to the general public, academic writing and teaching are very much public performances that serve up for scrutiny one’s intellectual talents to colleagues, peers, and students.

The most ambitious and confident folks do well in such a culture—particularly in the face of academic journals with low acceptance rates, single job postings with hundreds of applicants, and students who apparently evaluate teaching effectiveness based on their instructor’s appearance. Self-assurance, along with determination and perseverance—are traits of successful scholars and athletes alike.

And, unfortunately for me, as a recent PhD graduate all that negative self-talk (I can’t, I’m no good, I don’t know how, I give up) had been causing psychological “injuries” from which I was failing to recover. The fear that held me back from pursuing an academic career was not dissimilar from the fear that kept me from joining rec leagues. There were other reasons that I eventually took a university staff position, some perfectly reasonable. Looking back, though, I can admit that, I can’t had started to become I shouldn’t—and my self-talk about improving for the next academic success had become talk about giving up.

However, three years later—as a result of my fantastic “alt-ac” job whose one down side is that I sit sedentary at a computer most days—I’ve decided to become not an Athlete but an Athletic Learner. In the past four months I’ve started cardio-kick boxing, running, and soccer. Recently I’ve been to a yoga class, a step class, and (next week) a Zumba class. I even look like a lunatic walking up and down the stairs of my building when I take breaks.

For every new sport or activity, I try do my research. I focus not on my lack of inherent talent but rather on learning the rules, the strategy, the steps, and the mechanics. I also attempt to understand the implications of these activities for my short and long term health.

Have I failed in Athletic Learning? Well, in the very first game of soccer in my adult life I managed to score not one but two goals in a row on my own team, the ball ricocheting directly off my elbows into our net. (Not surprisingly, after the game I was the one asked to set up a team practice).

Meanwhile, in kick-boxing I still can’t roundhouse kick as hard or as long as others. In the intermediate step class, I could barely keep from getting my feet tangled up. In yoga, corpse pose was pretty much the only position I was 100% sure I had mastered.

But although I’m very, very far from expert status, through these activities I’ve met some new people and re-connected with old friends. I’ve been drilled in soccer by a bunch of sweet, precocious 10-year olds girls (whose mothers are on my soccer team), and I’ve learned a ton about how my body works. These day my lower back is often upset with me, but I’ve also learned that even pain acquired by Athletic Learning is more pleasurable than feeling nothing as a result of doing nothing (which was pretty much all that I was doing previously).

So, this year my self-talk around my lack of mastery of athletics sounds more like:

  • I can’t refuse a new and fun activity.
  • I’m going to be no good at being so hard on myself.
  • I don’t know how I’m going to do this [insert sport], but gosh-darn it I’m doing it anyway.
  • I give up giving up.

I am not, and probably never will be, an expert Athlete. Instead, my plan is to continue striving to be an Athletic Learner. And fortunately, this mental and attitudnal shift has made it impossible for me to fail…because success means that, no matter how poor my performance, I’ve at least learned something new.

cat yoga

Photo by Lisa Campeau, 2011. Reproduced with permission (CC BY 2.0).


Why I’m Not Getting “After” Pics

I’m coming to the end of the nutrition program I started back in January.  A few months ago, I stopped naming the program in my posts because I felt they didn’t deserve any free advertising from me. It’s not that it’s not a worthy program, but I don’t need to give them shout outs all the time either.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to come right out and say it: Precision Nutrition.  Come January, when the program ends, I’ll write a full review like Sam did last year in her post Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating Program: A Year in Review.

Today I want to blog about the “after” pics.  The program is based on the idea that we do our best to internalize “lean eating” habits when we work on one habit at a time. It’s a great approach that can work well. We focus on one habit at a time for two weeks at a time. Things like eating slowly, eating to 80% full, eating lean protein with every meal, you get the picture.

But for the past two week’s the habit hasn’t been like that. It’s been: prepare for your final photo shoot. And every time I think of that habit, my back goes up.

I’ve spent the entire year and longer doing everything I can to get away from the idea that appearance is the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. And you know what? I’m seeing some results in that department – internal results. I blogged about them just the other day. So if I’m seeking an internal change, why would I want to do a final photo shoot?

Well, there could be some reasons. A lot of women in my group find the idea of a final photo shoot to be kind of empowering. It’s a way of celebrating their awesomeness.  Most everyone has seen some physical changes over the past year.  And I’d say most aren’t where they wish they were. So the photo shoot of where I am today could be a way of practicing acceptance. I can see that. But it’s not going to be my way.

The other thing that irks me is the role the “before” and “after” pics play in PN’s marketing strategy.  They’re a huge part of it.  Every month, they ask for updated pictures of the standard “front, side, back” variety.  They don’t share them unless you give them permission to share them.  But if you want to have a shot at the prize money for the best transformation, then you need to agree to share them (obviously).

