So you want to start eating healthier? Boy, do I have a can of knowledge whoop-ass to unleash. But for the sake of love and peace for humanity, I will stick to the most important points and encourage everyone in any stage of their journey towards health to read this.
Most of you know by this point, that I follow a vegan diet. However, this post was crafted with everyone in mind and all, whether you’re plant-based or a voracious animal eater, are welcome!
What Is “Food”?
I love food. To all who know me, this is an indisputable fact.
As an avid food lover, it pains me to see how the definition of food has become so warped in our modern society. The word, “food”, has now been convoluted to encompass everything from the true, natural foods of the earth (fruits, veggies, herbs, nuts, grains) to what are actually food-like substances that we can consume in replacement of food. The difference between food and food-like products is the part that man had to play in the production of the food.
The major draw of consumer driven convenience products often is the fact that we do not have to contribute any of our precious time or energy into something that is perceived as mundane and tedious. For the day to day mentality, this works fine! It saves us time throughout the day that we have prioritized for other things.
What we cannot fail to acknowledge however is the long-term detrimental effects of convenience food culture nations on health, social connection, and gratitude towards our planet for providing for us so abundantly. Are these consequences truly worth the time spent preparing our own meals?
How To Determine What Is Food Versus A Food-Like Product
In the journey towards healthier eating, it is critical to consider what kind of “food” we are consuming. Are you eating a diet filled with processed, packaged, convenience “foods” or a diet rich in plant based, nutrient rich, whole foods?
In trying to determine what is food and what is non-food, try asking yourself does this look like it could grow from the Earth in the form that it’s in when I buy it? One doesn’t have to look at Oreos, nuggets, or Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos to tell it probably didn’t grow out of the ground. The unnatural shapes of these foods alone give that away!
The most effective way to tell what Mother Nature made foods are is to examine the ingredients. If there is more than one ingredient, it isn’t food! It is an engineered food product. When we visit the produce section of the grocery store, the fresh fruits and vegetables don’t need any labeling because the only ingredient in a bunch of bananas is banana!
What Food Is Optimal For Humans
Eating a predominantly whole foods, plant based diet is a much simpler and intuitive process than we make it out to be. By following the simple rule of buying single ingredient foods, the confusing aisles of endless variety of food products of the store can be easily avoided.
Most of us are aware on some level or other that eating processed, animal product heavy diets are not the best for our health. We know from childhood that vegetables and fruits are inherently good for us! Because we are aware of this, I’ll save my passionate vegan agenda lecture for today (you lucked out this time friends).
I will mention however that eating a predominantly plant based, whole foods diet is optimal for the health of the human species. And contrary to popular belief, we as humans can get all the essential vitamins and nutrients from plants alone if we approach it correctly. (For those who want to check out Dr. Campbell’s study of how nutrition and disease are connected click here.)
Our digestive systems are the ideal design to process plant compounds. Our jaws, teeth, stomach acid, and the length of our intestinal tracts all point to evidence that we are not true omnivores. Instead, we are vastly more similar to frugivores, animals that thrives on a diet of “fruit” which really means the edible parts of plants like vegetables, roots, seeds, nuts, shoots, and fruits.
If we examine the comparative anatomy of true obligate carnivores and omnivores, we find that their digestive systems are far better equipped to handle animals than ours are. Frugivores include fruit bats, flying foxes, chimpanzees and bonobos, the latter two of which are our species’ closest relatives. (For further reading on what our bodies are designed to digest, click here.)
Coincidence or intentional design? You decide.
My Food Journey
When we are putting clean, natural fuel into our bodies we begin to notice a drastic change in the way our bodies look, feel, and perform!
In my personal experience, the extra time and preparation that goes into eating a whole foods, organic, plant based diet is well worth it for the increase in energy levels, powerful immune system function, and improved overall general wellbeing.
I used to have what I would now call a junk food diet. 8 years ago, my diet consisted primarily of convenience and fast foods. At the time, I was still indulging in all the animal products I could fit in my belly. I would purchase my meals either at the sports bar where I worked, at University, or at my favorite fast food joints.
