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Go Slow

Small wins build confidence.  Fix SMART objectives and then crush them.

Let Your Body Adjust

You wouldn't lift 300 pounds your first time in the gym.

Resources

The tools needed for the job

Barriers And Challenges

Anticipate the challenges and be prepared to conquer them

 

go slow and be smart

I think we can safely assume that in this day in age, when we want something, we want it now.  Unfortunately, that's not how lifelong lifestyle changes work.  My transition from a meat diet went through multiple phases and it took almost 18 months before I could say I was on a 100% whole food plant-based diet.  Remember that any change in the right direction is a win, and that multiple small wins build confidence and determination, and reinforce the modified behaviors.  When 4-5 dietary modifications have been made with success, the 6th doesn't seem as difficult!  This way of behavior modification is much more fun, gratifying and sustainable than a 180 degree turn where all animal products and refined foods are stopped in a short period of time.

My journey started with cutting out red meat.  Other meats and dairy remained in my diet, and I simply swapped red meat for healthier alternatives.  In this first transitional period, I experimented with what I call Stepping Stone Foods, which aren't as healthy as whole unprocessed foods, but are a tad better than their meat counterparts.  I focused on veggie burgers, bean burgers, chickpea burgers, beyond meat burgers.  I got some store-bought ones, and checked online for recipes for veggie burgers I could make at home.  For the first month, my goal was simple: cut out red meat.  You could say my first mission was SMART, which is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.  A month later, I experienced my first win and it felt great.  Not eating red meat was totally manageable and I knew I could sustain it.

Next month, I tackled excess eggs.  Eggs were one of my favorite foods.  They were rich in protein, quick and easy to prepare and versatile.  One day I ate scrambled eggs, then boiled, then over-easy.  The possibilities were endless.  I had to replace it with a reasonable and healthy option that I liked.  I chose oatmeal.  But not that hardcore steel cut variety that I knew was the healthiest, but rather the instant oats of the Quaker variety.  I knew these were packed with sugar to add flavor and taste, but that was OK.  For me, these were another stepping stone food that I'd graduate from at some point. 

And so the process went. Each month I tackled another food, then another.  Within six months, for breakfast I was eating instant oats with almond milk, with blueberries and raspberries, topped with Kashi Go Lean granola and a squirt of maple syrup to make it all palatable.  At this point, I was still eating yogurt, still had some processed foods in my diet, and still put cow's milk in my coffee at breakfast and during my afternoon caffeine requirements.  I knew I wanted to complete the process, but these remaining foods were almost impossible for me to stop, and I was OK with that.  I went back to the same books, documentaries and scientific articles that had fueled my journey up until then, and found the extra boost I needed.  I switched my white rice for brown rice, gave up instant oats for steel cut or sprouted oats.  I switched my coffee's cow's milk for an almond based sweetener and found a recipe for a smoothie bowl that I now love more than my usual yogurt bowl.  I lost about then pounds of fat, and probably put as much in muscle.  My recovery after workouts went through the roof, and almost all of my medical conditions (check out my blog for my backstory) magically disappeared.  

It took almost 18 months for me to take out meat, eggs and dairy as well as all processed foods out of my diet.  And the journey did have its challenges which I list later (see Menu).  There were ups and downs, but I was convinced, motivated and confident that I'd get there.

 

That explains my first lesson, which is Go Slow and fix SMART objectives.  It took me more than a year to become 100% plant-based and the small wins along the way helped me gain confidence that the process was worth it.  I've now sustained it easily since 2016, and the positive spin-offs I've had by switching to a whole food plant-based diet far outweigh the taste of butter, milk, eggs, or meat.  To be honest, I'm almost embarrassed and appalled that I ate in such a way for so many years, knowing the science was there all along.

 

give your body a chance to adjust

You've probably experienced it before.  You feel a wave of awesomeness, you buy a gym membership and you crush your first workout.  Then the next day when you try to shampoo your hair, you realize you can't lift your arms.  Just like your biceps, your gut is a muscle, and drastic changes in diet cause drastic backlashes.  Let me explain...

Inside your gut lives billions of bacteria, yeasts and other microorganisms.  Most of them thrive simply by feeding off of what you eat in a mutually beneficial relationship where they digest what you can't and you feed them.  Win-win situation right?  Or so we thought.  Turns out that what we eat will greatly determine what type of bacteria we have in our gut.  And bacteria don't just feed off of foods we provide for them, they also produce by-products that they then excrete in our gut.  What we call the good bacteria would include the bugs that are highly efficient in digesting the foods we give them, and in return produce beneficial compounds called Short Chain Fatty Acids (or SCFA).  Turns out there are bad bacteria also.  These feed off of meat and dairy, and produce compounds proven to have negative effects on gut and systemic inflammation, as well as many other systemic processes involved in the pathogenesis and appearance of chronic diseases.

The good bacteria feed off of fiber, and the bad bacteria feed off of animal products.  Fiber only exists in plants.  Pay attention because this is the important part.  When a meat eater with low daily intakes of fiber decides to go plant-based, he or she can sometimes double, even triple, the amount of fiber he eats in a day.  The meat eater will not have enough of the good fiber digesting bugs in his gut to digest that influx of fiber.  He will bloat, he will cramp and have abdominal pain and will say that he simply doesn't digest these foods well, and will give up on the plant-based journey saying it made him feel worse, much in the same way our weekend warrior wants to bicep curl 50 pounds like he did in college.