How does the contest work? Well, people get to vote on the finalists’ transformations as captured in the “before” and the “after” pictures.  I’ll get to the voting part in a minute.

So way back in the summer, they encouraged everyone to book an appointment for November 22nd with a professional photographer to take their final “front, side, back” series and whatever else they wanted to make them feel good about themselves. That last part is fine. But why oh why would I want to pay a professional to take my front-side-back pics?

I wouldn’t.

So I didn’t sign up. But they really try to tell you it would be better.

I agree — it would be better for them if everyone had the pictures. The transformations look that much more dramatic when you’ve got a “before” picture taken at home with your iPhone beside an “after” picture taken by a professional in a properly lit studio with the right equipment.  And then we sign the pictures over to PN and presto: free marketing.

And I object to the idea of a contest at all. Makes me think of beauty pageants and bikini contests and judging people based on their appearance.

It’s not just me who wants to discount appearance. All year they’ve been sending us lessons that focused on the internal changes — the habits, the energy, the new way of thinking about yourself and who you are. All good stuff. I’ve enjoyed so many of the assignments and the workouts and the habits. I love my team, my coach, the changes I’ve made.

But now we’re being asked to throw our pictures — of us in workout gear or bikinis — into a contest so that people can vote on how good our transformation has been in comparison to the transformation of others.  I feel icky just thinking about it. The very idea seems to run counter to all of the messaging all year.  For more on the contest, see Sam’s post Precision Nutrition: Why the Photo Contest?

And of course, don’t we all know that “before” and “after” pics are a scam. Lately I’ve seen more than one example of someone whose before and after shots were taken just a few minutes or hours apart. Like this one.

For me, it hasn’t been the most dramatic physical change of the century anyway. But that’s not why I don’t plan to participate in the photo shoot and the contest. And for those who are choosing to take part, that’s their choice and I hope they get something positive out of it even if I’m skeptical of having “Prepare for your final photo shoot” as a PN “habit” worthy of two weeks!

Here’s what I’m doing:

I’m going to get a photo book made that depicts my race history over the past two years, from that first 5K to the Olympic distance triathlons and the half marathon.  Those are the photos that make me smile when I look at them.

First 5K:

First 5K, with Sam, October 2012.
First 5K, with Sam, October 2012.


Half marathon:

At the finish line of my first half marathon with Anita, October 2014.
At the finish line of my first half marathon, with Anita, October 2014.

Those moments when I finished something I never thought I could do–I just can’t replicate those in a photographer’s studio no matter how talented the photographer is and how good the lighting may be.  The finish line photos are the only “after” shots I’m interested in!


Cold snowy nights, hot yoga, sweaty trainer sessions, and the hot tub


That’s my backyard (above). It’s official.

Winter is here….there’s no more denying it. Yes, I know that calendar winter doesn’t start till the third week of December, still winter the season has arrived. Looks like there are negative high temperatures every day in the week ahead. – 4 C as the high for the day? -11 as the overnight low? Feels like -16? Really? Really? In November? Snow flurries too.

(Photo credit: Friend, student and fellow cyclist Steph B.)
Photo credit: Friend, student and fellow cyclist Steph B.

Mostly for me, it’s a period of giving up the activity I love the most, road cycling, but there are some things I like about winter and I’ve been reminded of them this week.

  • Hot Yoga: I’m not generally a big yoga fan but I love getting hot, sweaty, and stretchy in hot yoga. There’s a small studio just a few blocks from my house and they opened a larger location downtown. Great instructors. I often think, once it gets really cold, that I could just move into the hot yoga room. Love you Yoga Shack!


  • Getting Sweaty: Lots of women say that getting sweaty puts them off exercise. Not me. But there is something especially lovely about getting sweaty when the alternative is shivering. I bought a trainer this year. I already have rollers. Coach Chris Helwig has designed a training program for me to do on the trainer and we’re getting together once a week with five other people for a trainer class he’s co- leading with Cheryl of Happy is the New Healthy.image
  • Cross Country Skiing: I love being outside in the woods. For most of the year that means hiking but come winter, I strap on my cross country skis and zoom through the snow. It’s lovely to be outside in the cold and not be cold. Love cross country skiing and want to do more of it in the coming year, especially with my partner, Jeff.image
  • My Hot Tub: This was a big surprise. For years Jeff had been trying to talk me into a backyard hot tub. Last year as part of a major kitchen and deck reno, I agreed. I’m totally in love. It extends the use of our backyard right through the winter. There’s something very wonderful about sitting in the bubbly hot water and cold snowy nights, wstching the stars.

Enjoy an album of snowy hot tub photos here. The one pictured below isn’t mine but you get the idea.

For more ideas see Seven Winter Cycling Options.