I have a grocery store right at the end of my street, a block away from me. It’s super easy for me to run up there daily and pick up what I need for dinner. An onion, broccoli, a bag of rice, tofu. Because it’s so close, and I loovvveee to walk, I usually plan dinner mid-afternoon, take stock of what I’m missing, and head up to the store to grab the few things I need.
The trouble with doing it that way is I get to browse through what’s new. And right now, there’s new stuff popping in every day. The holidays are upon us, and the unique gift ideas are piquing my interest. Christmas hot chocolate? Pumpkin baking chips?
How to resist?
Luckily, I have been plant-based long enough that I can avoid most temptations. But if you’re new to plant-based living, I understand how difficult this time of year can be.
You’ve made a choice to follow a plant-based diet. You’ve had health scares and diagnosis’. Do you really want to fold?
What this post is designed to do …
I want to reassure you that this post isn’t going to be one that tells you all the reasons a plant-based diet is good. I’m not going to reconfirm why you should stick to plant-based living. Instead, I’m going to give you tips and strategies to bring it further into your life.
I wrote this post to remind you that plant-based living is truly that … a way of life. But you can’t do that when you’re still living your old life. Nope. You need new habits, new patterns, to help keep you on track now that you’re trying to make the switch.
You’ve asked “What’s Next” and I’m here to help. I’ve lived a plant-based lifestyle for over a decade, and I’ve learned what works.
- It’s about choosing plant-based
- Creating plant-based as your lifestyle
- Stocking up your pantry
- And really getting to know your “why”
- Learning a few tricks that will help you plan each meal
- Discovering shortcuts to make you stay on track
- Playing around with recipes
- And discovering how to talk to the people closest to you
Because I want to tell you that plant-based is “normal,” and when you’ve made this your choice, you’re setting yourself up for increased wellness and a better lifestyle for your midlife and beyond.
Still with me? Then let’s get started.
#1 Why plant-based?
Before we move forward, I want you to think about why you’ve turned to a plant-based diet.
Maybe you’re like one of my relatives who had such debilitating migraines, she accepted the plant-based diet challenge as a way to stop spending days each month in bed.
Maybe you’re like my neighbor who could no longer eat meat when it’s the very thing that keeps her employed. As a lawyer for animal welfare, she was appalled at the ethics of the meat industry. She turned to plant-based living because it aligns with her morals and values.
Or maybe you’ve hit midlife, and you’re noticing the changes. Your cholesterol is high. You have elevated blood pressure. You’re pre-diabetic. You don’t feel one-hundred percent anymore – could it be gut health? All you know is that you’re in midlife, and you have years – decades ahead of you. And you don’t want to be spending any of it in assisted living. You’ve turned to a plant-based diet to help improve your health.
Midlife is a time when we ask “What’s next?” about everything. And when it comes to making dietary changes, “what’s next” comes from seeing your future, and it has health complications written all over it.
My “why” started out when my dad died at the age of fifty-four from a massive heart attack. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, so I started doing research. I learned even more about food several years later when my three-year-old daughter declared herself vegetarian.
My “why” started as not wanting to repeat my father’s patterns. He loved his meat and potatoes dinners. And I quickly discovered how that impacted his health.
My “why” morphed when my daughter turned vegetarian. I wanted her body always to be strong, and I had to discover how to keep her on the right path to do so.
My “why” is for complete health. Because I want to live to the age of one-hundred, and I want to be well and enjoy every moment of it in the process.
I no longer accept the status quo of having to be sick as we age. Of being on multiple prescriptions in midlife.
My “why” is wellness. And plant-based is the way I achieve it.
My “why” is so strong, there’s nothing anyone could do to change it.
That’s me. You have to discover your “why” too.
#2 Resisting temptation
Frankly, I find most people fall back into old lifestyles because they haven’t learned a better way.
We’ve all been in a position where we’ve had something less-than-healthy in front of us.
Years ago, it was candy for me. I loved candy bars: Snickers, KitKats, Almond Joy was my all-time favorite. I’d find a bag on sale at my local big box store and stash it in the cupboard. Then I’d hit a weak point, and into the cupboard I’d go, looking for a pick-me-up.
Can you relate?
