So You Want To Go Plant-Based? Here's How.
Vegan? Vegetarian? Plant-based? Find out the difference of each and see how adding more plants can benefit your body!
For the past two and a half years, I have been consistently getting three types of looks when people find out I’ve switched to a plant-based diet. The first typical look is this befuddled look that literally just screams “WHY??” Like, how on earth could I have possibly given up all the juicy burgers, crispy bacon, delightfully rich eggs, delectable cheese, bbqs and roasts? It sometimes feels almost as if I have offended them directly so there’s a slight tinge aggressiveness. Sometimes, they still offer me non-vegan dishes or ask me if I would go back to eating meat if I got paid an exorbitant amount of money. I find it amusing, to be honest.
The second is a much more subdued, semi-confused but curious look with a gentle expression of “Oh, really?” These are the people who have quite possibly heard of or are considering going plant-based, yet still aren’t so sure what the difference between vegan, vegetarian, and whole food plant based (WFPB) is. They are a bit more open-minded to the idea and I like to call them the flexitarians. They’re much more flexible in their food consumption and won’t fuss when they can’t have their meat, pork, poultry or even seafood.
The third type is best described possibly like that feeling you get when you find out another person is as passionate or into the same kind of interest as you are. I would rather describe it as if I had met a. unicorn—I’m excited, overjoyed, and feel like our kindred spirits were meant to find each other to share our excitement about being plant-based!
Often times, I also get asked this question, “So, what made you decide to go vegan?”
To keep it simple, it started out as a dare. In my former life as a very liberal omnivore, I had tried so many fad diets and “lifestyle” changes but none of them every really made sense to me. I love food and the experience of it all so I indulged in all sorts of delicacies, comfort food, and even wouldn’t consider my day complete if I didn’t have my favorite egg dish for breakfast. I trained at the gym and did sports so the old-school of thought was that I needed to load up on my carbs and my animal protein.
Despite sticking to lean protein and good carbs, I still found myself suffering from asthma, skin eczema, allergies, extended fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, and hyperacidity to name a few. On top of all of that, I was borderline diabetic with a high risk of heart disease. I was clearly in need of an overhaul so I had a very casual conversation with my older brother about my health and he suggested for me to watch What The Health and Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN Special The Last Heart Attack.
He managed to pique my meat-loving, egg-scrambling, dairy-downing interest and he pushed the right button—HE DARED ME. Always up for a challenge, I went on a whole foods, plant-based diet for fifteen days just before my birthday trip to Paris. The challenge was to stick to this diet that is only based on the consumption of fresh produce. The focus were on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts. The number one rule to best explain it was that I did not consume food with or derived from anything with a mother or a face.
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Have you watched @gamechangersmovie on @netflixph ?? Here’s a fun idea for you! After some recovery, I’ve been slowly getting back on the workouts so this means fueling up with lots of whole foods goodness! Roasted Banana blossoms and heart bbq shawarma, multi colored quinoa, mushrooms and hummus, vegan shakshouka, some sweet potatoes, seeds and bush dust 😍
This meant that I avoided any and all types of meats including poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. I avoided adding any refined sugar and consuming sweet products, oil and other carbs like pasta, bread and rice that used white flour. At first, I was skeptical and found it challenging to eat out. This gave me even more motivation to win the challenge and get creative. Since I love to cook, I went on to do some research and reassess my relationship with food. I slowly built the habit of discerning, choosing and deciding what to put in my body.
At the very end of the fifteen-day challenge, I found myself to be more energetic, less irritable, suffering less from inflammation, and I even managed to sleep better! My performance at the gym changed as well—I was lifting better, running longer, and could sustain my high intensity interval training for longer periods of time. I also started to sweat more which meant that my excretory system was working better (before that I never really sweat during my workouts unless I wore a sauna suit). I was so amazed at how much even two weeks made a difference!
Initially, I thought of it as just a challenge. So, I went off to Paris for a month to go on holidays, cook, and enjoy myself. I ate EVERYTHING I WANTED. I fell back into that abyss of letting go. By the time I got back to Manila, I basically rebounded into old habits and was in much worse shape than before the challenge. I felt defeated but something started to change. I began to connect the dots and make clearer and better goals for myself. I knew I wanted to be healthier and feel better about myself to also address my stress, anxiety, and other issues.
I started not from scratch but this time, I started from experience. I put two and two together to connect how the act of eating and nourishing my body is a form of self-love and expression. I started looking at myself in the mirror again but with a more positive and kind approach. Knowledge is power and so I looked more into the science and studies of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, read more, researched and got myself informed. I wanted to feel better so I slowly decided to be a flexitarian. I focused more on consuming fish, limit my egg intake, and get back on track.
