New year, new intentions. Many people choose this time of year to make big changes in their lives. This year will be no exception as we head into a new decade full of promise. If you plan on going plant-based this year or are even considering it, this post is for you. I’m sharing 10 things I wish I had known before making the switch.
- Feeling Shitty Is NOT a Normal Part of Aging
- You CAN Learn to LOVE Vegetables
- You Won’t Miss Meat AT ALL
- The Hardest Part Has Nothing to Do with Food
- Don’t Overcomplicate It
- Some Recipes Just Won’t Turn out
- It Gets Infinitely Easier as Your Confidence Grows
- Everything You Thought You Knew About Nutrition Is Wrong
- Your Outlook on Food Will Change (So Will Your Outlook on Life)
- Your Only Regret Will Be That You Didn’t Do It Sooner
- The Bottom Line
Feeling Shitty Is NOT a Normal Part of Aging
Before going plant-based, my health was kind of a mess. I suffered with sinus issues for years that I had attributed to indoor allergies. Joint pain and backaches were a regular occurrence. These, I assumed were normal, as everyone around me seemed to have them too. I also had near-constant headaches and stress was the dominating emotion in my life.
The funny thing is, when you see people around you suffering from the same ailments, you come to believe they are a normal part of being an adult. You start to just deal with it and push on, because that’s what we’re supposed to do, right?
The truth is, I didn’t truly grasp how shitty I felt until I started to feel better. A few weeks into my plant-based journey and my aches and pains had vanished. A few more weeks and the sinus issues disappeared. Not long after that, the headaches went too. I started to wake up in the morning feeling so good, I vowed never to go back to the foods that made me feel so terrible in the first place. I’ll tell you, leaving all of that behind was an incredibly freeing feeling.
You CAN Learn to LOVE Vegetables
I haven’t been shy about admitting that I was not the biggest fan of vegetables before going plant-based. I feel a little ashamed looking back on it now, but my palate for vegetables was pretty small and fickle. Even the ones I tolerated had to be prepared a certain way or I would take a pass.
I’ve since shared lots of tips and tricks for eating more vegetables, including leafy greens, when you aren’t a big veggie eater to begin with. But I get the impression that people think it’s about willpower, that I just muscle through eating foods that I hate on a daily basis.
Let me clear that up for you, because no matter how much I believe in eating plants for good health, I don’t have the kind of will it would require to constantly eat foods that I hate. I have come to love a great variety of vegetables and feel good about including lots of them in my meals. Whether it’s a smoothie loaded with greens and cauliflower (along with the fruit), a colourful nourish bowl or adding them into soups and baked goods.
Once you free your palate from the processed junk food that is so prevalent in the western diet, real foods, (including vegetables) start to taste good again. It may take a few weeks to get used to, but your taste buds will catch up and you absolutely can learn to love vegetables.
You Won’t Miss Meat AT ALL
Right now you’re probably thinking I’m insane, but hear me out for a minute. I’ve seriously lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked “don’t you miss meat?” since going plant-based. The truth is I don’t miss it. At ALL! At first, I was surprised by this, but when you stop to think, it makes perfect sense. Most people don’t eat meat plain. That’s kind of bland and boring. It’s always cooked with seasonings or sauces that make it more appealing and flavourful.
The beautiful thing about plant-based proteins in that they’re also a pretty blank canvas. So, all of those flavours you loved to cook with your meat, can easily be used to cook plant proteins. So if you loved teriyaki beef, try teriyaki portobellos. Love bacon? Try your hand at tempeh bacon. Loved BBQ chicken? How about BBQ chickpeas?
You can still enjoy all of those flavourful dishes you love, just with a simple swap of the protein. This makes them guilt-free, cruelty-free and health-promoting. So much winning!
The Hardest Part Has Nothing to Do with Food
I have to admit, I thought the hardest part about going plant-based was going to be the food. Boy was I wrong.
