Project Weight Loss, Deep Nutrition and Vegetarian No More

December 8th, 2012 | Posted by Alison Spath in Good Reads

OK people, we need to talk about Deep Nutrition.  I wrote briefly about this book last week, but to put it mildly, it’s been shaking things up around here.

Project Weight Loss

First, Deep Nutrition has changed the direction Project Weight Loss because it has inspired me to start looking beyond calories.  I still believe there is value in counting calories if you are looking to lose weight and you’re struggling with slow or no progress.  After nearly 10 weeks of calorie counting here, I know what portions sizes are supposed to look like and have been reminded about how quickly calories can add up and sabotage weight loss efforts, even when you’re eating well.

But now, I’m ready to just eat again.  Even though my initial weight loss goal was to get back into the low 130’s – I’m feeling a bit more patient with myself and am content to hang out in the upper 130’s while I play around some of the ideas and concepts presented in Deep Nutrition.  These concepts aren’t anything new under the sun – healthy fats, quality protein, minimum carbs.  This is not a weight loss book, weight loss is just an added bonus to eating the way Dr. Catherine Shanahan describes.

Much of my interest in this was sparked by the positive outcomes I had (and have continued to have!) with my experiments with coconut oil.  I wanted to know more about the ways that saturated fat is actually GOOD for us.  This book talks about the importance of healthy fats and protein in our diet while keeping unhealthy fats, grains and sugar to a minimum.  Eating fewer carbs has always proved to keeps sugar and carb cravings away, so I find it’s worth the initial effort because eventually it becomes nearly effortless to avoid grains and sugar the majority of the time.  Then, in theory, weight loss should become effortless too.

Except maybe not “effortless” because you do have to eat fewer carbs, and if you’re coming straight off The Standard American Diet, it’s not exactly easy to make such a huge change and have it be sustainable.  But in my experience, both now and in the past – you do stop missing grains and sugar when you stop eating them regularly.  I have no intention of giving up oatmeal, bread, bagels and cake slathered with frosting forever!  Christmas cookie season is nearly upon us!  But for now, I’ve definitely cut way back on my consumption of high carb foods over these past couple of weeks here and I do like the way eating this way leaves me I feeling.  (Satisfied and good!)  Having a reason why (i.e., grains and sugar are bad for our health) makes it that much easier too.

I especially like the thought that eating this way could allow me reach my ideal weight without having to think too much about food or count anything.  Easy weight loss and maintenance?  It feels like an added bonus after reading about the importance of eating fewer refined carbs in Deep Nutrition.

More on Deep Nutrition

The premise for Deep Nutrition begins with the field of science called Epigenetics.  Dr. Shanahan explains early in the book that our diet influences the way our genes express themselves.  Basically, our genetic destiny is not set in DNA stone, certain traits in our genes can be flipped on or off based on the foods that we eat and the lifestyle choices we make.

For example, perhaps you have a family history of certain illnesses like heart disease or cancer. According to the research and data presented in Deep Nutrition, it’s possible that these genes will never be “turned on” if you eat the right foods (more below), get enough sleep, stay active, etc.

Dr. Shanahan also explains how the foods our parents and grandparents ate have affected our genes and our health today, and how the foods we eat have a big impact on our offspring as well – bigger than you may have ever imagined!  (If you are a young woman who hopes to have a family someday, I highly recommend reading this book before you get pregnant.)

This book is full of fascinating information that I find very motivating when it comes to making change – but in other ways, it’s also downright depressing.

I thought I was doing this healthy eating thing right.  I’ve come to see though that there is still room for improvement around here – especially where the kids are concerned.  I’ve been far too lenient with processed foods, more specifically,  anything containing vegetable oils; WHICH JUST ABOUT ANY PROCESSED FOOD ITEM OUT THERE!  Even the “healthier” choices I thought were safe.  Oils that I believed were healthy or at the very least “OK” to eat are anything BUT OK.  Soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, corn, safflower, CANOLA!  Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, BAD!  These oils are in just about all of the processed foods that I felt comfortable buying – from the occasional bag of tortilla chips to cereal, granola bars, ALL of the salad dressings I either make at home or buy.

My head just hit the desk so hard it bounced.  Knowledge is power?  Ignorance is bliss?  Please pass the cookies.

To sum this up, Deep Nutrition gives plenty of compelling evidence as to why it is so incredibly important to eat the right foods, get rid of the processed foods (most importantly, foods with added sugar and vegetable oil) and getting back to eating the way our ancestors did.

