In 2013 I made 3 chance discoveries that changed my life and got me into shape like never before:
- I saw what it looked like when a party-hard friend got serious about eating and working out.
- I came across a weight loss strategy that fitted my analytical approach to life (technically it was a promotional excerpt from this book, posted online).
- And I found a way to order groceries online (read on to find out why that mattered).
Oh, and I’m a vegetarian. People somehow think vegetarians don’t get fat. Except when they say that, they think of straight-edge vegans. As a vegetarian, there’s plenty of options: Pizza, Vegetarian Burgers, Beer, 500 calorie Mocha Frappuccinos. Producers of unhealthy, fatty foods (naturally, packed with processed sugar and simple carbohydrate) have long since caught on to the vegetarian market.
So how did I do it?
I Chose a Battle Worth Winning
The only times I ever managed to lose weight was when the fight was worth winning. In 2009 I managed to follow a diet of no alcohol, sweet sodas, caffeine or processed sugar when I wanted to give moral support to a friend who was fighting a battle for his own health. Once that goal was gone, my discipline faltered and I quickly went back to my old weight.
For these 100 days I picked a battle that was worth winning. I picked a proper fight. I was not only going to lose weight. I was going to get absolutely ripped. I saw the red stubble on my face in the mirror and made up my mind. I was going to look like a viking.
This mental image made it worthwhile fighting. No longer was it about an abstract number on the scale. Now it was about the mental image of seeing myself the way I’ve never seen myself before. I might succumb to a piece of cake if it was just about some extra fat tissue. But now it was about a complete transformation. Not something I was going to risk for a piece of cake.
I Trusted My Strategy
If you lose trust in your battle strategy, would you follow through on it? Probably not. Weight loss can work the same way. If you don’t trust your plan or you lose your trust, you won’t stick to it. You don’t need to find the perfect strategy, just one that can work and in which you won’t lose trust.
For me it was calorie counting. I used an app called MyFitnessPal and made sure every day I ate less than 1500 calories. If I ate more, I had to exercise and burn enough calories to be back below 1500 again. Is that the perfect strategy? Maybe, maybe not, but it works. And I trusted it would. I knew if I stuck to it, I would lose weight eventually, no matter what my scale said.
Very quickly I noticed that going for high protein foods over empty carbohydrates or fat-soaked snacks was a much more pleasant way to reach that calorie goal. Cutting out ‘white’ carbs, going low-fat and low-sugar with all my dairy products were among the fastest wins. I read labels of soy meat and pretty much everything else – discovering just how much fat went into them. The average soy-based mock meat has more than half of its calories coming from fat. Compare that with wheat-based Seitan – where it’s virtually zero. Ironically, there is a current anti-Seitan trend that makes people avoid it – even though it’s actually one of the healthiest mock meat choices out there. Never heard of a war on Seiten? That’s because they use a different name in that context: Gluten.
It took a lot of time. 100 days is more than 3 months. But I believed that if I followed a strategy for good, I’d eventually succeed. This trust allowed me to keep going.
I Made the Battlefield Win My Fights
In the 15th century a small English force annihilated a much larger French army. In the now famous Battle of Agincourt, English longbows laid waste to French knights who got stuck in field of mud. The battlefield fought and won the fight for the English.
In my weight loss battles, I try to create an everyday battlefield that fights my battles for me. I remove all snacks and sweets from my apartment. I avoid super markets and their sweet isles by ordering groceries online. I remove obstacles to working out by learning home workouts and getting memberships to nearby gyms. I manipulate my environment to help my fight my battles.
The sad truth is that once you try to lose weight as a vegetarian, you notice that food options in a lot of restaurants are reduced to the house salad. My way of dealing with that is to actually eat at home before meeting friends for dinner. Much easier to load up on proteins with eggs (try them boiled for 6 minutes on whole wheat bread with mustard) and then just have a light salad than trying (and failing) to get full at a restaurant in a healthy way.
I don’t have the mental energy necessary to emerge victorious in every battle of discipline. But if the odds are tilted in my favour, I got a realistic chance even when confronted with an otherwise overwhelming force.
Could You Do It?
Finding a battle worth winning took me a long time. Coming across a strategy I could believe in was a a chance encounter. Creating an everyday environment that made winning possible required prior work on improving my discipline.
It might have been vanity, thinking of how impressed my friends would be when I posted my before and after pictures on Facebook. It might have been support from my girlfriend, helping me a lot with her diet advice. It might have been narcissism, making me confident in my own ability for adherence.
Your own mileage may vary. But being a vegetarian shouldn’t be an excuse. Yes, a low-carb diet is super hard. However, if you can compensate for that by eating smarter – reducing fat and sugar as well, rather than being on an all-out anti-carb war, you can lose weight without going hungry.
One of the hard to avoid downsides of going for a high protein diet as a vegetarian, is that it’s ultimately more expensive than most other diets (unless you’re really willing to give up on variety and only stick with eggs, 0% fat milk/yogurt, vegetables, fruit and whole wheat products). Since posting this article I’ve published my own living expenses and while they might be different in your home country, it gives you an idea what I spend on food. At least, while on a diet, you won’t have to buy so much of it 😉
So yes, this might not work for you. But you won’t know until you try.
Did I manage to keep my weight?
I set out on this journey in November 2013 and am happy to report that I have stuck with it since then. I experimented a bit with exercise and nutrition since then, aiming for a diet and a work-out routine that I feel comfortable in keeping up for an indefinite amount of time. Here’s a comparison how I looked when I started out and how I look as of March 2015.
What about yourself? What weight loss strategies have you tried and how have they worked out for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!