Home cooked meals were a rarity, perhaps two or three times per week.
I followed a vegetarian diet for three years before starting my vegan journey a few months ago after doing a mind-bending amount of research. However, even prior to becoming vegetarian, I loved many plant foods.
I partially have my childhood upbringing to thank for this. In my household, home cooked meals were the norm, with eating out saved only for the most special occasions. My parents and grandparents were big proponents for fresh produce in every single meal. Meat was eaten in small portions and was always accompanied by plenty of vegetable dishes.
Of course after I started living on my own, this all flew out the window. Between working crazy hours at a sports bar and going to school full time, I barely had enough time to breathe, let alone cook.
After 2 years of the convenience food lifestyle, I had gone from 100 lbs to 130 lbs at my highest. For someone who’s a modest five foot one, a 30 pound weight gain is quite drastic. And it certainly wasn’t 30 pounds of muscle that I gained. I basically put on a third of my body weight and the changes were noticeable, to say the least.
Yes I was carrying excess fat in my stomach and thighs, but it wasn’t just my appearance that changed. My health started rapidly declining. My migraines became more debilitating, my menstrual cycle became unbearable, digestion was rarely easy going, my cholesterol was through the roof, my joints hurt frequently, and I became far more susceptible to infections.
I knew something had to change.
To the horror of my boyfriend at the time, I decided to go on a 7 day juice fast. During the juice fast, I was to only drink water and plant juices. Somehow, I managed to string my boyfriend into this as well (don’t ask me how, I can be very persuasive). I unboxed my new juicer with pride and spent an exorbitant amount of money on produce for juicing. Juicing is not cheap friends!
Aside from the food cravings and insatiable hunger, it was going fairly well. That is until day 5. Day 5 was the day my entire body decided to break out in hives. At the time, I thought nature was trying to kill me. In childhood, I always had a rough time during allergy seasons and thought perhaps it was my allergy to nature that had triggered this response. I’m now convinced that the hives were due to pesticides – I had not learned the importance of organic then.
After 3 days of benadryl, I went straight back to the diet I was eating. It took me two more years of yoyo dieting, weight fluctuation, and continued poor health to get to the point where I had finally had enough. After becoming vegetarian, I saw my health gradually improve and my weight stabilized. I also wasn’t getting sick as frequently.
In the past few months of becoming vegan, the changes have been immense! My energy has increased 10 fold compared to where I was 8 years ago during the lowest point in my food journey. My headaches are no longer crippling and the infrequent headaches that I do have are usually managed by guzzling a good amount of water and some light neck stretches.
Needless to say, I am ecstatic with the progress I’ve made through committing to prioritizing my wellness journey!
7 Tips To Start Eating Healthier
Developing a healthy relationship with food certainly isn’t easy and it definitely is not convenient. It requires commitment and a whole lot of self discipline.
One of the key things to remember when transitioning to conscious eating is to value progress over perfection. Slip ups are bound to happen! We are human after all. The important thing is to not get thrown off track and to get right back on your feet after a fall.
1. Eat More Fresh Produce And Whole Foods
Stick to the produce section of the grocery store or try visiting a farmers market near you! I personally love the energy of farmers markets and you can’t beat the variety of produce you find, and it’s seasonal which is even better!
Choose whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains.
2. Stay Away From Anything In A Package
Most things in packages have a gazillion ingredients that we can’t pronounce and certainly don’t occur naturally in nature. For those of us shopping in grocery stores, stay away from those treacherous aisles. I know I’ve definitely gotten lost in those sections for an hour or two and felt like it was a time warp!
Your best bet will be to stay in the produce section with maybe a small trip to the grains aisle. Bagged rice is usually a pretty safe bet (not to be confused with boxed rice-based meals). If you look at the ingredients in a bag of rice, it will literally say – Ingredients: brown rice. For a more nutritious rice, choose brown and wild rices over white rice.
