Is my almost-vegetarian diet making me fatter?
October 14, 2007 9:03 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend is an avowed vegetarian, almost vegan. Out of respect for him (and the desire to live healthier), I have switched to an almost completely vegetarian diet. Now I've gained weight... why?

I'm thinking that it's the switch from eating meat to eating lots and lots of soy products, which I know can affect estrogen levels in women. I also had a wicked sweet tooth before (imagine eating half a pound of candy in one sitting... that's me!) and have just recently cut back significantly on sugar in an effort to drop the unwanted weight (the past 60 days I have only consumed sugar for about 6 days total, and you can guess when). A few more tidbits:

1. I am a 35-year-old female.

2. I work out at least 4-5 times a week, with a minimum of an hour cardio, preferably 90 minutes of cardio with 15 minutes of weight training, should I actually make it to the gym. At the gym I use the elliptical, stair climber, recumbent bike and treadmill, and vary my times/workouts each time I go to avoid stagnation in my workouts. Otherwise, I use my elliptical at home and hand weights.

3. In the year we've been dating, I have cut back to eating meat maybe 3-4 times per week (usually in a sandwich or soup form), and our typical meals consist of such things as: tofu and veggie stir-fry, veggie burgers, Quorn fajitas with beans, falafel on pita with baba ghanoush, fake-lunchmeat sandwiches and low-fat cheez-its (I know, I know... sodium!).

4. I only drink alcohol once a week and drink coffee maybe 3-4 times per week, one cup or less. I drink regular sodas at the movies maybe twice per month and mostly drink spring water or sparkling, and avoid fruit juice and sweetened tea.

5. I am on birth control pills.

6. Over the course of the year, I tapered down on eating meat until I now no longer eat meat at all in his presence, nor do I keep it in the house, unless it's in a can of soup. At the same time, I worked out LESS at the beginning of our relationship due to the honeymoon factor, and now work out probably twice as much as I did six months ago.

7. The majority of the weight gain has been in 3 pound increments, very suddenly, over the course of, say, a two-week period when I notice it and then can't get it to budge.

8. I still drink regular, 1% milk and eat regular 2% cheese, but have subbed out Quorn or soy-based products for virtually every dinner meal where I would normally have eaten meat instead.

Now, a co-worker of mine recently gave up meat and dairy in an effort to curb her food allergies and she ALSO gained 10 pounds in 6 weeks. She is a woman in her mid-40's. She and I were commiserating over this fact on Friday, and we both thought... hmmm, is it all the soy? Could the extra estrogen be making me gain the weight? I'm trying like hell to lose the weight and I just... can't.

I have reduced the number of calories I eat, I'm pretty sure, because I no longer eat sweets or snacks (except things like birthday cake if it's a special occasion). I realize that over time, cutting out the sweets will probably help me lose the weight, but for right now, I'm beyond frustrated. The most I can get my weight down is like maybe 3 pounds, and I want to fit in my clothes again! I know this is a time in my life when my metabolism slows down, but this seems really sudden to me and not gradual at all. I searched previous questions and didn't see this exact issue addressed. Hope me, hive mind!
posted by Unicorn on the cob to Food & Drink (50 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you eating a lot of pasta, or other refined white flour? Eat whole wheat pasta, brown instead of white rice, and favor pitas over yeast breads.
posted by doppleradar at 9:09 AM on October 14, 2007

Rice cakes?
posted by popcassady at 9:15 AM on October 14, 2007

I don't think this is unusual, a lot of people I know have gained lots of weight on vegetarian diets. I suppose it's possible that you're simply eating a lot more in order to get the nutrition you need. Are you eating a lot more bread or pasta or just more food in general? Have you been tested for anemia?

Quorn is super high in protein. A friend of mine ate it all the time when it first came out in the US and promptly succombed to gout. And she is a distance runner. It is not "mushroom based" at all, it's a mycoprotein.
posted by fshgrl at 9:17 AM on October 14, 2007

It sounds like you eat a lot of fakemeat. That stuff is great to have around but you can't just sub it into your diet as if it were meat. It's usually not the healthiest stuff in the world. To eat a truly healthy vegetarian diet you kind of have to go back to basics -- forget about prepared foods and learn genuine veg cooking using vegetables, grains, beans, etc.
posted by loiseau at 9:19 AM on October 14, 2007

I have reduced the number of calories I eat, I'm pretty sure

This is the place to start -- "pretty sure" isn't good enough. Since an increase in calories taken in is the most common cause of weight gain, you need to find out exactly how many calories you're really taking in, and right now, you're just guessing. People are generally terrible at guessing about calories.

I suspect you're now eating more calorie-dense foods. Though you cut out a lot of sweets, which is great, you may now be eating the same overall volume of food, yet the food you're eating is more substantial and likely to contain more calories per gram than sugar does. Also, more stir-fry might be meaning more oils or flavorful sauces, where lots of calories can hide. If there's peanut butter, cashew or almond butter, or tahini around, all of those pack a solid calorie whomp.

Begin counting calories daily to see what you're taking in. Measure all the food you eat, and keep accurate track. When I'm counting calories I use FitDay, which is easy: you just enter the type and amount of food you ate, and it adds up up calories and nutrients for you. It's very effective.

I feel pretty strongly that this is the first tack you should take. Vegetarian diets are not always healthier than non-vegetarian diets, despite the general impression that not eating meat is somehow better for you physically, and this weight gain happens to a lot of people. If you can't manage your nutrients (getting adequate protein, fats, calcium, and vitamins) while eating veggie, it may not be the best way for you to go, health-wise. My suspicion is that you replaced lean protein calories with the increased carb calories of seed-based foods, and are taking in added fats because of the cooking methods you now use to prepare food. Also, you may be eating more calorie-dense foods to make up for the lost bulk of low-value but high-bulk sweets.
posted by Miko at 9:22 AM on October 14, 2007

Now I've gained weight... why?

