SOS free = salt/oil/sugar free
Today is the last day of the eating plan experiment where I cut out all oil, added sugar (not including fresh fruit), salt, and processed foods (well, highly processed I guess, I was eating canned beans and had some tofu). I did this for twelve days, though for two weeks before that I had already gone zero oil and avoiding sugar loosely. I don’t drink alcohol, so that wasn’t in there either. The single biggest change though was the no added salt. Of course, I eat a plant based/vegan diet but not solely whole foods so since roughly the start of the month, I’ve been close to 100% wholefoods.
My plan was based on Chef AJ’s program which involves eating starches to fill up, similar to The Starch Solution by John McDougall. As well as following a whole foods plant based diet free of processed foods, Chef AJ’s program also involves eating a big (and I mean big) serve of greens (cauliflower is also acceptable) before you tuck in to your meal. And your meal is a mix of veggies, legumes and starches. Yes this means POTATOES! Without salt, butter, sour cream and all those toppings of course. I wasn’t following a paid for program or anything like that, I just read a bunch of stuff and watched a heap of Chef AJ and other videos (like High Carb Hannah) to get the idea of what to do. I ended up going with it because it was pretty much what I’d been thinking about, with going totally zero oil and eating way more whole foods. My friend is also doing the same thing and so I was inspired by her and what she was doing.
The reason I did this diet change was because I have been having tummy troubles for quite a long time (mostly full on massive bloating) and also to lose some extra weight to alleviate pressure on my feet injuries. I put on a lot of weight in five months which I couldn’t explain (more info further down). Also, I have always had high cholesterol and since dropping my oil consumption for the past nearly-two years, my cholesterol dropped significantly but was still high. Yes, vegans can still have high cholesterol! In my case, it was cutting waaaay down on oils (and omitting wherever possible) that, I believe (as does science) saw the decrease in my cholesterol. The main oils I had been consuming were olive oil (I’m Greek!) and to a lesser extent coconut oil.
The day before I started this plan, I had various blood and stool tests done to check stuff that could be related to what has been going on. Results were all good. So it was really was all about my health first and foremost, not a “I just want to lose weight” thing. I will continue to monitor my health with more blood tests in the future. Coeliac Disease was ruled out as I tested negative for the genes.
The plan was to do this for almost-two weeks before I saw a plant based dietitian. It wasn’t a prerequisite or anything for the dietitian, it was more just me trying to kickstart a diet richer in wholefoods, getting in more veg, and just getting in to the mindset of being able to deal with the restrictive six week low FODMAP supervised diet.
That plan changed however after seeing the dietitian today. We agreed that a low FODMAP diet wasn’t necessary and discussed changing my diet a little to make sure I was really covering my RDIs of things like calcium, iodine and such. I’m very happy with this plan and will implement the changes on Monday, because tomorrow is World Vegan Day 😉
Why was the low FODMAP diet considered unnecessary when I’ve been having huge bloating issues? Read on!
No oil was easy, no wheat was easy, no sugar (like coconut sugar or maple syrup) was easy. But you guys, the no salt was tough! Especially the first few days. The meals I made had to be salt free and despite all the flavours and seasonings, like the Mexican style red lentil chili, oh mannn was it blergh without the salt. To have these beautiful dishes full of lovely ingredients like smoked paprika and garlic. Aaaaand no salt. Urgh! But it got easier each day. Maybe because I only ate when I was hungry and not by the clock!
Another big challenge was eating the non-starchy veggies before my meals. I stopped it halfway through, though I had some veg before meals here and there. The idea here is that you start filling up on those greens (or cauliflower) then your main meal has the starchy stuff that leaves you feeling fully satiated. I quite literally had to force down bowls of veg this way and even with a little balsamic vinegar or herbs, it was still a trial. Honestly I felt like I would rather give up and just go hungry. Because I usually struggle to sit there eating plain steamed veg like that I tend to throw it in to my smoothies at breakfast so I end up with an extra two servings of veg in liquid form because I feel blergh eating them whole. But Chef AJ advises you eat your wholefoods instead of drinking them because you feel more satiated eating them whole and that if you blend, you end up eating more to feel satiated. I tried, but because I was taking so long to eat the veg, I ended up blending it with the smoothie or just having a smoothie and keeping the veg for a snack.
