Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tips for Going Plant-Based

I recently shared our challenges of going plant-based, which is perhaps the most frequently asked question we receive (tied with the ‘ole, “From where do you get your protein?”). Another FAQ we hear is how to get started. Recently, I’ve had several people reach out to me for advice on going plant-based. While there are a number of books and online resources available, I thought I’d blog my tips and tricks for adopting a plant-passionate lifestyle.

Take Baby Steps
For many of us, change is difficult and it doesn’t happen easily. When we begin to transition from the Standard American Diet to a Whole-Food, Plant-Based lifestyle, it can seem overwhelming. After all, we’re putting “curbside” everything we know in favor of something new, and at the start, where we’re moving to may seem more like a sacrifice than any sort of win. Make your transition slowly and in phases. For example:

Month One
  • Eliminate processed food from your kitchen and replace it with whole- or minimally-processed food. Processed food often appears healthful, thanks to clever marketing labels, but it's anything but. A good example is bread. Bread requires four ingredients: yeast, water, flour and salt. Now open your pantry and read how many ingredients your bread contains. Oftentimes, bread we believe is healthy (because it’s marketed as such) has upwards of 25 ingredients listed! This means it’s so far removed from its natural state that it’s no longer providing nutritional benefits to us. It’s actually doing more harm than good. When it comes to ingredients, less is definitely more. As author Michael Pollan put it, "If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don't." (If you’re looking for healthful bread, we have a love affair with Ezekiel Food for Life products. Check the organic, freezer section of your local grocery store. Here are some additional tips for choosing bread.)
  • Read ingredients … for everything. If a food item contains added sugar or ingredients you can’t pronounce, understand or buy on your own, avoid it at all costs!
  • Use the Internet to familiarize yourself with a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle (look for new ingredients, foods, menu options and recipes beyond what you are accustomed to and start trying them out), or buy a whole-food, plant-based cookbook and begin making different recipes. Commit to cooking one whole-food, plant-based dinner per week.

Month Two

  • Reduce dairy consumption. Choose a non-dairy milk alternative such as Unsweetened Almond Milk by Silk (it tastes the most like cow’s).
  • Research healthful dairy-free methods of baking. For example, did you know that you can replace one egg with 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal + 3 tablespoons warm water?
  • Commit to preparing three whole-food, plant-based dinners per week.
  • Try something new. For example, my entire first year of being plant-based, I refused to cook with tofu. There was no rational reason for this. It simply looked slimy to me and I didn’t want to touch it. Once I learned what a culinary chameleon tofu is and then how to cook with it, I fell madly in love!

The idea is to challenge yourself each month to go deeper into this lifestyle. You may decide to take it all the way (as Matt and I have) or to adopt a more flexitarian approach (reducing meat to just 2-3 servings per week). That’s great too! As author and health advocate Kris Carr says, “Any step towards a plant-passionate lifestyle is a positive one.”

You don’t need to get from A to Z overnight. Baby steps -- this way you learn to love and embrace the lifestyle you eventually choose.

Keep the Big Picture in Mind
Remember why you’re doing this. In your journey, you will likely encounter challenges, frustrations and negativity. Rise above it and keep the big picture in mind. You are taking control of your health. You’re being proactive. By and large, Americans are used to reacting to issues rather than looking ahead to prevent issues before they occur. This is your health. Fuel your body like you love yourself and it will reward you today and tomorrow. Age does not have to bring with it added weight, disease, ailments and an abundance of prescription meds. Don’t wait for a medical diagnosis to start embracing change. BE PROACTIVE.

Build a Support Community
This was probably the single most important thing I did. Few like to go it completely alone and thanks to the Internet, we don’t have to. I embraced Facebook and began building a small but mighty health and wellness community that I could go to for advice, questions, recipes, etc. The most amazing thing about this group is how welcoming, supportive and responsive they are. While many of the pages I follow emphasize a whole-food, plant-based diet, not all of them do. I like diversity in all areas of my life. The one thing we all have in common; however, is the fact that our health is our No. 1 priority. It’s the one group that doesn’t describe me as fanatic or over the top. And when I became more comfortable in this lifestyle, I wanted to pay it forward by starting my own blog and Facebook page to espouse the benefits and wonders of good nutrition and fitness. The entire ride has been a gift so far and my hope is that many, many others start to see this lifestyle change in the same way.

Develop Thick Skin
This is important. People who you’d least expect may be brutal in their comments and secretly wish for you to fail. Why? Because your healthful lifestyle shines a spotlight on their unhealthful ways. While it doesn’t excuse the behavior, try to keep top of mind the reasons driving their negativity. It makes it easier to turn a deaf ear.

Don’t preach! People have their “aha” moments in their own time (and some never do). Show the positives of your new lifestyle in non-confrontational ways -- like preparing amazing plant-based dishes that can be enjoyed by all. I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked to bring a plant-based dish by people still addicted to the Standard American Diet. Very recently, my mother-in-law couldn’t get enough of my mac and cheese, which wasn’t prepared with cheese! The proof is in the “vegan” pudding, as they say.

Never. Stop. Learning.
Immerse yourself in learning as much you can about whole-food, plant-based nutrition. The science and clinical research is on our side. Watch the latest documentaries, buy or borrow the latest books, subscribe to magazines, visit local veg-fests, take a veg-head cooking class -- it’ll reinforce the “why” you’re making this journey and help keep the BAM! in your food. Check out the recommendations and videos sections of my blog for some of my favorites.

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