About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Calorie Counting and Grade Grubbing

So, according to several vegan writers, if you go vegan you can skip calorie counting (Skinny Bitch is one of the books that proposes this).

I suppose that might be true if a) you NEVER "cheat," b) you NEVER consume sugar, and c) you NEVER crave something like that white flour-and white-sugar-high fructose corn syrup-filled pumpkin scone at Starbucks. 

It may also be true for people under 35 (the age when my metabolism decided to come to a grinding halt).

For us mere mortals, those three caveats are hard to stick to.  There is temptation everywhere and old habits are hard to break, particularly those lattes that gosh darn it! have too many calories and too much sugar in them.  (For the record, I rarely buy them anymore, though I still daily drink one or two cups of regular coffee that I make at home.)

I've discovered that if I want to lose weight EVEN WHILE eating a vegan diet, I have to count calories.

I've found a website, caloriecount.about.com, to be incredibly helpful.

It works just like you would imagine it would:  you keep a log of EVERYTHING you eat, paying particular attention to quantities, of course.  (It's amazing how much oatmeal I was eating before I learned to eat ONLY what is considered ONE serving.) You also keep a log of all activities. At the end of the day, you hope to have expended more calories than you consumed. 

I've quickly discovered two things.  One, I eat more than I thought I did.  I bet most people do.  Two, I do less than I thought I did.  Again, I bet that's true for most people. 


The website first asks you to give them basic information:  your current weight and height, your age, your desired weight, whether your lifestyle is sedentary or active, etc. 

It also asks you to measure your wrist, to give them an indication of your body build.  I always assumed I was "average," but, according to them, I have a large build.  Or, at least, my wrist (which looks thin to me) has a "large" circumference.

That is actually INCREDIBLY good news, as I have never been able to be as "thin" or as "light" as those guidelines suggest one my height could be (and still be healthy).  (If you have a heavier frame, you're allowed to be at the upper end of "normal" without any worry of being too heavy, as I'm sure you all know.  I just never realized I was actually one of those people.) 

According to their analysis of my diet, I am consistently high (that's good) in consuming vitamins A and C, and I do a darn good job managing my calories (now that I'm paying more attention to them).

But most days I am deficient in almost every other category they have, such as fats, protein, potassium, iron, carbs, and calcium (the calcium thing WAS easier when I was eating dairy...).  I'm also, according to them, not eating enough fiber, which makes NO sense to me whatsoever; I actually question their analysis here.  If you're eating between 7 and 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, how could you NOT be consuming enough fiber!!??

There's other evidence in my life that fiber is a non-issue.

I am also, according to the website, still eating too much sugar. 

Good lord.  I have cut back SO much; if *I* am still eating too much sugar then I guarantee 99% of the rest of America is eating too much sugar. 

Perhaps that's no big shocker.  But golly, sugar is clearly an American addiction!

So, I am making choices as I go.  If, for instance, after recording my breakfast, I see where I'm deficient, then I make sure the next snack or meal intentionally addresses one or more of the nutritional deficits.

I no longer just reach for bread and peanut butter when I'm in the mood for a snack.

I've never kept this kind of log before, but doing so is a good thing.  It's made me FAR more aware than ever of how even somebody who eats "well" intentionally can have some rather serious deficits in their diet. After all, choosing a mostly vegan diet in this culture is a VERY intentional choice.

It's made me aware of how being vegan IS harder than being an omnivore in terms of getting adequate nutrition (not, of course, meaning to infer that all omnivores eat well). 

It's not impossible, but it is harder.  Let's be honest!

The website grades your food choices and analyzes what you eat in a surprisingly complete way.

Overall, I consistently get a grade of "A" for my food choices.

God, I am SUCH a grade grubber.

But, some individual choices are still problematic. Use even a teaspoonful of sugar in your coffee and you get a "D" for that particular choice.

Geez.  That may be the first "D" I've ever earned. 

I've discovered that choosing molasses instead of white sugar earns me a B+.