Of course, lots of people have their food favorites. We’ve sold ourselves on the idea that plant-based isn’t tasty.
We remember the taste of the things we once loved. A big juicy hamburger. A heaping helping of potato salad. An ooey-gooey brownie loaded with lots of fudge sauce.
There’s a reason you can’t stop thinking about those “favorites.” It’s called addiction. These products are literally loaded with sugar, salt, and fat in enough proportions to make you crave them. (Read the book Sugar, Salt, Fat to learn more.)
I used to cave in all the time. I’d even sneak the candy, not wanting my family to see my weakness. Until one day I started asking why. Why was I doing that? What was missing?
More importantly, I dug deep into what I really wanted to achieve. And that led right back to my “why.”
My “why” is not wanting to follow in my dad’s footsteps. I didn’t want to die at fifty-four of a massive heart attack. I had a desire to turn one-hundred in my best shape possible.
Now at fifty-six, I can honestly tell you I’m in great shape. No medication for me!
My “why” has become a whole lot bigger than craving my favorites. That’s how I know I’ve won.
I’m at the point where you can place an entire bag of candy in front of me, and I will NEVER eat it. I look at it as if it were poison. (Because technically, it is.)
This isn’t an easy process. I’m not going to tell you it is. But if you keep your “why” front and center, if you make it bigger than eating the bad stuff once in a while, you’ll eventually find pushing it aside easier to do.
#3 Stocking your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry
Want to know the biggest secret to avoiding “junk”? Get it out of your house.
As I was transitioning into healthier eating, it was difficult opening up my pantry and seeing what I shouldn’t be eating. I’d tell myself I spent a lot of money on it – maybe I can change after it’s gone.
That’s pushing away your goals and desires. If you have to wait for “someday,” that day will never come. Because you’ll buy another box of lousy food, sneak another bag of candy into the pantry. And eventually, you’ll forget about your plant-based diet wishes … but your health won’t.
If you want to make wellness your goal, start by making BIG changes in your kitchen. Take a garbage bag and clean it all out. Then have fun restocking it with good stuff.
What’s the good stuff? Stick to the outside of the grocery store. In the produce section, head to the organic section. Why? Because organic produce grows without the poisonous weed killers in and on it. If it’s in the seed, if it’s a part of the structure of the fruit or vegetable, no matter how much scrubbing you do, it will never come off. Organic gives you cleaner options with the foods you do eat.
Then stock up on beans and legumes. Black beans, white beans, chickpeas, kidney beans. I keep bags of dry beans on my shelves, with cans of precooked beans in case I want something faster. Invest in lentils, rice, barley, farro, and pasta. Depending on if you want to eat gluten-free will determine what the products are made from.
Spices will be your friend. While you can buy spice from your local grocery store, find a spice store in your local area. Spend some time shopping around, and talk to the sales associate in detail. They can give you lots of advice on how to invest in high quality spices. Two of my favorites are Penzey’s and Savory Spice.
Throw away all of your old condiments in the fridge. Most of them are highly processed, and have an abundance of sugar. As you start building up recipes you love, you’ll fill it back up with items you truly need. Look for cookbooks that help you make your own condiments. Forks Over Knives has simple recipes to make the sauces you love … and you get to add in real ingredients!
I also recommend using a shopping app – I love RememberTheMilk. Whenever I’m out of something, I add it to my shopping list to make sure I pick it up next time I’m at the store. That prevents me from giving up on a recipe and heading out for dinner because I don’t have what I need at home.
#4 The truth about cooking
Years ago, I watched a show by chef Jamie Oliver where he taught families about good nutrition. He showed them how cooking for a family could take less time than running out to a fast-food joint and bringing it home to the family table.
Of course, UberEats has changed that process now. You can order it in seconds, and not have to think about it again until you hear the doorbell announcing it’s arrived. But Jamie’s advice still rings true – it doesn’t have to take hours to create healthy meals.
People often say they don’t enjoy cooking, or aren’t good at it. I don’t think that’s quite true. Most people have never been taught how to cook, and get stuck in a rut when it comes to creating meals at home.
