How to eat plant-based (and like it)
When I first made the switch to a whole foods, plant-based diet many moons ago, I had my fair share of doubts and fears as to how it was going to work for me. On the advice of my naturopathic doctor, it was (strongly!) suggested I cut out grains, sugar, dairy, and anything artificial or overly processed to help relieve the stubborn digestive issues I was having.
That meant no more bread, no more pasta, no more alfredo sauce, or cheese quesadillas, or ice cream or cheesecake.. When that long list of foods-I-wasn’t-allowed-to-have was placed in my hands I couldn’t help but think, “Um, ok, this is like my entire diet. What the heck am I suppose to eat??”
For several months I literally kept a list on my refrigerator (which I created for myself to keep me on track), labeled “Yes” foods and “No” foods. That “Yes” side looked awfully short and the “No” unfairly long. It felt as if every comforting, delicious, FUN thing I loved to eat was being taken from me. I wasn’t sure I could do it.
Even scarier to me was the fact that I knew this wasn’t intended to be a temporary diet like so many before it. I was determined that this switch to a clean, whole-foods, plant-based way of eating was absolutely a lifestyle change.
There was simply no turning back.
During the course of this journey, I learned several lessons from this whole “plant-based” eating thing. I hope these lessons prove useful to you if you’re just starting out on your own path to wellness or if you’re struggling to stick with it.
11 things I learned going plant-based
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There’s more to eat than you think
Although my own paltry refrigerator list may have had quite the discrepancy between Yes Foods and No Foods, one of the reasons for this is that I didn’t yet have a mental repertoire of just how many healthy whole foods one can eat.
If you were to list each fruit and vegetable individually, there are far more than you realize. Add to that the various kinds of nuts and nut-butters, seeds, legumes and other whole foods such as eggs, meat, healthy fats, fresh herbs, grain-free flours and natural sweeteners.
Believe it or not, there are countless combinations of delicious foods of all kinds from sweet to savory that you can make just from the list above. After following several plant-based recipe websites and checking out a few books from the library, my eyes were opened to all the possibilities!
Almost any unhealthy recipe can be upgraded and made with healthy alternatives (so don’t freak out just yet!)
I used to love fettuccine alfredo, cheesecake, Frosties from Wendy’s and Dr. Pepper. At first, giving those up felt like saying goodbye to old friends.
But before you feel sorry for me just yet, you’ll be happy to hear I quickly learned how to replace these favorites with healthy alternatives. Instead of dairy-filled alfredo sauce, I now make a vegan raw sauce with cashews. Same goes for the cheesecake. Frosties were soon replaced with clean protein smoothies and later even healthier green smoothies.
And Dr. Pepper? Giving that up cold turkey proved too hard for me (caffeine withdrawal and all). I had to ease out of that addiction slowly by drinking less and less over the course of several weeks. These days I drink sparkling water with a few drops of soda flavored stevia when a desire for “pop” (do people still call it that?) hits me, which is actually pretty rare these days.
The point is, instead of focusing on my perceived deprivation, I chose to reframe things and think of my new diet as an upgrade. I got excited about looking for ways to give those old favorites a makeover!
Fancy recipes are unnecessary (don’t over complicate it)
Ok, moment of truth: Making raw alfredo sauce is a tad more time consuming than making the regular stuff, therefore, I don’t make it often.
But when I was first starting out, I wanted to make every crazy complicated raw, whole-food, plant-based recipe that sparked my interest. Afterall, if I was going to do this it was at least going to taste good!
It didn’t take me long to realize doing that was just too much to handle. When you’re a busy mom of two, working outside the home and cooking separate meals for your
family husband (who wasn’t yet onboard with the whole thing), creating complicated meals is just insane. Eventually, I found a handful of easy recipes I loved and stuck to those most of the time.
Making it easier on yourself will also give you more motivation to stick with it over the long haul!
[Need a library of healthy meal plans? Check out Food Matters TV. They’re my go-to resources for all things health and wellness. Their library of recipes, meal plans, cleanses, wellness courses, and fitness programs make this lifestyle so much easier!]
It’s not as expensive as you think (again, keep it simple!)
Sure, you could get all kinds of fanci-fied and load up on bee pollen, superfoods, seaweed and vegetables you’ve never heard of. And if that tickles your fancy, then you absolutely go for it.
For me, however, searching up and down the natural grocer aisles in search of never-before-heard-of-ingredients was a sure fire way to frustration. Not to mention lots of money wasted on stuff I didn’t end up finishing because I didn’t like it nearly as much as I thought I would.
Keeping it to simple well-known produce and products and the absolute basic necessities made it easy and less expensive for me.
It doesn’t take that much time (unless you let it)
The previous two reasons have proven this point. Of course, if you want to go all out, then sister-friend, you go all out! (It does keep it fun and motivating at least).
However, if time is not on your side, then don’t feel that to do this diet the “right” way you have to create over-the-top gourmet recipes. Feel free to do nothing more than eat cut up carrots, cucumber, and celery with hummus (and hummus you bought at the store and didn’t even make from scratch yourself! #thehorror). Go ahead and stick to simple salads, smoothies and fresh fruit – no judgment here!
You will still have my stamp of approval as a bonafide “plant-based eater” even if you don’t slave for hours in the kitchen, promise 😉
It’s only hard at first (so don’t give up!)
If you read the introductory paragraphs of this post you’ll definitely see that for me, the struggle was real. Going from the Standard American Diet to a clean, whole-foods, plant-based way of eating does indeed take effort and determination.
