Beans Not Bambi

Vegan mission: doing the least harm possible. For health, for the animals, for the planet

The Big Breakthrough

All right, I’ll admit it took diligence and dedication to the program.  But I’m not afraid to work hard to get the results I’m looking for.  If this is all it takes to get permanent results, I’ll consider it easy.  Seriously easy.  The 21 Day Challenge, as I’ll refer to it, is the Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge designed by Chef AJ and John Pierre.  They are two of the most inspirational and supportive people I know and I am so happy I decided to participate.

The thing is, I thought I already knew what I needed to know.  Eat better, exercise more.  I have attended numerous lectures on nutrition.   I have watched YouTube lectures, watched all the documentaries on healing through food, and I’ve read loads of books.  I have learned from some of the best minds in the plant based world.   I had even read Chef AJ’s and John Pierre’s books.  I had taken bits and pieces from everyone and had some great success.  But I had a hard time following my own rules when I was faced with temptations.  A latte here led to a vegan cookie there, then popcorn at the theater.  When eating out it became annoying to ask for special meals, so I just went with whatever the best option seemed to be, even if it had a little oil.  Then even if it was fried.  And then even if they warned me there was a little cheese in the breading on the ‘eggplant parm without the parm sandwich’ (did you follow that?), I was ok with it.  “This little bit won’t hurt” rang through my brain and justified one poor decision after another.  Eventually I found myself munching Dorito’s at a tailgate and it didn’t even seem all that horrible.  Wait, what?!  I had to admit at that point, I was no longer a whole foods plant based eater.  I was a junk food vegan.  And shamefully, my drive toward unhealthy food had lead me so far astray I was even willing to eat non-vegan baked goods and junk food just because it was in front of me.

I was on a tiresome journey circling the airport of optimal health without the proper landing gear.  After a private phone consult with Chef AJ and a good read of The Pleasure Trap by Drs. Doug Lisle and Allen Goldhammer, I was convinced.  I wasn’t weak.  I wasn’t lacking in resolve.  I was being tricked.  I was relieved.  I became empowered.  I got right to work.

The food-like substances I was consuming even if only occasionally, were exerting some very simple yet very powerful effects on my brain.  Every time I ate a processed food, which is by definition a highly concentrated source of sugar, oil, flour, or salt, my brain was getting a little jolt of dopamine telling me one very clear message – ‘Thank you, Ma’am, may I have another?’.  This is a simple biological process that evolved in humans to tell us when we were doing something good, so we would continue moving in that direction.  In a natural environment, sugar is good.  It comes in a neat little package with fiber and water called fruit!  It’s how we learned to eat raspberries instead of poison ivy berries.  So how do we navigate a modern world filled with landmines of highly concentrated processed foods if we’re equipped with an ancient brain that gets hijacked so easily?

These two YouTube videos from Douglas Lisle, PhD and Alan Goldhammer, DO, the authors of The Pleasure Trap offer a great abbreviated version.  They’ll explain it way better than I can, and if you’re anything like me you’ll want to read the book for even more info too!  This is where I found my big breakthrough in understanding.  Stay tuned and I’ll explain how I put the knowledge to work.

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New Year, New and Improved Lifestyle

They say you should do the best that you can with what you know.  And when you know better, you do better.  That just about sums up my recent revelations about my own health and well-being.

If you’ve read my old posts, you’ll know that I broke some major barriers and made some amazing improvements to my health (lost 15 lbs, dropped cholesterol ___ points, lowered blood pressure ___ points), just from changing my diet.  Up until 2011 I ate what I thought was a ‘fairly healthy’ standard American diet.  Focused on lean protein (the more the better), veggies and salads with dressing on the side at restaurants, that kind of stuff.  It was sort of the ‘everything in moderation’ motto that a lot of people follow.  It’s really just a way of saying I’ll eat whatever I feel like, thank you very much.