The Four Pillars

So what are we supposed to eat?  Dr. Shanahan writes about “the four pillars of world cuisine”.  You can find these four pillars in some of the reviews on Amazon, so I’d like to believe that I can list them for you without the cops blaring their sirens on the way to my house for violating copyright law.

  • Meat on the Bone (time to start making my own broth)
  • Organ Meat (Liver?  Really?!)
  • Fermented and Sprouted Foods (think yogurt, Kombucha, sauerkraut)
  • Fresh, Raw Foods (at least I’ve been doing something right)

Each pillar is explained well, with all the how’s and why’s and lots of explanations and ideas.  In my opinion, it’s all quite convincing – which leads me to my most substantial dietary change of all –

Omnivorous Once Again

I went strictly vegetarian in 2007 because at that time, I believed that a vegetarian diet was the healthiest way to eat.  My understanding about nutrition has come a long way since then, and in 2010 I went back to eating fish.  Over the past few years as my nutritional philosophies have continued to evolve and change, I’ve come to see that there is a place for animal products in (what I consider to be) a healthy diet.  I’ve felt this way for a while now, but I’ve continued to stick with a vegetarian diet because there are reasons beyond personal health to be vegetarian (animal ethics, sustainability, environmental impact) and frankly, it just felt easier to stay a vegetarian.

But now after reading Deep Nutrition, I’ve come to believe that meat plays a crucial role in our health and I do not want to ignore this dietary advice.  Other key players in this change of opinion would be Mark Sisson, The Omnivore’s DilemmaFood Renegade, the story of Dr. Terry Wahls (the woman who cured herself of MS with dietary change), not to mention a collection of friends in real life who have mindfully made the switch from vegetarianism/veganism to eating meat again now that’s it’s easier to buy ethically raised beef, chicken and pork.

I’m pretty much done with labels when it comes to the way I eat – I’m not vegetarian or paleo or primal or low-carb.  I do aim to be a “mindful omnivore”, buying and consuming meat (and eggs and milk too when I can) directly from local farmers who pasture their animals and treat them with respect.  Thanks to the key players listed above, I now understand that when it comes to animal products like dairy, eggs and milk, “organic” is not the same thing as “grass fed” and “pastured”.

I’m going to stop now before this gets any more wordy – but I wanted to put together a post to explain some of the changes that are happening around here, changes that will effect the direction of the blog to some degree.  There will still be plenty of vegetable lovin’ to go around, my beloved plant foods aren’t going anywhere!  I expect some meat will be thrown into the mix as I get more comfortable with this dietary change, so my apologies in advance to those of you who choose not to eat meat.  And I’ll be back with postpartum weight loss updates too when I’ve got something to report!

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26 Responses

  • Eating fish is a mistake. Fish is the most polluted food on the planet. The higher the fish on the food chain the worse it is ( Salmon, tuna etc) . I’ve eating fish until august, every day and finally I had to be convinced by somebody who showed me the results of analysing fish. You eat PCBs and heavy metals.
    Yes, oil is bad, all oil.

    Organ meat? liver etc…
    He, he, he,
    Nice. I guess my biology background helps me here. If a lion eats antelope’s liver, fine. If you eat the liver of any animals in the US you are eating the organ where all the pollutants are stored. Do you know why Flo Jo was burned in a hurry by her husband as soon as she died? Because if somebody at the morgue had had acess to her liver it would have been a piece of cake to show she used steroids 20 years ago. Eating the organs that do the filtering, kidneys, liver is the most stu…I mean the biggest mistakes one can make. Going back to meat is a big mistake. I was a vegetarian for 30 years. In august I finally became vegan and removed cheese and fish and all oil. I bench press as heavy as before, I’m not losing strength at all. My running is way better and I recover so fast now. I’m 50 and can’t believe how I feel. I think you went back to some a mistaken way of living. But that’s your choice.

    • Thanks for your comment Philippe. I realize that the choice to eat meat and animal products is controversial, and this is part of the frustration I felt when reading this book (and all of the blogs and other books out there like it) – there is an endless supply of conflicting information out there. How do we decide what to believe is right? These days anyone can find a study to prove or disprove whatever point they want to make. In my opinion, the best we can do is educate ourselves, stay open minded, choose a certain path and see if it works for us or not. I’m very glad you’ve found what is working for you, that’s what I’m out to do as well.

