Karen’s chart-topping nutrient-dense vegetarian diet (with recipes and photos)

Jerilyn planted her friend in Data Driven Fasting, watched in awe as Karen rooted, outgrew her pot, then overran the Nutrient Optimiser garden patch with her vegetarian success story.   

Karen smiles as she mentions her fasting partner and how the retired Louisiana special needs teacher helped change her life.  

“Jerilyn first discovered Data-Driven Fasting, and she never stopped trying to get me involved..”  

“I joined my first DDF Challenge in late November 2020, with very little hope but a willingness to try. Moderators encouraged me to up my percentage of protein and reduce my dietary fat, and I went from a meal every once in a while to two meals most days.  It only took me two minutes and two meals to get out of the fasting mindset.  It was such a relief to me to know another meal was coming.”

Abandoning everything she thought she knew about nutrition for a new style of eating that worked synergistically with her vegetarian lifeway was more than a leap of faith--it was the beginning of whole-body healing for Karen.

“Since early childhood, I’ve been a vegetarian and spent years eating a high-carbohydrate (rice and beans style), veggie-heavy, low-protein, whole food diet. There was plenty of evidence that my diet wasn’t good for me. My weight was escalating regardless of what I ate. I didn’t feel well, and my waking blood sugar was high. I wondered whether I was eating too many carbs or too much fat, but I never considered that the problem might be inadequate protein and nutrients.”

Since that auspicious beginning, Karen has lost 28.2 lbs (i.e., 12.8 kg, or 16.5% of her body weight) since starting Data-Driven Fasting, and her premeal glucose has dropped from 116 mg/dL to 88 mg/dL.  What makes her story all the more inspiring is that Karen succeeded as a vegetarian in scoring 100% of her optimal nutrients to top the Masterclass Leaderboard, not once but twice, in February 2021, repeating the distinction in May.

“After two DDF Challenges, I joined the Masterclass and finally found my way.  I also had a radical shift in perspective, from dieting and denial to feeding my body the nutrients I need. Weight loss is no longer the subject of my repetitive, endless internal conversation. This is so BIG it deserves capital letters. I think now about when and what to eat, not NOT EATING. With that came an abundance of peace, and though I am not yet ready to go dancing down the street, I can feel that day is coming.”

It’s always exciting to see what happens when people move from depriving their body to focusing on giving their body what it needs.  

It feels like a miracle to me. I feel like I’ve had the same negative conversation in my head for years and years. I didn’t speak it but it was nevertheless always there in the background. It’s incongruous but I think I have replaced it with what will I eat? Making that choice is sometimes challenging and time-consuming but it isn’t destructive. I have such a strong sense now that if I continue taking the actions of feeding myself well, the rest will follow. I just didn’t know what well was before this.

We designed the Nutritional Optimisation Masterclass and Nutrient Optimiser to be nutritionally agnostic.  We don’t care about your eating preferences. Whether you identify as plant-based, carnivore, or somewhere in between is up to you.  Our only goal is to help you optimise the nutrients you need to thrive from the foods you eat.

Many people advocate eating a “plant-based” diet, but that is a redundant, meaningless, comparative term.  More than 70% of our modern food already stems from plant-based sources (up from 63% in 1970).  But, unfortunately, in a classic example of “bait-and-switch,” it is not healthy fruits and vegetables powering the upward trend, but industrial seed oils and refined grains, often combined to create hyper-palatable and hyper profitable “Frankenfoods.”   

These highly processed foods negatively impact us all, but for large populations (such as Indians) who follow a vegetarian diet for religious reasons, they make getting the nutrients they need from the foods they eat incredibly challenging.  With many people from an Indian heritage in our groups, we are mindful that the growing amount of refined grains, sugars, and industrial seed oils make them even more susceptible to the global explosion of diabetes and diabesity.  

It can be more challenging to optimise your nutrition if your diet excludes entire food groups.  But, Karen observes that with the right tools and support network, you can still thrive. 

“One thing that the two Masterclasses taught me is that it isn’t at all easy to eat a healthy diet as a vegetarian. It requires knowledge. I don’t think you can luck into it. It takes thoughtful, deliberate eating…it does seem to me that the Masterclass is absolutely essential to vegetarians.”

The first time Karen and I spoke, she explained that she committed to vegetarianism in childhood.  While she doesn’t object to other people eating meat, she was willing to suffer any health consequences rather than eat animals.

After dealing with cancer and long-term obesity, Karen suspected that her commitment might lead to an early death.  

“My body was failing me. Despite what I consider great genetics and a supposedly healthy vegetarian diet, I had numerous health issues and a strong sense of inevitable doom. Many people here are motivated by the poor health of their parents, but I feared my health was failing as my parents thrived.”

So, with another gentle nudge from Jerilyn, in January 2021, Karen decided to give the Nutritional Optimisation Masterclass a go.  

Karen was initially sceptical. In the past, she had tried extended fasting under the guidance of the biggest names in fasting. 

