Monday, March 03, 2014

The Engine Two Challenge

(this blog has been dormant for over a year, revived to talk about my latest challenge)

For the past 28 days, I have been following the Engine Two Diet - no animal products, no added oils, just plant-strong, whole foods.  It has been a challenge.

I considered doing the diet last year, but chickened out.  Mostly, I was afraid I could not live without dairy products (specifically, milk in my morning tea).   Also the idea of not adding olive oil to anything was depressing.  Still, I incorporated many aspects of the diet.  I'm basically pescatarian anyway (a vegetarian who eats fish) and mostly eat whole foods.  I had many vegan days (except for that milk in my English Breakfast tea).  I only ate red meat 6 times in 2013, plus turkey at Thanksgiving.

This year as the challenge rolled around, after a typically indulgent holiday season, I wanted to try it.  For one thing, I found a black tea (Republic of Tea's Vanilla Almond) that I actually thought tasted good with my favorite non-dairy milk (So Delicious Original Coconut).  Happy that I found a way to not deal with a caffeine-withdrawal headache while I was already withdrawing from so much, I took the plunge.

Anthony, although he enjoys many of my plant-strong meals, did not see any possible way he could participate in this diet.  He did want to get closer to a healthy weight, so inspired by my change, he also embarked on a low carb/Atkins-style diet.

This might sound disastrous and completely incompatible.  However, I knew we could make it work.  While he had meat or fish with a salad, I could have my vegetable dish with a salad.  For example, one night he had steak and green beans, while I had a baked potato, mushrooms, and green beans.  It was amazing how many of the salads I made that were totally acceptable for both diets.

One area of difficulty, though:  Our fridge was SO PACKED with supplies for our new diets.  There were two non-dairy milks, plus regular milk and half-n-half, tofu next to sugar free jello, and lots of frozen fish next to the veggie burgers.  Tons of veggies and lots of deli meats and cheeses.


The first week I was HUNGRY.  Eating plant-strong food is eating food that is not very calorie dense.  Mornings were okay, but afternoons were bad.  I got hungry a few hours after lunch, so I ate a snack like raw almonds.  Hungry again in a few hours, time for hummus.  Hungry again at 5 pm, a few hours before family dinner time -- ARGH.  A few days also I was under 1200 calories per day, and I felt that low energy drag.

The biggest challenge cooking this week was salad dressings.  Since you can't add oil to your salad dressing, its hard to make a good dressing.  I can't eat lettuce just dressed in vinegar like some people can.  The first dressings I made were too sweet or too bland.  Eventually I learned to make dressings with pureed cashews, tahini, or avocados that were satisfying.  The last week I had a salad tossed with a garlicky hummus and balsamic vinegar.  It tasted like the most wonderful Caesar dressing to me!

Good things I made this week included a brown rice bowl with beautiful roasted vegetables and miso dressing (no oil added), a big pasta casserole that I divided into portions and froze for work lunches, and a "gravy" to go on my mashed potatoes, made from pureed white beans and miso paste.

Sweet Potato Surprise Pasta Casserole
Mashed potatoes and Gravy!
Brown Rice Bowl with Roasted Veggies

The worst thing about this week: I lost no weight.  NONE.  Very depressing.  I was happy for Anthony losing 6 lbs on his low carb diet, but still sad for me.  Almost quit at this point.


I went to Whole Foods to load up on supplies, and was stopped by Rip Esselstyn, the author of the Engine Two diet.  "Look!  She's buying the E2 Veggie Burgers!" he said as I was reaching in the freezer case for his product.  He was showing someone around the store, showing him products approved for the diet.  He pointed out my non-dairy milk and crackers in my basket.  (Hopefully he didn't see the yogurt.  It's not for me! It's for my son!)  I told him I was doing the E2 challenge, and he gave me a fist-pump.

The biggest challenge this week came on Valentine's Day.  It was NOT the chocolates and the sweets, as you might imagine.  One of my co-workers brought I big crock pot of queso to work to share.  There was molten cheese and fried corn chips in the break room at all times.  Everyone was taking breaks to have some.  I tried not to look at it or breathe in when I walked through there.  It was especially excruciating when I was working in surgery way past my usual lunchtime.  I mentioned to my coworker how difficult it was, not to indulge.

This person, who is an avid barbecuer, and eats a lot of meat and processed food in general but enjoys good cooking, was actually quite supportive in his reply.  "You don't want that," he said.  "It's nothing you haven't had before, its not that special, and if you ate it, you'd feel terrible and bloated."  And he was right.  It was just velveeta and rotel, and tostitos, nothing unique.  And you don't feel good after you eat a bunch of that.  So I wanted it a little less.

For Valentine's Dinner, we went to our favorite Thai/Sushi place.  Normally I have sushi for an appetizer, but instead I just had edamame.  I ate steamed tofu with spicy vegetables and brown rice.  It was great.


I lost 4 lbs!  Hooray!  I think Anthony was right when he told me he thought I didn't lose weight the first week because my diet was already so close to E2, it didn't shock my system into losing any fat.  The diet is not so much about weight loss as it is more of an exercise in healthy, plant-strong foods.  Still, it was nice to see some eventual results.

