WHEN IT COMES to diets and nutrition, everyone seems to have a different (and usually fiercely-held) opinion. So take all this for what it is, an anecdote of what has worked for me, and what seems to be working for others I’ve talked to.
Here’s the story: Basically my family history / heredity (heart disease) and ongoing stress / anxiety levels finally caught up to me in 2013, when I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. I’d always considered myself a “healthy eater,” which meant I never ate fast food; I tried to eat organic when possible; I generally kept it balanced with proteins, grains, fats, vegetables.
But the problem is that our diet here in the US is already so radically unhealthy (with excesses of sugar, salt, saturated fat in almost everything) that I needed to pay much closer attention to what I was eating. By adopting my doctor’s advice for a plant-based diet I learned that didn’t have to “diet” at all, but simply shift the balance of what I ate from inflammatory foods (breads, tortillas, cheese, meat, saturated fats, sugar) to anti-inflammatory foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts).
I began to see / feel results almost immediately. While lean even before I started plant-based eating, I went from a 32 waist to a 29 after 6 months. Again, I wasn’t even trying to lose weight, but simply lower my blood pressure.
In the months since I’ve not only lowered my blood pressure, but my cholesterol, and in general I feel much more energetic. And while not directly related to the diet, I took the same approach about being more mindful to what I drank as well. Once mindless about abusing coffee (how the hell else can you top off a bigass breakfast?), and wine / beer(ditto for dinner) I now only have a cup or two or glass or two here and there–and actually enjoy it all way more than before.
As I’ve adopted it, the formula is more or less like this:
Identify each thing on your breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates which aren’t plant-based, and find alternatives or reduce.
For example, my breakfast was often bread or cereal-based: a breakfast burrito, pancakes, eggs and potatoes. I’ve always felt better with a “hearty” breakfast, but here’s the thing: you can still accomplish this with a plant based diet. Here’s what a prepare now: A bowl of beans and rice topped with avocado, tomato, onions, cilantro, and jalapeno. If I’m really hungry I’ll add a side of greens and roll it all up into a spelt or ancient grain tortilla.
What you’re limiting: Dairy (especially cheese), flour, milk.
Lunch for me is often a big bowl of oatmeal / fruit, and / or a sandwich with gluten free bread and sliced onion, tomato, mustard and tuna (or other fish) or just avocado.
Dinners: Usually we’ll prepare a meat dish for the family, and I’ll either take a small portion (like just a taste) or skip, and then load up on salad with crushed walnuts, almonds, pecans, and have extra veggie sides, usually oven roasted veggies–potatoes, beets, carrots, etc. We’ll often make big soups in the crockpot, starting them with chicken stocks or other meat, and I won’t skip out on this, but just make sure I don’t have more than a bowl (actually that’s a lie. . still working on this one).
This is the thing about the plant-based diet: It’s not about “becoming” a vegetarian or going on blowout cleanses or any kind of radical alteration of your existing diet. You don’t have to stop eating meat or cheese. It’s just about becoming conscious of each food choice, and then shifting–gradually at first, and then more and more as you get used to it–from meats, flours, sugars, and saturated fats, to plant based foods. You don’t have to starve yourself or limit what you eat while traveling or in social situations. Just go easy on certain foods (read: what comes out of a package or can) and load up on what comes out of a garden. It’s that simple.
Reduce the caffeine.
I’m still totally a coffee drinker. I’ll just never (I don’t think) stop loving the aroma, the ritual. But what I realized is that after two or three cups, that additional coffee I drank each day–and to which I seemed immune, jitters-wise–wasn’t helping me. In fact, I feel that consuming coffee “mindlessly”–which is especially easy if you work from home all day–can trigger additional anxiety. What I do now is just brew a pot of decaf (my wife brews regular). Often I’ll have a cup of both over the course of the morning. Sometimes if I’m feeling low mid-afternoon I’ll have a second cup of regular. But often I’m just feeling good throughout the day and don’t need anymore coffee.
Again, exactly like the approach to plant-based eating, you don’t have to stop doing anything. It’s just about being aware and making a conscious shift. If you find yourself reading this while mindlessly “on” your fifth cup today, try this tomorrow: Drink your regular morning cup, but after that, switch to decaf. You’ll soon see that your energy level through the day is much better.
Snack all you want. . .more than usual even . . . but on plants.
In the beginning of my shift to plant based, I would definitely feel hungrier than if I’d followed my usual heavy-flour/protein meals. But the beauty of a plant-based diet: You just keep snacking whenever. If you’re hungry, eat. When you think about it, this is what our primordial ancestors did anyway as they foraged / gathered. “Three meals a day” just isn’t natural.
Snacks are the most difficult part though when it comes to straying from a plant-based diet. Almost all packaged foods have added sugars and salt. I still struggle somewhat with granola bars, cliff bars, etc, which “seem” healthy, but it’s really just more processed food. More and more I just keep a big bag of GORP or some kind of fruit/nut mix around, and always have a huge bag now when I’m traveling.
You just want fresh fruits and vegetables first, cooked vegetables second, whole grains third (brown rice), healthy fats full of omega 3–flax, cauliflower, avocado, salmon, flax seeds. You don’t have to revolutionize your diet, just begin shifting towards plants with each meal. The main thing: Be cognizant of what you’re doing. You need your body for the long haul. Start treating it better now.