Because you took in more calories than you burned. You're overthinking this.

Exercise more and/or eat less, and you'll drop the weight.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:29 AM on October 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Quorn is super high in protein

Quorn still has much, much less protein per serving than fish, chicken, or beef. To get an equivalent amount of protein to what's in the meats, you'd have to eat two to three times the amount of Quorn, by which point you've exceeded the amount of calories available in an equivalent protein value of meat.
posted by Miko at 9:29 AM on October 14, 2007

Exercise more and/or eat less,

Of course this is always true, but the exact balance of nutrients in "eat less" is a lot more important for vegetarians, because it is quite a challenge to cover all the nutritional bases on a restricted calorie diet without lean animal protein and dairy.
posted by Miko at 9:30 AM on October 14, 2007

As part of a change in lifestyle compelled both by the need to become a much more active and healthy person and an aversion to factory farmed meat I went from eating meat very regularly to now eating a 95% vegetarian diet. My lifestyle change involved more than cutting out meat but the change in diet was/is a huge part of it and I've lost a very significant amount of weight. So while no, vegetarian diets are not automatically significantly healthier or more helpful in losing weight than diets that include regular doses of meat in my opinion they very much can be.

I think Miko hit the general nail on the head in your case with "My suspicion is that you replaced lean protein calories with the increased carb calories of seed-based foods, and are taking in added fats because of the cooking methods you now use to prepare food."

It sounds like you're eating a lot of fake meat and not really a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fake meats and other carbs are great and great for you but they can't make up the majority of your diet.

While the estrogen/soy issues may be part of it I'd think a more likely candidate would be a lot of water retention from an increased intake of sodium. Processed foods, even fake meat and other vegetarian foods, tend to run really high in sodium.
posted by mjones at 9:30 AM on October 14, 2007

I have reduced the number of calories I eat, I'm pretty sure,

"Pretty sure" means that you are not tracking your caloric intake. Not that anyone should feel the need to do this if they aren't trying to lose (or gain) weight, but you are almost certainly eating more calories now than you were.

Here's the thing about fake meat: it almost always contains more calories/weight than real meat (at least real lean meat), and some of those calories are in the form of carbs instead of protein. This makes it less satiating than real lean meat, so you probably end up eating more calories when you eat it.
Combine the increased caloric intake and (probable) decreased protein intake with an exercise routine that sounds cardio-heavy and weight-skimpy, and you're likely to be losing muscle.
The soy is definitely also a potential problem. I don't personally know that much about the estrogenic effects of soy but I do know it is avoided by most people trying to gain muscle, so you have another potential muscle killer.

You can certainly lose weight and eat vegetarian, but I would google for websites by vegetarian bodybuilders for some ideas of how to do it. Not that you want to look like a bodybuilder, but they will know the substitutes for meat that give you adequate protein without all the soy and extra calories.
posted by ch1x0r at 9:35 AM on October 14, 2007

Okay, good points all. I only eat brown rice, not white, multigrain bread (I seldom eat bread unless it's a sandwich, which is maybe once a week), and have recently switched from white to wheat pasta. I abhor rice cakes, so yeah, that's not it, either. I don't eat peanut butter (or any nut butter, for that matter) because nuts are pretty gross to me, except for the occasional cashew, and I try to use 1 teaspoon or less of oil when cooking (I make my own spaghetti sauce and try to stir-fry mostly in a combination of low-sodium soy sauce, lime juice and 1 teaspoon of mongolian fire oil). When we do eat actual tofu, it's cooked in vegetable oil. That's once a week or so. I don't use tahini and I'm not big on beans, so we only eat those about once a week, too.

Hm. I'm stumped, still. Maybe it's the sodium, actually. And yeah, I probably eat 1 meal per day that has soy protein in it, and maybe I just need to either go back to chicken or figure out how to make myself like vegetables, cause I am pretty picky...

Or maybe I need to drink MORE water. I dunno. Boyfriend is thin, I am not. Frustrating!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:35 AM on October 14, 2007

Did you start taking the Pill anywhere around the time you changed your diet, or were you already on that? That can sometimes cause weight-gain, too.
posted by srah at 9:38 AM on October 14, 2007

If you're eating a lot of soy now, you may be getting a lot more fat in your diet than you realize. A lot of people think that sugar is the big villain in weight gain, but oil is far more dense in terms of calories, and soybeans contain a lot of oil.

A teaspoon of sugar is 15 calories.
A teaspoon of oil is 40 calories.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:38 AM on October 14, 2007

::tofu and veggie stir-fry, veggie burgers, Quorn fajitas with beans, falafel on pita with baba ghanoush, fake-lunchmeat sandwiches and low-fat cheez-its::

As a longtime (16 years) vegetarian, I've noticed that people shifting from meat-eating to herbivorous diets sometimes feel like their new diet has to resemble their old diet - with a central protein item and sides. Meat items just get switched out for soyfoods - which in the long run isn't necessarily the best idea, because those soyfoods (besides tofu, soymilk and tempeh) are generally highly processed.

Looking at that list of meals, I'd suggest you try shifting your diet so you're eating a greater volume of produce, and getting your calories and nutrients from whole food sources rather than processed products. The tofu and veggie stir fry, and potentiall the fajitas, could be mostly produce, but veggie burgers and fake lunchmeat sandwiches are probably not. Besides being better for you than fake lunchmeat, high-fiber fruits and vegetables (and whole grains, beans and legumes) will help you feel full longer.

