Happy July, my friends! I am so proud of us all for surviving the first half of 2020. Wow. Has it been a year or what?! As the fresh produce season in Michigan is in full bloom, I thought now was a good time to write about the last thirty-or-so days of my transition into a “plant-forward” lifestyle.
Over Memorial Day weekend, G and I visited his brother and family in Iowa. While there, we happened upon The Game Changers on Netflix and it struck a nerve inside me. I had been wrestling with my current health and felt like I simply wasn’t doing enough. Enough for myself, enough for my future, enough for my family, enough for my world. As I watched The Game Changers though, it was as if a candle had been lit inside me.
For those unfamiliar, The Game Changers is a documentary about “the story of James Wilks — elite Special Forces trainer and The Ultimate Fighter winner — as he travels the world on a quest to uncover the optimal diet for human performance.” It showcases elite athletes, special ops soldiers, visionary scientists, cultural icons, and everyday heroes, and ultimately leads James to a discovery that permanently changes his understanding of food and his definition of true strength. The largest discovery James comes across is the undeniable and scientifically-proven benefits of a plant-based diet compared to a carnivorous (or even vegetarian) diet.
Following my first watch of the documentary, I began to do more research. I rewatched The Game Changers and watched Forks Over Knives. I read countless medical theses, scientific studies, and personal blogs on vegan lifestyles. I followed plant-based podcasts and scoured vegan blogs. And as the week came to an end I decided to take the jump into living a more wholesome lifestyle.
On Saturday, May 30th, I began what I like to call a “plant-forward” lifestyle. Though not wholly vegan, my diet for the past 30-something days as been completely void of all meat and egg products and drastically limited my dairy intake. I’ve focused my meals on whole foods. It has not been the easiest transition as I have grown up a meat-eater and meat-lover, but my mind was set for success and I am proud to say I have held my ground throughout the past month.
One recurring question I received as I told friends and family my dietary decision was “Why?” Growing up in the Midwest, there was never much emphasis on the way my Americanized diet impacts my body. I grew up in a household where butter ruled the kitchen and our freezers were always stocked with an entire cow and pig. Eating meat was as easy as walking downstairs and grabbing a steak. Vegetables and fruits have always been key elements to my diet, but they were not front and center — that podium was reserved for the “meat of the day.” My lack of knowledge regarding nutrition was a glaring culprit of my unhealthy relationship with food growing up.
Over the years I’ve tried all the fad diets and lost weight and regained and ran hundreds of miles and wasted away on the couch. It was not until my cancer scare in 2018 that I’ve actively been attempting to grow in the area of optimal nutrition though. My future came into sharp focus and I made it my mission to better my health and decrease my chances of future disease. I want to be alive and functional for my future children and grandchildren. I want to grow old with my husband. I want to be the best version of me now and then.
So it was no surprise that I hungrily devoured all the research on a plant-based diet. In my experience, every diet has scientific studies declaring it the best — paleo, keto, Whole30, et cetera. Though each one may have some benefit, I have found the endless supply of studies on a plant-based diet to be the most enticing to me.
There is abundant proof that eating a whole food, plant-based diet is the healthiest diet. When looking to transition into a more wholesome lifestyle, I focused on two main goals for my own life: I wanted to eat a nutritional diet that would 1) make me feel good internally and externally, and 2) be beneficial to my future, my family, and my community. A plant-based diet fulfilled both goals:
- When you eat a plant-based diet, good things happen to your body. Research has linked plant-based diets to lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. It is the only diet scientifically proven to improve or reverse chronic disease. It also fights against obesity.
- Eating a plant-based diet is both green and clean. This lifestyle contributes less to air pollution (eating 1 less burger a week is equivalent to 320 miles in carbon emissions), and puts less stress on our natural resources by requiring less land, fossil fuels, and water (it takes 39 gallons of water to product 1 pound of vegetables, but it takes 47 times more water to produce 1 pound of beef.)
My personal approach to transition from meat-eater to fully-fledged vegan has been in the mindset of sustainability. I knew (for myself) that cutting all meat, eggs, and dairy from my diet cold-turkey would not be sustainable. I want to do what is best for my body and my world. That does not mean I’m anti-animal — this is not a political statement. However, I believe there is a positive impact to my individual choice of going pro-plant.
So I am taking it in steps and considering my approach with this analogy:
Plants don’t grow overnight. They start with small seeds and grow into little starts. What matters is sticking to this lifestyle even when the weeds grow and tempt to stifle my progress.
Allowing cheese to remain in my diet throughout this past month made my transition more doable. I have enjoyed a few treats: ice cream, cream cheese, shredded cheddar. However, each week I attempted to limit my dairy intake more and more. This past week I have been 100% dairy-free, relying on God’s gift to mankind for all my cheesy needs: nutritional yeast.
Moving forward, the next step I plan to take is eliminating soy and gluten products from my diet. (Why soy? I’ll explain on another day.) I also want to explore new edible plant options. Did you know there are over 20,000 edible plants on this planet?! Each week I would like to try something new. Thankfully, July offers a wide range of options at my local farmers’ markets.
I would love to hear from you if you have made the transition from meat-eater to plant-based! Do you have any recipe recommendations? Any inspiration to keep my kitchen alive and fresh? I am all ears, my friends!