My Take on Being Plant-Based
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
My Nutrition History
If you’ve read my About Me page you’ve heard a bit about my nutrition history. I grew up consuming a standard western diet for the majority of my life. My parents are farmers and harvest wheat and canola along with about 100 head of beef cattle. My diet growing up consisted of vegetables from the garden, chicken, beef and pork, as well as a lot of cheese and bread. I LOVED meat growing up, steak was my favorite food group (yes, I said and meant food group) and I could eat the largest steak out of my entire family. For the most part I avoided most vegetables and fruits if I could, and I was pretty successful at that.
These food habits continued into my adulthood, and once I had my own money I ate out more at restaurants with friends which meant I consumed more meat, cheese and breads with few vegetables. By the time I was around 25 years of age, my body was done with me and my unhealthy habits. My body had become so inflamed and puffy. I didn’t know it then, but now when I look back at pictures I feel like I probably avoided some fairly major health problems. I was overweight, out of shape, I was having symptoms of Endometriosis (find out more about what Endometriosis is here), and my digestive system was starting to reject dairy and red meats. When I say reject, I mean I would get severe abdominal cramping followed by diarrhea within minutes of eating. Overall, not really pleasant.
Why I Started Eating Plant-Based
There were two main shifts that happened in life that really caused myself and my husband to start incorporating more of a plant-based lifestyle. One of those shifts was accepting that I was quite unwell along with finally being vulnerable and trusting enough to visit an alternative health care professional. It’s now been almost three years since I visited my first naturopathic doctor. I initially went to see her because of my Endometriosis symptoms which I’ll write about in another post one day, but in short, my symptoms basically consisted of pain and fatigue before menstruation, extreme pain with fatigue and heavy bleeding during menstruation, pain during ovulation, and pain during intercourse. My goal was to try to be preventative in treating some of the symptoms before having to have surgery to diagnose Endometriosis.
My naturopath completed a thorough two-session intake and based on her assessment recommended that I try an elimination diet. I think an elimination diet can look different for everyone, but for me, it consisted of cutting out all things inflammatory and all things that may cause food allergies, intolerance's or sensitivities. Some of the foods to eliminate on my list consisted of wheat and gluten products, red meats, refined sugar, all dairy, nuts and seeds, alcohol and caffeine. For the purposes of this blog post, I won’t go deep into what the ins and outs of an elimination diet is because that's a post on it's own, but if you’d like to know more, check out Precision Nutrition’s in-depth article on everything elimination diet, food sensitivity and food intolerance. My naturopath requested that I stay on this diet for a minimum of three weeks so that my body could rid itself of the potential problematic foods so it would then have a clean slate to reintroduce foods one at a time that I may be intolerant or sensitive to. I already knew that some of the foods like red meat and dairy were bothering my digestive system before starting the elimination diet and others such as gluten were more subtle, and it wasn’t until going on the elimination diet that I noticed the negative effect it had on my body.
Within a week of being on the elimination diet, the inflammation had visibly decreased and the puffiness in my face and body was deflating. I proceeded to keep doing this diet fairly strictly over the course of three months and my body and mind felt clear, happy and healthy. My Endometriosis symptoms were not completely gone, but they had been reduced.
It was around the same time that my husband and I decided to get out of debt (I’ll also save that story for another post one day), but we really decided to buckle down and get rid of the almost $61,000 worth of debt that was weighing us down. It took us just over a year to pay it all off, but we did it and we were proud! Deciding to make such a huge but positive life change meant cutting back on a lot of lifestyle expenses. One of these expenses was purchasing meat because it ate up such a huge part of our small grocery budget. By this time, I had personally already cut out red meats because they weren’t agreeing with me, but my husband was still eating meat. We started purchasing more vegetables and fruits from the grocery store and actually started using the vegetables from our garden. We successfully went over a year without purchasing meat in our own home, and we both felt fine….and I dare to say even great, and we survived! Along with cutting out meat, we also cut out dairy and caffeine. We rarely purchase meat, dairy or caffeine to this day and live quite happily from Monday to Friday as whole food, plant-based people!
Okay, Let's Break it Down, What Does Plant-Based Mean?
The good folks over at Forks Over Knives say that plant-based means “food that comes from plants and doesn’t contain animal ingredients such as meat, milk, eggs, or honey.” They go further to include a definition of whole foods which is described as “natural foods that are not heavily processed. That means whole, unrefined, or minimally refined ingredients.”In our household, my husband and I choose to not purchase or eat meat and consume many plant and whole foods. We do choose to eat meat and processed foods occasionally outside of our home which I'll explain a little later in the post. We also continue to consume eggs and honey occasionally.
The Benefits of Being Plant-Based
There are several major benefits to exploring a plant-based lifestyle (other than budgetary), that are all supported by science that is readily available in our mainstream world today. Some of these benefits include:
Easy weight management: A plant-based lifestyle promotes healthy weight loss and viewing it as a lifestyle rather than a diet makes it easy to lose weight and keep it off—without counting calories. Weight loss usually occurs because the foods that are being eaten consist of lots of fiber and have a high water content, which promotes the feeling of fullness. Not having to count calories just makes the experience more enjoyable overall.
