Suzi Gerber, aka Chef Suzi, knows a thing or two about sticking to a healthy diet. In college, she ate vegan but it was anything but healthy whole foods (more like dairy-free ice cream). She had all sorts of health issues, debilitating pain and fatigue, and eventually learned she was dealing with an autoimmune disease. To ease her chronic pain and exhaustion, she went on a healthy, whole-food plant-based diet and immediately felt better. But it wasn’t until she worked in a restaurant that she learned how to make plant-based nutritious gourmet food. Now, 50 pounds lighter and with much to teach, she has launched Plant-Based Gourmet, a brand and a book, to let others learn how to eat this way.
When Suzi made her switch to a whole food plant-based approach that emphasized nutrition and low-carb eating, she lost 50 pounds and became an expert on the joys of eating a healthy, wholesome plant-based diet that allows for weight loss, the nutritious way. She is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge and can help others learn everything they need to know about eating this way, for health and feeling better in your own body, and yes if weight loss is the goal she can help with that as well. One thing Suzi believes: You don’t have to sacrifice taste and enjoyment of food to be healthy, but you do need to be clear about your intentions. She has a new book out, Plant-Based Gourmet, that will help anyone who wants to make the switch to a healthy, plant-based diet full of delicious, nutritious foods, cook themselves amazing meals. She lost 50 pounds eating this way and is happy to share her secrets to healthy weight loss success. Her 3 tips to making habits stick are here.
Today is the perfect day to re-ignite your healthy resolutions and stoke the flames of an energetic, active, healthy body, fueled by plant-based foods.
The Beet: Changing Habits is hard! I tried to give up sugar and wine and pasta and bread and all the usual junky snack foods, and I am not succeeding. How can I stick to it?
Chef Suzi: To make those changes, which are ambitious, you can do it, but you need to plan ahead, get rid of all the junk in the house, and assemble your team or community. Then tell people who you need so they can help you succeed. Here are the three tips to change your habits for good.
TIP 1 to Stick With Your Healthy Habits: Reset those tastebuds. Lower your sugar intake, and avoid hidden sugars.
You may think that craving came out of nowhere, but chances are you had a sneaky sugar today and didn’t know it. And that makes you want more. So you need to either eat whole foods or look at the label.
So often there are hidden sugars in the food we eat. You pick up salad dressing, turn it to look at a label, and think, Well! What do you know? There is sugar in everything, even so-called healthy foods. How well do you know what is in your food? You may be getting sneaky sugar in your food. This is more damaging than just the added extra calories. It tells your tastebuds that sugar is normal, so you need to reset your tastebuds to stop seeking sweet.
This comes back to what I call Nutrition Literacy. When you go plant-based, suddenly you are looking at every nutrition label. So it is like a college education in what’s in your food.
In the store read every ingredient. You’ll ask yourself: Why does this have milk protein (casein) in it or high fructose corn syrup? What you discover is, you are eating sugar all the time. And when you are eating sugar all the time your baseline of what is sweet goes up. So you crave it. Don’t get your sugar unintentionally which is generally what happens, since it’s in everything. If you decide to have sugar (as a treat) do it when it’s time for a sweet treat.
When you learn to avoid sugar, your baseline for sweets is going down. And your overall sugar needs and intake are going to go down. So you avoid the sugar rollercoaster.
Tip 2: Start your day with a savory breakfast: Your first meal should not be sweet.
I may or may not be working on this in my next book! People the world over eat savory breakfasts. It’s only Americans who think breakfast has to be sweet. Instead try eating Shakshuka, savory waffles. Savory oatmeal. I like to make it with vegetable broth, so you get rich nice flavors and vitamins and minerals off the bat. (You may think this sounds gross but it’s really delicious and you get used to not having the sweet taste, which is the whole point. I add in some turmeric, and even green peppers, sweet potatoes, and oats or daring chicken or Gardein chicken. It’s like a big bowl of savory comfort. And when you eat it it’s like a rice dish and has savory fiber. This is also perfect when you are trying to hold off on breakfast and have it as a brunch-time meal.
