Plant-Based Living: What, How, Why, and all the rest!
Labels are funny things. If you call yourself one thing then stray slightly outside the boundaries of what's deemed acceptable, suddenly you're not allowed to call yourself that thing anymore. I have been vegan & plant-based since mid-2017. But am I truly vegan? I say yes. But I eat honey and own leather boots and a down-filled vest from before I changed my eating habits. I also occasionally eat a tiny bit of egg, fish sauce, or cheese. So, many people would argue that I'm not vegan at all...
What am I?
I am not a fan of labels, never have been. In my opinion they do more to divide us than unify us.
In this particular situation, I've decided to start calling myself "plant-based" instead of vegan. Why? Because it's totally true. I eat a hugely plant-based diet. Very few processed foods, almost no animal products. I'm feeding my body in a way that makes me feel amazing and cares for animals and the environment too.
But life wasn't always this way. I grew up on a diet of lots of milk, processed cereal, chicken, eggs, and cheese slices (you know the ones...plastic orange sheets you peel off of a plastic wrapper). And that's all good! Times change, cultural norms change, people change. No way is right or wrong. Never will I tell anybody they "should" do anything. We are all adults here, we all get to make our own choices. I simply want to share my story and be an available resource for anybody who chooses to follow this same path as I have!
My Food Story
I first dabbled with being a vegetarian in my early 20's. I had just recently been introduced to the idea and was working in a wildlife rehabilitation centre. There was often talk of the ethics and morals of having animals and animal products as part of the average diet simply due to the nature of the work and the people who had dedicated themselves to the task.
I chose to become vegetarian to try it out, and it was damn hard! My partner at the time was a huge meat eater and being the good people-pleasing girlfriend that I was in my early 20's, I kept on cooking him meat even though I didn't really want to. So it was in my house and I was around it. And the thing is I never stopped craving meat. I wanted to stop wanting it, but I didn't. For that year (or so) of vegetarianism, I would look at a chicken breast or sausage and my mouth would water. I really missed it!
Looking back I can see now I was likely deficient in a number of important nutrients and that was manifesting in food cravings. But at the time I just thought I wanted meat. So eventually I caved and went back to the "easy" way of eating that most of my friends and family subscribe to. Meat most days and often the main element of dinner. The cultural norm in the west.
It was years later that I decided to become vegetarian again. This time it was 100% for animal welfare reasons and I decided I could no longer stick my head in the sand and be part of the problem. If you're either part of the problem or part of the solution I knew what side I wanted to be on! Plus having been a Veterinary Technician for almost ten years and being a wildlife rehabilitator it blew my mind that I spent my days saving animals' lives just to come home and eat them.
About a year in I decided to cut out dairy products and eggs as well. After all, these products are part of the problem. The veal industry and dairy industry are intimately tied. And the egg industry is directly linked to the chicken meat industry. I wasn't ready to cut these out earlier, but the time had come.
A huge part of this decision was the health implications of continuing to eat these products. Mainly how my body feels when I eat them. I did a gentle two week cleanse early in 2017 and part of that was cutting out all animal products, gluten, sugar, alcohol, plus a few other common irritants. Slowly they are re-introduced so that you can see the effects they have on your body. And man oh man did my body not like some of them! Gluten makes me lethargic, bloated and constipated (TMI but true!). Eggs make me nauesous at times. Dairy makes me mucousy, sneezy, and makes all of my allergy symptoms 10x worse. So that paired with the animal welfare side and it was simply a no-brainer decision in my world!
I was suspecting it'd be hard. Super challenging and full of cravings again, but I was wrong! This time the transition was easy and even fun! I was living with a meat eater and none of my friends living close by were even vegetarian, but it didn't matter. This time my why was big enough that the transition was smooth.
So how did I do it?
I planned and learned! I found out what I wanted to eat and followed a lot of recipes at the beginning. I followed (and still do follow) food bloggers, plant-based social media accounts, and nutritionists. I started using all types of beans & legumes. Got creative with tofu & tempeh. And tried out all types of nuts & seeds. Veggies and fruit became my go-to's and I was conscious to have every meal and snack a balance of carbs, protein & fat. This kept me satisfied and healthy!
But where do you find these things eating a mostly plant-based diet?
Protein comes in many forms, and lots of plants contain it! If you're eating a rich diet with a variety of foods, you should be able to get enough protein without supplementation.
But what about fats? When transitioning to a plant-based diet, the biggest thing to focus on is where you’re getting your healthy fats from and where to get your Omega 3 fatty acids. Commonly these are found in oily fish, but that's not the only place they exist! Walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds are just a few plant-based sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.
And then there's carbohydrates. There are three types of carbohydrates: sugar, starch, and fiber. Sugar is the carbohydrate that is generally deemed to be the undesirable one we should limit, especially when it's processed, Starch exists mostly in starchy vegetables like potatoes, and can be very beneficial. And fiber is a very important nutrient and can do a world of good as far as preventing various ailments. This is the big one we need to make sure we're getting enough of, and when eating mostly plants this is not usually a challenge!
These have all been examples, but it's important to note that throughout my journey I've never stopped experimenting and learning. I'm continuing to try new foods, new recipes, and learn about what I need to keep my body healthy & happy. I've also worked with a nutritionist to make sure that MY body is getting what it needs!! Our bodies are constantly evolving, and what your body needs today might not be what it needs tomorrow. Be open-minded, listen to your body's signals, and have fun!
One example of experimenting is this! Check out this post for some plant-based recipe ideas for chia pudding and overnight oats! I have a bit of an obsession with trying out new flavours right now and they're so delicious and super healthy too!
If you're curious about reducing your intake of animal products and don't quite know where to start, I encourage you to give it a try! One day at a time. This way of eating really is doable. It is fun, simple, and honestly I've never eaten food that has me feeling this amazing! My body is more energetic and less bloated than it's ever been. My skin and hair are healthier, I smell better (true story!) and my wallet's happier too.
Plant-based eating is the thing that has me feeling my best, and I'm here to advocate just that. That each and every one of us lives in a way that leaves us feeling great. Instead of eating and consuming mindlessely, get mindful. Be aware of how your food choices affect your body. Notice, think, and make conscious decisions. Choose how you want to live. Choose your path. Choose your health & happiness.
Looking to find out HOW else you can be at your best every single day??
Check out this FREE Healthy Body Love Habits Checklist that is full of things I do daily to care for my physical, mental & emotional health PLUS keeps me lovin' on my body!!
These are all simple, free, and YOU can do them too!
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