“Before I discovered Data-Driven Fasting, I read Dr. Jason Fung’s The Obesity Code, and I began fasting like an Olympian. I completed numerous fasts, several almost three weeks long, and not a week went by that I didn’t fast for at least three days, and often as many as five. Without question, that period included many more fasting days than eating ones. As a result, though I initially lost more than 30 pounds, I stalled at some point as I started to ‘eat up’ my losses between fasts.  

“Reducing the eating time between fasts didn’t help; changing the type of fasts made no difference. I had never had an eating disorder, but I began to worry about the frenetic quality of my meals as well as the sheer volume of food I was consuming. It was as if I ate for eternity at each meal. Moreover, my catch-up eating between fasts had overtaken any benefit from fasting. I came to the dismal conclusion that there was no hope--if I couldn’t lose weight by abstaining from food, then nothing could help me.”

Karen was highly motivated, and eating regularly sounded a lot better than starving herself for weeks at a time in a misguided attempt to get healthy.  

As a vegetarian, Karen had always been interested in what was in her food and had been reading food labels in detail since she was seven.  But she quickly found she could turn these skills to enhancing her nutrient density, solving the puzzle of nutrition for herself, while still honouring her vegetarian preferences.  

Before long, she fell in love with the process of quantitatively dialling in the nutrients in the food she was eating.  She lost herself in the process.  When she looked up, she found she had topped the Optimal Nutrition Intake leaderboard in the February Masterclass.  She also topped the leaderboard in the May Masterclass with a perfect score of 100%.  

NameScore
Karen Mayrand100.0%
Lisa Angioli99.5%
Michael Ilett99.0%
Oddný Ösp Gísladóttir98.5%
Linda Fishbeck98.1%
Kelli Buckley97.9%
Kim Long Rains97.5%
Karen DiPeppe96.6%
Ingrid Leese96.6%
Hyun Kyoung Lee91.0%

This is a significant achievement and involves dialling in all 34 essential micronutrients, as shown in Karen’s micronutrient fingerprint chart below.  While most people can get adequate amino acids on an omnivorous diet, Karen had to pay particular attention to ensuring her diet contained enough protein.  She also worked hard to ensure her diet contained the more challenging micronutrients unique to her vegetarian diet.  

As illustrated in the chart below from our Data-Driven Fasting and Nutrient Optimiser apps, her biometrics fell into place as she gave her body the nutrients it needed.  

Her premeal blood sugar fell…

… and her weight followed.  

As did her body fat…

… and her waist circumference.

And she is now inching super close to her ultimate goal! 

So what does Karen eat?

We’ve had bushel-loads of questions from the vegetarians in our Data-Driven Fasting challenges and the Masterclass asking what Karen eats to dial in her vegetarian diet. So, I thought it would be interesting to crunch the numbers on the six weeks of the Masterclass where she stayed pretty close to a perfect ONI score of 100% throughout.  

Macros 

Across the 43 days of the Masterclass, Karen’s diet consisted of:

  • protein – 96 g/day (42% of calories or 2.0 g/kg lean body mass)
  • fat – 29 g/ day (29% of calories) 
  • non-fibre carbs (23% of calories)
  • fibre – 52 g/day

Foods – by calorie 

Karen said, “Seeing my food laid out like this is like having someone peek into my underwear drawer,” but also said she was game for the reveal!  

The chart below shows the foods that provided the majority of her energy during the Masterclass.  She leaned heavily on eggs, cottage cheese, skim milk, and protein powder to get adequate protein to promote satiety and prevent loss of lean mass.  

Foods – by weight 

But when we look at her food by weight, we see that on her plate, Karen’s diet was full of Chinese cabbage, spinach, mushrooms, and a range of other veggies.  “I could have easily eaten more cottage cheese, but that meant I had to have more cabbage and mushrooms and I just couldn’t.”  Even Olympians have feet of clay!

Meals 

Karen has generously shared a number of her optimised recipes with us, which I have included below.  Click on the recipe name to view more details.  

We have also included a dozen of Karen’s optimised vegetarian recipes in our nutrient-dense Vegetarian NutriBoosters recipe book.  

Join the next Masterclass 

Once you experience the results first-hand, it’s hard not to share your learnings with others.  Karen is now an enthusiastic moderator for both our Data-Driven Fasting Challenge and Nutritional Optimisation Masterclass.  She is eager to share all her learnings so others can follow in her footsteps, whether or not they follow a vegetarian diet.  

Our next Masterclass starts Saturday, 14 August 2021.  If you’re interested in joining our fantastic community of Optimisers to dial in WHAT you eat, we’d love you to be part of our next class of winners.  You can join here.  

But wait, there’s more! 

Before you go, enjoy this heartwarming story about two friends and the benefits of companion planting.  Carrots love tomatoes.  Garlic loves roses.  And Jerilyn and Karen?  We’ve just read Karen’s story.  But blooming right beside her friend, Jerilyn has lost 22-pounds (10 kg) on DDF and brought her blood glucose down from the 300s to 130 mg/dL (17.2 mmol/L to 7.2 mmol/L)! 

The seeds for another success story are ready for planting!

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