My Plant-Based Diet: How Ignoring the Most Common Dietary Advice Made Me Feel Better than Ever

Our contributor offers a revealing first-hand account of what it's like to follow a high-starch and low-fat plant-based diet.

plant-based diet

John McDougal diet also called Mary’s Mini,. It doesn’t allow dairy, eggs, or soy, all known irritants for many people.

This year, my New Year’s resolution was simple: adopt a plant-based diet and see what happens. I wanted to see how I felt, how manageable it was, and, predictably, if I could lose a little of my extra winter weight – from last year.

A friend and I decided to follow a program together and we chose Dr. John McDougall’s plan. Now, let me warn you that much of what Dr. McDougall espouses goes against current dietary trends. It is nearly the opposite of Paleo: it is pro-starch and anti-fat. It is vegan. It is a little bit extreme. And I love it.

Eating Well Has Always Been Somewhat Mysterious and Frustrating for Me

My experimentation with different diets has, over the years, yielded more belly than clarity.

I’ve always struggled with a sweet tooth and a tendency to grow hangry (hungry and angry), and have tried many ways to manage this. High carb, low carb, high protein, low protein, high fat, low fat, you name it. Nothing was hitting the sweet spot for me. What was happening, though, was that I was getting stomachaches all the time.

So my new year’s resolution began as finally trying an elimination diet to figure out exactly what was bothering my stomach.

My Elimination Diet Included Lots of Potatoes

The biggest challenge to an elimination diet, for me, was that I couldn’t figure out what I could eat that I actually liked. So when a friend suggested that I try a highly restrictive version of the John McDougal diet called Mary’s Mini, it looked promising. It doesn’t allow dairy, eggs, or soy, all known irritants for many people.

For 10 days, the foundation of your diet is a single starch, usually potatoes, rice, or oats. I told you it was the opposite of Paleo. You can eat unlimited green and yellow vegetables and two pieces of fruit a day. Do not go hungry—just eat more starch. No oil, no healthy fats either.

I Ate Potatoes and Lost Weight Doing It

I ate potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner; green beans; bananas and grapefruit. What I didn’t eat was anything processed. No bread, no packaged food, no sugar. I ate until I was full. I ate late at night.

I weighed myself on the first day because I was very concerned that all of that starch was going to pack on pounds. Starch is supposed to make you hungrier and fatter, right? Well, it didn’t. I was so full and satisfied with my starch-filled diet that three weeks later, I’ve lost 7 pounds.

I know that initial weight loss on any new diet is water weight and that it often comes back when you revert to old eating habits. And I know that it’s not healthy to lose more than 2 pounds a week, so I’m not touting this as a quick-fix miracle weight loss diet.

But I do find that, for me—a carb-loving sugar addict—it is satisfying. I do not think about food all day. I don’t get hangry. I get a lovely serotonin boost from the carbs. My stomach doesn’t hurt and I feel really, really good.

So Is This Better Than Paleo?

Dietary recommendations run the gamut and there is simply no consensus on what is best. I think that’s because different ways of eating are just better for different people. I know people whose health improved dramatically by eating Paleo, and people who get better blood results when they follow the Mediterranean diet, and people who swear by veganism.

For me, low-carb equals hunger and misery and I do not lose weight on it. Paleo eliminates everything I love. While we certainly want to let food be our medicine, it also is a primary source of our pleasure. And the most pleasurable foods for me are fruits and vegetables, especially the starchy ones.

Interestingly, once I stopped fearing potatoes, I learned that when I eat them, I don’t have sugar or bread cravings. Whatever diet you follow, there’s no denying that a whole food, like a potato, is a better choice than a processed one.

John McDougall Is Just One Doctor Among Many, and None Are 100% Right for Everyone

As I was reading up on the McDougall program, I read plenty of criticism, and I don’t agree with everything he proposes. But despite everything I thought I knew, I feel better than ever with a high-starch vegan diet.