After reading The China Study and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, I hopped on the plant based bandwagon, with amazing success.  I lost excess weight and maintained it easily for almost 2 years.  But by the end of my pregnancy and the beginning of life with a newborn, old habits started to creep back in.  I started relaxing my rules big time. I had been so ‘successful’ that it no longer seemed challenging.  And therefore I stopped thinking about it.  A little oil here, lots of bread there, vegan cookies at Christmas?  Definitely!  I began to justify one bad decision after another with some sorry excuses –

“I’m a new mom, I deserve a treat!”  “I haven’t slept, I need a latte” (albeit decaf).  “I don’t get to Whole Foods much any more, so I might as well grab one of my favorite vegan cookies!”  (And ate the whole jumbo cookie on the way home, even though I intended half of it for my hubby).  Baby’s sleeping in the back seat, I’m starving….  If I’m at the Starbucks drive-thru I might as well grab a scone!  When that started happening 2-3 times a week, I really had to stop myself.  What was I doing?  I’m not only eating something I know is unhealthy, I’m consuming something that’s not even vegan which goes against some of my core beliefs.  Yet I keep doing it!  I had intended to be back to pre-baby weight in a 4-5 months, and I was on track for that until I got completely derailed.

I attempted to reel back my behavior on my own but it wasn’t working.  In December 2014 I celebrated my daughter’s 1st birthday and I had to admit my goals and my habits were too far apart for me to close the gap on my own.  I reached out to Chef AJ, author of Unprocessed.  I had read her book.  I started filling my brain with more and more information.  I learned about her weekly teleclasses and decided to listen in on one during a walk with the babe in a stroller.  Chef AJ was interviewed by Wendy Solganik of Healthy Girl’s KitchenListen here if you’re curious too!  It was all about sugar addiction.  And it was all about me.  I was floored.

I started doing what she suggested.  In two weeks I arrived at my pre-baby weight.  I did so while eating loads and loads of food, never feeling hungry or deprived.  I decided that I should keep listening.  I officially joined her 21 day Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge Feb 17th 2015 along with a community of over 400 other people and am excited to share this next phase of my journey!


Unprocessed In Person! Chef AJ Comes to Pittsburgh

If you’re in Pittsburgh and are looking to get going on your Unprocessed journey, now is your opportunity!  This doesn’t happen often, so hop on it.

Chef AJ is coming to Pittsburgh next week to present “Unprocessed: How to Achieve Vibrant Health and Your Ideal Weight”

Listen to Chef AJ in person, get energized by her magnetic personality, and let her wisdom and tips lead you on your road to good health.  She’ll share her personal challenges and obstacles, and she’ll show you how she smashed through them with sheer determination.  Watch her cook delicious meals with ease.  You’ll walk away wondering why you didn’t start sooner!

Monday June 30th 6-8 PM
Pittsburgh’s Southside
$10 in advance, $15 at the door

Click here to get tickets  

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Eating Healthy While Travelling

It’s tough.  Really tough.  I can admit that.  I just got back from an amazing 10 day vacation in Montana and I fell off the wagon.  Hard!

It’s not impossible, and I try not to make excuses, but eating well on the road can be hard.  Eating SOS-free when you’re eating out a ton is temptingly difficult.  Here are a few tips, some of which are things I did that worked.  Others are things I wish I did, and will try to do next time!

  • Scout out the Options.  If you’re going to be eating out a lot while you’re on the road, scout out healthy restaurants in advance.  Know which ones will cater to your needs, and which will have menu options that you can easily modify to suit your needs.  Ethnic restaurants are almost always veg friendly, so that’s a good place to start. is a great website that lists and ranks veg friendly restaurants nationally.  Many cities also have a vegan restaurant guide like  Check those out in advance, save some links and notes in your phone, and get excited about trying new places.
  • Plan Ahead.  If you’re eating in, plan your meals ahead so you can grab a few quick things at the grocery store or farmer’s market and whip up something tasty and healthy.  No one wants to spend all night cooking on vacation, so make it easy on yourself.
  • Bag It.  Brown bag it, that is.  Pack a lunch if you’re going to be somewhere you know will be tough to eat healthy.  Some places are still health-food-deserts and you’ll have no choice but to brown bag it or cheat.  Set yourself up for success with healthy snacks you’ll be anxious to eat, and less tempted to cheat.
  • Let it Go.  If and when you decide to cheat, let it go.  Move on.  Get over it.  And get back on track with the very next meal.  Nothing sabotages a healthy eating plan like guilt.  It’s way too easy to beat yourself up and feel like you’ve ruined every inch of progress you’ve made.  If you’re an emotional eater, it’ll be super tempting to give up and sabotage yourself the next several meals just because you cheated on one of them.  Don’t fall victim to that trap!  It’s the addiction trying to sweet talk you into going down a path you don’t want to go down!  Stay strong, move on, get back on track with the very next meal!
  • When you get back home, rededicate.  Go get groceries right away so you have fresh produce ready to prepare.  Get your meal plan ready for the next week, and get started!

