A terrific health book I’m reading now is The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. This book is currently one of the top 500 selling books at Amazon, with a 4.5 star rating.
According to the New York Times, this book is based on “… findings from the most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease.” In my opinion it’s one of the most important books on diet ever written.
The China Study is incredibly readable and presents solid and convincing evidence that the best possible diet for overall health, energy, weight control, and disease prevention is a whole foods plant-based diet. Even reducing the percentage of animal foods in one’s diet from 10% to 0% was found to be significantly beneficial.
One thing I really like about this book is how simple the principles are. It boils down to eating unrefined plant foods, and it explains why that’s all you really need to do. No calorie counting, worrying about carbs vs. proteins or other such nonsense. This is the same type of diet that Morgan Spurlock’s girlfriend put him on after he ruined his health on an all fast food diet in the movie Supersize Me. In fact, she also wrote a book about that called The Great American Detox Diet, which also promotes the benefits of a whole-foods vegan diet. Her diet quickly restored Spurlock to a state of health after he made the movie.
My personal experience with this diet
One thing I’ve found is that when I eat a whole foods vegan diet (as opposed to a more junky vegan diet that includes refined or processed foods), I can eat as many calories I want and not gain weight. In fact, I can eat 3000 or 4000 calories a day and actually lose weight, even if I don’t exercise at all and do nothing but sedentary desk work. I can eat pounds and pounds of high-calorie, even high-fat foods like nuts and banana-nut shakes, and it simply doesn’t put on excess body fat. Plus (after the initial detox period of about a week), I feel incredible when I eat this way.
The calorie theory is just plain wrong. The reason that calorie restriction seems to help with weight loss is that if you keep your overall diet the same and then restrict calories, you’re also restricting your intake of junk foods (and by “junk” I mean anything that isn’t a whole natural food like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes). So when you cut down on calories, you’re also cutting down on toxins. But if you cut out the toxic foods completely, I’ve found (as have many others) that you can eat like a pig — as many calories as you want — and you’ll even lose weight if you have extra pounds to shed. It’s not the quantity of food that matters, but the quality.
So where does that weight loss come from? The calorie theory suggests that fat is your body’s way of storing excess energy, but another theory is that fat is your body’s way of storing excess toxins. I can’t say the second theory is perfectly accurate, but in my experience it’s far more accurate than the first theory. If I cut back on refined foods in my diet, it seems to allow my body to catch up on toxin elimination, which burns fat off like crazy. Losing 5 pounds in a week isn’t uncommon. I have a body fat measuring device which seems to be fairly accurate, and I can see my body fat dropping when I lose weight from eating this way.
When my wife and I first went vegan in 1997 (after being lacto-ovo vegetarian for several years), we each lost 7 pounds in the first 7 days. But we didn’t restrict calories at all. The weight loss came from our bodies dumping a lot of stored junk that it finally had the chance to eliminate. I’ve read other stories of people losing 25-30 pounds in the first 30 days after switching to this kind of diet. Even Tony Robbins tells a story of losing 30 pounds in 30 days after switching to a similar diet. That’s basically impossible with the calorie theory, but it makes sense if you buy the toxin theory.
And as the China Study points out, this diet isn’t only the best one (and the easiest) for long-term weight loss, but it’s also the best diet for the prevention and reversal of every major diet-related disease. Plus it’s the diet that will leave you feeling your best.
A side effect I’ve found is that this is also the best diet for me emotionally. When I eat this way, I find that my emotional “immune system” is at peak performance. I experience far fewer negative emotions and far more positive ones. I feel much more emotionally resilient. Often I’ll have a background feeling of euphoria that lasts for days at a time. This is what good health is supposed to feel like. If you have trouble with negative emotions, it’s very likely your diet is the culprit. No amount of discipline is going to matter if the foods you eat are throwing your endocrine system out of balance. Of course, the first week or so after I switch to this diet, I go through the male equivalent of PMS — as my body rebalances itself, I experience major mood swings, and there’s no living with me. I walked around feeling generally pissed off at everything. But after the initial adjustment period, I soon settle into a prolonged feeling of general happiness, and external events are rarely able to knock me into states like stress or anger.
It’s truly sad that most people never experience this state of being in their entire lives. What most people think of as their default state of feeling “normal” is probably around a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10, where a 10 is how energetic and positive they’d feel on a whole foods, plant-based diet. But since they’ve never even experienced a 4 (except perhaps under the influence of illegal substances), they have no way of knowing what it’s like. The best comparison I can give is that if you’ve ever meditated and experienced that deep feeling of relaxation in your mind with a mild feeling of euphoria, imagine what it would be like to experience that state around the clock as your default. That’s not perfectly accurate, but it’s close enough. At least that’s how it feels to me. YMMV.
Yet another side effect is that I seem to think much better when I eat this way. I can concentrate very deeply for long periods of time without being distracted. I can hold more thoughts in my head, tackle more difficult problems, and overall I just have a much greater sense of mental clarity. When I devolve into eating refined foods, I feel as if I have a fog of brain.
Although switching to this type of diet can be very difficult, maintaining it is actually very easy. It’s the same as with changing any other kind of habit. Establishing the habit is tough, but once it’s established, you’re on autopilot.
I eat far more interesting and varied foods on this diet than I ever did as a meat-eater. Some of my favorite foods are nori maki (nori-rice rolls with veggies and avocado), guacamole, banana-nut shakes, and oatmeal-apple cookies. Plus I love spicy foods, so my diet is anything but bland. Being able to eat unlimited quantities of these foods is very nice. I’d say right now I’m probably averaging about 3500 calories a day and not gaining weight. Eating a high toxin diet and having to drop to about 2000 calories doesn’t sound very appealing. I would miss second-breakfast.
I want to stress that “vegan” isn’t really a diet per se. Vegan just means the absence of all animal products, but you could eat a vegan diet of nothing but junk food like french fries, candy, and soda, or you could eat an all raw, whole foods diet. Both are vegan, but there’s a huge difference between them. Eating vegan by itself isn’t enough to guarantee good health. Some vegans eat a lot of junk, and their health suffers for it. The same goes for vegetarian. Eliminating animal products is a good step, but it’s not the whole she-bang. Incidentally, many people now recommend giving up dairy before giving up meat. Dairy products are among the most unhealthy garbage you could possibly want to put in your body.
If you’d like to bypass those unhealthy fad diets found in books with photos of fat doctors on the cover and read some genuine long-term research into what really works across the board (weight control, disease prevention, high energy), read The China Study. It will open your eyes to a much healthier way of eating.