Portion size is still important, too. Take a day or two's typical intake and run up a calorie count. It doesn't take much of an overage to start putting weight on.

In general, it sounds like you're doing things right - there's probably just a tweak here or there that will bring things back in line. (Eating off of smaller plates is one of my favorite strategies.)

On preview, miko and mjones have good answers too.
posted by jocelmeow at 9:39 AM on October 14, 2007

Quorn is super high in protein

Sorry, I meant to say purine not protein.
posted by fshgrl at 9:42 AM on October 14, 2007

Yeah, I've been on the pill forever. Since I was 16, actually. So I was wondering if the combination of the estrogen in the soy plus my birth control was a factor. It's looking to me more like maybe the sodium content plus less lean protein per meal (and higher fat) might be the problem. Sadly, I ate a lot of fast food before (I'm counting stuff like Pei Wei as fast food here, not just drive-thru) and I've only eaten stuff like that maybe 10 times in the past year, but still, I must be getting extra sodium and less protein. Ugh, this stinks, boyfriend won't kiss me if I've eaten meat... but that may be what I have to go back to doing, actually.

To exercise more I'd have to add a third hour to my gym trips, which would leave me with a dirty house and my personal time during the week would drop to nil. I don't think that's a (good or healthy) option. So, maybe going back to eating more meat is the answer... or at least, less soy-based protein.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:58 AM on October 14, 2007

Less soy-based protein doesn't have to mean more meat, but if you don't particularly like beans and you're picky about vegetables, (I hate to say this) you might not be a good candidate for a healthy vegetarian diet.

And given those preferences, you're probably filling in with carb-y, starchy foods, which, even if whole-grain, are going to generally be more calorically dense than produce.

Arguably more important for your health than whether you eat meat or not is cultivating an appreciation for - or at least a tolerance for - vegetables. Whether you eat meat or not, they're important to good health, and can help you cut calories while still feeling satiated - which will help you lose weight.
posted by jocelmeow at 10:16 AM on October 14, 2007

The only way to know for sure is to reverse your diet change and see if the weight gain also turns around. This would take a couple months, no doubt.

Since you don't like nuts or vegetables, I'm not surprised that the vegetarian diet is not working out great for you. Those are key staples! For additional protein look to dairy, whole grains, wild rices, wheat germ, seeds (flax is good), textured vegetable protein (TVP), and of course the musical fruit. There's a lot more to beans than soybeans. Acquaint yourself with lentils and learn to make Dal... mmm... yummy!
posted by scarabic at 10:34 AM on October 14, 2007

I would up your fruit and vegetable intake, cut down on the fake meat products, learn more about making tasty beans, only go for whole grains (millet, quinoa, brown rice, barley, buckwheat) instead of bread or pasta, and definitely up your water intake especially if you are working out more. Water is essential in weight loss. Variety is very important, meat eater or not, in order to get all the nutrients you need.

There are certain strength training exercises that work to boost the metabolism, burn fat, and build muscle, try googling on that. Muscle weighs more than fat, so that may be the cause of seeing a higher weight number. I would also suggest tracking your calories on

Visiting a naturopath might help as well. The pill will almost definitely make you gain weight, not sure about the estrogen argument but it makes sense to me. You might want to check out the book The Whole Soy Story by Kaayla Daniel. Soy is super processed and I truly question its digestibility.
posted by healthyliving at 10:43 AM on October 14, 2007

Seconding: check the labels on the fake meat/soy stuff you're eating. Chances are it's relatively high in fat and sodium compared to leaner real meats. Maybe just focusing on reducing the sodium would be a good heuristic to get you back in line; it's a great and simple way to realize how much junk we take in when we eat processed stuff.

Also, eat eggs. Or do they come under the oppressive no-kiss rule too? (The no-kiss rule seems pretty crummy to me and I've been vegetarian for freaking ever.)

Which vegetables DO you like? we might be able to help with suggestions for broadening your veg spectrum in small steps.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:48 AM on October 14, 2007

Odd question, but has your actual size changed, or just your weight? If you've increased your exercise, muscle weighs more than fat and could account for some part of the change.

Otherwise, a lot of really fattening foods are vegetarian - you may end up having to research the stuff you eat pretty closely for a while. This may help the research a little, but read labels carefully on the processed food.
posted by dilettante at 11:16 AM on October 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Well, I hate to say this, but it is probably because many vegetarian diets are high in grains, pastas, and breads. They set off the insulin response far more than fats and protein--even good, whole-wheat carbs--and generally promote fat gain as well as make you hungrier earlier. That's why serious athletes looking to cut bodyfat or bodybuilders switch to high-protein, high-good-fat (nuts, olive oil) diets, and what few carbs they get come from vegetables or fruits. No grains, no oatmeal, no legumes or beans. You are probably also eating more since pastas and stuff are a lot less filling than fatty foods.
posted by schroedinger at 11:32 AM on October 14, 2007

My guess would be that in an attempt to feel full when you eat a meal, you eat more grain/starch products than you used to. Recently I kept track of how many grain servings my family was eating & I was really surprised at how fast we hit & cruised right past the 6-11 recommended servings a day, particularly on days when we consumed a vegetarian diet (we eat meat, but not necessarily every day).

Fat & protein both send signals to your body that you're "full now" -- carbs seem to take longer to send the same message.