(One side note about rice. Dr. Greger just posted an article warning about the arsenic content in rice… so I want to make 2021 the year of the oat.)
Another way to go with savory breakfast is to use JUST egg and make yourself a plant-based scramble or omelet with peppers, or if you like tofu, create a new fun dish, like chili rellenos for breakfast. The point is you can play around it. For the classic eggs and bacon crowd, there are premade JUST Egg folded eggs and plant-based bacon, all of which you can buy in the store. Or make your own plant-based bacon with carrots or shitake mushrooms, sliced thin and spiced up. The secret to bacon is the spices. Marinade and spices, rich smokey flavors. If that is what you’re going for you want to fill yourself up and stave off hunger and sweet cravings until your next break. Try things, as long as you’re eating food that is savory. Skip anything sweet. You will find what tastes good to you.
Tip 3: Get rid of social barriers. This can be the biggest issue. Find your community
Who are you on this journey with? Who are you going to be eating with? Ask them to support you, or better yet to come along with you. Can you get your partner to think this is an adventure? If they have no interest in going plant-based or they are not interested in any type of diet then how can you encourage them to look for new fun things to eat?
This is also where social networks can be helpful. Find your favorite influencers or bloggers and follow them. People should find a community, of like-minded healthy people, like on Facebook join a group of plant-based people to share their struggles and triumphs with. Nothing gets more likes than a post that says “1-month plant-based!” And Instagram, especially, has a lot of inspiration from other influencers who make beautiful vegan or plant-based foods and share them.
There is research that tells us: Vegans and vegetarians are much more likely to know other vegans and vegetarians. Healthy people tend to know other healthy people. Athletes know other athletes. The benefit of a healthy network is you feel like you belong to something bigger than yourself. Your family might not get it, or even resist what you’re doing. But you can feel totally within your “new normal” when you join other plant-based people and share food pictures or recipes. Also, your family is watching, and if you feel better or look and act like your best version of yourself, they will take note of that. You can be the agent of change and lead by example. You can be the one who can help others get healthier. Think about a time when everyone smoked. Someone woke up one day and said: “I’m quitting, and you should too.” You can do that now with your dietary choices. You can say: I think we should give up meat and dairy and see how we feel.
This is what happened to me, someone who lost 50 pounds! I am now someone that people know who made a diet change and it produced results. So now you know someone who changed and got healthier. That would be me.
Sometimes you get resistance. Try this. Sit down with your loved one and say: “Can you support me on this? Can you try this with me? You can help me be healthier? I want to make this change. Can you support me in this, or even join me in this?”
Landmark research shows support helps people achieve their goals. Tell your loved ones that too. Among dieters, they looked at those eating plant-based and animal-based diets. those that were in the supported groups, vs. the unsupported groups did better, no matter what diet they were on. Behavioral science is really critical there. Understanding where your battles are is really important. Understanding where we have barriers is important. Then figuring out how to work around them.
Find your advisor, someone who knows more than you do. You call someone for tech advice and for investment advice. We do that in our lives. Find your pack leader and ask for advice. Or once you get further along and understand what works, you can be the pack leader. You may take the flack. But you can be the one who is influencing everyone else in your circle.
My sister is 10 years older, she was the first vegan I know. She went vegan in the early 90s and I followed suit. And she is one of the most vocal people about what she eats. Eventually, I did my own version of plant-based. You have to stay in your own lane and think that it works for everyone in different ways.
Tip 4. Resolution Season can be a trap. All or nothing thinking leads to failure
We think of changing our diet as being super strict for one month of the year, and then January is over and we have a slow backslide until bathing suit season when we get serious about losing weight again. But generally, we go back to our old unhealthy habits in between. I want to take the guilt out of it and I want to put the yoyo back in the closet. This kind of all or nothing thinking is a trap. We should be as healthy as we can be and forgive ourselves for those times when we may eat sweets or drink or do whatever it is we resolved to give up.