Happy Travels!

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My Unprocessed Menu Day 6

Breakfast: Easy Everyday Oats.  

Starting to see why I named them as I did?  I seriously start almost every day with these oats.  Oatmeal is an amazing food – full of fiber which has been credited with lowering cholesterol.  It’s also a perfect medium to mix in the seeds that are so crucial for a balanced nutrient profile.  Having oats every morning is as crucial to my daily routine as brushing my teeth!  Check out this short video which convinced me to stick to this routine.  You won’t believe the results!

Snack: Apple, Decaf Soy Latte

Lunch: Restaurant – Vegetarian burrito bowl from Chipotle
Brown rice, black beans, pinto beans, fajita veggies, pico de gallo, corn salsa, light guac, greens on top

Dinner: Leftover Peanut Ginger Veggie Stir Fry over brown rice
Time saving tips:

1) When planning ahead, try to pick a couple of recipes that can use the same veggies and make those in the same week.  It’ll streamline your grocery list which will streamline your shopping time.

2) Try to keep it simple.  Cooking unprocessed really isn’t that hard.  Don’t make it so!   Most Americans rotate through the same 5-7 recipes every week.  All you need are 4-5 go-to recipes that you really enjoy.  Add in a couple new ones from time to time and you’ll have a satisfying menu full of variety.  Don’t think you need to have 365 veggie recipes in your repertoire in order to eat healthy.  That’s just silly!

Looking for some inspiration?  Check out Chef AJ’s Unprocessed or her entertaining cooking videos on The Chef and the Dietitian

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My Unprocessed Menu Days 4 & 5

Time to play catch-up on the food diary!   It’s been a busy couple of days loaded with temptations.  I’ve been reminded about how important it is to plan ahead to have healthy meals available.  This is an important secret to success no matter what your personal dietary guidelines look like.

Day 4 Breakfast:  Everyday Easy Oats with berries.  Hot lemon and mint ‘tea’

Morning snack: Banana

Lunch: Leftover Indian take-out (another cheat meal, I’m afraid), Pita bread, hummus

Afternoon snack: Decaf soy latte – this was the worst thing I got at the Three Rivers Arts Festival where we were surrounded by funnel cakes, chocolate covered strawberries, falafel, and more.  Temptations were everywhere, but I carried my latte and enjoyed every sip of it instead!

Dinner: Miso soup with Five Bean Salad
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
Saute all veggies in a splash of veggie broth until onions are translucent
Add 4 cups low sodium veggie broth and simmer 4-5 minutes
Add 1-2 Tbsp miso paste and 1 Tbsp nut butter and simmer another 3-4 minutes
Garnish with scallions and serve

Day 5 Breakfast:  Everyday easy oats with berries.  Hot lemon tea

Morning Snack: Apple

Lunch: Miso soup

Dinner: Ginger Stir “Fry” over rice and quinoa

I made this like I make all stir fries lately.  Saute the veggies in a splash of water or veggie broth just until tender.  Add the sauce, mix and serve over a whole grain.  Switch up the veggies, switch up the sauce, or switch up the whole grain from time to time and you’ve got a fresh new meal every time with zero brain effort required!!

Here’s a starter recipe:
1 onion, chopped
2 heads broccoli, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3-4 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp peanut butter
2 limes, juiced
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger
red pepper flakes
1/2 cup raw unsalted peanuts
Saute all veggies in a splash of water or veggie broth for about 5-7 minutes.  In a blender, combine soy sauce, peanut butter, juice of 2 limes, fresh ginger, red pepper flakes to taste (1 tsp for starters).  Blend until smooth, and then add to veggies.  Toss in peanuts and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Serve over brown rice or quinoa or a mixture.

Late night snack:  Tropical fruit smoothie

1 mango
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
1 banana
generous handful of spinach
2 cups ice
1/2 – 3/4 cup plant milk
optional – hemp protein powder

Combine fruit and veggies in blender.  Add most of the ice and 1/2 cup milk.  Blend and then add more milk or ice to desired consistency.