Sure, the food felt a little difficult in the beginning as we had to get the hang of what a plant-based meal was supposed to look like. But it didn’t take too long to get the hang of that and figure out how to build a meal that would leave us feeling satisfied.
What was harder was dealing with the reactions of others who thought they knew better than we did. I had to change family doctors after receiving a very angry rant from my doctor who knew absolutely nothing about plant-based nutrition and could not even pretend to be supportive of our nutrient-rich diet if it didn’t contain animal products. It’s hard to blame her though, once you learn that most doctors only receive a handful of hours of nutrition training (if that) unless they search it out themselves in the form of continuing education.
I’ve had to defend my choices and my parenting decisions on this front more times than I care to admit. I’ve even lost friendships over this change. But at the end of the day, I came to realize that anyone who couldn’t support a positive change in my life (simply because it didn’t match their viewpoints) had no business being there in the first place. Period. Finished. End of story. We shouldn’t have to eat the same food in order to get along.
if you’re considering going plant-based, I have 3 pieces of valuable advice :
- It is never your job to ease someone else’s cognitive dissonance. If your meals challenge the beliefs of those around you, that is their issue, not yours. You do you and let them sort out their own stuff. (To learn more about cognitive dissonance, check out this post).
- Educate yourself! Be sure you know how to cover your nutritional bases as well as the whys and hows. If you’re 100% comfortable and confident in your decision, you won’t care what other people have to say about it. (For some great online resources, check out this post).
- Be prepared to advocate for yourself. The animal agriculture propaganda is strong folks. Be prepared for some people to think that you’ve lost your mind. There is a startling amount of bad information out there fed to us by this industry and many still take it as fact, no matter how poorly it stands up to scrutiny.
Don’t Overcomplicate It
When going plant-based, many people will turn to platforms like Instagram and Pinterest looking for inspiration and recipe ideas. You’re likely to be met with pictures of elaborate meals that have been professionally styled and shot. While there’s nothing wrong with a gorgeous photo, it can sometimes lead people to believe that this is what their food NEEDS to look like.
Especially in the beginning, I always suggest keeping meals simple. There’s nothing that will kill your zeal for a new lifestyle than frustration over something that feels unsustainable. Don’t feel that you need to come home from a long day at work and put together some elaborate Instagram-worthy meal. If it’s nutritious and delicious, that all that counts.
Some Recipes Just Won’t Turn out
It can be hella disappointing to slave away in the kitchen cooking up a brand-new meal that sounded amazing, only to finally dig in and be thoroughly unimpressed. I feel ya friend. When I was going plant-based I experienced this frustration several times.
Part of it could simply be that the recipe was weak and poorly seasoned to begin with. That’s always a risk you take when trying something new you found online. But is typically fixable with some added seasoning or small tweaks.
A bigger part is typically due to your taste buds. If you’re moving from the standard western diet to a whole food plant-based diet, your taste buds are going to require some time to recalibrate. The standard western diet is full of highly processed foods that strategically use additives like sugar, salt and oils to make their foods not only appealing but irresistible to our brains. (For more on this check out this post on processed food addiction).
Your taste buds get used to those hyper-palatable foods and as a result, real food just doesn’t measure up in the flavour department. Luckily, this isn’t permanent. Give it a couple of weeks and that juicy peach will taste just as sweet as you remember it. The trick is to stay away from the processed version long enough to let your pleasure responses for real food go back to normal.
It Gets Infinitely Easier as Your Confidence Grows
Most of us don’t embark on a new lifestyle feeling 100% confident in what we are doing and how we’re getting it done. Going plant-based is no different. There will be a learning curve while you figure things out and find the groove that feels good to you.
While you’re going through this learning curve, things may feel difficult, or at least harder than they need to be. Don’t sweat it though. In time, you will gain skills and confidence in your new lifestyle. This makes it feel infinitely easier.