In a vegetarian diet, the recommended grain servings are the same as a non-vegetarian diet. Legume family (including soy, etc), counts as protein. Kidney beans, black beans, northern beans, etc -- are all great sources of protein & fiber. Maybe instead of focusing so heavily on soy protein, try to get more of that protein from beans (use beano if necessary). Peanut butter is also another good source of protein.

That said, I bet if you figure out what a serving of grains is & adjust the 6-11 serving recommendations to fit what you need (at 5'3" & somewhat on the sedentary side, I only need 6 servings a day, tops but my firefighter cousin can eat pretty much as much as he wants), then eat vegetables & fruits to "fill up" (nothing fills me up like an apple -- it's ridiculously effective).

The current recommendation for fruits is 2-4 a day & the current recommendation for veggies is 5 servings a day. That's a lot of fruit & veggies. And really they are surprisingly filling without adding a lot of calories (unless you dowse them in dips & dressings to make them palatable...). Find the fruits & vegis you like & start with them. Throw one new thing into the mix every now & again to shake things up. A big ol' salad goes a long ways in helping hit my veggies count, but I still struggle with the enough fruits & veggies & not going *way* over on my grains (even when doing the meat thing). Good luck!
posted by susanbeeswax at 11:48 AM on October 14, 2007

A healthy vegan diet really should include beans (there must be some variety of lentil soup or hummus that you like) and a variety of whole grains. Try quinoa, millet, barley, etc. 1 serving of soy really is not a lot, plenty of women all over the world maintain healthy bodies with more soy, but if the soy in your diet comes from processed fake meat products, yeah, I agree with everybody else that that is not a good idea.

You write about what you don't eat, but it would help if you could write what you do eat in a typical day.
posted by davar at 11:59 AM on October 14, 2007

Okay, guys, for starters no, eggs are not part of the no-kiss thing; surprisingly, he eats eggs regularly in an attempt to get more protein. He's just lactose-intolerant, hence the borderline-vegan tag. (He tries to ingest only soy milk and the occasional real cheese in pizza form, basically). I hate Dahl, which sucks, because it's healthy, I realize. Veggies I DO like: tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, red and yellow bell peppers, any kind of spicy pepper, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, water chestnuts, spinach, and the occasional salad. I am not a big salad eater and typically have to force myself to eat it. I like eggplant in its baba ghanouj and eggplant parmesan incarnations, ONLY if it's cooked very thinly, though.

Up until this point in my life I typically ate things like homemade pot roast, mexican food, broiled chicken breasts with couscous and grilled veggies, the occasional fast-food burger or chicken sandwich, and homemade pasta. I also ate a lot of chicken and turkey sausage and veggie dogs/veggie burgers and soysage because I like the way those things taste and they seemed like a healthy alternative. Also, stir-fry (no tofu, but with a scrambled egg or two in for protein) at least once a week.

Size vs. weight: Okay, I measure myself at least once every two days. My waist has gone up by about an inch, sometimes an inch and a half; my hips are up an inch; thighs, same size; bust, same size; arms, half an inch on either side; bizarrely, my left calf is an inch bigger than my right?! WTF. Okay, that's just weird and disturbing, but explains why my boots fit differently. Um...

Okay, so I probably have increased muscle mass, but wouldn't that eventually cause me to LOSE additional fat? Especially over the course of a year. I stepped up the workouts around May, so you'd think by now, I'd have seen a loss rather than a gain from the muscle mass. Or am I expecting something unrealistic by burning 4500-7000 cals per week?
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:38 PM on October 14, 2007

Which quorn products are you eating? Plain quorn on it's own is very low calorie - less than 1 calorie per gram. The plain quorn fillets are less than 100 calories/100g - the garlic and herb are over 200, the burgers are around 150. The toppings and flavorings they put on the basic quorn are calorific. But quorn on its own is not full of fat - it has much less fat than pretty much any meat (excluding non-oily fish) but to make it more appealing they do like to cover it in stuff.

Beans are a great meat replacement - bean lasagne is delicious (assuming you like beans), I don't know if you get Cauldron Foods where you are but they do some really nice ready-meals with beans. IMO their stuff is much nicer than most of the quorn because a lot of it is meat alternatives rather than meat replacements.
posted by missmagenta at 12:57 PM on October 14, 2007

One serving of soy protein a day sounds like a lot to me. As a five-year vegetarian (I'm a woman about 10 years younger than you, for reference), I eat soy protein maybe once a month, in the form of veggie bacon or a veggie burger. The only soy I eat (besides the occasional soy sauce) is steamed soybeans Japanese-style.

I'm not in a position to hold up my diet as the world's healthiest (it's not easy to get enough veggies in when you're cooking for one, as they spoil quickly), but here are some of the things I enjoy, all made from scratch at home: lentils and rice with a caramelized onion on top; vegetable biryani with potatoes, peas, onions and green beans; French onion soup with onions, croutons, & melted cheese; Indian chickpea dishes; vegetable soup, sometimes with rice or pasta; twice-baked potatoes with fat-free sour cream and cheese; pressed veggie sandwiches; vegetable lasagna; enchiladas with rice and beans on the inside ... etc.

Like I said, I'm not perfect, but I manage to fit a lot of beans and lentils into my diet. Protein is always a concern for me, so I drink skim milk and eat yogurt and probably more cheese than I should.

How do eggs fit into your diet?

I am guessing your boyfriend is a vegetarian because of his ethical concerns. Could you come to some kind of compromise, meat-wise? For example, could you eat locally-raised, free-range chicken?

When you come down to it, a healthy vegetarian diet is going to be hard to maintain if you don't like nuts AND legumes. You need to start from scratch in terms of learning to cook for a vegetarian you. Try an Indian cookbook - you might find you like some of the paneer dishes, for example.
posted by bijou at 1:00 PM on October 14, 2007

Or am I expecting something unrealistic by burning 4500-7000 cals per week?

