Sara loses 70 pounds in 6 months!

I have spent the last two summers teaching nutrition, culinary and fitness classes at Wellspring, an organization that specializes in weight loss. (for more info on Wellspring listen to this National Public Radio piece: )

Last summer I worked with Sara, a music teacher from Virginia who has spent years struggling to lose weight. Sara recently got in touch with me to share her continued success and was happy to have me share some of her story on this blog.

What a difference 6 months makes!

Of her transition Sara says, “I discovered how to conquer obstacles that seemed impossible before and was able to change my mindset on exercise, food, and body image.” Sara came to every nutrition workshop with an open mind and a ready pen. Her dedication paid off and by the end of her 6 week stay at Wellspring Sara had lost an astonishing 40 pounds. During the following 6 months Sara lost another 30 pounds for a total of 70 pounds. Sara also lost 55 inches from: bust: 9, waist: 17, hips 14.5 inch, thighs 8, arms 6.5.

Sara used no gimmicks, no pills, no juicing, and no fasting. Sara credits her success to monitoring her diet with daily journaling and following a strict low fat, high fiber,  diet. She plans to continue her weight loss and achieve her goal weight. Sara plans to celebrate her success by hiking in Yosemite with close friends.






An interview with a Peruvian Shaman about diet

In 2011 I spent 4 months in Peru and was able to a little investigation into on one of the most unique human-plant relationships on earth. The shamans of Peru are famous for the phyto-spiritual “surgery” they facilitate with their patients. Using the ayahuasca plant, a strong hallucinogen, shamans guide participants on an inner journey with common goals including promoting insights into problems and healing life traumas. As would fit a blog focused on sobriety I will skip the sexy discussion on the controversial psychedelic aspect of the custom and will instead explore the role diet plays in the process.

First light of dawn hits the peak! My tour guide at Machu Picchu claimed the use of ayahuasca inspired much of the Inca religion including the design of this sacred site

All Shamans strongly recommend a period of dietary cleansing from several weeks to several months prior to taking ayahuasca. The belief is that a strict regime prepares one for the vigors of the powerful visions and emotions that wait. Shamans call this “la dieta”, the diet. Typical restrictions include: salt, sugar, vinegar, sweets, spices/chili, fats/oil, seasonings, canned food, stimulants, alcohol, drugs/medications, chocolate, red meat, and pork. Last spring I interviewed a shaman to learn about this piece of the custom.

Why is it important to follow the diet prior to the ayahuasca ceremony? The experience of ayahuasca starts with the knowledge gained during cleansing, the participant arrives to the session with an already modified state of consciousness.

How can following a strict diet effect consciousness? Every food has a message, some are stronger than others. Following the diet cleanses the mind from conflicting messages. Ayahuasca is a planta maestra, a professor plant, it has a great deal to teach. If your body has been influenced by strong foods than it can’t give itself completely to the ayahuasca.

How does not following the diet impede the experience? Sugar, caffeine, flesh and heavy foods (fats) modify consciousness, they have a strong influence, the ayahuasca plant is jealous over the power they have.

How can a plant be jealous? The body isn’t free and independent with those foods exerting their control. The healing and revelatory effects of ayahuasca work much better if the body is free.

Is there a physical reaction as well or are you only talking about the effect on the mind?It is difficult to separate the effects but, yes, those who follow the diet don’t throw up as much, get sick, or feel weak and in general they feel stronger, the experience goes more smoothly for them.

A boxed lunch, Peruvian style. In the mountains many people travel with little sacks of boiled potatoes and beans, both of which are considered good choices by the Shamans

Outside of diet, what recommendations are there for one’s lifestyle prior to working with a Shaman? The goal is to lessen outside influences, one should avoid over exposure to rain, sun, smoke, fire, polluted air and foul odors. One must abstain from sexual activities for at least two weeks, but longer is better. Also, interacting with people that are strongly pessimistic or sick should be avoided.

Why are these practices important? We weaken the power of our material desires and the societal influences that separate us from nature. In this way we can be more open to guidance and power from the plant world, from Ayahuasca. [Interestingly many native tribes from North America have similar practices of isolation from society’s (the tribe’s) influence prior to taking part in vision quests]

What I found intriguing in these conversations was that the Shamans have a firm belief that diet effects consciousness. They have singled out many of the same foods as having undue influence that so many of us crave: sweets, salty foods, rich and heavy foods, alcohol, and caffeine. As a Dietitian I couldn’t help enjoying the respect that these Shamans had for the transformative power of diet.

Personal note: I did not participate in the ayahuasca ritual, though I did follow the cleansing diet and found it to be a remarkable trip of its own, as much of a consciousness changing experience as my shaman friend insisted it would be.


Our plan for weight loss: The Sober Plate Part 1

Thank you to my friend Kristy Simmons, who took my chicken scratch sketches and made them shine.

