Many people ask me how to start a whole foods plant-based lifestyle. Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to start. It is proven to prevent and in some cases reverse our leading killers like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic disease; many have lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol, got over their eating disorder, while others cured their lifelong skin allergies like eczema, acne, arthritis. Last year, Harvard researchers concluded that “replacing animal protein with plant protein was associated with lower mortality.” Some just want to lose weight without dieting. More and more people are becoming vegan because they want to live more consciously, by reducing their carbon footprint on the planet and by not contributing to the suffering of animals in the food industry. It is very common for someone to start for one of these reasons and end up embracing the lifestyle for all of the above.
But how does one start? Change can be overwhelming when you focus on what you give up instead of what you will gain. Just look at change like the caterpillar going through chrysalis before becoming a beautiful butterfly.
We don’t realise it, but we have become addicted to meat, dairy and eggs and for many of us, processed food and junk food. Our palate has been hijacked so that when we eat something natural like a vegetable or a fruit, it tastes bland. One example of such addiction is dairy: most people are lactose intolerant, yet cheese is often the food that is most difficult to give up. And it’s not just the high salt high fat combination that keeps us coming for more, but the Casomorphins in cheese. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Casomorphins are morphine-like compounds that attach to the “same opiate receptors in the brain as heroin and other narcotics” *. Of course they’re less potent than morphine, but strong enough to keep us hooked.
Fortunately anyone can break these addictions and start a healthy lifestyle.
Our taste buds have a memory of around 3 weeks, so all you need to do, is to keep at it for 3 weeks to a month. My most important advice is to not diet, not restrict. My second most important advice is to find pleasure in eating healthy. Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to eat steamed vegetables every day and be miserable.
Some people change the way they eat overnight. You can do it if this suits you, and if your “why” is strong enough (sickness, saving animals). This was my case, but that’s also how I operate in everything I do. I make a decision and just do it. Just do what feels natural to you.
Many people feel more comfortable with a step by step approach. If this is you, my advice is to do the following over three weeks:
- The first week, you focus on finding your perfect plant-based breakfast. It can be a large bowl of fruits, oatmeal cooked with banana and the plant-based milk of your choice, overnight chia seeds pudding, avocado toast, scrambled tofu with veggies, or even noodles. Another big hit is “nice cream” : simply blend frozen bananas with whatever topping you like. Voila.
- The second week, you are already eating a healthy breakfast and you now focus on lunch. Lunch can be noodles, fried rice with tofu, taco bowl, wholegrain tomato pasta, even pizza (without cheese), large mixed salads. Unrefined carbs like wild rice, quinoa or starches like potatoes are not your enemy and will not make you fat. The carbs you want to eat less of are the processed ones like white bread, white rice and white pasta, and foods fried in oil.
- The third week, now that you have a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch, you can focus on dinner. We don’t need to eat too much since we are going to bed after. Try zucchini pasta, “fried” cauliflower “rice”, oven baked potato fries, bean soup, rice paper rolls, or a plate of greens. The possibilities are endless.
Here are some essential tips that can help you:
- eat when you’re hungry and until you are almost full
- snack on fruits, dried fruits and nuts
- don’t try to eat perfectly, only better. When you eat out, don’t stress. Just ask for plant-based options. “Can I have this pasta without cheese?”. Easy.
- listen to your body
- drink plenty of water
- if you’re trying to lose weight, use an app like Cronometer or Lifesum to record your progress. It can also help to use a food scale for awhile to understand how much you are really eating and the difference between 200 and 500 grams.
- love yourself. When we set an intention that comes from a place of love (“I love my body, I want to honour it so I want to eat healthy”) we have better results than when it comes from a place of negativity (“I have to eat healthy because my diet is so bad
- be patient and enjoy the journey. You are changing your lifestyle and things will evolve overtime.
You will likely experience some positive side effects as early as three weeks: more energy, improved digestion, better sleep, better skin, some weight loss, less period cramps and before you know it, you will start craving for fruits, avocado or even broccoli.
Also reinforce your “why” in the process: watch documentaries like What the Health, Cowspiracy (both available for download or on Netflix) , follow some animal sanctuary like Goats of Anarchy on social media, browse through nutritionfacts.org for short videos on nutrition, and find your inspiration on Youtube. I personally like High Carb Hannah, Fully Raw Kristina, and Ellen Fisher with her beautiful kids. There are plenty more I post about on Instagram and I’m ready to help too :)
Let us know in the comments if you have any challenge, question or if you want to share tips with others. All the best on your new journey!