A year ago, I decided to make a life change in the way I eat and view my nutrition. Plant-based nutrition, as described by the organization, Forks Over Knives is, “A whole-foods-plant-based (referred to as WFPB) diet centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It is a way of eating which bases itself on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes. It excludes or minimizes meat (including fish and chicken), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.” Now that you have an understanding of the nutrition, I will share my personal journey and explain the reasons I chose this.
As a fitness nut, I have dedicated my life to helping others improve their health through fitness and nutrition choices. I have advocated for a “well-balanced diet,” incorporating the basic food groups. From years of competing (NPC Figure), I maintained a high protein-low carbohydrate diet. This type of eating allowed me to drop weight quickly and maintain or build muscle (through carb cycling). The problem I encountered was that, over years of eating this way, I felt that if I allowed myself to go “off” my plan, all of my sacrifice and hard work in the gym would be undone. I was walking around in contest-condition even in my off-season, year after year, measuring everything that went into my mouth. Inside I knew I wasn’t healthy, nor were my feelings toward food healthy. Increasingly, I began to allow myself time off without feeling guilty and began focusing on balance in my life. I wanted to feel better, and begin enjoying more of the things in life, things that I had deprived myself of because of my strict, regimented fitness and nutrition obsession.
Why did I decide to go WFPB? Simply, it was an experiment. I decided to give it a month to see how I felt energy-wise, observe any physical changes, like skin, changes in muscle strength and endurance, weight changes, be able to speak from a place of experience when discussing nutrition with clients. I was curious about how it would go, but I was excited to see. I called my husband at work and said, “Honey! I’ve decided to try going vegan for a month.” The reasons I gave him were the ones I mentioned above. To my surprise, he replied, “I’m in.” Fast forward a year and we are still 100% plant-based and feeling better than ever, having no plans of going back. When it comes up in conversation with family and friends, I get mixed reactions. (First, I do not push my personal nutrition “politics” on others, but if it comes up and they have questions, I will answer them.) Some ask why. Some react by being strongly opposed to cutting out meat and dairy. Some are curious, asking questions such as, “How do you get protein?” “Do you eat fish?” “So, you just east salads?” I explain that I get plenty of protein and that there are many myths surrounding protein consumption and nutrition. Fish is an animal — surprise — so I don’t eat fish. And I eat tons of stuff — fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. Anything can be made into a vegan dish. The bonus is that it’s better for you (discussed next), is less cruel, and is better for our environment.
Health benefits galore! Studies and research in the area of nutrition have made, and continue making great strides. We now know that by adopting a WFPB diet, you can reduce inflammation which leads to chronic illnesses, prevent some cancers, reverse diabetes, AND cardiovascular disease — the #1 cause of death in the United States. Yes, reverse the disease, not simply mask the symptoms with medications to slow the progression.
Fitness benefits a plenty. This gets me excited! I did my research. I read the books, watched the movies, and heard the testimonials. Thanks to stories of dozens of high profile, elite athletes turning to plant-based diets in recent years for a performance advantage — including Olympic athletes, world record holders, and even the occasional mainstream superstar — the myth that WFPB diets do not work for sports and fitness has been knocked on its side. But how and why do plant-based foods work so well for everything from endurance sports, power lifting, and faster recovery? It’s mainly due to their nutrient density and anti-inflammatory properties. The same properties that make them so protective and disease-reversing in the long term make them ideally suited for feuling and repairing your body after workouts.
A year later. How do I feel a year later on WFPB nutrition? The initial transition was easy for us, happening literally overnight. I love to cook, bake, and adapt recipes for healthier nutrition, so learning to revise recipes and use new ingredients made it that much better. Some of our favorites are hummus veggie wraps, tofu scrambles, butternut squash chilli, spring rolls, and once in a while, dairy-free ice cream.
Energy-wise I feel great. No change from before the transition. I work out quite a bit, teaching fitness classes, cardio/running, and weight training five to six days a week. There has been some secondary weight loss from revising my nutrition. My body feels good, my skin is clear, and my recovery after a workout is great.
If you are considering doing what I have done, or if you are just curious and have questions, here are some resources I have used, still use, and recommend to others:
Nutritionfacts.org (link). Website dedicated to the latest research delivered in segments brought to you by Dr. Greger, M.D in easy-to-understand video.
Forks Over Knives. Documentary worth a watch. Researchers explore the possibility that people changing their diets from animal-based to plant-based can help eliminate or control diseases like cancer and diabetes.
What the Health. An investigative documentary on our nation’s health and how big business influences it.
Happy Cow (link). App available to download on iPhone and Android. Dining guide to healthy vegetarian restaurants and vegan restaurants, as well as natural health food stores, vegan recipes, and information on veganism.