You'd have to be incredibly fit doing a very intense cardio workout to be getting close to those numbers. (eg. to burn 7000 calories per week in 5 sessions, you'd have to be doing equivalent to 90 minutes running at 10mph - assuming you're roughly average size)

I'd suggest you may be burning a lot fewer calories from your workout than you'd like to think (aren't we all ;) )

Its also possible that if you really are doing that level of workout, you might be over-training. Do you measure your heartrate whilst training? Did you consult a professional before ramping up your training regime?
posted by missmagenta at 1:15 PM on October 14, 2007

Yeah, I pretty much run as hard as I can on the elliptical, alternate running and walking on the treadmill, do the rowing machine, etc. for 90 minutes at a clip, jump rope for 10-20 minutes and barely miss a jump, so yeah, I'm working out pretty gosh darn hard. Sometimes I spend 3 whole hours at the gym, 90 percent of it cardio. I wear a pedometer and set my weight/target heart rate on the machines and they jibe within 50 calories or so. I also cheer at roller derby on weekends (or have for the last few months) which is basically running and screaming for 40 minutes at a clip, and when I go out on weekends, I am a fairly rigorous dancer, spending a good 3 hours or so at a nightclub and dancing at least an hour full-stop at that. I may be miscounting the calorie burns, but I'm pretty stringent about eyeballing them.

I am five foot one and weighed 119 last August; I now weigh around 126-128 and believe me, when you're as short as I am, it feels like 20 lbs. extra, not just 8-9 lbs. But again, I may be doing too MUCH cardio. I have broken at least two friends at the gym who were unable to keep up with me and stopped going because I spent too much time for their liking.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:42 PM on October 14, 2007

"...Bizarrely, my left calf is an inch bigger than my right?! WTF. Okay, that's just weird and disturbing, but explains why my boots fit differently."

FWIW, it's not particularly uncommon and shouldn't be that disturbing. Now, if that one inch difference only developed in the last year, that is kind of interesting, but having your calves be two different sizes is pretty common. (I have that myself, and it just about killed me last month when I found the perfect pair of boots and could only zip them up my right calf. I know I could have them altered but I gave them to my mom instead. *sigh*)

I was a figure skater, and I found that my landing leg got more muscular than the other leg. (My landing leg also has a foot about half a size larger, though I think that predates the skating.) I notice you say that you skate -- it's possible your legs are different sizes for a similar reason, even if you're not a figure skater. If you tend to consistently put more weight on one leg, that might do it.
posted by litlnemo at 2:19 PM on October 14, 2007

Veganfitness has many vegans that know about healthy eating, weight control and lots of exercise. Maybe they can help you pinpoint the problem?

I can relate to not liking bean dishes, but there has got to be something you like. Baked falafel? Homemade bean burgers? Lentil pate?
posted by davar at 2:48 PM on October 14, 2007

At the risk of sounding crude, have you thought of, well, bloating? I am mentioning this particularly because your weight gain seems to be around the middle, not the thighs are chest.

You are now eating a lot of beans and cheese and foods that might make you more gaseous. You could try taking an over-the-counter antacid and seeing if that helps.

Also, you may be getting most of your protein from nuts and cheese now, which are fattier than lean meats. The lean meats have more sodium, but you haven't cut down on the sodium because of the cheese nips, so you may be retaining water. Drinking more water is almost always a good thing, so I would up your intake there as well.
posted by misha at 3:52 PM on October 14, 2007

That really is a lot of working out.

If you don't get adequate protein (FitDay can tell you), I wonder if maybe you're losing muscle mass, thus burning fewer calories because the metabolic demand is lower.

Protein is what your body uses to build muscle - intense exercise causes tiny tears in the muscle, and protein heals the rips, strengthening and building muscle. If you reduced your protein you might just be reducing muscle mass.

I'd still say that before making any other changes, you should count your calories and macronutrients for a week or so to see where you come in. If the cals are too high, adjust. If they look like they are in balance, then maybe talk to your doctor/gyn to see whether you should be evaluated for other causes of weight gain. If nothing's wrong, and if you choose to stay veggie, it might help you to work with a nutritionist long enough to set up an eating plan.
posted by Miko at 4:12 PM on October 14, 2007

Miko, that is a very good point. After a brief confab with the boyfriend, we have come to an agreement... I will try to up my intake of protein by allowing chicken again. He isn't grossed out by it, and I won't have to brush my teeth for 20 minutes after I eat it just to get a kiss. I will reduce my intake of soy protein and cut back a little on the exercise regimen while upping my intake of water... I DO feel/think I am bloated, actually. I will also look at other ways to cut back on the salt/carbs. I do really like the Quorn "naked" fake chicken breasts, too, but yeah, we have mostly been eating the breaded variety. I realize as I get older I have to watch what I eat more carefully, and hopefully, cutting back on sugar (which used to trigger binge eating in me) will help, too.

