As a new feature on The Beet, Elysabeth Alfano interviews notable plant-based personalities each week to bring you stories that inform and inspire you on your plant-based journey. Here, she interviewed Chef AJ, on a new topic: How to keep off the weight once you shed pounds.

You'll recall that Chef AJ lost 100 pounds on a plant-based diet, and eating what could be considered the "opposite" of a keto approach: No oil, at all, but potatoes and complex starches that are plant-based are okay (like quinoa).

For many years in her 20s, AJ explains that she weighed as much as 200 pounds. She was addicted to food. Then in her 50s, she lost about half her size. In one year, back in 2012, she went from 165 pounds to a final "fighting' weight of 115 pounds. As amazing as that is, sometimes the biggest trick for any dieter isn’t losing the weight, as hard as that is, but keeping it off. As a follow up to our last article covering Chef AJ’s tips for saving calories in a plant-based kitchen, Elysabeth Alfano catches up with Chef AJ to find out what tips and tricks she can share with us for keeping the weight off, month after month, year after year.

Here’s how Chef AJ keeps the weight off and stays slim on a plant-based diet

Chef AJ's Stay Slim Tip 1. Keep it to Two Meals A Day But Make Them Count

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating two meals a day as long as you’re getting enough calories and have enough energy to do what you want. Also, I’m really, really busy and taking time to eat is almost annoying at times. Especially because I’m eating plants and you have to chew them and it takes some time. So, I think two meals a day is enough.

Lunch is Roasted Yams With Broccoli, Which Keeps You Full for Hours

“I had lunch before this interview. I had my favorite lunch, and I eat it almost every day. I love sweet potatoes and I especially love Hannah Yams. I love them roasted. They taste like cake. That’s the best way I can describe it, so I usually have it with broccoli because the combination is delicious. About a pound of broccoli and a pound and a half of roasted sweet potatoes, and that will hold me for almost 5 hours."

Dinner is Quick and Easy Stir Fry Vegetables, Mango and Rice, but Hold the Oil

“Tonight, I know we’re having stir fry. I’ll cook up some rice in the rice cooker and I’ll have vegetables like purple cabbage and carrots and scallions and maybe some ginger garlic, turmeric, I don’t know. All this stuff is in the freezer so I’m really big on batch cooking and having stuff in the freezer so there’s always food at my house that’s always basically ready and it just has to be assembled. So I don’t have to spend that much time thinking about it.

“We always put mango, or pineapple, or some kind of fruit in our stir fry. It just makes it just delicious.”

Chef AJ's Stay Slim Tip 2. Focus on What You Are Eating. Not What You Aren't Eating

So much of being successful on a diet is shifting our mindset so that we don’t see our new routine as a punishment, but as a reward: We get to be healthy and feel better! Clean eating is our path to a more joyful life, Chef AJ explains.

“Instead of thinking about all the things you have to give up, think about addition, rather than subtraction. Think about how you can find ways to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet that are easy, delicious, and fun [to make and eat].

“People say ‘A vegan diet? It’s so restrictive.’ Think about people that aren’t vegan. How many actual animals are you eating? Like maybe 4? People eat cows, pigs, chicken, maybe some fish, right? Okay, so if you look at the bean category or the legume category, there are 18,000 different kinds. And when you think of the thousands of different types of whole grains, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, fruits, and vegetables. And the other thing is, in an animal-based diet, when I think about Thanksgiving, all the food is gray. They have gravy, a turkey. I mean, it’s so colorless. But [plant-based] food is so colorful. We’re primates, we’re attracted to color and that’s what fruits and vegetables are.”

Chef AJ adds that one of the biggest things we are not getting by eating plants is all the chemicals and hormones from dairy. She adds:

“Dairy is not only not healthy food, it’s just not food. I mean there’s no evidence that dairy is healthy for anyone other than the baby calf...  So, I would tell people, even if they didn’t want to go full-on vegan at least eliminate dairy. You will feel so much better.

"You won’t get acne, you won’t get ear infections, even chronic conditions, like diabetes. I do recommend that everybody take [eliminating dairy] as a first step.'

She adds that even people not willing to give up meat entirely should reduce their intake;

"Let’s say you aren’t ready to give up your dead animal flesh right away. Okay, maybe you can minimize it. Maybe you don’t have to eat it three times a day, seven days a week. Maybe you can cut back a little and instead of beef chili make bean chili. Instead of spaghetti and meat sauce, spaghetti primavera with marinara sauce. So do as many swaps as you can for plants (and get rid of dairy) that’s where I would tell people to start that aren’t ready to go whole tofu right away.”

Chef AJ's Stay Slim Tip 3. Understand the Idea of Calorie Density

You may have heard the term, calorie density, but what exactly does it mean?  Calorie density, also known as calories per pound, is how much energy, i.e. calories, is provided per unit measure of food. Calorie-dense foods, such as oil and refined sugar, provide many calories in a small amount of healthy whole foods. So you eat these calorie-dense foods and don’t feel full or satisfied, you just packed on a boatload of calories and are left wanting more. Conversely, low calorie-dense foods (such as fruits and veggies) fill you up with fewer calories and keep your diet headed in the right direction.

Chef AJ says she wishes she knew and understood calorie density years ago when she was struggling to lose weight but now it's her secrets to keeping the weight off and staying satisfied.

“You want to know the calorie density [of food you eat] because you’ll realize, ‘Wow! Cheese has 1,600 calories a pound! I could have a pound of cheese or I could have a pound of broccoli for about 100 calories, and when you understand that foods have caloric densities varying from 100 calories a pound for vegetables to 4,000 for oil, you just have to change what you’re eating.  When you change what you’re eating, you don’t have to change how much. In fact, you can actually eat more.

“My meals are very large, because I eat in accordance with the principles of calorie density, so I’m eating food that is very calorically diluted but nutritionally full. I can eat these huge salads and huge bowls of vegetables and potatoes and starches because it’s really very calorically diluted, yet very nutrient-dense.  I’m very happy eating this way and being able to maintain a 50-pound weight loss now for eight years which is extraordinary because like I said, until I was 52, I was overweight or obese.”

It’s one thing to understand the concept of calorie density, and it’s another to know how to execute it.

“You want foods with a caloric density of 600 calories per pound or less. That’s fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains because these are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, full of fiber and micro-nutrients, and you can eat as much of them as you want, and you won’t be overweight.

“It’s a game-changer. It’s not the same as counting calories, which doesn’t work. I wish I had known that sooner.

Chef AJ's Stay Slim Tip 4. Don’t Cheat Sleep. Ever! Learn Go to Bed Early

“It took a long time for me to realize how important sleep was. People just think about diet and exercise.  No no! Diet, sleep and exercise. Sleep is the third leg of the stool. Maybe the fourth would be sunshine. You have to go to bed on time. I run an online summit, called The Truth About Weight Loss and we learn from these doctors about what happens during sleep, how it literally washes our brain. The hours from 10 pm to midnight are the most important hours for this, and if we go to bed late, we miss the cleansing hours.

"So I taught myself to go to bed early. You do that by getting up early and by getting up early, you’re going to be tired at first for a few days. But I don’t use any stimulants like coffee. Sleep is important, and I’ve got to be in bed by ten o’clock.”

"In short, dieting doesn’t have to be a death sentence. In fact, it is a life sentence for feeling great and getting your health back.  Eat the colors of the rainbow, watch out for calorie-dense foods, get your sleep, and work out [how to pass up] the meat and dairy. Now: Envision it!  You’re almost there!"

For the full interview, click here.


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