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PYP 140: Chef AJ on the Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge

chef-aj-yamsChef AJ is a funny, ferocious, blunt, and incredibly warm and supportive leader in the plant-based movement. It's always a treat to talk with her, and this podcast gives me a good excuse to do so at least a couple times a year.

This interview was inspired by her talk at the Raleigh NC Vegfest in the fall, on weight loss.

The photo was taken at my house, where AJ admired our fall harvest 🙂

Her approach is as easy to understand as it is simple to implement. And it appeals to my wholistic brain, since it involves no counting, weighing, measuring, or proportioning. Just eat foods to the left of the red line, as much as you want, whenever you want, until comfortably full.

To me, this ease about food is the ultimate benefit. Freedom from obsession, from the need to keep your food scale close, and from the inherent distrust most of us have developed about our bodies and our urges.

Pleasure is good, this way of eating asserts. No reason to fear it or mitigate it or undermine it. Every creature on the planet achieves health and its full potential by obeying its pleasure drive.

Except for modern humans, placed in a world of highly processed junk and animal foods available 24/7 on every street corner. Rather than rejecting this food environment and replacing it with one that serves us and the planet, we blame ourselves for our urges.


And here's the video edition, since AJ should totally be seen AND heard 😉

YouTube player

Chef AJ, in her forthright and charming and in-our-faces style, has the cure. In our conversation, we cover:

  • her 50-year struggle with obesity
  • the hidden-in-plain-sight “secret” of weight loss
  • the difference between vegan and healthy
  • how AJ's vegan diet didn't prevent her from developing the first signs of colon cancer (even after 26 years of no animal products)
  • the addictions that kept AJ from acknowledging the information that Drs McDougall and Ornish had been publishing for decades
  • why “food addiction” should be called “processed food addiction”
  • the principle of calorie density
  • the difference between confusion and addiction
  • why you can't “break” an addiction, and what to do instead
  • MRI research showing the effects of processed foods on the brain
  • dealing with the emotions that cause bingeing
  • “the only way out is through”
  • two sides of the coin: getting the food right, and getting the psychology right
  • “if it's in your house, it's in your mouth”
  • finding M&Ms at PetCo, Snickers at the hardware store, and ice cream in the hospital parking lot
  • toxic hunger and always needing a hit
  • the physiology of satiety, and why animal foods and processed foods predictably lead to weight gain
  • habituation and the escalation of addictive behaviors
  • a connection between obesity and transgender issues?
  • eating to the left of the red line
  • and much more…

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.

Chef AJ's Recipes

Sweet Potato Chili with KALE!
There is no dish that can’t be improved by the addition of kale!

2 pounds of sweet potatoes, diced (no need to peel if organic)
1 large red onion (approximately 10 ounces), finely chopped
2 – 15 ounce cans kidney beans (rinse if not salt-free) or 3 cups cooked beans
2 red bell peppers, seeded and finely diced
2 – 14.5 ounce cans Muir Glen salt-free fire roasted tomatoes
1 Tablespoon salt-free chili powder
2 teaspoons SMOKED paprika (makes a difference when it’s smoked)
¼ teaspoon chipotle powder (or more to taste)
8 ounces of Lacinto Kale, finely shredded like cabbage for coleslaw
3 cups of orange juice

Place all ingredients except for the kale in an InstantPot electric pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 7 minutes. Release pressure and stir in the kale. Alternately, place all ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Potato Taquitos

Recipe by Rebecca Martinez-Rocha who lost over 150 pounds on the Ultimate Weight Loss Program

1 large Potato, cooked
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon Granulated Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Salt Free Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Granulated Onion
1 Tablespoon water (or more if needed)
2 ounces cooked and chopped Kale or Spinach
12 Corn tortillas

In a large bowl, smash potato, add spices and greens and mix well. Set aside.
Heat tortillas and set aside (keep warm).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread filling into a tortilla, roll and seal with a toothpick. Place taquitos on tray and bake for 20 minutes. Flip, bake another 20 or until crisp (be sure to watch to ensure they don’t start to turn brown). Delicious when served with Sweet Pea Guacamole, below (from Unprocessed).

Sweet Pea Guacamole

Much lower in fat and higher in fiber than traditional guacamole

1 – 16 ounce bag of frozen peas, defrosted
3 firm Roma tomatoes, diced
One bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 shallot finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of one lime, or more to taste
Pinch of roasted cumin

In a food processor fitted with the “S” blade, process peas until smooth. Transfer to a larger bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients by hand. Chill.


Chef AJ's website

Unprocessed – Chef AJ's first cookbook

The Volumetrics Series, by Barbara Roll, PhD

Sugars and Flours: How They Make us Crazy, Sick and Fat, and What to do About It, by Joan Ifland

Shrink Yourself: Break Free from Emotional Eating Forever, by Roger Gould, MD

Eat to Live, by Joel Fuhrman, MD

My 600 Pound Life – TV show

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Big thanks this week to Plant Yourself Podcast patrons Michael Worobiec and Tammy Black for their generous contributions! Siyabonga! (“Thank you” in Zulu.) Plus a generous patron from New York who wishes to remain anonymous.


