Thursday, April 2, 2015

Getting Out of the Meatrix...How to Get Started on a Plant-Based Diet - Part I

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A diet by definition can mean widely different things. In one sense, it can mean a temporary restriction of eating for a particular purpose, such as weight-loss. In another sense, it can simply mean the foods that someone habitually eats, long-term. There are a bunch of fad diets out there that if followed, will not lead to long-term health. For example, the popular low-carb diets (Paleo, Atkins, etc.) are not sustainable long-term. The human body relies on carbohydrates for energy, so removing nearly all carbs from your diet forces your body into ketosis, i.e., starvation. The body is not meant to survive long-term without carbohydrates. Plus, all that saturated fat and cholesterol is highly likely to catch up with you one cannot out-exercise clogged arteries.

A plant-based diet -- in the long-term, habitual eating sense -- is essentially a high-carb, low-fat diet. And I do not mean purchasing "low-fat" labeled food products, because eating a "low-fat" diet still leads a person to consume about 30-40% of calories from fat. The important distinction is that a healthy plant-based diet will consist mainly of complex-carbohydrates (as opposed to simple sugars). A healthy plant-based diet is a diet that consists of whole, plant foods. The more intact the food (i.e., not processed or blended), the more it will fill and satisfy.

This post is intended to provide a helpful guide on how to get started on a plant-based diet. It's really about changing your habits and lifestyle to reflect a decision you make. So before I begin with the helpful guide, I'd like to briefly discuss the stages you might expect to go through.

The Stages of Going Plant-Based:

  1. Curiosity is Piqued - This stage occurs when you first hear about a plant-based diet, maybe watch a documentary, read a book, or hear about it from a friend. Some people hear about a plant-based diet and immediately dismiss it as a possible lifestyle for them.

    But some people hear about it and want to know more. They begin to imagine what their life might be like if they tried it. They hear the benefits of it and find those benefits appealing and possibly worth the effort of making a huge change. The idea of being able to have more control over your health can be very appealing and motivating.

  2. Doubt or Making Excuses - But they are very likely to have some doubts right off the bat. A plant-based diet contradicts a lot of what you hear in mainstream in terms of what is "healthy." But where will you get your protein? Calcium? But I thought fish is good for you because of the omega-3's and it has 'the good kind of fat.'

    All of these doubts are normal and expected because we live in a society that is at the mercy of large food companies throwing advertisements and misleading information at you day in, day out in the hopes of boosting sales. What's worse is that many of these companies actually pay for "research" to be done on their product (but only if they get the results painting the company's product in a favorable light). The media then spreads the "breakthrough research study finds"'s no wonder a person ends up confused about what is truly healthy.

    This stage is also the time when you begin to doubt yourself and your ability to make a change. You are likely to make excuses about how it's too hard, too extreme, or too bland. You are at the greatest risk of quitting before even trying at this stage.

  3. Decision Time - You've spent time asking questions and seeking answers, doubting and making excuses. But now it's time to make a decision. Only you can decide what's right for yourself. I encourage you to make a decision that you know you can live with and stick to.

    Some people (this was what Michael and I decided to do initially) will decide to try a plant-based diet for a trial period and then re-evaluate. Others may be firm in their decision to make a permanent change. Some people may decide not to go fully plant-based, but decide to eat less animal products in general. And others may decide that they are not willing to try a plant-based diet at all.

  4. Starting to Make a Change - If you decide to try a plant-based diet, either permanently or as a trial, you will begin to make a change in your lifestyle. You will probably seek recipes or cookbooks that are plant-based because (like us when we started) you will have no idea where to begin. You will likely make some dishes you are surprised to love, and others that turn out to be a disaster. It's very similar to learning how to cook all over again.

    Some people will make a change all at once (cold turkey), while others will slowly transition to a plant-based diet over a few weeks. There's no right or wrong way to do it, but I will say that if you transition slowly, you are more likely to struggle because your taste buds will take longer to adjust because you'll be eating plant-based foods while still eating the typical high-fat foods.

  5. Struggles and Temptations - The moment of truth. You're hungry and caught off guard. It could happen when you forget your lunch and have to decide what you're going to do. It could happen in the form of being invited out to a restaurant. Perhaps you're rushed and had a stressful day and don't have any food already prepared, so you're tempted to order a pizza or stop by the drive-thru. Sometimes mischievous friends or family will literally shove something in your face and say, "Come on, you know you want to eat this!" Perhaps you are teased for eating like a rabbit and are tempted to give into social pressure.

    It's not a question of if you will struggle or be tempted to stray from a plant-based diet, but when. This is when you find out just how committed you are to the decision you made in stage 3.

  6. Regroup and Either Continue or Give Up - After struggling or being tempted, you will have to regroup. You either gave in and strayed from a plant-based diet or you stuck with it. Celebrate if you had a victory. If you gave in, don't beat yourself up about it, but do form your decision on what you will do next: continue trying or give up and go back to your previous diet. Again, only you can decide what's right for you.

    Hopefully by the time you reach this stage, you might have already experienced some of the immediate benefits of eating a plant-based diet, such as increased energy, reduced/eliminated headaches, smooth digestion, or a little weight-loss. Depending on your situation and personality, you may cycle through stages 5 and 6 a few times.

  7. A Habit Formed - If you decide to continue trying to eat a plant-based diet, eventually you will see that you have formed a habit and made a lifestyle change. You will find that you enjoy the food you eat, you feel better, have experienced improvements in your health, and have made this change a part of your life. You will also realize that it's possible to co-exist with people who do not follow a plant-based diet. You will continue to adapt and learn as time passes. You will build up an arsenal of recipes you love to make. You will get through the holidays, social gatherings, and travel.

    You'll look back one day at the foods you used to eat and wonder why they ever appealed to you at all. You will see that you are unplugged from the Meatrix. :)

In the next post I'll move forward with a helpful guide on how to get started on a plant-based diet.


  1. I love this post. It's so helpful, and you are dead on in your description of the stages. I spent SO much time in the doubt/making excuses stage before continuing, and even after starting I continued to make excuses for why I was slipping up and still letting non plant based foods sneak in.

    Thank you for sharing this post!