I don't miss milk, but I do miss cheese.  I had a vivid dream of stealing an entire wheel of cheese and taking it on an airplane.  Anthony brought home a beautiful new aged sharp cheese from Costco and I can't bear to look at it.

Our chickens are laying record numbers of eggs since its spring, and I can't eat any.  One day I make a tofu scramble and it satisfies that craving for now.  Other good recipes I made: potato samosa wraps and butternut mole enchiladas.
Tofu Scramble Sausage Muffin
Samosa Wrap -hummus, potato, curry

Butternut Mole Enchiladas

Mole Sauce on Anth's Chicken

Getting easier this week.  Maybe because the end is in sight?  My work ordered Torchy's Tacos, but the only thing on the menu that fit
my diet was guacamole.  I asked for them to bring me corn tortillas instead of chips, and brought some leftover black bean stuffed baked potato for filling.  My cobbled together tacos were delicious, and so satisfying!  I didn't even really crave the yummy queso that everyone else shared.

More yummy meals:  baked tofu and stir fried bok choy, breakfast tacos with tofu and vegetarian sausage, avocado-tomato-hummus sandwiches, and vegetarian chili.
Baked Tofu and Bok Choy

Breakfast tacos with tofu

Hummus, Avo, and Tomato Sandwich

Vegetarian Chili with Avo and Tomatoes

Now that the challenge is over, here is what I learned:

1.  I can eat way less dairy than I ever imagined before I really miss it.  But I am still going to really appreciate cheese.  My first non-E2 meal is going to be a REAL brick oven pizza, not the sorry flatbreads I've been substituting.  I won't thoughtlessly add cheddar to all my Tex-Mex anymore, though.

2.  You can stir fry vegetables and roast them decently without oil, just a spritz of Pam, with very good results.  Hummus is good without a lot of extra oil.  But I still really appreciate a little olive oil in my salad dressings and tomato sauce.

3.  You should eat frequently on the plant-strong diet.

4.  A plant strong diet makes a lot of gas.  I thought that would improve after 4 weeks.  It didn't.

5.  Baked chips and corn tortillas are almost as good as fried.

6.  I ate A LOT of hummus, tofu, avocados, raw almonds, sweet potatoes, black beans, lentils, and mushrooms.  Yum!

7.  Rules help you say no and resist the temptation of lots of foods.

8.  I really enjoyed the challenge of coming up with plant-strong no oil added recipes that were delicious and therefore satisfying to me. and were a huge inspiration.

9.  Wine is a plant strong food.  I tried to only consume it in moderation.

Black bean peanut sriracha noodles
Flatbread pizza with veggie sausage and tofu creme

Roasted eggplant red pepper sliders

Anna ate a lot of my crazy foods along the way, with enthusiasm!  She asked me why I did it, and would I do it again?  I did it to see if I could really live without animal products for 28 days.  I can!  I suffered from the lack of added oil, though.  I also wanted to see if I would lose weight (4 lbs!) and to see how I would feel.  I feel mostly good, cleaner, but also very hungry.

I can't live like this long term.  But I might do the challenge again, especially if I felt overloaded from overindulgence (see: the month of December) or wanted to really lower my cholesterol (not ever really been a problem for me).


Emily said...

I am so impressed you did it, and I'm inspired to do more plant-based meals. I don't know if I can go all the way, but I agree with your assessment that I can do more meals like this. And now you have all these great recipes you can share with me! :-)
Congratulations on finishing the challenge and on the four pound weight loss!

Emily said...

I am so impressed that you did the challenge and inspired to eat more plant-based meals myself. And now you have all these great tried-and-true recipes you can share with me! :-)
Congratulations on finishing the challenge and on the four pound weight loss!

grandad says said...

Congratulations. Some of your meals look very good. I think I could comply with the diet with grub like you prepared although I must admit I have a tough time preparing veggie meals day in day I'd want a chef.

Incredible coincidence that you ran into Rip. Hopefully he will see your is a good one.

Sinda said...

I don't think I've commented on a blog in well over a year!

Kudos to you for sticking to your plan - that takes a lot of will power, & I'm impressed.

I think the hardest thing for me these days is the food prep time needed for heavily veg meals - we (like everyone else, right?) have so many after school activities and drive time that I've been planning more and more simple meals. Yesterday I started black beans in the AM, made a batch of brown rice when the girls came home from school, reheated sweet potato wedges from the weekend and served it all up with fresh avocado. That's about as much as I can muster until the time changes and I feel like we actually have daylight available!

How did Anthony do for his month - are the two of you coming closer to one diet?

Nice post, I'd love to see it resurrected!! I've even got a few posts up on mine!

Lisa said...

Wow, you are so stubborn. You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. I wouldn't have lasted a day. I'm happy for you that's it over! I have seen you with cheese. You need to get a room. ;-)

Lisa said...

I should say that I also sometimes need to be alone with the cheese.And the wine. Together.