However, the learning curve doesn’t last forever. Soon, with enough consistency, eating this way becomes a habit and something you actually enjoy. Eventually, you realize you’re no longer going down the junk food aisles in the grocery store anymore, you no longer want fast food on your drive home from work, and salads no longer taste like cardboard as your taste buds reprogram and adjust.
But you will never get there if you don’t persevere. Keep going and you WILL see success!
You WILL lose your cravings for junk (and actually start to crave fruits and vegetables)
When you eat this way for a few weeks a magical thing begins to happen – you lose your cravings for junk foods. Seriously.
Not gonna lie, it can be hard at first. I know we all want some quick-start, make-it-as-easy-on-me-as-possible magic pill insta-solution for everything (oh how I wish those existed). But the truth is that this takes some amount of work, sacrifice, and grit. The better news is that you are completely capable of achieving it, and when you do junk food will no longer hold the allure it once did.
In fact, if you do indulge and eat a candy bar or ice cream after eating this way for a while, those things can begin to taste too sweet. Packaged potato chips and frozen meals will taste too salty. And fast food will taste downright disgusting!
I was recently asked by a friend, “how do you learn to actually like eating healthy?” The only way to like eating healthy is to . . . wait for it . . . eat healthy. There’s simply no getting around it. I wish I had a profound revelation to share with you but I don’t.
Experiment with different foods and combinations to discover what you truly enjoy. You’ll find foods you just don’t like (period), but there will also be new healthy foods you’ll fall in love with and begin to crave.
The real “secret” to eating like this for life is that you must give yourself time to get there. Don’t conclude after a week of eating well (or one bite, lol) that you hate it and could never live this way. Your taste buds, after much abuse by unnatural chemical flavors and additives, need time to reprogram and adjust. Push through resistance and give them that time.
Your family may never get on board with it (but that’s ok, you can still do this)
My husband and I disagreed on spending more money on fresh produce and less money on processed foods for many
months years. I felt the health benefits to be gained from eating plant-based worth the sacrifice of unhealthy packaged or fast “foods” in favor of more fresh fruits and vegetables in our grocery cart. For the longest time, he just couldn’t justify the loss of those foods and the tweak to our grocery budget.
It took him several years to get onboard with it. In the meantime, I encouraged healthy dietary habits but tried not to insist he eat the same way as me. As much as possible I would make a version of dinner he enjoyed and another healthy plant-based version for myself and our kids. (Another reason that simple meals were so important for me.)
These days, my hubby has become a healthy meal-prepping pro and can make a mean protein smoothie with the best of them! As a hunter and meat-eater, he found the paleo diet very appealing. Being introduced to a version of healthy eating that suited him was the catalyst he needed to adopt healthier dietary habits.
Even if your family or significant other is not supportive, you can still accomplish this goal. You never know what kind of impact your example will have on them!
Going it alone is hard (find your tribe)
Finding others who have the same lifestyle goals and struggles as you can be extremely helpful in encouraging you to stick with your new habits. This is especially important if you don’t have friends or family members who support you.
If that’s the case (and even if it isn’t) find a few Facebook groups to join that will encourage you, follow plant-based eating boards on Pinterest, and find a few favorite healthy living bloggers to read for motivation (I hope to be one of them! I’m here if you have any questions about this lifestyle.)
Get the support you need!
Setting regular goals and developing healthy habits are key (have a plan!)
Telling ourselves “I’m going to eat more fruits and vegetables” or even “plant-based” is somewhat vague. Often, when we don’t have a clear plan of action, we fail to act at all. Even when we do it may be sporadic and therefore ineffective at helping us to achieve the full range of benefits from a fully fleshed out goal.
Avoid this mistake! Decide how you’ll put eating “more fruits and vegetables” (ie going plant-based) into action. Will you quit every unhealthy food in your diet cold-turkey? Or will you start with one meal per day at a time? Do you prefer to count your daily servings of fresh produce? What types of food will you eat? Are you also going vegan, vegetarian, paleo or keto?
Take the time to flesh out an ultimate goal you wish to achieve (putting an end to digestive issues? losing 20 pounds? balancing your hormones?) and figure out the daily habits you’ll need to get yourself there. Writing down goals is powerful!
Changing your mindset is a must
Your thoughts and belief system are going to make or break you here (and any goal you try to reach). If you think you can’t do this, well, you probably won’t do it. If you think it’s too hard, then it’s going to feel too hard. Is that because you truly can’t do it or it’s truly too hard? Of course not! But negative defeatist thinking patterns are going to create a huge amount of internal resistance and demotivation (ie giving up).
Positive thinking and a growth mindset, on the other hand, can bolster your motivation and encourage you from deep within to keep going no matter what.
What kept me motivated was a firm belief that this change of diet was going to give me freedom from the painful digestive symptoms I was experiencing. I had to dig deep and ask myself, which was more important to me – ice cream or a stomach that no longer felt shooting, stabbing cramps after meals? Bread or regular bowel movements and an end to constipation?
In the long run, I realized my reasons for doing this far outweighed any temporary deprivation I might feel. Each successful daily habit built on another until I could barely remember why I thought pasta, bread, and Dr. Pepper were the bee’s knees (they’re not).
If you’re considering this diet (or ANY healthy diet), my advice to you is to just start. Even if that means only one small habit each day, like eating a salad with dinner, or serving of fruit with breakfast.
Pick a goal, develop a plan of action, and don’t give up. The benefits to be experienced from this lifestyle are countless and beyond worth it 🙂
Have you started eating clean, whole-foods or plant-based? Do you struggle with this?
Hi! I’m Liane, a self-proclaimed ‘scrunchy mom’ (as in semi-crunchy). I have a passion for all things natural, healthy and holistic. My aim is to inspire you on your healthy living journey by sharing simple, everyday habits that can transform your well-being and life.