Hellooooooooo my sweet readers!
First off, I just want to say happy World Chocolate Day. Never in my life until now have I known this holiday existed, and I don’t understand why there isn’t a huge festival in Los Angeles to celebrate this glorious day. I mean, I can imagine that someone would install a chocolate fountain in the middle of Hollywood for everyone to eat, right? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Anyways, I haven’t done much to celebrate it besides make myself a chocolate smoothie and a vegan protein chocolate dip for my kabocha cinnamon “fries” that I made for breakfast this morning, but I do plan on treating myself tonight. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet, but we’ll see what happens.
So, for today’s post, I’m going to open up about what I’ve learned throughout my journey to a plant-based diet. If you’ve followed up from my life updates post and diet updates post, then you know the majority of what’s been going on. The title is self-explanatory, but in a nut shell, I’ve decided to gradually transition to a plant-based diet in hopes that I’ll eat a diet free of any animal products by the time I start college mid-September! Again, things may change, but as of now I feel very secure in this decision for a combination of environmental, ethical and health reasons. Won’t be going into details since I’ll ramble on and on, but for now, let’s get right into everything that has been going on with me and my transition, shall we?
- I don’t need as much protein as I thought I did. While I hadn’t been crazy obsessed with following a high protein diet, I used to believe that if I didn’t eat protein at every meal, I’d feel hungry and miss out on a lot of important nutrients. But it was such a drag having to constantly seek out a “protein food” in my meals when cooking or going out to a restaurant. Making an egg white omelet, tofu scramble or heating up some leftover fish/chicken actually made me work harder to eat because I had to clean up my messes in the kitchen before allowing myself to finish my concoctions. Eventually, I got so tired of my protein fixation that I decided to let it go overnight. My first breakfast without a protein source on the side was a fruit salad of peaches and blueberries, and I felt perfectly fine afterwards. Releasing my fixation actually rewired my digestion to accept the carbs and sugars as they were. I’m not sure if it’s because my meals were simpler or if I used to combine foods improperly, but I actually felt more energetic, lighter and healthier skipping the protein.
- I alter my palette. From all of the whole foods I’ve been eating, I was able to cleanse my tasting palette in a different way. A week ago on the next morning I released my protein fixation, I found that I was seriously craving fruit. Since then, I’ve been eating so much fruit that I prefer that natural type of sweetness. Same with sweet potatoes, butternut squash, kabocha, coconut, vanilla, cinnamon, maca powder, and nuts. I’ll still use Stevia in baking or when I need an extra sweetener to balance out a strong flavor, but now I find it a bit too overly bitter. Obviously, this won’t work if you’re snacking on Oreos, potato chips, vegan chocolate syrup and vegan junk food. So stick to the whole plant-based foods that come from the Earth!
- Fiber intake increases so easily. Lately I’ve been really good at eating enough fiber because I’ve opened my diet to more fruits, vegetables, starches, legumes, and other fibrous foods. According to nutritionfacts.org, 97% of Americans are deficient in fiber while only 3% are deficient in protein, and if you are or know a vegetarian or vegan, then you know what the most common question is when they open up about their vegetarianism or veganism. There are so many benefits to getting enough fiber in your diet: you lower your cholesterol, regulate your blood sugar, aid digestion, protect your heart, heal your skin from fungus and yeast, guard your body against harmful diseases such as diabetes and cancer, and feel more satiated. You can easily increase your fiber intake without reducing your animal product intake, but I’ve found that because I have more space in my meals, I can eat more vegetables, legumes or starches, and with that, more fiber.
- It’s okay to have cravings. No, not the typical PMS, pregnancy or Valentine’s Day break-up cravings. We’re talking about cravings for meat, dairy, eggs or any other animal products. To be honest, I get them, but not too often. When I do find that I have some sort of non-plant food craving, I just address it like any other craving: I nurture it and move on. Neglecting cravings is like neglecting emotions. The more you suppress them, the more powerfully they will explode out of proportion in the future. For example, one day I was strangely craving a Quest bar, and I happened to have two boxes from winning a contest I entered prior to eliminating most dairy out of my diet. Yes, Quest bars aren’t the healthiest things to eat and they usually don’t sit in my stomach too well, but I knew that if I ignored the craving too long, I’d binge on something else and not feel satisfied. But I ate that damn chocolate chip cookie dough Quest bar, loved every bit of it and haven’t been craving them since.