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My Unprocessed Menu Day 3

Breakfast: Oats with berries, Lemon water

Mid-day snack: Hummus and sweet peppers

Lunch: Sandwich wrap & Five bean salad

Whole grain wrap with spinach, hummus, sweet pepper, kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, sprouts, pickled garlic with a drizzle of lemon vinegar

Early Dinner:  Restaurant – All India Authentic Cuisine – Chana Masala, Aloo Gobi, and Vegetable Jalfrezi over jasmine rice

*NOTE – It turns out that starting this challenge on a whim on the weekend was way harder than I was prepared for.  There are more opportunities than usual to eat out.  And tonight when my hubby requested that the baby and I join him for take-out while he had a break at work, I couldn’t resist.  Still, I didn’t chalk the whole night up as a loss.  I just did the best I could with the decisions I made.

Evening Snack: Green Peanut Butter Milkshake
I know this sounds bizarre, but it’s a scrumptious concoction that I created to satisfy the sweet tooth and get some extra greens in on those days when I might not have done as much as I would have liked!

In a high speed blender:
generous handful of spinach
1 banana
1 cup soy milk (any plant milk will do)
2 Tbsp peanut butter
4-6 walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
flax seed, hemp seed, chia seed will pack a superfood punch
Optional – 2 Tbsp hemp protein powder

Blend everything to a smooth liquid, then add 1 1/2 – 2 cups ice and blend again.  Add more ice to make it thicker like soft-serve, less to make it like a milkshake.  If you go too far one way or the other, just add more ice or milk to adjust.

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My Unprocessed Menu, Day 2

Breakfast: Oats with hot lemon water

My morning oats recipe is one my husband Mike and I concocted almost 3 years ago and have enjoyed almost every single day since!  Here’s what we do:

Put water on to boil (enough for lemon water and maybe 3/4 cup for the oats)
In cereal bowl, combine:

1/2 cup oats
Dash of cinnamon
5-6 walnuts broken up as you drop them in
As many of the following seeds as you can manage (1 Tbsp of each would be a great goal):
sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, flax, chia, hemp
Pour hot water over the oats and seeds.   Let sit for a few minutes, then add –
As much fruit as you want to make it nice and sweet and yummy:
blueberries, strawberries, raspberries

A recent trick I learned from my aunt and cousin – toss in a Tbsp of peanut butter for a nice creamy texture and a slightly different taste.

Time saver tips:

  • Mix up all your seeds and keep a mix in the pantry so you just pour it in from one container instead of several in the morning
  • Cut up your fruit the day you bring it home from the grocery store and keep it in ready-to-use containers in the fridge
  • Skip the hot water and just use almond, hemp, or soy milk instead.  It’ll be quite a different texture this way and might take some getting used to, but it’s worth a shot.   You might love it!

Lunch: Out at a Restaurant (Sewickley Cafe)- Grilled portabello and eggplant wrap
Roasted tomato wrap rolled with grilled eggplant, portabello, spinach, and a balsamic glaze
Side salad with red wine vinegar
Note – this dish on the menu was not a whole foods plant based dish.  But never fear!  A few modifications and we’re good to go.  I omitted the cheese and prosciutto from the wrap.  For salad dressing, I ordered oil and vinegar and just used the vinegar.  I haven’t found a restaurant yet that didn’t have that available.  Too plain, add a squeeze of lemon or lime and sprinkle some pepper.


Dinner: Leftover Thai Curry over brown rice and quinoa

Here’s a simple Thai curry recipe to make your own

For dessert, I had a bowl of fresh cantaloupe.  Delish!


Midnight snack… Hummus and Woven Wheats from Whole Foods

In the full disclosure I’ve promised, the woven wheats aren’t exactly unprocessed and they do contain salt but as far as chips or crackers go, you really can’t beat these.  They’re baked, not fried, they have no oil.  They have two ingredients – whole wheat, salt.  In a very unusual fashion, I was up with my 5 month old baby from 1am for what felt like the rest of the night.  When 3:30am rolled around, I was pacing around the kitchen, again, trying to soothe her back to sleep.  I wanted nothing more than a bowl of golden grahams.  I resisted the urge many times, and eventually pulled out a bowl.  I was giving in to temptation.  When I opened the cabinet, I thought about having to write in my journal and own up to the lack of discretion.  I saw the woven wheats, grabbed the hummus from the fridge, and celebrated my little victory over sugar.