Another huge challenge was social media. I love food, I love going out to eat, I love the tastes and textures and details in food photography, especially of places I’ve been wanting to try. So looking at photos on social media of food and such was hard! And so many places do vegan degustations and special events this time of year and I will have to sit a lot of them out. Other places are switching over menus to spring/summer and I missed out on going out to eat a favourite from the autumn/winter menus. Oh the drama!
The blog has been another bummer. I feel that because a lot of what I blog about involves food or places to eat that I then share in the vegan community and elsewhere, that the blog may kinda go nowhere if I’m not including that content.
The Good Stuff
Serious bloating has long been a problem for me, more so this year. It was pretty common for my stomach to just blow up to the point where I couldn’t wear my jeans as they were just too painful. On this plan, I didn’t experience any bloating apart from eating a meal with salt (more info further down, leading to why the FODMAP diet wasn’t necessary after all… I’m getting to it, promise).
I LOVE meal prepping. This simply means preparing a meal that will last you days, so you don’t have to fuss around making something every day. I’ve been doing meal prepping now roughly for years but this time I was very disciplined about it so that I was never caught without a ready made meal. For me, this is a big component of eating healthier (as is meal planning beforehand). I have always found that I eat more wholefoods when I meal plan and prepare in advance. Meal prep is also fantastic when you are feeling totally crap and can’t be bothered, or a last minute or stressful situation comes up. You just go to the fridge or freezer and whammo your food is ready! The downside (if it bothers you) is eating the same thing for four or five days in a row.
I don’t know if I’ve lost weight on the scales because I don’t own a set (horrid things), I was last weighed a month or so ago at my doctor’s clinic and I see her again in mid January. But I can say my new jeggings (which I’ve only just bought due to my long refusal to wear anything with such a cringey name and now I think jeggings RULE) had to keep being hoisted up when I was talking down the street.
The What-The-Hell-Has-Been-Going-On-With-My-Guts Part
Now, another big reason why I have switched my diet is because since April or May (until end of September), I put on 5kg (11lbs) and 4.5cm around the waist and about 4cm around the biggest part of my tummy pouch. This freaked me the hell out because I had stopped exercising in April because I had intense pain in both feet (injuries made worse by doing daily HIIT/impact work). Because I wasn’t exercising I was extra mindful of my meals and where I did have a meal out or something considered a ‘cheat’ meal, I was careful with my other meals in the week. So when I weighed in five kilograms heavier at my doctor’s clinic and no longer able to wear my comfiest jeans, I spoke to her about getting tests for this and that because there’s no way in hell I ate to the tune of 4.5cm fat gain and 5kg weight gain in five or so months! Fortunately all the tests we could do came back with mostly good results.
So in my first week of the SOS free eating, I watched this High Carb Hannah video where she was SOS free for thirty days. Like me, she was already a high carb low fat vegan with no oil (I was low to no oil) and no added sugar. After thirty days of no salt, which was the only thing she really changed in her diet, she lost 8lbs (3.6kg), four inches off her waist, an inch off her arms and inches off her tummy. She was already quite lean to begin with. So that got me thinking, could my rapid weight gain somehow be salt related?
Another interesting video (in a series of videos on the subject) was The Salt Experiment by Cayley. Cayley, I believe, eats (or ate) a similar diet to me with lots of whole foods, plant based, no oil and so on though she was also salt free. She conducted an experiment where for seven days she consumed the US daily average of sodium. Her results were stunning, in that she completely blew up, felt awful and sluggish with exercise as well as gaining 11lbs (about 5kg) in that week, plus recording larger tape measurements.
Well, on the morning of the eighth day of my SOS free (remember, the single most biggest change I made was no salt) I measured myself and my waist and thickest part of my tummy are down 2cm each, with a little bit off the hips as well. I was stunned. Weight loss for me has always been painfully slow even after many weeks of good eating and exercise and then poooffff it goes nowhere despite having lots of body fat left to lose.
I couldn’t help but wonder, as Carrie Bradshaw would say, if I was seeing this salt-bloat relationship in myself. I’ve never, ever lost 2cm in a week and during my salt free week, I had zero bloating. It was very, very odd.
So What Happened When I Ate Salt On Day 6 Of SOS Free?
