(My apologies - I don't know where June went! I need to get in here and write more regularly! I will try to do so moving forward!)
It's been said, "you are what you eat." I do believe that, wholeheartedly. Going back to Hippocrates' time (460 - 370 BC), this pioneer of health proclaimed, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." I don't know about you, but I definitely notice a difference in my body and how I'm generally feeling when I've eaten something in the Delicious but Dumb category. You know what I mean, right? When you're lactose sensitive and load up a big bowl of ice cream? Yeah. I've enjoyed my splurge with immediate pleasure, only to be lamenting my choice the next day.
Hippocrates also said that disease begins in the gut. And of course, the gut means your digestive system - so it all falls back on what you eat. It is with this philosophy that I've been trying to improve my eating habits to include more whole foods and focus on plant-based nutrition. This is no easy task, but it is already easier than any previous time when I tried to eat healthy because my husband is now onboard, too. After a medical scare a few months back, he decided that he was going to make a better effort to watch what he eats.
On May 17 we began our new lifestyle. See that? I purposely did not say diet. There is so much to say about that word - diet. Like, the fact that the word DIE is in it? Or that diets don't work? Or that the very nature of a diet is temporary? Let's take on that last one. As soon as you think about going on a diet, you begin to think about when you're going to be off that diet! Right? Only two weeks and then I can eat a bagel with cream cheese and jelly! Only two weeks before I can stop eating rabbit food and order a burger! We want the effects of a diet, but we really don't want to live on a diet. It's not sustainable.
We began with a book by Rip Esselstyn called The Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet. Rip was a firefighter and had all his buddies eating plants to better their health. His dad is renowned cardiologist, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., so he started with a strong knowledge base. The book made it simple to go seven days with no animal products, no oil, and loads of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Whole grain sometimes gets a bad rap with dieticians because of the carbs, but on this plan, we didn't eat any processed foods like white bread or white flour, so the carbs were healthy.
Following the plan was easy because there were so many choices for each meal, and you could mix and match at will. We were able to enjoy the food and I think we ate more than we would normally eat. We were satisfied and never hungry. Even the sugar cravings subsided quickly - and I do love my chocolate! (We do indulge in one square of sugar-free Russell Stover candy after dinner!) After the first week, we relaxed our guidelines a bit. Seems I was aligned with registered dietician, Whitney English, who has named her own eating style as "predominantly plant-based." She follows the premise that "diets don't work," and so following a restrictive plant-based "diet" was not sustainable for anyone. Pair that with the fact that she was learning about whole foods and plant based eating while at a seminar in Italy, she just couldn't wrap her head around the idea that she couldn't eat the amazing cuisine and indulge in the culture of Italian foods like pasta and gelato if she embraced the idea of WFPB eating. So, she named her style "predominantly," leaving room for forgiveness when fun, family, and friends created food opportunities outside her ideal plan.
Now, this philosophy of eating is one I can get behind. Never so strict as to forbid any food, I like the flexibility of the "sometimes" or "once in a while" mentality. However, this goes against another philosophy that I've encountered, which puts me at odds. That philosophy goes something like this ... "Why would you ever, EVER put something into your body that you know is bad for it?" Geez Louise! That downright sucks, right? No Fun Frank, Debbie Downer, and Lame Louie just crushes your food dreams forever. I get the philosophy, I really do, but I don't think I could ever be capable of abandoning a food forever. Heck, when I scoop my dad a bowl of ice cream for dessert, I always take a little taste, even though I have my own plant-based ice cream. And I'll never give up on a hot dog when I'm down at the Jersey Shore! I don't make a habit of eating hot dogs these days (and believe me, there isn't a viable plant-based option there!), so if and when the situation arises for me to indulge in a perfectly grilled Shickhaus dog with mustard and relish, by gosh, I'm going to eat it!
Back to our lifestyle change ... We have kept up a "predominantly" plant-based menu since we began back in May. Is it easy? Yes and no. The key is being prepared. The minute you get hungry and there is nothing healthy ready to soothe your hunger, you begin to look for the easy out. The bag of chips - which, although they are lentil chips, they still have some negative calories and are primarily a processed food. So, I try to keep fresh veggies and fruits ready to go - even going so far as to have then all washed and sliced or diced in the fridge for easy consumption. There truly are a ton of things you can eat and create with real foods. If you are not picky about your fruits and veggies, the list is endless!
One difficulty we seem to have is that neither of us knows how to cook without meat and oil. We need more recipes - and easy ones - to help us through the transition and to help us learn more cooking styles and plant-based recipes. I'm stuck in a rut with serving wimpy wilted vegetables over rice or whole grain pasta. I know there are better things out there - I just need to start collecting recipes! Oh, and another tip - take pictures and write down your successes! If you create or find a recipe that is amazing, celebrate it! And by all means, save it! I know we've had some great meals (that I managed to cook), but you know when you're hungry, your brain stops working and you forget everything!
We aren't perfect, lawd no! We tried some impossible burgers - which were VERY good - but then we discovered the sodium content and decided to forego future fake burgers and just have a real one if the craving was undeniable. We eat chicken about once a week - always the best quality/sourcing - and fish on occasion. We go out to eat at least once a week and try to make better choices from the menu. I think letting ourselves off the hook from time to time helps with the sustainability of this plan. We don't plan on changing our eating habits back to the good ol' days. What good would that do? We'd just regress and have to start all over again, and we all know that yo-yo dieting is anything but healthy! The benefits of eating plant based are not easy seen beyond weight loss, but they are felt! We are improving our body chemistry and nurturing our bodies with the nutrients it needs - instead of empty calories and harmful fat, sodium, and sugar. We have more energy and don't need snacks in between meals.
This week, we will be relying on an old standby - Purple Carrot. This is a vegan based company where we order three meals a week that come ready to cook. You get the fresh ingredients, a recipe, and a picture of what it should look like delivered once a week, and BAM! You don't have to think about what to cook! The meals are usually amazingly delicious, and I don't have to shop either! The only thing I don't like is the occasional use of processed foods and oil. But, for the most part, they are right in line with our new lifestyle.
We had started using Purple Carrot a few years ago and we both lost weight and felt great. I'm not sure why we stopped. I think it was because my husband was not ready to give up meat then. But it made us healthier and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to make a lifestyle change in nutrition. (But fair warning - you will eat a LOT of vegetables!) After you get used to the foods and cooking methods, you can get even healthier by cooking sans oil and processed ingredients. (Just what IS in vegan cheese anyway?)
So where are we after 7 weeks? I'm down ten pounds and holding. I know I can lose more, but I have to change a few bad habits - like eating too fast and not drinking enough water. My hubby is down about 15 pounds - and he's feeling better, too, though I think he also needs to improve his hydration habits! I'm glad we're on this journey together, and I can't wait to see where we are after a year on the plan. If you're thinking about changing your diet (what you eat for life, not going on one), I would suggest you do some reading. Rip Esselstyn has several books, and he starts with the philosophy of plant-based eating, and why animal products are not the healthiest choices. (We do eat chicken and seafood from time to time, but we always pay attention to the sourcing - grass fed and finished on any meat/poultry, and wild caught fish.) I'll talk more about this in a future blog.
Food does matter. Hippocrates was correct. You are what you eat!