Check out my online TV show, Triangle Be Well. This week I talk about building good health habits in a fun, simple, and predictable way.

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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


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You CAN Change Other People!

Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative book of that title.

What we really mean is, you can help the people around you make behavioral changes in their own best interests. If you think you're powerless to help people change, it's because you've been going about it the wrong way.

Discover our straightforward, replicable process here: You Can Change Other People.

Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight

Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.

It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly 🙂

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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


Thanks to Plant Yourself podcast patrons – Kim Harrison – Lynn McLellan – Brittany Porter – Dominic Marro – Barbara Whitney – Tammy Black – Amy Good – Amanda Hatherly – Mary Jane Wheeler – Ellen Kennelly – Melissa Cobb – Rachel Behrens – Tina Scharf – Tina Ahern – Jen Vilkinofsky – David Byczek – Michele X – Elspeth Feldman – Leah Stolar – Allan Kristensen – Colleen Peck – Michele Landry – Jozina – Sara Durkacs – Kelly Cameron – Janet Selby – Claire Adams – Tom Fronczak – Jeannette Benham – Gila Lacerte – David Donohue – Blair Seibert – Doron Avizov – Gio and Carolyn Argentati – Jodi Friesner – Mischa Rosen – Michael Worobiec – AvIvA Lael – Alicia Lemus – Val Linnemann – Nick Harper – Bandana Chawla – Molly Levine – The Inscrutable Harry R – Susan Laverty the Panda Vegan – Craig Covic – Adam Scharf – Karen Bury – Heather Morgan – Nigel Davies – Marian Blum – Teresa Kopel – Julian Watkins – Brid O'Connell – Shannon Herschman – Linda Ayotte – Holm Hedegaard – Isa Tousignant – Connie Haneline – Erin Greer – Alicia Davis – Heather O'Connor – Carollynne Jensen – Sheri Orlekoski of Plant Powered for Health – Karen Smith – Scott Mirani – Karen and Joe Crabtree – Kirby Burton – Theresa Carrell – Kevin Macaulay – Elizabeth Rothschild – Ann Jesse – Sheryl Dwyer – Jenny Hazelton – Peter W Evans – Dennis Bird – Darby Kelly – Lori Fanney – Linnea Lundquist – Emily Iaconelli – Levi Wallach – Rosamonde McAtee – Dan Pokorney – Stephen Leinin – Patty DeMartino – Mike and Donna Kartz – Deanne Bishop – Bilberry Elf – Marjorie Lewis – Tricia Adams – Nancy Sheldon – Lindsey Bashore – Gunn Marit Hagen – Tracey Gulledge – Lara Hedin – Meg from Mamasezz – Stacey Stokes – Ben Savage – Michael K – David Hughes -Coni Rodgers – Claire England – Sally Robertson – Parham Ganchi – Amy Dailey – Brian Tourville – Mark Jeffrey Johnson – Josie Dempsey – Caryn Schmitt – Pamela Hayden – Emily Perryman – Allison Corbett – Richard Stone – Lauren Vaught of Edible Musings – Erin Hastey – Sean Owens – Sagar Naik – Erika Piedra – Danielle Roberts – Michael Leuchten – Sarah Johnson – Katharine Floyd – Meryl Fury – for your generous support of the podcast.


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13 comments on “PYP 140: Chef AJ on the Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge

  1. Thank You says:

    Thank You for another informative podcast. Love Chef AJ’s story and message; and willingness to share openly.

    1. Howard says:

      She certainly has a lot of courage and deploys it for much good in the world!

  2. Shep the Cat says:

    Hi Dr. Howard,
    Thanks for this presentation. Just for your information, on the video version, Chef AJ’s side of the conversation is completely MUTED/SILENT; we can only hear you. Both of you can be heard on the audio-only version, though, thankfully. 🙂

    1. Howard says:

      Thanks, Shep. I’m working on the problem right now. Unfortunately, I can’t reproduce it on the video file on my computer. I can only assume that the universe wants me to do much more talking in the future 😉

      1. Shep the Cat says:

        Maybe it was just me. or my computer, But today, I can hear both of yous on the video.
        Thanks Dr. Howard

        1. Howard says:

          No, it was me. 2 hours of editing later, AJ is loud and clear. Still no idea what happened the first time.

  3. Chef AJ says:

    I rarely listen or watch my interviews but this was great Howard! O love how you ask the best questions and you used one of my very favorite words – recapitulate!!! 🙂

  4. Susan says:

    This was great! Are there recipes?

  5. Janet says:

    Great interview! Where can we find the recipes Chef A.J. said you could share?

    1. Howard says:

      Hi Janet – remind me which ones…

      1. Janet says:

        There aren’t specific recipes mentioned, you and Chef AJ said you’d post a couple from the 21 day plan…

        1. Howard says:

          Thanks for the reminder, Janet! I’ve just asked Chef AJ to send a couple my way, and I’ll post them on this post when they arrive.

    2. Howard says:

      Recipes are now up on this post.

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