On Day 6, I was clearing out the freezer because I needed to make space. I found a meal I’d made before I started SOS free, which I knew was no oil. I figured that will be fine to eat. While it was heating I was all oh crap, I forgot about the salt. I decided to eat it anyway and instantly it tasted so salty, even though I don’t salt my food much anyway. My mindset went a bit strange too, even though I was all wowww this tastes salty, I began to want more salty food by the end of it.
By the time I had finished dinner, my stomach was blown up so much it went rock hard. I hadn’t had any bloating for six days. The difference was startling and I also felt slightly queasy. The ingredients in my dinner were things I’d been eating that week anyway, without the added salt.
Because of this seemingly salt-related bloating thing plus my own short elimination diet experiments during the year, where I cut out soy, mushrooms and wheat for quite a while then reintroduced them without any bloating or noticeable change, the dietitian and I agreed that it would be okay for me to continue on being SOS free at home, though having a meal out now and then isn’t a big deal because we have to enjoy life’s pleasures! Fine with me! So the low FODMAP diet wasn’t considered necessary, because when I had initially arranged my appointment I firmly believed I had a food or some foods which were causing me to blow up (and I blow up by the end of the meal or when I’ve finished, not hours later). So overall it appeared that we didn’t need to go the low FODMAP route, but I am hoping to do a thirty day experiment in the future, or at least 14 days salt free, then see what happens. Pictures and measurements will be taken!
Will I Stay SOS Free?
For when I cook for myself, yes most likely. I’ll do some research in to vegetable sources of sodium but when I say salt free I mean the stuff you add to your food. Sure, I’m still getting used to the bland taste of food when there’s no salt, but given how badly I bloated with just one salted meal and how I dropped about 4.5cm in a week on my waist and stomach areas, I want to continue to see what happens next. I feel fine, don’t feel crappy and I’m happy to use myself as an experiment to see if my rapid weight gain can be reversed.
But I’ll still go out to eat now and then. Being vegan in Melbourne is just too damn exciting to miss out on the pleasures of new dishes or menus or all-vegan places opening up! I love the experience of going out to eat and trying new things and can’t imagine cutting that out of my life.
I’ll also continue to get regular blood tests and monitoring with my doctor, to make sure all is well. I don’t want to say my problems are all because of salt, just because I bloated and because some YouTubers had the same thing happen. It’s something I’m going to look in to as I have some other concerns as well like low/dropping iron (which was present long before I went vegan) despite supplements, ditto for Vitamin D. All other results are fine. But I think it’s interesting enough for me, especially dropping 2cm off my tummy and waist in a week (which I know isn’t fat so I’m not suggesting this as weight loss tips or anything!), that I will conduct a future experiment. Because I’m also a huge geek and a sucker for before-after photos.
What I Ate (all salt free/oil free/added sugar free)
Chef AJ’s Red Lentil Chilli:
A kale veg salad made with a brown rice-lentil blend and Chef AJ’s Yummy Sauce for a dressing:
Breakfasts were either smoothies or porridge like this. I usually use oat milk in a carton for my porridge but they contain oil and salt, so I just used water. I have always haaated the idea of porridge made with water, but I mooshed some banana and it was fine:
Salads of something green and non-starchy before the main meal component:
A kidney bean and veg curry based on a recipe from the Vegan Richa cookbook (I added all the veg and of course omitted the salt and oil):
Chef AJ’s split pea soup. This had smoked tofu which was another unintentional salty misstep. I didn’t realise the smoked tofu had salt but it really didn’t change the dish much at all. It’s two small serves (for me!) of smoked tofu spread over six large serves of soup:
So that’s my little SOS free experiment! I had assumed that the beans would make me blow up, but there was nothing.
I’m certainly not diagnosing myself with anything or claiming that going SOS free (or salt free) will be the magical weight loss miracle or anything rubbishy like that. All I’m putting out here is my own short experience, though you must understand that for me to be bloat free is really quite a wonder, given my very frequent mega bloats. I’m talking so bloated after a restaurant meal (before I’ve even paid the bill) that I could barely get in the car. And to then have salt in one meal without having meant to, and massively blow up and now discovering similar stories… well it’s something I really want to explore further and I have the go ahead from my doctor and dietitian. I’ll be sure to update in the future though I need to work up the guts (bwahaha) to stick some photos online!
Has anything like this ever happened to you, or someone you know, where it really seemed to boil down to added salt in foods? Or was it some other Weird Thing nobody would have thought of?