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My Unprocessed Menu, Day 1

I’d like to share a simple food journal so that you can get some ideas on what exactly to eat, and so I can be held accountable.  I’ve journaled in the past and it’s silly how it works!  I have absolutely thought twice about eating or drinking something when I knew I’d have to write it down later and own up to it…  So here goes

At wake-up – I’m not a coffee drinker at home, but just the other day I bought a new box of chai latte which was calling to me from the pantry this morning.  Instead, I put the tea pot on to boil and had some fresh lemon water.  Two lemon slices squeezed into the mug, then left to float.  Fill with hot water.  So simple, refreshing, and satisfied my craving for a steamy beverage.

Breakfast – Pancakes
Before you get all hot and bothered about pancakes, let me tell you how I make them.  Don’t think you can throw bisquick, an egg, and milk together and call it an ‘unprocessed’ approved meal!

1c Organic rolled oats
1c Bob’s Red Mill whole grain pancake mix
1/4 tsp Baking powder
2 Tbsp chia seeds
2 Tbsp hemp seeds
2 Tbsp ground flax seeds
1/2 banana
2-3 cups unsweetened plant milk – soy, almond, rice, hemp, whatever

Toss all dry ingredients into a high speed blender or food processor.  Grind the oats down so they’re more like a rough flour.  Add the banana and 1 1/2 cups milk.  Blend again on low.  Continue adding milk until you achieve desired consistency.  These should end up thicker than instant pancake mixes, almost like a soft biscuit dough. Drop in raw walnuts or pecans for a nutty twist.  Cook in a non-stick griddle as usual!  Feel free to stir in blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries as you wish!  I spread with apple butter to avoid using maple syrup.

Morning Snack – grapefruit

Lunch – Spinach Salad and Tofurky sausage (cheated with the sausage – using up stuff in the fridge before I get out to get more groceries)
2 hands full of organic spinach
3-4 small organic kale leaves shredded (tearing by hand is just fine
sliced mushrooms
sliced strawberries
sliced carrots
chopped beets (mine were cooked but I’m told you can grate raw beets – I need to try that!)
walnuts (raw)
Dressing – Lemon balsamic vinegar from the Olive Tap.
Dinner – out at our favorite restaurant, Thai Cuisine

Fresh Spring Rolls:
Rice paper stuffed with lettuce, bean sprouts, basil leaves,vermicelli noodles & tofu. Served with Thai Cuisine special house sauce

Musman Curry:
Coconut milk, carrots, onions, broccoli, zucchini, cashews, served over brown rice


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Looking for Whole Food

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from those who advocate a whole foods plant based diet is super simple – whole food is the stuff that nature made for us to eat.  It’s the stuff our ancestors grew and harvested to fill their bellies.  It’s the stuff in the grocery store that you’ll find in the produce section (or freezer section if you’re sticking to fruits and veggies).

Packaged by mother nature, it has a perfect balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat), micronutrients (vitamins, minerals), and fiber that are capable of providing optimum health and fueling your body’s organ systems in ways we cannot even comprehend much less duplicate.

Food is NOT the stuff you find everywhere else in the grocery store.  That stuff is all man-made, or more likely, factory-made.  Almost always, it was designed in a lab by people whose job it was to make sure it tasted good and was addictive enough to make you want to keep buying it.  Any claims you read on the packaging are designed to make you buy it, not to make you healthy!  If something is labeled low sodium, low sugar, low fat… well it’s not a whole food.  You can pretty much count on that. Separating food into parts (ie fruit juice or olive oil) gives you a concentrated dose of sugar without all of the fiber that comes with it.

The stuff you can buy in boxes and bags in the grocery store is almost always processed in some way.  That’s how it fits in the box and can sit on the shelf for months or years without spoiling!  They strip the nutrients out of the original food source, and then add some of it back in the form of supplements.  Ever wonder why cereal is fortified with vitamins?  It’s because the nutrients that used to be in the wheat and corn are no longer there.   Since ground up corn all by itself isn’t the most palatable thing, they add gobs of sugar, make it thin and crispy, form it into pretty shapes, and end up with a sugary breakfast cereal that you just crave every morning.

Sugar isn’t the only addictive substance at play in processed food.  Salt and oil are equally prevalent and just as detrimental to your health.  More on that later.

For now, I’m focusing on thinking twice about what goes in my mouth.  If it’s whole food, I dive right in.  If I can recognize it as a vegetable, fruit, nut, seed, or whole grain just by looking at it, it’s probably ok to eat!

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