Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet: Here's What You'll Need to Expect!
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What exactly is a healthy diet? There’s a lot of misleading and often contradictory information about what constitutes a so-called “healthy diet”. We’ve all tried a few fad diets in our day, but they never seem to stick. We either find ourselves feeling worse than when we started, or that it’s impossible to make a long-term commitment to the prescribed restrictions.
Perhaps we grow tired of the unmanageable grocery bill due to those pre-packaged, branded meals. Hey, I’m as guilty as the next person. The past couple years I’ve been on a health journey, learning about diet and lifestyle and how it all fits together. Through my endeavors with my blog, Little Miss Bakery, I’ve come to find that a whole food, plant-based diet is the answer to all my questions. Not only is a plant-based diet healthy, but it’s surprisingly realistic and easily sustainable.
I’m so excited to share with you the logic behind this lifestyle change, and what to expect should you decide to try it out for yourself!
First, plant-based isn’t necessarily vegan.
It’s easy to confuse the term “plant-based” with “vegan”. But isn’t “plant-based” what being vegan is all about? Not so fast.
There's an important distinction between the two. “A whole foods plant-based diet emphasizes eating whole fruits and vegetables, consuming lots of whole grains, and staying away from (or at least minimizing) the intake of animal products and processed foods for health reasons,” writes Julie R.Thompson of the Huffington Post. “That means that even vegan desserts made with refined sugar or bleached flour are out.”
The Vegan Society states that “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” The focus, see, is more on avoiding animal products than eating a healthy diet. Some vegans might not eat much better than your average joe, consuming mostly vegan-friendly processed foods (think chips and candy) and avoiding the whole foods that a plant-based diet is centered around.
Is a plant-based diet really healthy, realistic, and sustainable?
Contrary to what you might think, you can get all the essential nutrients you need to thrive without consuming, or at least minimizing intake of, animal products. Lentils, hemp hearts, chia seeds, quinoa and other seeds are protein and mineral rich, comparable to animal protein. And that calcium you need from milk? Chia seeds, leafy greens, nuts, and beans are all good sources of calcium. Probiotics from yogurt? Delicious kombucha. You can get everything you need and more from eating whole foods. There are even a lot of very competitive, plant-based athletes that perfectly illustrate this point!
Certainly, the beginning of a transition is a time of learning, change and habit formation. Once you have the transition under your belt, you’ll find it hard to go back to your old eating habits. Not only will you feel the awesome physical benefits, but you’ll find eating this way allows you to eat a more varied and creative diet than ever before. There’s no looking back!
All this being said, what should one expect from transitioning to a plant-strong diet? Several months ago I transitioned to a whole food, plant-based diet. I follow the “minimal intake” rule for animal products; they make up about 10% of my diet. I occasionally indulge in refined sugars and flours (hey, a girl’s gotta live!), but 90% of my day to day eating is real food, made by me. Although I began a little uncertain of my path and what this change would bring, I can now say for certain this diet has forever changed the way I live.
Here are some wonderful surprises to expect a couple weeks into your transition:
1. It’s not actually that hard – You can still eat really, really well with minimal meat products. In your normal 30 - 45 minute cook time you can eat amazing plant-based meals! All that’s required is a mental shift in thinking about the ingredients you use and how to prepare whole foods that might be new to you.
2. You’ll have a lot of energy consistently throughout the day – That afternoon slump used to hit me hard and I needed caffeine to recharge. I struggled to the gym after work, feeling dead tired after a long day. Now, I feel like a totally different person. Not only is my energy level stable all day long, but I have a ton of it. I feel amazing, and find myself being more productive with my time. When it’s time for bed, I fall asleep almost instantly and sleep like a babe. It’s awesome.
3. You will lose a little weight – Because whole foods tend not to cause fluctuations in blood sugar, I snack a lot less. I feel full for much longer. My sugar and wheat have cravings subsided, and I find myself instead craving real food.
4. You will actually feel healthier – I’m telling you, I feel amazing. I feel light and alert. I feel energized and excited for life. Because you’re eating a lot of fiber, you feel clean and flat-tummied. The anti-inflammatory properties of produce can decrease chronic pain, especially if you decrease the amount of wheat in your diet. Many people report similar reactions to this lifestyle change!
5. You will feel happier – With a plant-based diet, you won't get those blood sugar fluctuations associated with refined sugars and flours. I’m less moody, feel less annoyance at small tasks and less overwhelmed with everything. That energy boost translates to optimism, and you feel in control of your life and your future. And there’s simply nothing better than that, my friends!
With all these amazing benefits though, there are a couple of things that I would highly recommend for you to keep in mind:
1. Planning is essential – Gone are the days of grabbing a quick bite in the drive-through or a snack from the vending machine. You’ll need to think ahead, shop ahead, and cook ahead. I’ve recently decided to sell seasonally, weekly menus for a plant-based diet on my blog. This can definitely help you with the planning!
2. It’s hard to quit refined sugar and wheat – We eat a lot more of these than we intend and a lot more than we should. As you start to refine your diet, you’ll most likely experience withdrawal symptoms if you rely heavily on these foods. Food cravings follow the exact same neural pathways as drug addiction; both sugar and wheat are very addictive, so be ready for this physical response and be prepared for major cravings.
3. You’ll have some explaining to do – Inevitably, this lifestyle change will come with questions from family and friends. Whenever you eat out or are social, people will inevitably inquire. Some will be generally curious, and others suspicious of the words “plant-based” or “vegan”.
David from the blog Raptitude sums up this point perfectly. “In light of my immediate physical benefits, my new diet felt pretty damn sensible once I started, so it kept surprising me that the majority of the world still regards veganism as some vaguely menacing fringe thing akin to Scientology or Communism.
Many people seemed to assume I was secretly dying of cravings for steak and cheeseburgers, and that it takes some sort of enormous ethical strength to eat vegan. I wasn’t, and it doesn’t. When asked “Why?” my go-to answer was that it makes me feel physically good, which is true and is probably the main reason. I didn’t want to get involved in an ethical debate because once a conversation becomes a debate, communication ceases.”
4. You’ll have bad days, but that's ok – Making a big change like this is hard. You’re going to struggle against a bag of Doritos, and you’re going to fail. Reflect on these days, and notice triggers or situations that cause you to digress. This will help you as you pick yourself up and try again. The further you go into your lifestyle change, the easier it will be to be strong. No transition is without relapse, but you’ll be incredibly grateful to yourself for making this incredible lifestyle change!
*Image credit for all photos used in this post: Little Miss Bakery
Ready to make the switch to a plant-based diet? Why not sign yourself up for an organic culinary vacation? Not only will you be able to how to whip up delicious plant-based meals, you’ll get to learn how you can grow your own organic produce too!