But rest assured, going slow and letting the body adjust to the new higher intake of fiber will give the good bacteria enough time to multiply and become more efficient.  This process of gut adaptation is measurable in a few days, and almost fully complete in 4-6 weeks.  In that short amount of time, the fiber fueled good bacteria will repopulate and largely replace the meat eating bad bacteria.  Bloating and abdominal discomfort will subside, and the amount of SCFA produced by the new good bacteria populating the gut will skyrocket, bringing with it benefits felt from head to toe.  These beneficial Short Chain Fatty Acids will be utilized by the gut lining to make it less leaky, will be absorbed in the bloodstream to diminish and help reverse a plethora of inflammatory processes, and SCFA will even cross the blood-brain barrier and have measurable effects on mental health and cognitive functions.

So take your time, increase plants slowly in order to give time for the good bacteria to repopulate and to adapt to the increasing amount of fiber, and then sit back and relax as your bowel habits improve and as your whole body starts to heal and repair itself. 

Resources

 

When I started my plant-based transition in 2014, I felt alone, and almost embarrassed to tell my friends.  I went at it alone with minimal resources.  Fast forward to the present day, July 2021, and the amount of available resources has increased as the plant-based movement has gained traction.  Websites like mine are easier to find, vegan and plant-based recipes have gained popularity, and YouTube channels and "how to" videos are readily available at the click of a button.  During the start of my journey, what I needed most was simple.  I needed a little validation and reinforcement that this new lifestyle would pay dividends later on.  But what I needed the most was quick, simple and easy recipes.  I anticipated hours of meal prep with complicated recipes and mysterious ingredients.  I quickly learned that a plant-based diet could be quick, easy and full of variety.  I rapidly realized how boring and repetitive my old routine was as a meat eater.

If you need more convincing about the science and benefits, check out the following sites for some nutritional knowledge:

Or check out the following books:

  • How Not To Die

  • How Not To Diet

  • Fiber Fueled

  • The Greenprint

  • The China Study

  • Atomic Habits

If you're more of a YouTube watcher-type, check out these channels with reliable and evidence based reviews:

Or research the following names of the plant-based pioneers who paved the way for us:

  • Dr Micheal Greger

  • Dr Neal Barnard

  • Dr Kim Williams

  • Dr T Colin Campbell

  • Dr Caldwell Esselstyn

  • Dr John McDougall

  • Dr Dean Ornish

  • Dr Michael Klapper

  • Dr Garth Davis

  • Dr Danielle Belardo

If delicious plant-based recipes are what you're looking for, check out my favorite books!

  • How Not To Die Cookbook, Michael Greger

  • How Not To Diet Cookbook, Michael Greger

  • Oh She Glows, Angela Liddon

  • Simply Fresh, Kylee Melo, RD

  • Incredible Plantbased Desserts, Anthea Cheng

  • The Green Print, Marco Borges

  • Foods That Heal, Dr George Pamplona-Roger

  • Give Them Something Better, Sarah Frain

  • and don't forget to research YouTube, FB and Instagram for tons of free plantbased meal ideas​

  • Forks Over Knives, The Cookbook

And finally, here are our favorite vegan\plant-based documentaries 

  • The Game Changers

  • Forks Over Knives

  • Cowspiracy

  • What The Health

  • Vegan - The Film

  • Earthlings

  • Eating Animals

  • Dominion

  • Vegucated

  • Lucent

  • H.O.P.E.

Check out the above-mentioned resources that have helped guide, motivate and fuel my plant-based transition, and then helped me sustain it since 2014!

 

Barriers

For me, the plant-based transition changed my life.  It was the best thing that ever happened to me, but that doesn't mean that it was without its challenges.  The cool part is that after months of reading and research, I could anticipate the challenges that would come and I already had a good idea on how to manage them.  My goal is to help you predict what your personal barriers will be, and when you hit that plateau, hopefully you'll know exactly how to break through.

My first challenge was wanting everything to happen too fast.  If you remember reading the first part of this section, it took me 18 months to make the full transition.

I was also scared about having to spend hours on cooking and meal prep.  This is how I figured it out:

  • Learn to make smoothies, where a ton of nutrition can be hidden in a smoothie filled with fruits you love.

  • Get well acquainted with stir-frys, and simply replace the meat with legumes, like beans, chickpeas, lentils or with tofu.

  • Always have frozen fruits or veggies in the freezer.

  • Keep some spare cans of beans, chickpeas, lentils or canned veggies.  They're much cheaper than meat and last longer.

  • Look for quick and easy recipes.  If it's too complicated, it creates friction between you and the behavior and is less likely to be sustainable.

  • Have a few "go-to" meals that you can prepare quickly when needed.

  • Consider overnight oats.

  • Consider purchasing an air-fryer, food processor, or pressure cooker if you plan on making batches of food or want to experiment with more complicated meals.

  • Smoothies bowls, like smoothies, are family favorites.

  • When food-prepping, make more and freeze for later consumption.

The other challenges were related to impacts on our social lives and restaurant outings.  We surpassed this by:

  • Checking restaurant menus beforehand for vegan or plant-based options.

  • Emailing the kitchen and requesting vegan options, or inquiring about the possibility of veganizing their current meal options.

  • Eating a small meal before going out in case there aren't any plant-based options.

  • On trips, we always bring a cooler with spare food, hoping we don't need it!

  • Japanese and Thai restaurants tend to have the most options.

  • We tend to invite friends over as to expose them to new vegan food.

  • We love barbecue season, and we don't miss out by using meat alternatives like those from a Canadian company called Very Good Butchers.

So although the transition isn't seamless, it's important to anticipate where the difficulties will be since planning ahead will avoid frustration and most importantly, will avoid burdening your social circle.  Remember that even if you're convinced that this transition is the one for you, that doesn't mean your friends are ready.  Don't be preachy.  Be respectful of others that have not yet been convinced, or aren't confident that they could make the change.  I will never forget that I too ate meat for over 30 years and would have not appreciated anyone making me feel guilty about it.