Disease prevention: Whole-food, plant-based eating can prevent, halt, or even reverse chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that incorporating a plant-based lifestyle helps to improve the blood glucose levels in those who are diabetic or pre-diabetic. This means that folks can usually reduce and sometimes even eliminate their reliance of medications.
Fiber: A plant-based lifestyle is full of fiber, which helps with digestion by moving things along, preventing constipation, and promoting regular bowel movements to remove waste. It has also been seen to help lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol as well.
Healthy Fats: Plant-based foods are loaded with healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which improve skin clarity and help you get that glow.
Energy: Feeling more energized and alert is another benefit of following a plant-based lifestyle. The standard western-American diet is filled with processed foods, sugar, and white flour, which make you feel de-energized and fatigued. These foods cause spikes and quick drops in sugar levels, which can result in spurts of energy followed by extreme tiredness. For those of you who need a nap at 11:00 a.m. I’m talking to you!
Improved Digestion: Transitioning away from processed foods to a more plant-based way of life will make your body function optimally and who doesn't want that?! Your digestion will improve, your skin will start glowing, and your energy will increase due to the nutrient-dense, high quality foods being consumed.
Environment: A plant-based lifestyle also has a lighter environmental footprint and places much less stress on the environment.
How I Make a Plant-Based Lifestyle Work for Me
I’ll first start out by saying I’m not perfect. I’m human and over the past 6 months or so, I’ve been putting a lot of hard work into listening to my body about what it likes and dislikes. I try to eat intuitively which means I eat what I want, when it feels right because that's what my body is asking for. As I said above, my husband and I currently eat primarily plant-based when we eat in our home (usually Monday to Friday). That means that you probably won’t find us in the grocery store purchasing a pound of hamburger with some pork chops any time soon and instead, you’ll find our shopping cart filled with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and other legumes, maybe some tofu, brown rice, quinoa and probably a bag of chips for me. Another day I’ll write and post what my shopping trip looks like and share what we eat in a week.
On weekends, we usually aren’t home and are working on my parents farm so we eat what’s available which is usually a salad, a meat option, pasta, cheese, bread and desert because that’s what they eat. I continue to stay away from red meats, dairy and gluten as much as possible because I have such a strong reaction to them; but I still eat a chicken breast every now and then and if some cheese is in the pasta, I just scoop around it as much as I can. I became really good at beating myself up over not being the “perfect plant-based eater” for a long time, and although I still have my moments, I remind myself that it’s okay.
Occasionally, we go out to eat at my parent’s favorite restaurant which is primarily pizza and pasta options. I eat the damn pizza, but choose to leave out the meat (small steps = small wins). I also try to let go of the guilt of eating cheese, and sometimes my digestive system makes me pay for the dairy and gluten I’ve eaten. All of this is okay. It’s rare that we go out for a meal like that, and these things are fine in moderation - or at least this is the lens I’m choosing to looking through at this point in my journey. What’s important for me, is remembering how I felt right before I started incorporating more of a plant-based lifestyle, (terrible) and how I felt after, (wonderful!). If I keep that feeling present in my body and mind, I don’t stray off the track too much or for too long. I also try not to shame myself for not holding up to this ‘perfect vegan’ version of myself that I may or may not have built up in my head. If we start shaming ourselves then we’re not in a healthy mindset and ultimately it won’t work in the long term, thus making it a diet and not a lifestyle.
So that is my long winded spiel on what being plant-based looks like for me and for our household. Before I wrap this up, I want to leave you with a few quick thoughts just in case the whole food, plant-based lifestyle seems like something you’d like to start incorporating or increase your current intake in your lifestyle.
Take it slow. For most people, a slow transition of adding more plant-based foods into the daily routine is more sustainable long-term, than completely removing all of the delicious, unhealthy foods that they were really enjoying. Everyone has different comfort levels of eating plant foods, so start where it feels good (or slightly uncomfortable) for you. Try to make the process creative and mindful, not stressful.
It’s not an extreme diet. I really encourage you to remove the word “diet” from your vocabulary and thoughts when taking this on. I think it’s an extremely unhealthy and abused word. Yes, there’s absolutely a place for diet, but if you’re looking to make a change long-term, try to think and value this journey as a lifestyle change.
Our relationship with food. Self-imposed starvation, shame and guilt have no place in our relationship with the food we eat. Nourishing yourself with good food shows your body and the environment some love and respect, and we all deserve that!
Our relationship with social media. I get it, you’re probably reading this article via social media, but I encourage you to use social media for gaining knowledge and inspiration, not to participate in the comparison game of someone who looks like they’re living a “perfect life”. We all know that social media is usually shows the best parts of our lives, not necessarily the bad or off days where we might just need to eat a pizza or drink a cup of coffee with all the things.
Support system. Find people that support your new plant-based lifestyle. It could be a family, friends or even an online support system. Having folks in your circle can help when you’re having a challenging day or week and can make the transition more sustainable.
We want to hear from you! Would you consider your lifestyle to be primarily plant-based? Why or why not? Let's start a conversation, comment below!
Until next time, take care of yourself Root & Sprouters!