MY PLANT-BASED START TO THE NEW YEAR
For the past few months, I've been feeling like everything around me has been pushing me to nourish my body differently as it relates to the way I choose to eat. I had many doubts about whether I could really make a plant-based diet work for my lifestyle. Even still, the new year felt like the perfect opportunity to give it a real try. I went from trying it for a week to making it through the entire month of January, which I later learned is coined Veganuary. Here are the 10 things I learned from my 4-week vegan journey.
WHAT I LEARNED
1. Plant-based Inspired Nutrition
For Veganuary, I was 90% plant-based. Why? There's two reasons. 1) I'm not restricted to vegan foods for the well-being of my health. 2) There are foods that I feel are very healthy for me that aren't vegan. For example, fish. This is why I wouldn't refer to myself as vegan because I'm more plant-based inspired. When I think about the meals I prepare in my kitchen, they're vegan. When I think about what I consume at a family gathering or at a nice restaurant, it's plant-based influenced but not vegan. My goal for Veganuary was to consume more plants and I was able to do that without feeling distanced from experiences and food preferences that give me peace of mind.
2. Cook, Clean, Repeat
One thing that I love to do is cook. It's so calming and relaxing to me, but it's also exhausting after a long day of work. I had to become very comfortable with cooking and cleaning the kitchen. This is something I've always done, but I've relied on a lot of processed foods in the past that require minimal work. Now I'm eating significantly more whole foods and that requires more effort in the kitchen. If you're going to be plant-based, fall in love with cooking and cleaning your kitchen. Also, become a little more heavy handed with the spices. I like my veggies, beans, and starches to have lots of flavor so it's important to season to your heart's content. If you want to save yourself time in the kitchen, I recommend cooking enough food for leftovers throughout the week.
3. Meal Plan + Prep
This is probably one of the most important things that will make your plant-based journey successful. You have to plan what you're going to eat and you have to prepare accordingly. I typically plan out my meals for the week and then go grocery shopping 1-2 times for that week. I have found that the better I plan, the more money I save on groceries. To my surprise, a vegan lifestyle has been very budget friendly. Every week, I like to have 2-3 options for breakfast, 1-2 options for lunch, and 1-2 options for dinner. Here are 3 Instagram accounts I love to reference for recipes:
4. Veggies + Carbs
I love carbs. I love the way they taste. I love the way I feel after I eat them. I've always had a good relationship with carbs, despite how unpopular they are amongst dieting trends. If you have issues with carbs, I think there's a lot of vegan alternatives out there that you can lean on. For example, I typically avoid pasta and prefer lentil pasta. I also think that with the amount of whole foods you'll consume, carbs may not be as much of an issue as you may expect. I recommend giving cards a chance and picking them based on what would complement the plants you're consuming. I typically rotate through chips, crackers, tortillas, rice, quinoa, pasta, bread, etc.
5. Read Every Label
Don't be fooled by the non-meat aisle at the grocery store. Many of those items contain dairy and other ingredients you may be trying to avoid such as soy, gluten, etc. Always read the label to ensure it fits your nutritional preferences. Google is your friend. You're not going to know what everything is so do your research.
To my surprise, I have way more energy. The area of my life where I've been able to quantify this the most is through the gym. In January, I worked out 3-4 times each week, and there was never a workout where I felt like I was too malnourished to give it my all. Prior to eating plant-based, I would start my OrangeTheory workouts and realize that I probably should have eaten more. I noticed the difference in my energy level within the first week. Not only do I have more energy, but I also stay fuller longer.
7. Water + Frequent Breaks
I'm not the best at drinking water but I've gotten a lot better. In fact, you'll suffer if you're plant-based and you don't drink enough water. I'm no expert, but water will significantly improve your digestion and make it a lot easier to go to the bathroom. Moreover, you'll want to keep in mind that you'll need more bathroom breaks on a plant-based diet. This is something I love about being plant-based. I'm never constipated and it's wonderful. My suggestion is to understand your body's schedule. Take note of when you need those longer bathroom breaks so that you can prepare and it doesn't interfere with your lifestyle.
8. Household Dietary Preferences
I live in a household where I'm plant-based and my fiance is not. I'm still learning how to make this work, but I've definitely noticed that we're most happy when we stick to our dietary preferences. In other words, I've found ways to adapt my plant-based meals to fit his non-vegan diet. For instance, if I make a chickpea rice bowl, I may add meat to his instead of chickpeas. I don't do this for every meal, but I've found that it's valuable to still cater to my partner's dietary preferences during my plant-based journey.
One major boundary I have is not oversharing with people about my plant-based journey. For me, that means I share my journey with close family. Otherwise, I don't address it. If people ask me what I'm eating, I tell them and I don't address my dietary preferences. I find peace in ambiguity and mystery. If I want to eat buttery popcorn, I want peace while I enjoy it. I don't want to explain to anyone why I chose to eat something that wasn't vegan. I don't care about anyone's opinion on my choice to be plant-based inspired. It'll be key for you to develop boundaries that will protect your nutritional goals.
10. Prep for the Unexpected
If you don't want to have flexibility in your diet, you'll have to do more than just meal planning and preparation. You'll need to make sure you always have food options available that fit your plant-based goals. Maybe that means having hearty snacks available for the unexpected. This could be especially important if you're traveling. If your goal is to be 100% plant-based, my suggestion is to always be prepared for what you least expect.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?
A million times YES! It's February and I'm still going strong. I would like to continue my plant-based inspired diet until there's a significant reason as to why I should consider a different nutritional path. At the end of the day, it's truly been a privilege to have experienced this diet in good health. I'm so thankful that there were no serious health complications in my life that pushed me toward pursuing more plant-based food choices. And should that ever change, I feel relieved knowing that I can confidently make the lifestyle adjustment.
Now that I've made it through one month, I'm feeling very optimistic about what the future may hold. I think about many of the hereditary health issues that have plagued my family for generations, and I'm extremely hopefully that this lifestyle change will help me combat those health challenges (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.).
If you're considering or already eating a plant-based diet, I'd love to learn why and what has been motivating you along your journey. DM me on Instagram about your story! Until next time, stay beYOUtiful, keep life sweet, and never stop feeding your soul. -xo