Thanks for everyone's helpful advice!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:22 PM on October 14, 2007

Oh, and litlnemo, thanks for helping me figure out what was going on with my Franken-leg! That worried me for a minute, good to know I'm not alone. And that there is a normal reason for one calf being bigger than the other.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:24 PM on October 14, 2007

This is most perplexing. I guess I am with the folks who say to examine your carb and sodium intake. I know personally that keeping carbs minimized helps me not feel hungry, and by carbs I mean the easily digested kind like pasta etc. One thing to look at, although it seems crazy, it the sugar water diet, which I think has now become the Shangri La diet. I have done it a few days at a time, with the oil instead of the sugar, and it usually works well, so much so that it is almost freaky. The first time I just thought I didn't have time for lunch so this way I could skip it. That isn't really the thing. I usually need some food an hour or two later, but then when dinner comes - no appetite at all. Well, sorry for the digression, it likely is unhealthy and that is why I have only done it sporadically, and the carb and sodium things sound more promising, but good luck to you.
posted by caddis at 6:02 PM on October 14, 2007

I sometimes gain weight (more than just muscle mass) when I start exercising more, because I get really hungry and take in more food than I am even aware of. And I'm a frequent exerciser and a longtime vegetarian on birth control. I don't touch anywhere near as much soy as you, however. nth-ing the suggestion that you track your food intake.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:57 PM on October 14, 2007

I work with a lot of vegetarians and vegans and some of them are thin...and others border on morbidly obese. The difference I see between them is pretty obvious though.

Thin: mostly fruits, vegetables, and nuts
Fat: lots of breads, pasta, bad soy products, meat and dairy substitutes, and starches

It's pretty simple. I gained weight on the latter diet and quit altogether. I know that when I was veggie I was not only fat, but bloated from too much fiber. You have to be careful with insoluble fiber.

However, I think these days I'm better suited to be veg again because I've diversified my diet by trying a new veg every week at the farmer's market. Beets, purslane, carrots, and cabbage won't make you fat.

Also, I say "bad" soy products to exclude traditional Asian foods that probably are pretty good for you.
posted by melissam at 8:54 AM on October 15, 2007

Other people have said this and I can't stress it enough, reduce your carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates are anything that breaks down into glucose in your body, so breads, pastas, rice, potatoes, corn, etc. Generally, anything that comes from a grain (corn, wheat, etc.) essentially becomes glucose after being metabolised.

Carbohydrates and sugars increase the insulin in your blood, which in turn supresses the hormones that breakdown body fat. This has multiple consequences. First, a greater percentage of the calories you ingest go into fat storage, and therefore less are available as energy for the cells. Second, you consume more calories to meet your cells energy demands (since you're storing more energy as fat). This is not new science, it's been studied and proven continously since the late 1850's. It's only recently (post 1970's) that dietary fat has been considered as the cause of body fat (and not backed up by much science).

Keep in mind that exercise, while beneficial, will not help you lose weight. Exercise increases caloric demand. If you fill that demand with carbohydrates and sugars, you'll be stuck in a feedback loop. The carbohydrates and sugars increase the percentage of calories dedicated to fat storage, depriving your cells of the new calories consumed. The cycle continues.

I'm not a vegetarian or vegan, so I don't know what to specifically recommend to eat, but keeping your carbohydrates down is essential. Melissam's advice seems best if you're going to stick with a vegetarian diet. Cutting out carbohydrates as a vegetarian is harder than as a meat eater, though it obviously can be done. Be careful though to make sure you're getting all your essential nutrients (you may need supplements).

I am lactose intolerant as well, and goat's milk and sheep's milk cheeses are great sources of protein and dietary fat. You already mentioned eggs, another good source of protein and fats.

You're body needs dietary fat. It is essential to health. The body can internally produce most, if not all, of it's nutrients from dietary fats and proteins (except maybe vitamin C). This is why dietary fats and proteins are essential, whereas you cut carohydrate consumption to zero with no ill affects.

Don't worry about quantity of calories. Quality of calories is much more important (i.e no sugars or carbohydrates). On tests with protein and fat diets, people are satisfied with as little as 1600 calories a day (which is generally considered a semi-starvation diet). People who point to this violating the Laws of Thermodynamics are misinterpreting those laws when it comes to metabolisim and nutrition.

Also, beware of fruit drinks. They usually contain a lot of sugar. A typical apple is 6% fructose, 4% sucrose, and 1% glucose by weight. An 8 oz bottle of Apple Juice is approxiamtely 2 apples. For orange juice I think it's much higher.

From your eating list it doesn't seem like you need to worry about HFCS (High Fuctose Corn Syrup), but beware it's in a lot of beverages. Over half of HFCS is fructose (the rest being glucose), which goes right to the liver and produces triglycerides (body fat). That's why anything that uses fructose appears to have a lower glycemic index, but ends up being worse for you. Afterall, glucose can be used as energy in the body. Fuctose simply goes right to the liver, and it then blocks glucose from getting aborbed by the liver. This increases insulin levels even more (which then suppresses breakdown of body fat, etc.).
posted by herda05 at 4:05 PM on October 15, 2007

After rereading my comment, I sound rather harsh on carbohydrates. Each of us will have a different tolerance to carbohydrate consumption and insulin reaction. By starting off removing all carbohydrates, you can slowly add them back in to determine at what point (percentage of your calorie intake) you start to gain weight.

The percentage you derive will generally hold, but keep in mind this can change. The amount of fat your body keeps around is determined by hormones (insulin) and the availability of glycerol phosphate (a by product of using glucose as energy). When hormones change, as with age and pregnancy, so do body fat percentages.
posted by herda05 at 4:22 PM on October 15, 2007

This is exactly what I need to hear, Herda05. If I do x until y occurs, then gradually modify my intake of x until I find the ideal amount, I can expect a certain lifestyle (diet A plus exercise plan B simply for health's sake, neither slavish), I will be okay. It sounds easy but I worship carbs, so this may be hellish.

As I get older I need to be more disciplined, I know that. I think I eat fairly healthily, and was just stumped that things I just KNEW would work (eat less sugar! work out for 10 hours a week!) didn't.

