Skip to main content

From Junk Food Vegan to Whole Food Plant-Based Chef

By October 8, 2013August 7th, 202338 Comments

Let me be clear.  Just because you are vegan does not mean you are eating a healthy diet.

Today Julie and I sit down with the wonderful Chef AJ to talk about the enormous difference between a simple “animal product free” diet and a whole food plant-based diet.

I knew AJ was an amazing plant-based chef.  What I didn’t know was her inspiring story of personal transformation.  The story of an overweight, junk food vegan on the brink of serious health calamity who found salvation in the whole food plant-based lifestyle.

Tune in and let her tell you how she overcame her food addictions to become the health advocate she is today.  Her responses might surprise you.

AJ is a kick in the pants.  It was tons of fun chatting with her.  I sincerely hope you enjoy the interview.  And if you are in California and happen to stop in a Sharky’s restaurant, ask for the AJ Burrito!



  • BYOL says:

    Another great one, Rich! Really love all the guest you’ve introduced me to!

    If anyone is interested, I did an interview with Ramses Bravo a while ago about his book.

  • ArtyB says:

    Thank you Rich for your podcasts. This is my first time of listening to your show and the information is a life saver. I”m on Kaleio diet too, Chef AJ. Good interview.

  • Gabi says:

    Love it, love it, love it ……

  • Jenné @ The Nourishing Vegan says:

    I loved this episode, as usual. Chef AJ is so great. I’d love to see that clip of her playing the flute/recorder out of her nose upside down. How is that possible?!
    I took the food addiction quiz, and surpringly I am NOT addicted : )

  • Bruno says:

    Rich and Julie, what a great interview. Lots of gems and tips…. Chef AJ you have a very inspiring story. Does the Chef have a cook book? I didn’t see anything in the show notes.

  • Rich, have listened to many of your podcasts – you are such an inspiration. I am 49, lived most of my life on high fat, high salt, processed junk food and meat and dairy, never exercised. Then at the end of 2012 I simply woke up vegan! I needed a change. Lost 30kg, walk and run 30km a week now. I went from 104.5 kg to 75kg. Got rid of my entire wardrobe of XXL (now I buy M or S size) Have so much more energy, clarity and vitality. My only regret about being vegan is that I should have done it decades earlier! Full story ‘Life is Better with a Strawberry’ is on my website – – thanks for all your resources and inspiration!

  • BYOL says:

    Hey Chef AJ, just re-listened to the podcast. Just wanted to say how much I love your energy and enthusiasm! Really great stuff!

  • Ann says:

    I’ve been hoping you’d have another addiction story guest, and AJ is custom-order! I’ve been doing the plant-based, wholer-foods thing for several years but have struggled with food addiction my whole life. Hearing someone speak who’s actually an addict and has that experience, especially specifically with food, is so meaningful.

  • Ray Heart says:

    Fantastic episode. The nut milk recipe was awesome. Please bring AJ back more often. Better yet, AJ have you considered a Podcast of your own? 🙂

  • Na says:

    I really enjoyed this episode. I view Chef AJ much differently now than I did before listening. I’ve only heard her on another podcast (can’t remember which) and thought she sounded somewhat fake. Now I feel sorry for having been so quick to judge her.

  • Richard says:

    Enjoyed this show. I definitely fall in to the junk food vegan category.

  • KenZ says:

    Julie- I believe you said you were searching for a good GF pizza crust recepie. As long as you’re ok with oil (sorry AJ!) we have loved using socca bread and various modifications from the cookbook Bean by Bean. It’s basically 100% chickpea flour, lots of water, poured into a hot cast iron pan with a layer of olive oil. Then after a few min, baked at ~425f for 25 min. Then make pizza on it. It’s awesome. More/less water, other bean flours, cook time, etc all change from chewy crst to thin and crispy. It’s so good out of the oven, it’s hard to not eat it as is.

  • Tina says:

    I have listened to most of the podcasts this year. Some resonate and others don’t but they are all interesting regardless. Chef AJ would be my personal pick this year as I try to break the food addiction cycle. Her story was inspiring and gave me much needed hope that it is possible to slay the dragon which I have carried with me for 47 years. Thanks Rich for bringing us these quality interviews and thanks Chef AJ for sharing with us.

  • JasonRH says:

    I support a lot of the things Chef AJ talks about and found this podcast very informative. However, if you are a vegan that does have a very active lifestyle, I don’t think some of the details that are discussed would be helpful. If you are an obese food addict I understand reducing salt and sugar, but I went through a phase when my lack of sugar/salt during more intense weeks of training caused some problems.

  • lancemateas says:

    Another great interview! I have seen Chef AJ around the McDougall boards, and even posted the podcast link for her fans there who might not be regular listeners without listening myself. I didn’t really know anything about her, but after listening I can say, wow! What a great story! I can’t relate as much to the addiction discussion but it was very enlightening, and gives me a better understanding of what other folks deal with.

