An interview with author and lifestyle guru Kathy Freston by Nell Alk.
Award-winning author and activist Kathy Freston has earned the unofficial title of “Wonder Woman.” (Maybe she should have her business cards redone?) The superhero behind the widely lauded Veganist recently returned to the reading scene—and the New York Times bestseller list—with The Lean.
Lean is about losing weight and gaining health. The most novel aspect of the book is what Freston calls “crowding out”—the concept of gradually adding this and, by default, subtracting that for an easy, step-wise lifestyle upgrade. In short, it’s all about “progress, not perfection,” guiding readers with gentle nudges rather than brute force. Separated into thirty steps, each chapter introduces a single thing you can incorporate today, from upping your water intake to eating an apple, from making a massive salad to dabbling in superfoods. Every day presents another opportunity to shift into a better-feeling, better-looking you. Recipes included!
Read on for the inside scoop on The Lean and on Ms. Freston’s own personal lean into health and well being, straight from the source herself.
How exactly does the title The Lean relate to the book’s mission to help people lose weight?
The book offers a plan to “lean in” to gradual, super-easy lifestyle changes—like eating an apple a day, or adding in 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds to a meal—that will give you big bang for your buck in terms of getting leaner and healthier. Anyone can do these steps. They create a really nice momentum so that a big shift comes very gently. No hardcore discipline required, just a methodical and joyful lean into the weight you always wanted.
And the other side of “leaning in” is “crowding out.”
Yes, most diets would have you cutting things from your diet; they are about deprivation and discipline. The Lean is focused on “crowding out” which means you are going to add things in to your daily routine, thereby leaving little room for the bad stuff. You won’t have to white-knuckle your way through this; you’ll just gradually not have the belly space to fit the unhealthy foods you used to eat.
You’re a vegan, and the book encourages a plant-based diet to lose weight. Why?
Eating a high-animal protein, low-carb diet causes you to lose weight in the beginning, but most of it is water loss and ketosis, which is dangerous, and most people end up gaining it all back and then some. The one dietary component that has consistently been shown to be effective for losing weight and keeping it off is fiber. Animal foods have zero fiber, while whole grains, beans, fruits, and veggies are loaded with it.
Was it health that inspired you to become vegan in the first place?
No. I had my a-ha! moment one day when I was playing with my little dog. She was lying on her back and I was rubbing her belly thinking, “I love animals so much; they are just so lovely!” And then a little voice inside me said, “Then why are you eating them?” I started the process of moving away from eating animals right then! It took me a while, but my intention to be someone who didn’t eat animals carried me forward.
So you, too, leaned in.
It’s true. I didn’t do everything at once—that would have been way too overwhelming for me, especially because I grew up in the South eating chicken fried steak and BBQ ribs. Instead, I leaned into the changes, gradually upgrading my diet as I felt comfortable. This was what inspired me to write The Lean, because leaning in was so practical and effective for me.
What results have you seen for yourself?
Ok, I’m going to get a little personal: before I undertook this process, my digestion was so bad that I looked nine months pregnant sometimes! I couldn’t zip my jeans I was so bloated, and the gurgling going on in my belly made me unable to relax because I was so worried what people must have been thinking. I also had zits around my jaw line and, although makeup covered it, I felt unattractive. When I started changing my diet, all of that went away. I haven’t had a pimple in at least eight years (I think they were caused by hormones in meat and dairy, and the hormones wreaked havoc on my system) and my belly is finally flat. I bound out of bed with energy, never get sick, and am at my perfect weight.
You discuss juicing in The Lean, which can be controversial, even within the vegan community. Some love it, others advise against it. Can you share your reasoning for being pro-juice?
When you juice, you get a ton more veggies into your system; you could never sit down and physically eat the huge pile of veggies that goes into a juice, so when you juice, you’re getting so many more vitamins and phytonutrients than you normally would. That said, it’s certainly not required. Sometimes I just put a few leaves of kale into a blender with some coconut water and get a hit of nutrition that way.
You’re all about apples. Tell me how you modernize the maxim, “An apple a day…”
An apple a day not only keeps the doctor away, but it also melts the pounds away! The fiber fills you up and keeps your blood sugar steady. The pectin is actually twice as good as other fiber, because it leaves your stomach twice as slowly so you feel fuller longer. Eat [an apple] before a meal and you’ll eat far fewer calories, without sacrificing satisfaction.