I lost 16 pounds in 22 days following the new vegan cookbook by Beyonce and Jay-Z's trainer.
The strict diet meant no sugar, flour, milk, meat, gluten, eggs, cheese, alcohol, coffee or soy products for at least three weeks, the time prescribed in The 22-Day Revolution by Marco Borges.
Instead, I sipped green smoothies, noshed on salads, learned how to make a mashed chickpea and smoked almond sandwich and spent hours in the kitchen preparing foods so I would not fail.
And the weight fell off.
As the Louisville Courier-Journal's food writer, I study eats for a living. And I care passionately about nutrition and exercise, with two marathon runs under my belt, two triathlons, a few 100-mile bike rides and a rabid cycling habit for Kroger, errands and to work downtown from Old Louisville.
But a recent marriage added three boys to my 14-year-old son and has left little time for exercise. The approach of 50 and menopause in recent years has resulted in a maddening weight creep.
By January 2013, I was so intent on dropping 16 pounds that I made it my workplace password "16poundsbyApril." I typed those words everyday into my computer and tried to monitor my eats and exercise via smartphone apps such as MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun.
For two years, nothing happened.
I used to run off excess weight and eat whatever I wanted. After a 20-mile run, there was no better reward — or faster way to fall asleep — than a greasy Smashburger with fries. The food coma was my friend. Packing my stomach with heavy foods was the way I grew up and an unhealthy habit to block out fatigue or emotional overwhelm.
As I have aged and my metabolism slows, I find exercise no longer takes off weight so quickly.
And there was the matter of time I no longer have. A serious endurance athlete schedule can consume 20 to 30 hours a week. Hours-long afternoon runs or Sundays cycling with friends was a great substitute for a social life when I was a lonely single mom.
So I started paying attention to the flood of healthy diet books that pour over the transom at the Courier-Journal. Author Marco Borges caught my eye with his story of exercise and diet in his new vegan book, The 22-Day Revolution.
When his Miami spinning clients ate vegan and worked out with him, Borges discovered they dropped weight fast instead of dropping out of class. That combination powered Borges' fame to spread among musicians, which led to a job as the personal trainer for Beyonce and Jay-Z 10 years ago. In late 2013, "B" was looking to shed weight after the birth of her daughter, Blue Ivy. Borges started with vegan breakfasts he prepared at their New York City home, beginning with hearty oatmeal for Jay with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and vanilla almond milk. Beyonce's breakfast was "avocado cherry tomato salad with a really cool seeded bread that was vegan and gluten free."
Both "B and Jay," as Borges calls them, eat vegan and are business partners with Borges in the 22 Days Nutrition Vegan Challenge Kit, a meal plan launched this year with the book.
As Beyonce said in the forward to the book, she reluctantly gave up her hometown Houston favorites of fried chicken, fajita tacos, BBQ ribs, fried shrimp and po'boy sandwiches.
"I thought I would feel deprived... that I would get headaches and be irritable. I was wrong about all that," Beyonce said. "What I discovered was increased energy, better sleep, weight loss, improved digestion... that I could still love food but this time it would love me back."
After completing The 22-Day Revolution last week, I don't have Beyonce's body but I agree with her on the other perks. Profound sleep is deep and uninterrupted. My eyes pop open at 6 a.m. Colleagues and my family report that my skin glows. Most important, I was able to pull those size 14 Lucky jeans from my closet last week for the first time since 2013 and they fit.
Borges' plan looks nothing like the pasta, bagels, pork roast or tacos I love. Light in calories but loaded with volumes of fruit and vegetables, menu plans from The 22-Day Revolution also pack protein-rich quinoa, almonds and cashews. Abundant fats come later in the day via avocados, almond butter, tahini, or coconut milk.
A typical day began with a tart vegetable smoothie of spinach, kale, cucumber, peeled lemon, ginger root, turmeric, carrots and Granny Smith apple. Some breakfasts took resolve. One half cup of chia seeds soaked overnight in two cups almond milk, vanilla, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon real maple syrup looked like grey seafoam jelly but tasted amazing and held my body steadfast until lunch. My favorite breakfast was almond butter smeared on two pieces of gluten-free toast with a side of blueberries and banana.
Borges allows no snacks, coffee, or alcoholic beverages. My only cheat everyday was Earl Grey tea with some Stevia sweetener and nonfat half-and-half — a soothing hot drink that saw me through doughnuts and Hershey's kisses left around the newsroom. Bicycle treks around Louisville or long walks with our two golden retrievers were my only daily exercise.
Lunches might be a baked sweet potato with tossed kale, cranberries, sunflower seeds, balsamic vinegar and mustard or a salsa of tomatoes, avocado, cilantro and jalapeno peppers loaded onto slices of grilled eggplant. I learned how to make gluten free pizza crust topped with "cheese" made of cooked ground cashews and topped with tomatoes, fresh basil and other vegetables. Dinner could be peppers stuffed with quinoa and beans, a lentil soup, or hearty salads.
Norton Cancer Institute clinical nutritionist Anita McLaughlin, who has lived a vegan lifestyle she now supplements with cheese, analyzed the 22 Day Revolution menu and remarked that the regimen is light in calories but packed with plentiful proteins and vitamins.
"It did seem a little light. I can see where you would drop fast," McLaughlin said.
For those trying to eat healthier, but are not ready to go vegetarian or vegan, McLaughlin suggested loading half a plate at mealtime with fruits or vegetables, one quarter starch like brown rice or quinoa and one quarter protein.
Putting down the spoon or fork remains challenging. And Borges cautions that without portion control, little weight will come off. As a result, I ate just four slices of vegan pizza one night and left the table. Sure enough, I felt full after 20 minutes had passed and my stomach had time to register that it was indeed satisfied.
On day 23, I cycled to Comfy Cow with my husband and four sons to celebrate victory with a scoop of bourbon pecan caramel ice cream. The creamy mouth feel of ice cream felt comforting but I paid dearly for the excess by nearly falling asleep at my desk for two days. A grilled ham and cheese sandwich over the weekend also left with me bloat and sluggish digestion.
Among my Facebook acquaintances, Kentucky Rep. Joni Jenkins (D-Shively), was inspired. Jenkins claims to be the only vegetarian in the state legislature and started The 22-Day Revolution after seeing my posts. In her second week, Jenkins reports she is down 8 pounds and "could eat this way 90 percent of the time."
When my family ate pizza with pepperoni for Sunday dinner, I knew that cheesy load of refined carbohydrates could result in a sleepy week. For dinner instead, I blended a smoothie of spinach, almond milk, avocado, hemp seeds, mango and strawberry. I woke up rested Monday and those Lucky jeans still sag off my hips.
*This story was originally published in June 2015.