MILWAUKEE, WI - Vegetarian members of TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization, know that healthy, well-balanced meal planning is a key element to successful and lasting weight loss and maintenance.  The benefits of a vegetarian plan, or the exclusion or limitation of animal-based foods, can include reductions in risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and the prevention of some forms of cancer.  Plant-based foods also have significant amounts of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

In recognition of World Vegetarian Day (October 1) and the kickoff of Vegetarian Awareness Month, several vegetarian members of TOPS have shared their thoughts on why they've chosen a vegetarian meal plan and how it's helped them with their weight-loss journey. 

Robert and Gina Swindell

Robert and Gina Swindell have been vegetarians for almost two years.  He says that being an overweight vegetarian is an interesting quandary, because most people think that being vegetarian automatically means you're slim.  "Whether or not you're a vegetarian, you still have to make good choices," Swindell adds.  That's especially true when the couple goes out to eat.  "Most restaurants have limited vegetarian choices, but we still have to be smart," he explains.  "Mozzarella sticks are technically vegetarian, but they're fried and full of fat and calories.  The veggie burger is the healthier choice."

The Swindells switched to a vegetarian way of eating as part of their overall goal to embrace healthier lives.  Almost immediately, he says, they each lost weight:  20 and 30 pounds, respectively.  "Our weights have remained relatively stable, but we recognize that we have a lot more to lose," he continues.  "Eating vegetarian helps curb the urge to overeat, too, so that helps."  Swindell says that he and Gina regret not turning vegetarian sooner.  "We would be much further along the road to better health," he says.

Joanna Risley

Joanna Risley is a vegetarian who shares tips and recipes with her TOPS chapter.  She also tries to eat organic, natural, and unprocessed food as much as possible.  She and her husband buy many of their fruits and vegetables from local farmers, and they prepare their pizza crust by hand instead of buying it pre-made from the store.  "This can be a pain," Risley admits.  "But, believe me when I say, preparing our food like this keeps us from snacking!"  She also stressed that vegetarian meals cost less and pack powerful nutrition into every bite.

Kathy Davis

"I enjoy hiking and backpacking and don't want my weight or age to slow me down," says Kathy Davis.  "Last August, my cousin and I hiked over 12 mountain passes and 240 miles to climb California's Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet) on the final day of our trip - and we ate totally vegetarian for that whole trip."

Davis was raised as a vegetarian and only recently added chicken and some fish to her diet.  She says her weight was never really an issue until she hit menopause.  That's when she joined TOPS.  "Being a TOPS member keeps me accountable," Davis says.  "TOPS also taught me that I was eating too many carbohydrates and that I should substitute more fruits and vegetables."  The plan worked.  Davis lost over 20 pounds, reaching her goal weight in August 2005, five months after joining TOPS.

Lucy Munn

Lucy Munn also is incorporating a reduction of processed foods as part of her turn toward being a vegetarian.  She's been gradually eliminating meat from her meal planning for the past year, eating it only once or twice a week.  There are stretches of time when she goes without meat altogether.  "I'm not yet an official vegetarian," Munn clarifies.  "I'll consider myself that way when I haven't had meat for a few months."

Turning toward a vegetarian lifestyle is contributing to Munn's weight-loss efforts.  She says she feels full after meals but also full of energy and credits the healthy benefits of fruit, vegetables, and legumes.  "Meat tends to take longer to digest, and it slows me down," she explains. "I now get more nutrients, my hunger is satisfied, and I have great energy for everything I do, including working out."

  • A vegetarian meal can be as familiar as spaghetti with marinara sauce or as unique as grilled polenta with portabella mushrooms.  Choose vegetarian burger patties, hot dogs, or breakfast sausages on your next trip to the grocery store.  Soy foods come in many forms, including soybeans, textured soy protein, tofu, and soy milk, and are convenient, animal-based replacements.  Or, consider following the recipes below for an introduction to the healthy, vegetarian-based lifestyle.

Carrot-Rice Loaf

2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 eggs
1 onion, chopped

Combine ingredients and put in casserole dish.  Bake at 350º F for one hour or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Makes six servings.  One serving = one cup.

Nutrient value per serving, based on a 1,500-calorie diet:

Exchanges - 1 starch, 1 vegetable, 1 meat, 2 fats
Calories - 247
Calories from Fat - 117
Total Fat - 13g (26%)
Saturated Fat - 3g (20%)
Cholesterol - 71 mg (24%)
Sodium - 329 mg (14%)
Total Carbohydrate - 25g (11%)
Dietary Fiber - 5g (25%)
Sugars - 5g
Protein - 10g

Lentil Roast

2 cups hot cooked lentils
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 t. sage
1/2 t. salt
1 egg
1 can nonfat evaporated skim milk
4 T. olive oil

Mash hot lentils.  Add onion and dry ingredients.  Beat egg and stir into milk and oil.  Add to lentil mixture.  Pour into casserole dish.  Bake at 350º F for 45 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Makes seven servings.  One serving = 3/4 cup.

Nutrient value per serving, based on a 1,500-calorie diet:

Exchanges - 1 1/2 starch, 1 meat, 3 fats
Calories - 293
Calories from Fat - 135
Total Fat - 15g (30%)
Saturated Fat - 2g (13%)
Cholesterol - 32 mg (11%)
Sodium - 334 mg (14%)
Total Carbohydrate - 29g (13%)
Dietary Fiber - 5g (25%)
Sugars - 6g
Protein - 12g

TOPS Club Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the original, nonprofit weight-loss support and wellness education organization, was established more than 62 years ago to champion weight-loss support and success.  Founded and headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, TOPS promotes successful, affordable weight management with a philosophy that combines healthy eating, regular exercise, wellness information, and support from others at weekly chapter meetings. TOPS has about 170,000 members in nearly 10,000 chapters throughout the United States and Canada.

Visitors are welcome to attend their first TOPS meeting free of charge. To find a local chapter, view or call (800) 932-8677.


Support the River Cities' Reader

Help Keep the Reader Alive and Free Since '93!


"We're the River Cities' Reader, and we've kept the Quad Cities' only independently owned newspaper alive and free since 1993. Now we find our ability to continue providing all the features you love in serious jeopardy without the financial support of our readers.

So please help the Reader keep going with your one-time, monthly, or annual support. With your financial support the Reader can continue providing uncensored, non-scripted, and independent journalism alongside the Quad Cities' area's most comprehensive cultural coverage." - Todd McGreevy, Publisher