I’ve expanded beyond only potatoes. I eat brown rice, kamut, wheat berries, and purple potatoes for starches; spinach and brassicas, carrots and tomatoes; and plenty of citrus and bananas; nuts, seeds, and avocado.

Because I am eating foods that I love—carbs—I don’t feel deprived. I eat more nuts and avocados and less sugar than McDougall proposes, so I’m making this diet my own day by day.

How About You?

If you’ve tried McDougall or any of the plant-based diets, like Forks Over Knives or the Engine 2 Diet, we’d love to hear about your experience. Have you done it long term? Have you had similar results to mine or something totally different? What are your favorite meals? Scroll down to get to our comments section.

Originally published in January 2016 and updated.


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Carrie Adkins-Ali

Carrie Adkins-Ali is executive editor of the monthly publication Health News, produced by Belvoir Media Group with Duke Health. She's also a contributor to University Health News and former Daily … Read More

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  • I started this diet three days ago. I have lost the pain I had down in the right side of my stomach I had for years and I am so happy, I feel happy for the first time in years, I mean happy in the heart. Many feelings came up and I cried much the first days, but felt truly satisfied and I am happy when I eat, no stress, no cravings. I think this is my eating way. I am 44 years old and from now on I know I will be happy amd healthy, save money and loose weight. This is truly what I need. I am going to use about One tablespoon of fat a day but never more than that. And I will eat more yhan two fruits a day, Maybe some walnuts and almonds now and then and candies occassionally( vegan though) but that is all. Starches; cereals ( except wheat)beans, peas, starchy vegetables, all other vegetables and sallad with vegan dressings and sauces will be my food til I die. Looking forward to happy, healthy years to come!

  • “I think that’s because different ways of eating are just better for different people.”

    That is not an accurate or supportable statement. The evidence is clear in the peer reviewed literature for anyone who takes the time to look that there is a best approach to human nutrition. Everything else is just propaganda from the food industry to keep the public over consuming and stuffing themselves with nutritionally deficient edible food like substances.

    All human beings will thrive on a nutritional program of minimally processed plant sourced low-fat whole foods. That is all you need to know. You can even have some animal products on a limited basis without a significant negative impact (4 to 6 ounces a week maximum of flesh/egg/dairy). No one “needs” to folow a ketogenic high fat low fiber diet (except maybe children with certain kinds of seizure disorders), or a paleo diet ( which is a bunch of garbage anyway, early hominids did not eat a “paleo” diet, it is a made up concept based on misinformation).

    McDougall is just one way to approach this nutritional philosophy but the common thread running between Engine 2, McDougall, Fuhrman, Barnard (PCRM), T Colin Campbell, Forks over Knives, and many others is the reduction or elimination of animal products, processed foods (think sugar, oil, white flour), and salt from the diet and obtaining the majority of your calories from carbohydrate, whether it is from starchy vegetables, beans, or grains.

  • My friend and I, ages 72 and 60, are on day 4 of the Rice Diet and have borrowed some of Dr. McDougall’s ideas. We are not eating any wheat, soy, eggs, dairy, oils, or meat, nor are we adding salt to anything, but do use salsa with a low salt content here and there. Both of us feel better than we have in years, have lost a lot of aches and pains, and have noticed our bellies are rapidly shrinking–the only diet that has had this effect. Nick’s blood pressure has gone from 136/94 (with medication) before the diet change to 116/74 (on the same medication). His sugar was very high (around 261) pre-diet, with medication, and has improved to 140 this morning (no medication changes). He lost a full 10 pounds and I have lost 3. After meals we both feel satiated and satisfied and can make it to the next meal, a few hours later, with no snacking needed. Moods and attitudes are very good and sleep quality and quantity is greatly improved. I think these results speak for themselves, and we will continue this way of eating as long as we feel it is of such great benefit to our health and weight.

  • I’ve started it and stopped numerous times. It always starts great but then seems to distress my digestive system so I have to begin incorporating meats. I wish I could figure out a way to remedy that cause I think it’s a great and enjoyable diet otherwise.

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