Most diets fail, and resolutions especially, because people on them say: I won’t eat sweets for a month and it’s an awesome challenge. But the reality is that is difficult to sustain. What works is trying to be healthy most of the time, but keeping everything in balance. You can ask yourself, “Am I going to have a cake today? “If it’s your birthday or your sibling’s birthday, maybe yes. But tell yourself, I can have it today and not tomorrow. If I have cake today it doesn’t mean I am hopping on the cake train and my diet is smashed and over. Everything about food is not absolute. If you consistently eat healthier, eat a whole food plant-based diet, full of healthy fiber, your satiety cues are going to adjust and you will feel full with less food.
You have to work out an in-between state of all or nothing. Tell yourself I am going to be 85 percent healthy. Once you find what works for you, then you can stay healthy. Most of the important lifestyle changes are not talked about in absolutes–yet diets usually are. Think of it: Whole 30 or keto or vegan, none of them leave room for life to be imperfect. But it doesn’t work that way. If you allow yourself a small bit of something–it works ouot better. Instead of I am not drinking! Then if you do decide to open a bottle of wine you’ll probably want to drink the whole bottle of wine. If you tell yourself I don’t eat potato chips and you have a bag in the cupboard, you’ll eat the whole bag. But if you tell yourself you can have a little wine it’s fine (not talking about alcoholics here but casual drinkers), and if you just have a few chips you can stay on track. Be consistently healthy and consistently active, and you will be able to keep it up.
I tell myself this: I want to stay on track and be healthy and lose weight. But if I want a small treat or piece of cake, I am going to allow myself that and then check back in and say, that was enough. Now I want to be healthy again. I can have Chinese food and order my favorite dishes, and then tomorrow go back to salads again. That’s how you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, or keep the weight off.
Tip 5. Eat high fiber foods, since fiber sweeps fat out and slows the burn
Fiber is probably one of the most important signs of a healthy diet. People put a lot of emphasis on protein but it’s almost impossible to get all your daily fiber unless you are eating vegetables and fruits. The recommendation is 25 grams to 35 grams a day, but more is even better. Fiber is found in foods like leafy greens, vegetables, fruit, and nuts or whole grains are essential to a healthy diet. Fiber binds to fats and carries them out of the body. In your gut, think of fiber as the container that literally binds with fat and carries that fat out of the body. It can also coat the lining of the small intestine and helps the body not absorb calories. So it slows the burn, which is a good thing.
Fiber improves the body’s metabolism because it slows down the rate your body absorbs glucose and fat from your food. Think of it this way: As you eat a whole meal with fiber, instead of the stomach emptying fast, and all those calories being stored because you can’t use them all at once, instead, with fiber you are only absorbing a bit at a time. It is like logs on a fire, it keeps you burning longer than paper or a match (carbs burn fast). So fiber creates that outcome you want: burn steadily and never have your insulin spike. With fiber foods, you burn a little bit now and a little more later, and so on. It keeps your blood sugar level. So after a salad for lunch, you will feel energized, satisfied, and fueled up and not experience that sugar crash at 3:30 p.m. that leads you to seek out carbs or sweets. You feel great for hours.
Fiber helps you build a better relationship with the body. Because you are not on this rollercoaster and you feel calm and steady. Half of what you eat you absorb and half you don’t and it changes the way your body absorbs food.
Lemon water does a similar thing: It slows down the rate that carbohydrates are absorbed. Everyone knows the way carbs are absorbed. You get this sugar spike followed by a crash, so you feel low and tired, Fiber, and lemon water, starts to break down food slower, so you feel less spiking, less crashing and more time to steadily absorb what you eat.
It means that you have a battery, instead of a lightning bolt, and you are drawing energy from it a little bit at a time. This allows you to stick with your healthy diet and feel great. And ultimately that’s the point.