God, I hate that the age-old "eat less to lose weight" seems true, I just thought I was doing that already. Just not the right things.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:55 PM on October 15, 2007

On tests with protein and fat diets, people are satisfied with as little as 1600 calories a day (which is generally considered a semi-starvation diet)
In other tests with a whole foods vegan diet, full of soups boiled veggies and salads, people are satisfied with as little as 1200 calories a day. Is 1600 calories semi starvation? Surely that's only true in very active men? That's three good meals a day. I am a not that active slender woman and I only need about 1700 calories a day to maintain my weight. And I am 1.71 meters. A smaller woman would need even less calories.

I lost 100 pounds a few years ago. I used to overthink this at well, but in the end, I found that all those theories are really neat, but not necessarily applicable to my life. Herda05 mentions theories that sound so logical at first sight, but if you look at real life, it actually turns out that diets that are high in fructose are good for weight loss. See this study. Sadly not available for free, but one of the conclusions was that the fruit group (14% of calories fructose) decreased their waist circumference with 2.2 inch, compared with 1 inch in the non fruit group (4% calories from fructose).

Also: weight control is important, but in the end, I'd say that a healthy diet is more important than a few pounds. Some of the best weight loss diets, are not that great from a health standpoint. If you only eat about 1700 calories a day, you need to make sure that those calories count.
posted by davar at 1:45 AM on October 16, 2007

Davar, where the fructose comes from matters. HFCS does not equal an apple, though both have fructose. Plus, many carb-restricted diets are designed with an awareness of how good fiber is. Most carb-restricted diets use net carbs (carbs-fiber) so you can eat fruits and vegetables as much as you want.
posted by melissam at 7:20 PM on October 16, 2007

Also, don't assume carb-bashers are a bunch of Atkins nuts. I am personally trying to transition away from meat and other animal products, while maintaining nutrient density. With the popularity of plant-diets all sorts of companies are making delicious veg treats from "wow this tastes like chicken" wings to luscious chocolate vegan cookies. It's great, but even if the burgers or chicken fingers are vegan...that doesn't make them healthy.

Personally, I think measuring carbs is time consuming and misses the point. If you eat real food you should be fine. Every time you look at your meal ask yourself if how far away your food is from the plants that grew the original ingredients.
posted by melissam at 7:26 PM on October 16, 2007

Melissam, I reacted to Herda05 who specifically mentioned the fructose in apples and oranges. I'm still of the opinion that HFCS is not any worse than table sugar (mostly because in my country nobody uses HFCS and we still have an obesity epidemic), but that's another discussion. Also: all the carb restricted diets I know about DO restrict most fruits (allowing for berries and other low sugar fruit), and also starchy vegetables (potatoes, cooked carrots etc.)

I don't know if your last comment was directed at me, but I never assume anyone is a nut :) And I certainly know that fake meat products are not healthier than meat. They are often much higher in sodium, and the soy they use is overly processed and not in a form that makes the nutrients easily available.

I totally agree with your last paragraph.
posted by davar at 2:26 AM on October 17, 2007

Just wanted to chime in again and say I've been using FitDay and I like it, and now realize I'm eating about 1600 calories a day and getting about 53 percent of my calories from carbs and about 30 percent from fat. Only 15 percent from protein. I obviously need more protein! Apparently a person my size needs about 58 grams of protein a day and I'm only getting roughly 41. This seems to be the problem, albeit more complex than it sounds.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:18 PM on October 17, 2007

Great idea to log everything you eat. 15% calories from protein is actually just fine if you eat enough calories. See for example Ask the Dietician. The Daily Value for protein is 10% of calories, again, if you eat enough calories. The real problem is that you are gaining weight on a 1600 calorie a day diet with your level of exercise. If I were you I would see a doctor and have them check your blood.
posted by davar at 3:24 PM on October 17, 2007

Unicorn, that's the same reasons why I started reading about health and nutrition. I ended up aghast at the lack of science being currently done in the field. Right when things seemed to be on the verge of being proven and explained, everything took a sharp turn towards personality and politics. I always imagined more exercise would help. I also believed I ate to much. Now I think I ate enough for what my body demanded, just not the right content. By increasing your protein or fat intake you will also be lowering your carb intake. Also, don't be afraid of dietary fat (Cheese is your friend). I bet if you up your protein and fat intake, the amount of calories you consume will actually go down (as long as your exercise doesn't increase).

Davar, I was pointing out that 8 oz of apple juice or orange juice is a lot more fructose than that contained in a single apple or orange. In that way you are actually ingesting more sugars than you would if you followed melissam's advice of sticking as close as possible to the natural food.

The metabolism of fructose is not controversial science. Fructose gets broken down in the liver to produce triglycerides. They don't produce glucose themselves until the triglycerides are actually broken into free fatty acids and glucogen. This is also what makes sucrose (one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule)worse for your system then glucose. Triglycerides themselves aren't a bad thing. They're simply energy storage for the body.

As far as the report you cited, I'd be interested to know everything that the subjects consumed. They only indicated that the diet was a low or high-fruit energy restricted diet for 8 weeks. What other calories were ingested (proteins and fats)? Also, since weight loss was similar in both groups it only establishes association and not causation when it comes to fructose and weight loss. That difference is crucial.

I'll be the first to admit the science is lacking in regards to what is the healthiest diet (not the lose weight idea of diet, but rather in the sense of the normal group of foods we eat). What we do have though indicates that carbohydrates do metabolize into fat in both animals and humans. We do know that hormones (insulin and others) regulate fat storage. We do know that hyperinsulinemia causes diabetes Type II. We do know that carbohydrates increase insulin levels in the blood. We do know that your body can't survive without dietary fat or protein. We do know that semi-starvation diets (i.e. stop eating so much) DO NOT work.