  1. Elaine: Molasses in what? It does change the flavor of things - not in a bad way - just changes it.

    I have been using Splenda, but the consistency is AWFUL. Ever see Splenda at the bottom of a finished cup of coffee? Blech.

  2. Hi Elaine, I love this web site. I was struggling to lose weight and by both being "accountable" on logging calories and activity every day (it asks you to record when you work out), I have lost 5 pounds in 5 weeks. And I think I am eating much, much healthier than before....proving that vegetarian (or vegan) eating isn't always 100 percent good for you, if it's that scone instead of fruit and toast for breakfast.....

  3. Allison -- I've been using molasses instead of sugar or brown sugar in the two places where I usually use sugar: oatmeal and coffee. It does change the taste a bit, but I don't mind it (and I'm such a grade grubber -- I don't want a "D"!).

    Marina -- Yes, some things that are vegan are not necessarily good for you. :)

    Thanks for your comments!

  4. Dear Elaine

    I am speaking to you on behalf of all nonhuman animals who cannot speak for themselves, and on behalf of the animal rights movement (you have some blogs links here to members of that movement; Dan Cudahy's "Unpopular Vegan Essays, and Roger Yates' "On Human-Nonhuman Relations"). With the deepest respect and in total urgency, I beg you to please recognize that veganism is not a diet. It is a mindset. It is taking animal interests seriously, respecting their right not to be property and acknowledging their moral personhood. Veganism is about rejecting violence and rejecting all animal use. It is not a diet.

    We must correct this misrepresentation of veganism. Although a plant based diet is part of veganism, veganism is not a plant based diet. This is a very very important distinction.

    I understand you are embarking on changes to your diet and that you are mostly eating a plant based diet and that is what this is about. Please let's make that very clear.

    I understand if you have been misinformed about veganism being a diet, but I am one of the people who is desperately trying to change that misinformation.

    So with all due respect, for all the nonhuman animals in the world, please re-name your blog to "The Almost Plant-Based Diet".

    I am asking in the utmost seriousness and with pressing urgency that you do this, for all the animals on the earth. Thank you so much.
    Kind Regards

    Elizabeth Collins

  5. Elizabeth -- I'm actually not at all misinformed; if you read the comment from me that is present for everyone to read before they post, you know that I am not aiming this blog at converted vegans or even at those who want to become "100% vegan".

    I don't know how many of my other posts you've read, but I've repeatedly addressed this issue -- I am NOT vegan in the sense that you want me to be. (And I'm very honest about that.) I fully realize that veganism is a philosophy and not simply a diet. However, for me it is primarily about diet (and I eat nearly 90% vegan and have not bought, for instance, new leather since changing my diet). I don't want to get into a contest of who is more vegan than who; I'm sure you are "more" than me. I do not want my blog to be a place to slam others for their choices or for their worldviews.

    I intentionally chose the title of my blog to represent (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) the clear fact that I'm NOT totally vegan. Whether or not I ever get there remains to be seen.

    I appreciate your commitment to your worldview and you are always welcome to comment here. I also appreciate your politeness.

  6. i've found that your bodies greatest need is for calories. it needs a certain amount just to accomplish normal bodily processes and more depending on your level of activity.

    when you under eat to lose weight you get cravings for calorie dense food because your body knows what it needs and it knows the easiest way to obtain them...junk.

    if you eat plenty of calories of whole, healthy, plant based foods you'll be satisfied and won't struggle with cravings.

    it's much better to eat enough healthy calories rather than under eat and accidentally eat something really unhealthy due to cravings.

    also, if you struggle with sugar cravings it really helps to eat more fruit. it satisfies the need for sugar and nourishes your body. i eat loads of fruit everyday and now sweets are totally unappealing.

    those nutrition programs are set to rda standards. the rda standards of nutrient levels needed are grossly overestimated. you can only be protein deficient if you're not consuming enough calories or if you're only eating apples for a period of time. it's not hard to reach adequate levels of nutrients if you add lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and greens. they're healthy carbs, full of vitamins and minerals, and they have plenty of protein and fats.

    our problem today is that our society is really grossly over-consuming everything and it is a detriment to our bodies because they are having to work hard to process and get rid of everything extra. it puts a strain on our kidneys and other organs, contributes to weight gain, and we get things like kidney stones, arthritis, rapid aging, etc. from consuming too much protein.

    hope this helps :)

  7. Hi Elaine

    thanks for your response I appreciate it. However you completely missed the point of what I am saying. I hope you reconsider.