      • I guess for me, watching Forks over Knives finished to convinced me.
        If you suscribe to Netflix, you can stream it.

        • I’ve seen it! I still believe there is a place for some high quality animal products in our diets. Conventionally raised meat, fish from heavily polluted waters (I know, it’s ALL polluted!), the garbage they sell fast food restaurants? Of course not. Pastured meat/dairy/eggs to complement a diet full of plant based foods? For me, it’s worth experimenting with. Leafy green vegetables are still #1 in my book.

          • well, I don’t buy the myth of the humane raised meat! At the end the animals has to go to the slaughterhouse, which pools animals from all over and they are treated the same. By the way, there is a new film called Vegucated, sreaming on netflick. I did film most of the slaughterhouse footage they show in that doc.
            At the end of the day it’s important to remember one thing: We eat meat because we want, not because we have to. A fair amount of rationanlization will happen, but frankly, at the end of the day people eat meat because they like the taste of it, not because they need to. So we’ll throw in, humane, high quality protein, etc…
            I’ll stop here on this subject

  • I became a ‘humaneitarian’ in April of this year, and I feel much stronger than I ever did as a vegetarian. Because grass fed and pasture raised meat and poultry is a bit hard to come by and expensive, I usually eat vegetarian five or six days a week. However, since our bodies were biologically designed to eat meat, I love knowing that I am helping my body in the best way possible….and expanding my cooking skills! Thank you for all the helpful information about Deep Nutrition!

    • YES, our (my) meat intake will be sporadic for the same reason, it’s expensive! Zak is still vegetarian, so that’s another reason why I won’t be buying mass quantities of meat. I’m glad to know that your experience from vegetarian to “humaneitarian” (nice!) has been positive!

  • jen says:

    sometimes I get so into stuff like this and want to run screaming into the sunset because nothing is safe! But maybe I’m way early in my weight loss/healthier lifestyle journey but I’ve actually found at this point eating better, and redefining portions is working well without actually counting and divvying up. I’m also finding I can be perfectly happy with a meal consisting mostly of raw veggies and maybe some form of legume… because once you get past that sucky week of no sugar/carbs it really does get easier. I’m actually scared of cookie season haha.

    I wish I could go full-on coconut oil but, allergies. And I know fish is full of metals but there are other benefits to the rest of fish, and fruit and vegetables are full of pesticides and are GMO haa. It’s scary out there.

    • I could easily drive myself crazy if I read too much about nutrition wondering what on earth CAN we eat? But then I think about all the people that are surviving on this planet on every possible combination of foods, and I try to remind myself that human body is quite adaptable. Here’s to doing the best we can with the knowledge we have today, trying hard not to over think it.

  • holly says:


    thanks for the analysis! i was definitely intrigued by the book but i’m with jen on this one – new diets make me want to go eeeeeeekkkkk. recently, i was cooking with coconut oil and my good friend, a research microbiologist, commented on actually how coconut oil is no different than butter in that yeah, it melts when you heat it, but when it enters your body and circulates your system, hardens just like other fats do against your arterial walls. no difference. oy vey! i’ve stopped using coconut oil, as her scientific description seemed far more accurate than anything else i had read, but my head was spinning.

    my point being: do what works for you. and if this is it, then yay! i’ll be intrigued to read how you start cooking with meat after all these years of not 😉

    i am glad that the world seems to be catching on to the nastiness of processed food and that seems to be fading, although we still need to promote that, especially in food deserts. gah! i could go on and on about this topic.

    love you. hugshugshugs.


    • Right, butter and coconut oil are both saturated fats (they solidify at room temp), I’d love to encourage you to do your own reading on coconut oil before you give it up for good, there’s a lot of research out there that shows coconut oil (and butter) are really good for you (then again, they use to say the same thing about Canola, dammit!) – but we’re each on our own journey, there are many paths to the same destination, as they say.

      • holly says:

        I’ve done a lot of reading, no worries! I know all about those good ol’ MCTs, but probably won’t be buying coconut oil with my own dime (mostly because it’s so damn expensive!). I do eat butter…and as always, use moderation :)

  • Erin says:

    Good for you! I applaud the changes you’re making, and also your intention to stay mindful about the sources of your food. I think you’ll really experience a difference once you start adding some good meats back into your diet, especially homemade bone broth. Man, that stuff is addictive and so SO good for us! I find myself craving it often, and that’s when I know it’s time to roast a whole, pastured, organic chicken. Yum-o and best of luck to you!

