What if you could make just one change that could help you lose weight, reverse disease, help the planet, eliminate animal cruelty and save money? A change that will work over the long term, incrementally, without a bunch of calorie or carb counting? A change that will deliver more energy, better focus, lower your costs for prescription drugs and other medical care, while reducing your risk for many chronic conditions associated with aging.
Plant-based. Whole food, plant-based. That's all. It's just that simple. Whoa! I can hear you saying that it's too hard! Too expensive! I disagree. In fact, it's never been easier.
What are the most popular New Year's resolutions? About 39% of people will say they want to 'improve their diet'. Another 48% want to lose weight. But, according to medical experts an estimated 45 million Americans go on a diet each year, and spend about $33 billion each year on weight loss products like programs and books. Yet, nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Obviously, that money isn't delivering what people say they want: weight loss that is attainable and sustainable.
We've all heard about 'yo-yo dieting'. We've all been there. I know that I have. You lose a few pounds, maybe a lot of pounds, only to watch it come creeping back over the course of the year. The trick is to cut that yo-yo string, and never look back.
I started my journey about six years ago by becoming a Pescatarian (eating fish and dairy in addition to a whole food, plant-rich diet), then Vegetarian (plants plus dairy) and finally becoming whole-food, plant-based Vegan. I consume absolutely no dairy (that includes eggs), or other animal proteins. I also do not use added oil ... including to cook with. The weight fell off effortlessly during this journey, and as I moved to the WFPBNO (Whole foods, Plant-based, No added oil) diet, I lost even more weight. I'm now at a weight that I could only have dreamed of just a few years ago. I'm the same weight now that I was in my early 20's. Without counting a single calorie. I don't avoid carbs. I eat plenty of whole-grain breads, pasta, rice and other grains. I'm post-menopausal, and closing in on 70 years old. I don't spend hours at the gym ... I don't even go to the gym, opting to walk for 30 minutes daily (I'm the neighborhood 'dog biscuit lady' and would hate to disappoint my fans) and do strength training at home a few times a week.
Have you read the How Not to Diet book by Dr. Michael Greger?
Much of my motivation came from a health perspective. I watched my father and paternal grandmother die from the ravages of Type II Diabetes, and I'd become Pre-Diabetic myself. My father had horrible Diabetic Neuropathy and died of a massive heart attack at just age 66. Then, there was Stage III, Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. I'm a survivor, and I'd like to keep it that way. Bottomline? Research is showing that the risk chronic diseases like Diabetes, many cancers, heart disease, Alzheimers and more can be mitigated by following a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle.
You might want to read about the 7 Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Meat.
You might think that you're too old to start a plant-based diet. My husband turned 90 in 2021. He loves the changes he's seen in his own health, and his doctors are amazed. In fact, they eliminated some of his cardiac medications. They were even more surprised when they couldn't find any evidence of A-fib. That's right. My husband needed a pacemaker about 15 years ago due to slow heart rate. He also needed medication to control Atrial fibrillation. During his last couple of checkups, they could find no evidence of A-fib. At all. Don't let age hold you back. You can make a big difference for the years you have left.
This takes some pre-planning for most people. So, I suggest taking a week to think about the foods that you could lose, and those that you really like. Find sources of recipes that you like, and can follow. Most of these I've listed also have online 'Kickstarter' plans for plant-based beginners. Consider these:
Once you've done some planning, try a few weeks of purely plant-based eating. You can do anything for just a short time. I'm pretty sure that you'll find you don't 'miss' the animal products as much as you thought you might.
Need a little help with meal planning? Consider this Plant-based Meal Planner.
Here's something else - buying fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes is much cheaper than animal sourced foods. Shop from the bulk bins at your local markets. Keep your pantry stocked with whole grains (brown rice, Kamut, Farro for example), legumes (beans and lentils), and whole grain pastas. Buy in quantity when you can. Invest in a multi-cooker (InstanPot, for example) which makes cooking grains and beans so much faster and easier!