    Please change the name and concept of what you are representing to: "An Almost Plant Based Diet".

    For the animal's sake, nothing to do with me or you personally. It's got absolutely nothing to do with "what I want you to be".

    Kind Regards

  8. P.S I just want to add that I would hope one would realize there should be absolutely nothing "tongue in cheek" in reference to the unbelievably horrific holocaust that is occurring to billions and billions of innocents. This is truly not about you, I really hope you can see that. Don't take this personally, please take yourself out of it for a minute. And me, it is nothing to do with me either, we are complete strangers :)
    It is to do with them, and they are in hell. I really hope you reconsider what I asked and truly understand the motivation behind it.
    Thanks again.
    Kind Regards

  9. Elaine: I really enjoy your blog. I am a meat eater, but since reading your blog have eliminated red meat, am working on eliminating chicken. My diet does not even approach vegetarianism, much less veganism, but I do believe if everyone on the planet took such small steps there would be a lot of changes.

    I do not respond well to fundamentalism of any sort and this is why your approach works for me.
    Keep up the good work!

  10. Hi Elaine,

    Fair enough that u don't represent veganism or endorse it, but I agree with Elizabeth in that we need to keep the integrity of the word by distancing its true meaning from anything that's not vegan, simply a diet or in this case "almost vegan". I don't mean to be rude here at all and I mean this in the greatest respect, but how does the term "almost a non-racist" sound to you?

    Maybe you don't understand that dairy cows get osteoporosis from colossal milk production & all are slaughtered violently at age 5 when they become adults? Did you know that the baby brothers of the egg laying hens (including free range) are ground up alive in their millions? Veganism rejects violence -that's all. The fact that it might be healthy is only a bonus.

    The very reason the word was invented in 1947 was because the word "vegetarian" had lost its meaning by people misusing it, which originally used to mean what vegan means now. Seeing as the word vegetarian can mean just about anything these days including eating fish or milk, maybe you could use that word instead, because it's already been tarnished. "Almost Vegetarian" might be more appropriate. If we don't stand up for our word that represents non-violence and anti-speciesism, then we'll have to make up a new word again. And you know what will happen to that word don't you?

    Thank you kindly for considering this.

    Best regards,


  11. Renata -- I think you misunderstand (as apparently, so many others do) that although I am almost vegan in EVERYTHING NOT JUST DIET, I do not condone factory farming. The horrors there are, indeed, one of the main reasons I decided to try being vegan.

    I stand by my choice of words; sorry if you don't like it.

    The comparison to racism (you're not the first to raise it, by the way) is offensive in the extreme. Occasionally consuming dairy when you are in a situation where no other options exist OR when you "fall off the wagon" for a moment is NOT comparable to being racist. Neither is wearing old leather or accepting a wool sweater as a gift from somebody who didn't know that you are starting to re-think wool consumption.

    Etc. Etc.

    Acknowledging the fact that some people will always eat meat is, similarly, not congruent with racism. Encouraging people to change -- the addition of enough small steps DOES make a difference -- is a worthy goal. One can do it without telling people that nothing short of 100% is acceptable.

    I refuse to be pressured by the orthodox to change my wording or to feel compelled to tell everybody how to live. I'm not a proselytizer and "almost vegan" is both an accurate description of my ENTIRE life as well as a worthy goal for others to contemplate. In no way does it water down the original meaning of veganism and I would always admire those who "go all the way". :)


Politeness is always appreciated.