- Bloating is normal. I will probably create a post with tips on how to reduce/eliminate bloating in the future, but to be frank, I started bloating a TON when eating more plant-based meals. The longest my Buddha belly lasted was actually for two days, but they mostly last for a couple of hours and disappear by the time I wake up. There’s this hugely negative stigma surrounding bloating, and while I see it and I agree with it partially, bloating is not entirely bad. Yes, it doesn’t feel or look good, but that doesn’t automatically mean I did anything wrong. It simply means that my body is taking longer to digest food. Plus, it could honestly come from anything, whether you swallowed too much air, ate too quickly or too much in one sitting, ate too much FODMAPs, salts, fats, fiber and/or sugars, or from a food sensitivity. Bloating is only a concern if you are experiencing stomach pain, indigestion, IBS, irregular menstrual cycles, nausea, heartburn, or anything that seems to be interfering with your well-being and see a doctor immediately.
- The oven makes such a huge difference. Recently, I’ve had the biggest obsession with roasting sweet potatoes and broiling vegetables because they taste so much better than when I’d use the microwave! The texture of the sweet potatoes are so much softer and fluffier, the taste is sweeter and stronger, and the skin peels off way more easily. I swear, purple sweet potatoes out of the oven taste like purple brownies and Japanese yams taste like light beige blondies. Okay, maybe not that identically to those treats, but you’ll understand what I mean if you try it out for yourself. What I do is preheat the oven to 450F, rinse a sweet potato, poke some holes on its surface, and roast them for around 45-60 minutes on each side. I know that it’ll take long but I suggest doing this while you exercise, complete some work or just try to occupy yourself with something while the sweet potato cooks in the oven. Now what are you waiting for? Go bake a sweet potato, sprinkle some cinnamon on top afterwards and thank me later!
- Sometimes the vegan option isn’t the healthier one. Most of the time, this occurs at restaurants where I’m browsing a menu with vegan options and I consciously choose the vegan alternative. Usually this happens at Vietnamese restaurants where I ask to substitute regular meat for soy or gluten-based mock meat. However, a lot of these mock meats are so heavily processed and have unnatural ingredients. Other times, a vegan salad or dish is made with too many oils and fats while the simpler and lighter dish has meat. During these times, it depends on my mood, but most of the time, I choose the healthiest possible option because I want to eat what will be the best for my body.
- I really listen to my body. It’s so easy to follow a schedule of breakfast, lunch and dinner with one or two snacks in between. But I found myself shuffling my food intake around. Sometimes I ate five times a day, other times I ate only two or three times. It really depended on how I felt, when I woke up and what I ate the previous meal as well. It’s a lot more difficult if you wake up late, eat something around 10-11 A.M. and realize that one hour later it’s lunch time, and even though you feel full, you eat again. Trust me, I’ve done that before, and I feel so overly full I want to fall asleep. Unless you’re recovering from an eating disorder or if you are starting a health journey and you have no idea how much to eat, you need to listen to your inner hunger cues. Don’t wait until you’re absolutely starving, but eat when you’re at a 7 on the hunger scale, 1 being full to 10 being hangry as eff. Food is food, whether you’re eating at 7 A.M., 10 A.M., 1 P.M., 12 P.M., or even 3 A.M. in the morning. We’re all following different time cycles around the world, after all!
- Nobody is perfect. At the end of the day, we’re doing the best that we can in our personal journeys. I know so many people who beat themselves up after eating too many carbs or sugar, people following a certain diet and slip up even by a slight margin, and of course, a vegetarian accidentally eating some bacon in a salad or a vegan accidentally slurping yogurt or honey in a smoothie feeling so awful that they contributed to the meat and dairy industry. But just know that tomorrow is another day. I remember two years ago I bit into my first piece of naan thinking it was roti, and I sulked for the rest of the night. Looking back, I realize how silly that was because I’m here today, alive and full of energy, and I didn’t gain ten pounds and I’m not on the verge of getting heart disease! I know that my cravings for salmon might get the best of me one day and I’ll feed them healthily and move on. It’s just the way it is. We’re constantly growing and learning every day, so we’re always open for change. Who knows? I might decide that a plant-based lifestyle isn’t for me in the future, or I might decide that I want a ten-foot stack of pancakes and say, “Screw healthy eating”! We are all imperfect, crazy human beings. And we should accept that.
So that wraps up everything I’ve discovered on my journey to reducing my intake on meat, dairy, eggs and other animal products! I hope that you enjoyed reading this and hopefully you can relate to at least one pointer mentioned in this post, whether you’re on the same path as me or not, and I hope that at least one of them benefits you as well.
Are you also trying to cut back on meat and dairy? What have you learned while doing so?