Cooking is something you have to work at to get better at. It’s very difficult being plant-based and eating out every night. It’s easier now, there are a lot more options. But it’s still hard to control your intake when you’re relying on mainstay restaurants. (And when you’re relying on the massive chains you’re used to, it’s even more difficult.)
What I recommend is to find a few simple recipes you enjoy. Look to the author of those recipes to see if you can find more.
When I hear of a new cookbook, I try and check it out at my local library. I cook a few recipes from it, and if I enjoy them, I buy the cookbook on my Kindle so I can take it everywhere. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Oh She Glows
- Nora Cooks
- Minimalist Baker
- You can follow my Instagram too, as I post plant-based recipes from time to time.
#5 What to do about family
This is a big one. Trust me, I’ve heard it all.
- “What about protein?”
- “You don’t like my cooking anymore?”
- “Why aren’t you part of the family?”
- “You’ve changed.”
At times, it’s brutal.
I’ve been at dinners where a turkey, ham, and roast took center stage. The green beans had bacon. The stuffing had drippings. Literally, all I had to eat was the store-bought buns.
I believe that as the person making the change, it’s up to you to be prepared for a variety of circumstances. If you’re close, be open about your new goals. State what you can and can’t eat. And offer to bring some of the food.
Potlucks are almost mandatory for bringing in plant-based eating to family situations where eating could be a problem. I had someone ask me if that’s rude. I feel it’s even more noticeable if you sit there with nothing to eat. It makes everyone uncomfortable.
When you sit at the table, and Aunt Matilda notices your plate, she’s going to ask questions. That’s okay. Prepare a few ideas, so you’re not put on the spot. I start with things like:
“I’m paying attention to my health right now, and for me, that means plant-based living. I’m choosing not to eat meat or dairy, and I’m learning fabulous new recipes I’m enjoying. Would you like to try my __?”
“Plant-based eating is helping me lose weight and feel better. I’ve been eating this way for a while now, and I love how I feel.”
I’ve been doing this for over twenty years. Trust me, it’s a lot easier now. Almost everyone has some knowledge of plant-based. Even simple phrases like above can start new conversations. And you might even find a family member who is more open to the concept than you thought they would be.
#6 When you fall off the bandwagon
I’ve called myself vegetarian, vegan, and a plant-based eater. Technically, they’ve all been true at different points in the past twenty years. But what I like about the definition of plant-based eating is it has more wiggle room for what the definition means.
I was at a Vegefest one year, and a woman got up in the middle of a demonstration and started screaming at the speaker because he was talking about cheese. She was vegan, and expected everyone to make conscious choices about animals.
I get it. I consider myself to be vegan in many ways because of what I’ve learned over the years about factory farming.
Right now, I will never eat meat. Ever. But if I go out to dinner with a friend, I may eat a cake made with eggs. Or eat a salad with cheese on it.
And that’s okay.
Plant-based is about doing the best you can, given the situation. [In my opinion.]
I eat very clean at home, because my refrigerator and pantry are stocked for plant-based eating.
But I don’t worry when I’m out.
Plant-based is a lifestyle. It’s about doing the best you can do, given the situation.
If you indulge, that’s okay.
This is also why I say I’m a plant-based eater, or enjoy a plant-based lifestyle, and try to avoid the word diet. Diet takes things away. If I focus on being a plant-based eater, or enjoying a plant-based lifestyle, it helps me make positive choices about who I am.
Subtle differences, but words are everything.
It’s the Holidays … Enjoy Healthy Eating!
The headlines are scary to me:
Three-quarters of those 50 to 64 use prescriptions each year, with an average of 20 per year. Those 35-49 don’t fare much better, with 62 percent filling on average 6 prescriptions per year.
- Heart disease
- Heart attacks
I’ve witnessed it all in my friend and family group. And it’s impacted people I know as early as their early 40s in a VERY big way.
Maybe that’s why I fell into a plant-based lifestyle early on in my life.
Maybe that’s why I’ve stuck with it for so many years.
When you find something that works, you stick with it. The longer you stick with it, the more it becomes a habit.
If you’ve made 2021 the year you’ve moved to healthier eating, and developed your own plant-based lifestyle, I commend you.
Don’t give up. Keep going. It’s an incredible way of life.
A happy, healthy holiday season to you!