Since Jan. 1, my family and I have been eating 90% whole foods, plant-based and I wanted to share our journey in case it’s something you’re also curious about. It’s a way of eating that we’ve gradually moved closer and closer to over the years. We’re still following this way of eating because we’re feeling really great, and it’s feeling more like a lifestyle now. But it hasn’t been without some challenges.
Before sharing our journey, I know that it can be really confusing the difference between plant-based, vegan, vegetarian etc. eating. So…
What is whole foods, plant-based eating?
Whole foods, plant-based eating is a lifestyle of eating mostly fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and unprocessed foods. It can vary by how much of your food comes from those groups, but our family has been trying to stick to 80-90% whole foods and plants. This leaves room for a little organic cheese, yogurt, eggs, meat, treats, etc. if we want them.
What I love about eating this way is that it’s not restrictive. I love that plant-based eating focuses on eating more nourishing foods and isn’t focused on what you’re restricting.
Here’s a little more info on a few similar ways of eating (1):
- Vegan: Vegans don’t eat any foods that come from animals. This includes meat, seafood, eggs, dairy and honey.
- Vegetarian: Vegetarians don’t eat meat or seafood. Some vegetarians do choose to eat eggs and dairy.
- Pescatarian: Pescatarians, like vegetarians, don’t eat meat but do eat fish and seafood. Some pescatarians also choose to eat eggs and dairy.
- Whole foods, plant-based: Focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and unprocessed foods 80-90% of the time. The other 10-20% of the time there’s room for other items, like meat, dairy, treats, etc. Nothing is off limits, but the focus is on eating real foods the majority of the time.
Why whole foods, plant-based?
The more I learn as I’m working toward earning my Holistic Nutritionist certification with AFPA, the more I’m amazed by the science-backed power of eating more plants and less meat. There have been so many studies that show a connection with many diseases, cancers and type 2 diabetes to eating a lot of meat (2). Plants are also high in the vitamins and minerals your body needs (3).
Before this, we definitely focused on eating a lot of plants and real foods, but we also ate meat, seafood or dairy pretty regularly. We probably ate either salmon and meat about 4 times a week. But as I learn more about the effects of meat on our bodies (and the environment and animal care), I felt ready to make a change in our family eating habits to focus on eating even less meat.
I have been overall loving how I feel eating more whole foods, plant-based. But, there have been some things that have taken some shifts in habits and routines. First …
The positive changes we’re having with eating plant-based
As a family, and individually, we’ve seen some big perks to eating plant-based in just one month! Here are some of them:
- Better sleep. I can honestly say that my sleep has improved this past month and I can attribute it to two big changes: eating plant-based and drinking less wine. I think the combo of the two has helped me fall asleep faster, stay asleep and wake up feeling more rested. It’s pretty amazing. Studies have shown a link between better sleep and eating more plants (4).
- Less cravings. After the holidays, I wanted a break from all the sweets. I used to crave dark chocolate peanut butter cups or anything sweet pretty regularly but I’ve noticed my cravings have gone down a ton. I still have a few peanut butter cups and dark chocolate chips every once in a while, but it’s not a daily habit anymore.
- I’m not hitting that 3 p.m. energy slump every day. Some days it still hits me, but not as often as before. Before, I would feel tired and crave something sweet like clockwork in the late afternoon.
- Fat loss around our midsections. Both Alex and I are seeing less weight in our stomach areas. We aren’t seeing weight-loss on the scale (we’re not eating this way for weigh-loss), but instead seeing less love-handles. 🙂
- More energy. This goes along with sleeping better, but I also feel like I have more energy throughout the day. Studies have shown (5) that when you eat more processed foods your body crashes, so it makes sense the more whole foods you eat, the less of a crash you’ll feel.
- Eating more mindfully. By focusing on eating more whole foods and plant-based, it has helped me to eat more mindfully and think twice before grabbing for something. One of my not-so-healthy habits used to be grabbing a protein bar or granola bar or some dark chocolate peanut butter cups around 3 p.m. Now, I grab some homemade trail mix, an apple with peanut butter or some carrots and hummus instead.
- Improved recovery time after workouts. Alex has noticed this the most. He’s been increasing his bike-rides, exercising harder and seeing faster recover after his workouts. He’s also doing some specific things to help with this, like eating high-antioxidant foods after workouts. (The brighter the food, typically the higher the antioxidants; so berries and red cabbage, beets, spices, etc. are all really good sources of antioxidants (6).)
- Fruits taste sweeter. Anytime you cut down on eating processed food and sweets, your body goes through a period of adjustment where real food doesn’t taste as good. But once you get past that, a few weeks later, it changes (7). An apple tastes even sweeter, as do oranges and other fruits. I’ve definitely noticed this.
- Trying new recipes. This is something that has been both a positive and a negative. I love trying new recipes and have had to find some new meatless go-to meals, but that has been both fun trying new recipes and a little overwhelming at times too.
As I write these, it’s amazing to see all of the great positives we’ve seen. But some things have also been challenging.
Our struggles with eating plant-based
I love sharing and reading about others’ big benefits that come with plant-based eating, but I also want to be honest and share some of the real struggles I’ve had in shifting our eating habits a bit.
- Finding different convenient protein options. My go-to sources of proteins before used to be chicken, ground turkey, wild-caught salmon and chicken apple sausage. It took a few weeks to get used to not grabbing for chicken apple sausage for a quick tray bake dinner, or salmon to go alongside a salad. It was definitely a new learning curve for me in the kitchen. Now, some of my favorite quick proteins have been edamame pasta, lentils, beans, tofu and nuts.
- Finding new go-to meals. Anytime you shift your eating habits there’s a period of trying new foods and recipes to find some new favorites. This has been both a positive and negative, since I enjoy trying new recipes but it can also feel overwhelming too. A lot of our old favorite meals included meat or seafood, so it has taken some experimenting and time to find some new favorites. For example, I used to eat a lot of scrambled eggs for breakfast or lunch so I’ve had to get creative with finding alternatives to that. Snack plates have been a really delicious alternative: peanut butter or avocado toast, leftover veggies, some fruit, etc.
- Skin sensitivities. My skin has always been sensitive, but the first week of eating plant-based my skin was clear and felt great. But the next week and after, I had some breakouts. I think it may be my body still adjusting.
- Bloating. We’ve been eating more cruciferous veggies and beans, so my body definitely went through a period where it was getting used to it all. There were a few nights when my stomach looked like I was 6 months pregnant. Yikes! But I think it was an adjustment period and my stomach is going back to normal.
Honestly, the benefits we’ve seen from eating whole foods, plant-based have outweighed the struggles/challenges we’re facing. With anything new, there’s a period of adjustment but many times it’s worth it!
I’ll be sharing more as we adjust more into our plant-based lifestyle too, but I hope by sharing our family plant-based journey it inspires you to eat more whole foods and plants! 🙂
If you have any questions about moving towards a more plant-based lifestyle, let me know; I’m happy to help answer them!
If you’ve been on a plant-based lifestyle for a while, did you go through these positives and negatives too? Or did you find yourself going through a different journey?