My Transition(s) to a Plant-Based Diet
I’ve tried to transition to a plant-based diet before and I failed.
It was back in college and I had just watched the Forks over Knives documentary for the first time. I was totally blown away with the information and decided that night that I would never eat meat again and only eat plants.
Being the eager person that I am, I made this transition cold turkey (pun intended). I threw out everything in my kitchen that was not plant-based and I went to Whole Foods and spent wayyyy too much money buying things to restock this new life.
It went really well at first. I tried a whole new batch of recipes that resembled nothing like what I used to eat. Everything was delicious, but also took a lot of energy to prepare. As the weeks passed, I got into somewhat of a routine with this new eating style, but there was also an underlying struggle.
About three months later, I gave up. I can’t point to one reason that I quit, but slowly I started eating dairy again, then eggs, then all the meat. I dove into blogs, podcasts and Instagram accounts of former vegans who talked about how bad not-eating meat was to justify my quitting. And looking back-- I’m happy I didn’t stick with it. It wasn’t right for me at the time. I was going about it all wrong.
But here I am, 5 years later, back on a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet and totally thriving. A lot went different this time around. Here are 3 things I believe I did wrong during my first transition and how I solved them this time. Important note that this is about my experience, but we are all different and need to find works best for us!
1. I wasn’t eating enough calories
This is a big one, and really common when people switch to a plant-based diet. Especially in a low-carb loving world, I used to get a majority of calories from animal products without even realizing it.
In my first transition, I was still in the mindset that high-calorie and high-carb fruits and vegetables and grains were “unhealthy”. I’m talking things like bananas, potatoes, mangos, and rice. Due to this fear, I stuck to my typical low-carb options (like broccoli, tomatoes, squash, etc.), just without meat. I ate a lot of avocados and slightly increased my grains, but not to the level to equal the amount of energy that I needed.
This time around, I realize that a WFPB diet truly means being able to eat all whole foods in abundance! I do not limit how much rice, potatoes, beans, or bananas that I consume. And because these foods are not addictive in nature and full of micronutrient and fiber awesomeness, it’s so easy to intuitively eat until I am full.
I’m sure I’m not the only girl in the world who has had disordered eating patterns from years of counting calories, points, and falling into restrict and binge cycles. I honestly never thought that I would be able to eat in a way that felt truly free. But in my time of eating a WFPB diet, I feel like my relationship with food is finally healed.
When I describe the plant-based life to people, I always say that I feel like it’s the most abundant and vibrant way to eat. This is because I don’t approach it with a scarcity mindset. It’s not about restricting, it’s about increasing the variety of fruits, veggies, grains, and legumes that you eat and the rest falls in place!
2. I jumped into it
The first time around on a plant-based diet I went right into with no research or preparation. This may work for some people, but I was at a time in my life where I should have given the transition more time and focus. Here are two things that happened because I didn’t take the time to properly understand this new way of eating and jumped right in:
By immediately cutting myself off, I focused more on what I was taking out versus what I was adding in. This time around I focused more on crowding out-- essentially slowly adding in more whole-foods into my diet. With this method, I let myself continue to eat animal products until I realized that I didn’t even want them anymore. It felt natural and easy.
I didn’t have time to think through my decision. Instinct is okay for my own motivation at first, but when enrolling your friends and family into your new lifestyle the reason “it just felt right” doesn’t always get them on board. This time, especially due to my focus on the diabetic health aspect of it, I was able to explain to my husband, parents, and friends about the incredible reasons I am doing this for my health. They were so supportive because I was able to explain it from a place of logic, not just instinct. Therefore, I had more support from those around me AND I was able to justify my own reasoning once my own initial instinct died down.
The meals that I ate the first time around were so drastically different than my previous diet. This made it quite unstainable. I followed WFPB meal plans that did not take into account my own preferences and lifestyle. They were delicious meals, but not things that I would naturally gravitate towards. By going into the transition slowly the second time, I was able to find WFPB meals along the way that I love and have now become staples in my week.
3. I tried to do it on my own
Having a community is so important when making a change. The first time, I was living alone, in a not-so-great relationship, and I didn’t know anyone else that was on a WFPB diet. I didn’t broaden the sources that I was getting information from beyond the initial documentaries that I watched and a few websites. It was quite isolating.
This time, I actually started WFPB because of community! I was able to learn from and lean on so many friends that I’ve made on Instagram and expand the people I follow to get constant inspiration and ideas for this lifestyle.
One more thing...
My personal definition of WFPB does not mean that I only eat whole food plant based, but rather I focus on getting the vast majority of my fuel from whole foods (like 90% maybe? I haven't calculated it and I never will because it's not important). To me, that means no animal products but does sometimes include processed foods when I want them. I listen to my body first and foremost and pay close attention to what feels like restriction and what feels good. I do what serves my mental and physical health, in that order.
To wrap this up, it’s worth it to mention that when I first wrote out this blog post, I had listed out 10 (!) things that I did wrong. But I narrowed it down to these three because they can be applied beyond just a transition to WFPB, but also other transitions in your life.
If there’s anything that I want you to take away from this post, it’s to not be afraid to try something after you’ve failed. I had to be honest with myself in realizing that the first time I failed, it wasn’t because of the WFPB lifestyle, but the way that I approached it.