  • Pat says:

    Broth is terrific, you can replace oil in a lot of recipes with it. here is how you make it:

    Meat on bone, whatever kind you want
    For each 2 lbs of meat:
    Two large stalks of celery with leaves
    Two large carrots
    One large yellow onion
    Salt and pepper
    2 bay leaves

    Put it all in a large stock pot and cover with water.
    Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least four hours.

    Strain the broth through a colander into storage containers. You can eat the boiled stuff too.

    This stuff freezes terrific and can be used in so many recipes it is not funny…..try it.

  • jen says:

    I just wanted to say I’ve been making my own stock… I roast the chicken bones once I get enough to do (I save them in teh freezer) I have a bag in the freezer where I save all my carrot, onion and celery scraps (the tops/ends really) and use those to boil with.. but using the stock in soups etc really gives it a deeper flavor! I had read that stocks were really good for you but totally forgot that. The roasting really helps the flavor too.

  • Jen, I got a similar tip from another friend this week about putting bones and veggie scraps in the freezer until you have a nice stash. All the good stuff from the bones really is great for you – glucosamine, collagen, good for our joints, our skin… I’m all over this.

    I actually made my very first bone broth on Thursday this week, much like you described Pat. I started it in the crock pot in the morning with bone-in skin-on organic chicken thighs, 5 cloves of sliced garlic, a bay leaf, salt and pepper. I pulled the meat off the bone when it was done, put the skin and bones back in to simmer (on high) for the rest of the afternoon, strained most of the garlic and miscellanous chicken pieces out, added the cooked chicken, celery and carrots and cooked until the veggies were soft, for about an hour. I was shocked at how great it turned out for my first attempt, it was really easy.

    I bought a whole, organic, pastured chicken from our winter market this week, it’s thawing the fridge right now and will be Chicken Soup Round II tomorrow. Thanks for all the tips!

    • Pat says:

      Sounds terrific! I use broth all the time. Love the idea of stashing the ingredients in the freezer, never thought of that.

      I’ve been playing with veggie broth too, so far not super happy with it. Sp if you figure out a trick, I will be all over it.

  • Jennifer says:

    Very interesting.

    It is so confusing because everyone has so much different information that it’s hard to know which information is right. Or one year they’ll say “x” is good for you and then the next year they’ll say oops…actually it’s not.

    As most have mentioned, I think you are doing the right thing by reading information and picking out what you feel is most important.

    One question I have is you mentioned how by eating a certain way you can actually stop certain genes such as cancer, etc., from “turning on.” I wonder if there is a certain time frame or age in which that’s too late and they’ve already turned on. Like if I totally changed my eating habits right now, how do I know whether the damage has already been done? Makes you think. :)

    I, too, love to make my own stock but I only do it after I’ve made a turkey or roasted a chicken. I don’t usually buy one specifically to boil it for stock. It does make the soup way more flavorful!

    Good luck in your journey with this. Is Zak not on board with the occasional meat thing and if so, what are his thoughts?

    • I have nothing solid to back up my thoughts on this, but based on all the documentaries and books and podcasts I’ve watched, read and listened to concerning health and nutrition (i.e., A LOT!) I’m definitely under the impression that it is never too late to change. As far as I can figure, it certainly can’t hurt anything to make improvements in your diet!

  • Lisa says:

    I got really excited when I saw your post title in my inbox! When I read Dr. Shanahan’s book a year (two years? Who knows) ago, I was obsessed with it. That sounds negative….I got really passionate about it. I read it all in one day and couldn’t get enough. Then I bought another copy and loaned it to people. It actually changed the way I eat and view food. (After her book, I read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, which is another good one, but not as science-y). I also use a lot of the epigenetics information she talks about in my nutrition classes—I love it when people start to understand the turning on/off genes with their habits thing.

    I have been making bone broth and liver meatballs ever since :-)

    I have never ever felt better in my life (and liver meatballs are really pretty darn good). Can’t wait to read more about what your family is doing with this. I’m gonna dig out the book and get fired up again about it too!

  • Jillian says:

    Have you read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon? She goes back through history quite a bit, and looks at studies that made people start to believe that vegetable oils were better–and who they were funded by. She also goes through how ancient humans ate. She also covers coconut oil, butter, bone broths, grass-fed meats, etc. Great read.

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