After another month, I had to return for a trip back to Europe. This time, I was much more choosy about the food I ate and became more aware of old habits creeping in. It was definitely a bit more of a challenge so I decided to immerse myself in more information to the point that I knew I had to take control of my life in a proactive, positive, and encouraging way. Information can be scary and intimidating but at the same time, it should be empowering.
Did you know that according to studies and research, consuming animal protein especially those farmed and produced on a massive scale increase your risk of developing heart failure by 43%, diabetes by 50%, and even just one serving of poultry or red meat daily raises your high blood pressure by about 30%? A lot of this resonated with me because I was consuming a lot of animal protein and bi-products daily. As a result, my health was affected in such a way that I was spending an average of about Php12,000/month on medication, therapy sessions, diet pills, and other pharmacological interventions just to address my issues.
When I returned to Manila, I felt much more ready to commit to feeling better. I had found my “why”. From then on, everything just snowballed into me going full vegan not just for my health but for the environment too! To this day, I can honestly say that it has been one of the best decisions I have made for myself. I am no longer on any maintenance medication or popping pills to address any hyperacidity, pain, inflammation, or even nebulizing for my asthma.
My skin has cleared up and so have my allergies. I’ve been performing better at the gym despite skeptics telling me I can’t perform optimally without animal protein. Yet, I still manage to go beyond my expectations in most of my workouts and constantly try to beat my personal best records. On top of that, I have safely lost about 30lbs of fat and 100lbs of unhealthy ego on my journey so far. I have rediscovered not only my relationship with my body but also with food, with Mother Earth, and even those around me.
This decade has seen a lot of emphasis on the extreme challenges in the ecological and social arena. Hot topics such as global warming, destruction of our environment on a massive scale, species on the verge of extinction, more and more cases of increase of non-discriminating diseases in the world’s population leading to loss of life, and other extremely distressing adverse effects of our actions as human beings.
When we clearly look at all of the issues and problems of today, we may find ourselves overwhelmed and possibly feeling exasperated. The truth is, everybody can still make a difference. When we shift our focus on actionable, consistent decisions that can have a positive effect on ourselves and those around us, the results can be amazing!
Think about “Going Local—-Glocal” to be able to go GLOBAL. Ask yourself, “What can I do well right now to be able to make a difference?”
I’m asking you to think of it this way because laying this foundation of mindfulness will in effect blossom into bigger and higher significance to you and to those around you. What started out as a dare especially during the time when not many people would want to give up so many food and lifestyle habits, became such a life-changing journey for me that I wish for others to experience even once in their life because if not now, then when?
Tips on how to slowly transition without going cold turkey:
1. Be clear about your goals.
Write down your goals and your plan. It has to make sense to you, otherwise, you will find yourself resisting and falling back into old habits. Whether you are doing it for your health, for the environment, religion, or ethics, make sure you are clear with yourself.
2. Preparation and planning are your best friends.
Whether its doing the grocery, meal prepping, ordering from a food service, reading labels, asking for special meals on your flight, or just plain and simple asking for what you want, always take the extra time to do your research to plan things out for yourself. Whether it is you traveling, going to an event, a restaurant with other people, a friend’s house, or a party, go the extra mile for yourself to make special arrangements, scope out the menu, inform your host, or even eat ahead. It will definitely prevent you from getting into any stressful hangry situations.
3. Educate yourself and get creative.
There’s so much information out there on social media, Pinterest, YouTube, blogs, books, and other resources. Almost anything is veganizeable. Have fun with it! You don’t always have to be eating cold salads or French fries.
4. Keep it clean.
Enjoy the vegan burgers, pizzas, and pastas but like with any other diet or lifestyle preference, balance is key. It is so easy to be an unhealthy vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, or flexitarian. Focus on nutrient-dense foods rather than stuffing yourself with Oreos and pasta.
5. Have fun!
Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect vegan, a perfect vegetarian, or a perfect anything for that matter! Every body is different and what works for me may not necessarily be the best for you. If you get sidetracked, just start again. Nobody is here to judge you. What is important is that you always do your best and keep going back to your goals to keep things in perspective. Don’t keep repeating to yourself what you have to give up. Focus all your attention on what you have to gain from this experience. Find people who encourage you as well as people who want to go through the process with you. Be accountable but also enjoy the transformative process of it all!
Follow AUA on Instagram @lifewithaua for lots of delicious plant-based meal ideas!