  • Paul Spring says:

    I believe she made an off-the-cuff remark about avoiding soy products. She may want to rethink this in light of recent research on the impact of soy on preventing and reversing breast cancer. The life extending effects of soy are particularly compelling in women. See this short video:

  • Jeannine says:

    I loved this podcast and Chef AJ’s energy! I’m on the East Coast but I’m planning a trip to CA next year and am looking forward to having the AJ Burrito 🙂 Keep the podcasts coming – they keep me inspired even though there isn’t much support for a plant powered diet where I live.

  • AJ Chef says:

    It’s only because I am highly allergic to soy. For people who can enjoy this wonderful legume I recommend organic and non GMO, preferably WHOLE, like edamame, or minimally processed like soy milk, tofu or tempeh, but not processed fake meats, soy candy or ice cream or isolated soy protein which has been shown to raise IgF1.

  • AJ Chef says:

    Thank you. We haven’t filmed the show in 2 years because we both got our own TV shows that film in New York but we just found a lost episode that we will be releasing.

  • AJ Chef says:

    you are so lucky to not suffer from this disease/ The producers of The Tongiht Show will not allow me to post it online as they own the rights. However, I do show the DVD when I give lectures. I travel all over the US, Canada, Mexico and sometimes Asia giving talks so please come see me in person and you will laugh your butt off!!!

  • AJ Chef says:

    Thank you so much. Sorry it took me so long to reply, I didn’t even know until today that there were comments here.

  • AJ Chef says:

    Thank you. I now run a program in LA and online for food addiction.

  • AJ Chef says:

    Funny you should say that! I started one last year and Rich will be a guest soon. Right now it’s being offered as free weekly teleclasses on Thursday night at 6:00pm Pacific time. Folks can submit questions is advance for the guests and if they miss the call they can listen to the recording at http://www.HeatlhyTasteOnline,com. Very soon all the recordings will be converted to iTunes format/ Thank you.

  • AJ Chef says:

    Thank you. I am guilty of making snap judgement myself and am working on it. Glad you gave me a second chance.

  • AJ Chef says:

    you are not alone.

  • AJ Chef says:

    Did you know they sell an awesome one at whole foods just made out of brown rice? I also make one out of masa harina.

  • AJ Chef says:

    Thank you. Recovery is a process.

  • AJ Chef says:

    of course not. But I am not only not an athlete, I didn’t even start exercising until I was 52 years old. If you do not suffer from the biogentic disease of food addiction, you have a different brain chemistry so these substances affect you differently.

  • AJ Chef says:

    Thanks for listening. Exercise is the only addiction I now recommend. 🙂 Just interviewed the author of Potatoes not Prozac and she talked about the beta endorphins from exercise being similar to eating sugar.

  • AJ Chef says:

    Please come!!!

  • Paul Spring says:

    Hello AJ – Thanks for the clarification.

  • Paul Spring says:

    Do you have any insights on the Dean Ornish “reversal” diet? I been following it for 2 years due to calcium plaques in my coronary artery – great results on my blood work – halved my LDL! I am suspicious of the extreme restriction on fat though. I use no oil when cooking, no olive oil, no nothing – I have added nuts to salads and oatmeal despite his rules. I don’t think he’s done a study on reversal of heart disease just following a healthy WFPB diet – only his extreme regimen. My concern is that his extreme diet may, in the end, not be optimum or necessary, and may be making life unduly difficult for people. Avoiding oils is a difficult endeavor! ( I’ve contacted him several times – he just ignores my question.)

  • KenZ says:

    Oh do share the masa harina recipe…

  • AJ Chef says:

    If it makes you feel better he has never responded to any of my e-mails or letters either. He is speaking in LA in April I will try to go. Our ancestors did not eat oil so unless you are eating at restaurants or eating processed foods it’s pretty easy to avoid. I follow the diet they teach at True North Health where I work It’s very similar to the one taught by Dr. McDougall and Dr. Essesltyn who both advocate a no oil and no added fat diet. Againm the best diet is the one you will actually do. 🙂

  • AJ Chef says:

    I just buy it at Whole Foods in a bag from Bob’s Red Mill. It’s the same as corn flour.

  • Paul Spring says:

    Thanks. Yes. My concern is that no SOS may be a little too stringent. I don’t agree with the philosophy of being overly cautious in the belief that people will cheat otherwise. Ornish got spectacular results on a 10% fat calorie “reversal” diet, but what about 15% or suppose one day its 30% and the next 5%? If you could get a straight answer from him on that it would be great!

    Even with the help of my buddy Sharon McRae, it still is not so easy to avoid added oils when eating out unless one is willing to bring one’s own food. Kind of defeats the purpose. It seems that many dishes have pre-made sauces that have oil even if the food is steamed – eliminating them destroys the dish. We went to a local indian restaurant who provided no-oil naan – it really was like eating cardboard!

  • AJ Chef says:

    you are right. If a less rigorous plan works, folks should do that. But for some, this is what we need.

Leave a Reply