We have anecdotal and association evidence that carbohydrate restricted diets do work. What should really be done is a controlled clinical trial to determine if carbohydrate restricted diets reduce obesity. We also need to find out if there is a difference between carbohydrates from starches, green vegetables, and fruits and refined carbohydrates.

Calories are a bit of a diversion, but they always come up in diet discussions. A calorie of protein is not the same as a calorie of fat, a calorie of sugar,a calorie of potato, or a calorie of spinach. Calories are qualitatively important. Also, each persons caloric demand will be different, and tests of people of the same weight have wide ranges. As far as 1600 calories being semi-starvation, those tests were done on men who were eating 2100 to 2500 calories a day (and they were fit, generally healthy men).

Unfortunately, most of the science is based on studies of men, at least until recently (last ~20-30 years). Also most of the recent recommendations about diet for humans comes from observational studies, not controlled clinical trials. Observational studies only determine association and not causation.
posted by herda05 at 5:29 PM on October 17, 2007

Also, since weight loss was similar in both groups it only establishes association and not causation when it comes to fructose and weight loss. That difference is crucial.
Sure, but you were the person that warned against fructose because it would cause weight gain. Empirical evidence at least suggests that that is not true, no matter what theoretical models may suggest. I agree that fruit juice is not good if you want to lose weight, but not because of the fructose content. Even though apple juice contains more fructose than soft drinks, I'd still argue that apple juice is a much healthier choice.

I also read a lot about the dangers of carbs, but likewise, I don't see that in real life. People in countries where traditionally people eat lots of carbs (mainly Asia) are not fat, even if they eat tons of white rice. Dr McDougall has great success in reversing diabetes with a very high carb, low fat diet.

I know, I know, correlation, causation, no double blind study no proof. But still: if carbs where really that problematic, I am sure we would see it in real life.

Gaining weight on a 1600 calorie-a-day diet while doing lots of exercise is REALLY strange. I am very aware that not all calories are the same. When I frequented weight loss groups there were always a few people who had to cut all grains before they lost the last 10 pounds or so. But that's not the same as actually gaining weight on a diet that is, by your own statement, a semi starvation diet (the OP should need more than 2100 calories with all this exercise).
posted by davar at 4:50 AM on October 18, 2007

davar, I took a quick tour of Dr. McDougall's site. I didn't find anything about reversing diabetes.

I'm sure you and I can go back and forth re-referencing each other to death. At the end of the day I would rather be a skeptic of theory and a satisfied healthy eater. I do this by not wedding myself to any one theory. I read a book and thought that it sounded reasonable. I then tried to implement what I'd read. I'm going to the doctor to verify my health through actual testing.

My advice is don't commit to Atkins or South Beach or Dr. McDougall like a religion. Read the actual medical studies and make up your own mind. See what conclusions are based on observation and what are based on clinical, randomized, controlled trials. See who's ideas have been falsified, and which ones are merely inductions (and simply wating to be proven wrong). Try not to get caught being a fool for the big things.

I can attest to the information I gave Unicorn because I'm taking my own advice. I've lost 25 lbs so far. I can also attest to the fact that America doesn't eat a lot of protein and fat. I travel and purchase three meals a day. It's almost impossible to avoid refined carbs. (Almost) Everything in America is made with some form of sugar or carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the ultimate transportable food. Try keeping some ham in a hotel room unrefrigerated for a week. You won't have neighbors complaining if you do that with bagels.

I don't think I said fructose causes you to gain weight. Fructose gets converted into triglycerides, which are fat (3 fatty acids and a glucogen molecule). But depending on other factors, may not cause weight gain.

Also, I don't think I said there was more fructose in apple juice than soft drinks (unless they're adding HFCS to the apple juice). I would expect apple juice to be better for you than soft drinks, as apple juice is closer to the natural state than coca-cola.

Like I said earlier, I think calories are a diversion. Gaining weight on a 1600 calorie diet is not really strange if you give up the idea of weight gain as a product of positive caloric balance. If instead weight gain is controlled by a hormonal process rather than strictly a mathematical equation, than anything that changes the hormonal homeostasis will also affect the process of fat accumulation, weight gain, and possibly chronic disease itself. It also leads to a revolutionary way of looking at over-eating (people who eat more calories than we judge they should be eating), i.e. that over-eating isn't a cause of fat accumulation, but rather fat accumulation is a cause of over-eating (As a greater percentage of the caloric intake goes to produce fat, more calories are ingested to satisfy the cells' energy demands.)

Your last sentence encapsulates the problem with thinking in terms of calories. How did you arrive at only 2100 calories? Why not 3,000? Why not 1737? To me, a better gauge would be that the OP should eat until she is satisfied. If her hunger's satisfied, then it's most likely that she's getting enough calories for her energy expenditure. If she's gaining weight, then it's time to look at the quality of those calories she's taking in. If her diet is 60% carbs, 30% protein, and 10% fat she can test if carbs are the problem by reducing their intake to less than 50 grams a day (while simultaneously increasing the other precentages). If she's like me, her body will go into a state of ketosis, at which point she will begin to burn fatty acids for fuel, and her liver will start the process of gluconeogenesis. This process can be verified with ketostix.

In the end, if I'm wrong, she can move in another direction. Like you pointed out, Dr. McDougall seems to have a way of eating healthy and losing weight as well. In the end, she should be eating so she feels satisfied, healthy, and has enough energy to do what she wants to do.
posted by herda05 at 6:15 PM on October 22, 2007

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