The Taoist philosophy of yin-yang is founded on the belief that darkness and light exist in a balance. Neither is good, nor bad; instead, both exist to bring out contrast in the other and to provide balance. Borrowing this philosophy for a diet design I divided food into two main categories: those that are heavy/weight promoting (proteins/starches) and those that are light/promote weight loss (non starchy vegetables). Again, neither is good or bad, it is only the relative proportion that dictates the meaning. Continuing with this reasoning I assigned the most potent weight promoting elements, the fats and sugars, to the smallest circles.

If you want to lose weight, eat accordingly, half the plate veggies, a quarter protein, a quarter starch. If you are happy with your weight you can divide the plate into three even parts and/or add fat. If you need to gain weight, well, let us just say there are a lot of options out there.

I was inspired to create this plate design from my experience with the plate method. The plate method was developed by the American Dietetic Association, as a blood sugar management tool for diabetics. I began using this diet years ago because it was so simple that I could teach it to the illiterate Latino populations that I often worked with. As I tracked patients’ diets and weight I noticed a variety of trends that correlated with both weight loss and weight gain. That information inspired me to research ways to overhaul the Plate Method to maximize weight loss.

A real life example – 1/4 plate protein (beans), 1/4 plate starch (rice, brown would be better but its hard to get in Latin America) and 1/2 plate of veggie, both stewed and as salad, lime juice dressing

Although the Plate Method is great for managing blood sugars there are several aspects of it that make weight loss difficult: 1) the lack of distinction between starchy and fibrous vegetables 2) the inclusion of generous amounts of dairy products (I count dairy as a protein or a fat, depending on the product) 3) the lack of any visual guideline on fats or sugars. Additionally the Plate Method does not discuss the degree of processing in the food, the water content, or the fiber content. I have made all these and more modifications. In the coming weeks I will post details about the diet and each of the seven categories: Proteins, starches, vegetables, fats, sugars, fruits, and beverages.

For now consider as a final thought: Our plate is both a mirror and a crystal ball, what we see on our plate reflects who we are now and who we will become in the future.



Make a pizza in 5 minutes!

pictured with a slice of baked pumpkin, add a side salad or soup & you have quite a significant meal for minimal calories

 I often use Trader Joe’s whole wheat pre-made pizza dough (you can use a wine bottle to roll it out) on this day I happen to have a slightly less glamorous option handy: Giant brand pre-made 12″ thin crust pizza shells. I pre-heated the oven to 475, then I spread out a thick layer of pasta sauce (1.5 cups). Over the sauce I layered thinly sliced veggies: red onion, 2 green peppers, and a stalk of green onions.

Then I added added a generous amount – 1.5 cups of non-fat shredded mozzarella cheese. I like using the pizza dish with holes in it (pictured below) as it gives the crust a bit more varied texture: slightly crispy to slightly chewy.

Some other ideas, if you have time, that turn this into an almost gourmet pizza is to saute the vegetables for 5 minutes (w/ tomatoes or the pasta sauce) before putting them on the pizza, mixing in herbs into the pasta sauce (basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary), and putting a dash of red wine into the pasta sauce.

A realistic serving is 2 large slices (1/6 of the entire pizza) & contains: Calories 295 Fat 1 gram, Carbohydrate 52 grams, Protein 20 grams

By contrast, 2 slices of a typical cheese and veggie pizza would yield over 500 calories, over 15 grams of fat, while the carbohydrates and protein are about the same.

This pizza cost $3-4 in ingredients.


How did Beth lose 49 pounds?

Beth is a client I worked through Wellspring, a weight loss center. If you would like to hear a NPR story on Wellspring follow the link:

Beth states: “I’ve been overweight most of my adult life. When I was in high school I thought I was “fat” but probably wasn’t. I got pregnant when I was 17 and from then on I was heavy. In my early 20’s I took Phen Fen and lost some weight. Of course once I stopped taking it and went back to eating truck stop food I gained it all back plus more. About 10 years ago I started working nights and I dropped about 50 pounds. I was able to maintain that weight. Then about 4 years ago I tried Nutrisystem, but I really didn’t loose any weight. After a month or two I gave up. I’m not sure why Wellspring worked so well. Part of it is the fact that I eat less than 20 grams of fat a day. The other is I run everyday and work out (weights) 3 days a week.”
When I worked with Beth she had already lost 78 pounds on her own (from a high of 270), she entered the program in July 2011 at 192 pounds – the photo on the left. Beth came to all my classes and took the task of educating herself about the science of weight loss seriously. Beth learned how to eat slow, and enjoy simple low fat, high fiber  meals. When we met again 6 months later she had dropped down to 148  pounds and had met her goal. She is excited to no longer work on dropping weight but concentrate instead on the more modest challenge of maintaining her weight and healthy lifestyle.