Eventually we’ll want to eliminate packaged foods altogether. For those who aren’t quite ready to that yet, try your best to reduce and limit the amount of food-like products you consume. This is something that I personally need to continue to work on as well! (Vegan snacks are definitely some of my vices.)
3. Explore Healthy Restaurants Near You
Try some vegetarian or vegan restaurants, most of them are really quite good! Go with friends for support or by yourself. No shame in going out alone loves!
If you find yourself really struggling to change your relationship with food, eating with friends and family who encourage poor eating habits can be challenging. This isn’t to say that you can’t have these people in your life. However if you are committing to improve your diet and your health, it is helpful to limit the temptations that you’re around.
Call up your plant-based friends and ask about their journey. They may have some helpful tips and tricks! Ask them to introduce you to some new places to eat.
4. Try One New Plant Food Per Week
Most of us eat a fairly limited diet. One way to ensure your body gets all the nutrients and vitamins it needs is to eat a varied, diverse diet. However, if we continue to be resistant to trying new foods, we stunt our own growth. Try and embrace new things with a sense of adventure!
Maybe you’re curious about trying okra or you’ve never tried lentils before but you’ve seen an interesting recipe using lentils. In eating adventurously, we’re bound to encounter a couple foods we don’t like, but we may also many more new foods that we absolutely adore!
Enter the experience with an open mind and see how your taste buds thank you. Experiment and have fun with this one!
5. Add One Home Cooked Meal Per Week To Your Current Weekly Food Routine
Home cooking with fresh, whole ingredients rather than food-like products is far more healthy than convenience meals. If you don’t cook at all, try cooking one meal a week to start! If you cook three meals per week, commit to cooking four meals per week. Gradually increase the frequency of home cooked meals as you become comfortable and grow in your routine!
Yes, home cooking is much more time consuming and requires more energy. When we get discouraged by how effort it takes to prepare our own meals, it is helpful to remember that the energy we put into the making of a healthy, nutritious meal is the energy we are getting back from that meal in the form of wellness!
It continuing our wellness journey, it is so key to recommit to living a healthy lifestyle each and every day. Some days will come easier than others. In times of doubt, we can ask ourselves if the effort and time it takes to cook our own food is worth the benefit to our bodies and our health. The answer is always yes in my book!
6. Start A Food Log
Keep track of what you eat each day. If you ate snacks or packaged foods, try and write out all the ingredients on the label and see how many of them you know. This practice not to guilt trip anyone, but rather serves as a helpful tool to retrain the mind to recognize that the chemicals and mystery substances we are actually ingesting are only masquerading as “food”.
A food log can be extremely helpful in determining what needs to be eliminated from your diet. If you wake up with bloating and stomach pain, you can look back in your food log and see what could have caused this reaction. Once we determine what is causing certain patterns of discomfort and early indicators of disease, we can begin to alter our diets accordingly.
7. Make A Healthier Version Of Your Favorite Dish
For people who eat animal products, try creating a vegetarian version of your favorite animal product-based dish. Maybe this is spaghetti and ground cow balls. Swap out the ground cow for some homemade veggie balls and use whole grain pasta. Try making your own pasta sauce and fill it with veggies you like!
For vegetarians out there, try making some dairy product swaps – cashew cheese for cow cheese, almond or soy milk for cow’s milk. For those who eat a vegan diet already, try creating one raw vegan meal that you really love that will powerfully boost the vitamins and nutrients you’re getting.
It is important to remember, that no matter what stage each of us is at in our food journey, there is always room for improvement!
We should all keep in mind that everyone is in a different stage in their journey and they might not be where we are currently. Rather than judging, support loved ones who are committed to making a change by offering encouragement, celebrating their victories, not enabling them when they slip up, and lead by example!
Always respect your own body and health needs first and give support when and where you are able. Prioritize healing your relationship with food above all temporary pleasures. Remember that the changes you are making are well worth the benefits you will receive!
Did you find this post helpful? Share with a friend! Have questions about transitioning to a healthier lifestyle? Leave them in the comments section below!