Whether it’s tackling a new recipe, or plucking up the courage to ask for substitutions in a restaurant. As your confidence grows, all that seemed difficult and scary suddenly becomes easy. You just need to hang in there long enough to get to this point.
Everything You Thought You Knew About Nutrition Is Wrong
I’ll be honest here; this one was tough to come to grips with. At first, when I was presented with the evidence that a whole food plant-based diet could not only prevent, but even reverse some of the most common diseases we face today, I was floored. My head was spinning with thoughts like “what about milk for calcium?” and “what about meat for protein?”.
I know I was not alone in these thoughts as these are beliefs we are raised with in the western world. They are taught at home, in schools, and there is no shortage of these messages being portrayed in the media. “Milk does a body good.” “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.” The marketing game is strong.
As I learned more about plant-based nutrition, I realized that most people’s working knowledge of nutrition comes primarily from these marketing messages and the industry-funded food pyramids we were taught in school. The important thing to remember about this is that these messages are marketing, and nothing more. Just a positive slant provided to convince us, as consumers, to buy a product.
At the end of the day, these industries don’t care about our health, so long as they are making money. So, the onus is on us to do the digging, find the truth and adjust accordingly. Change is happening (Canada’s 2019 food guide is a great example of governing agencies taking steps forward), but it’s slow, and often met with opposition from those who stand to gain from society believing that we need these foods to thrive.
Your Outlook on Food Will Change (So Will Your Outlook on Life)
This might sound cheesy, but going plant-based gave me a whole new lease on life. I know I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes, but it’s true. Not only did I start feeling better in my own skin, but I felt lighter both physically and emotionally. I also gained a new sense of confidence over what my body needed and how to keep it feeling it’s best.
My view of fast food and junk food changed drastically. I no longer even view these items as food. They are really just highly processed food-like products. To me, food is the stuff that grows in the ground, or on trees and bushes. Real food is full of life and vitality that cannot be mimicked in a factory. This life fuels us and sustains us as humans.
This simple shift changed how I viewed life as a whole as well. Once I learned that we don’t require animal products for good health, I started asking myself why we have an industry that causes so much cruelty if it wasn’t even necessary.
I know this may be an uncomfortable feeling for those just starting out, so I won’t dwell on it long. The point is, going plant-based caused a mental and ethical shift in me towards a more conscious and sustainable way of life.
Your Only Regret Will Be That You Didn’t Do It Sooner
Knowing all of the struggles and emotional shifts I went through, some would ask me if I regret it.
As someone who has the curiosity of a lifetime learner and who looks at change as an exciting adventure, I could never regret personal struggles. After all, personal growth is not all puppies and rainbows. It’s a gritty, messy business that forces you to question yourself, your values and everything you thought was true. Sometimes growth is about tearing things down in order to build them up, stronger and better than ever before. To me, it’s a process that never ends.
Those struggles are what make us who we are in the here and now. So, I would never regret them or wish them away. My only regret, in terms of going plant-based, is that I didn’t do it sooner. I wish I had learned what I did before my girls were born so I could have given them the absolute best start I could.
It’s never too early to start taking your health seriously. This is a message that I aim to raise my kids with every day. No matter what lifestyle they choose to follow once they leave the nest, they will understand the importance of nutrition to their long-term health and survival. Since I can’t go back and have plant-based pregnancies, this is the best I can do for them with the knowledge I have today.
The Bottom Line
If you’re thinking of going plant-based this year, I hope you can gain something from the lessons I’ve learned over the last few years. If I could go back and sit down with past me, I would have been able to leave her feeling a little more confident and saved her a little struggle and heartache. Since I can’t do that for me, I hope to do it for you.
If you’re already eating plant-based, you may be able to relate to some of these lessons. Go ahead and share some of the things you wish you knew down in the comment section below. I’d love to hear your insights.
If you found this post helpful, please be sure to share it on your favourite social media platform. Together we can make plant-based living easier for everybody.