Stay on Wagon, Even if Wheels Become Loose

You often see high profile vegan coaches and chefs coming clean about how they have fallen off the wagon: If they’re raw vegans, they may have eaten something cooked, while those on a vegan diet may have eaten something containing animal products.

Adopting a vegan diet made me extremely conscious of what I eat, so eating non nutrient-rich plant-based foods, or even healthy ones to excess–is also falling off the wagon for me.

After using an online meal planning system for a few months to ensure I was getting enough nutrition from plant foods alone, I became much more aware of the size of the portions I should be eating, too.

For example, in the past, I would eat much of a 1lb bag of nuts (chips, popcorn, etc.) by the handful–out of stress or while distracted–without realizing that a “proper” serving size was a single handful, or around 2 oz. (56g). Not long ago, I thought people who weighed their meals were a little whacky, but  now I use my kitchen scale often to keep me on track. At least I don’t carry it around with me, or I’d really be off my trolley.

Recently, I stumbled upon “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think” by Brian Wansink, PhD, which described an experiment demonstrating how movie-goers ate more popcorn if served in a bigger bag, regardless of whether it tasted good or not. Wansink relates a number of other amusing illustrations showing how food packaging provides emotional and mental queues for how much to eat, and–more importantly–how the queues can be recognized and controlled.

For those who prefer not to weigh your food, here are four simple diet recommendations from Wansink’s book:

  • Replace your 12 inch plate with a 10 inch plate
  • Mini-size your boxes and bowls
  • Dish out 20% less than you think you might want before you start to eat.
  • Put everything you want to eat on a plate before you start eating

Fortunately, the author admits on his website that he is not immune to mindless eating:

“Almost everyone does it at one time or another. It’s more important how frequently you do it …Every time I’m in the South I pretty much spend the first day binging on Soul food. That’s fine because I’m only there once or twice a year. I also mindlessly eat from the veggie trays at parties. That’s a free food that you can eat all you want.”

So just how did I fall off the wagon? Recently, we attended a neighborhood party where we knew there would probably be little if any food safe for us, but wanted to be sociable. While we had no desire to eat buffalo wings, Swedish meatballs, turkey, or macaroni with cheese, we couldn’t resist sampling desserts like German chocolate and lemon bundt cakes, or hazelnut cookies, that we hadn’t eaten in ages. Soonafter, I felt as though my stomach were protesting the butter and eggs.

Although being vegan provides ammunition to avoid a lot of foods that are not healthy, I may have eaten still more if they were exclusively vegan sweets and hors doevres. I’m glad I got it out of my system, and chances are I won’t do it again for a long time.