Take the Forks Over Knives online culinary course or the more professionally oriented, Rouxbe course. Another great option is the Swich Online Plant-Based Learning module. You'll learn so many easy techniques to make this plant-based journey effortless and delicious.
Then, watch these documentaries for a dose of inspiration:
You might also want to take advantage of a Plant-Based Workshop such as the one offered at the University of California, Davis.
How to start? Well, that sort of depends on your unique circumstances. Reluctant kids or partners will necessitate a different approach, but here are some general ideas:
1) Ditch the dairy. Replace all milk and dairy products with soy, rice, almond, cashew, oat and hemp alternatives. Use nondairy yogurt or kefir and soy or coconut-milk coffee creamer. This is one of the most powerful things you can do for your health. You'll be eliminating a lot of saturated fat, plus the hormones and antibiotics found in dairy. It's been known for years that the incidence of hormone related cancers are highest in societies with the highest dairy consumption. We love the 365 Oat creamer in our coffee!
2) Stock up on legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and vegan meat alternatives like tofu veggie burgers, nutritional yeast, Seitan and Tempeh. Try to make at least one meal per week (Meatless Monday for example) from these ingredients.
3) Breakfast can be the easiest place to start. Overnight Oats are a wonderful way to start the day with whole grains. You can also cook up several days worth of rolled whole grains (like a 5 Grain blend usually available from bulk bins) in a multi-cooker (Instant Pot). When it's done, open the pot, mix in some more uncooked grains, ground flaxseed or Chia seeds, raisins, seeds, sliced almonds for example. Refrigerate and you'll be ready to rock it out with the addition of plant milk and the microwave. You can also make Smoothies, but remember that juices lack the healthful fiber of whole fruits, are high in simple sugars, and are not as satisfying in general.
4) Build an arsenal of healthy snacks. Air Popped Popcorn with a bit of spray oil and homemade low-sodium seasoning is great! Whole fruits should also be handy at all times. We keep containers of dried figs, dates and raisins handy in the pantry. As you get further into a WFPB lifestyle, you'll find that you don't 'crave' snacks as much or as often.
5) Purchase a multi-cooker (Instant Pot) and batch cook bulk staples like brown rice, Quinoa, Farro or Kamut. When you have these in the fridge, it's a simple matter of adding some beans, a salad or steamed vegetable for a quick and satisfying meal in minutes. Inexpensive, shelf stable dried beans cook great in the Instant Pot, and with just the addition of simple sauces (like BBQ) you'll also have those handy when hungry.
6) Batch cook. As I pointed out above, this can be a real time saver and prevent you from reaching for less healthy choices. Another idea is to bake extra potatoes or hard/winter squash. You can weave that into a healthful 'bowl'. Make more soup and freeze it. I always make extra basic soups, like tomato, and freeze it. Then, when rushed or out of ideas, I can simply reach into the freezer for handfuls of frozen vegetables to add to the soup. I freeze leftover pasta for the same reason. Just grab it out and toss it into the warming soup. Leftover grains can be used the same way!
7) As you learn which plant proteins you like, just pick one or two animal proteins and stop replacing them when grocery shopping. Over a month or so, you'll find the content of your fridge and freezer go from SAD (Standard American Diet) to wonderfully healthy.
8) When you need recipe inspiration, there are so many great places to check in, and even subscribe for ideas to be delivered right to your inbox!
Minimalist Baker has a ton of great plant-based recipes
Check out Plant-Based On A Budget
Gaz Oakley ROCKS! homemade plant-based 'meat' subs at Avant-Garden Vegan
You'll love the Seitan Society recipes for things like Chickwheat Shreds
I've also made (successfully!) the Chickwheat at Mary's Test Kitchen
The Spruce Eats is another go-to source of solid plant-based inspiration
Purple Carrot deserves a look, too!
These will certainly get you started, and there are more every day ... ahem, including my own recipes.
I hope this post gives you the inspiration and tools you need to make this the last time you'll ever wonder if you can actually lose the weight and keep it off as you face a new year.
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