Every time I tell people that I eat a plant-based diet, I’m barraged with questions “Can you eat this?” or “So you can never eat a steak?” I’m sure most of you eating plant-based or you hardcore vegans get asked the same questions too. Isn’t it annoying? I always find myself wanting to snap back with “Yes, I can eat anything I damn well please, I’m just choosing not to eat that disease-causing crap like you do.” That might not be the nicest way of going about things, so don’t do that. In fact, the more I think about it, I think those types of questions are totally valid for someone who hasn’t really thought about plant-based nutrition much. You can explain it to them in different terms described below. And for those of you making the transition to a more plant-centric diet, I’m going to outline some of the successful lines of thinking that can tend to make things easy.
There are essentially two ways of thinking about this issue in productive ways, and either one may work for you. Say you read “The China Study” or “Eat to Live,” or watched “Forks Over Knives.” You realize you’d best be served by moving towards a plant-based diet, but you can’t fathom the idea of giving up the delicious sharp cheddar or brie cheese you occasionally partake in, or you can’t comprehend never eating a thick juicy steak again. Well, that’s fine. You don’t have to think about giving up those things at all.
What the heck am I talking about? Good question. I’m talking about shifting your focus from subtracting to adding. Think about all the different kinds of fresh vegetables and fruits that you’ve never tried before, and make eating more of those things a priority. Eating plant-based is actually far more expansive than most people think. There are so many delicious fruits, vegetables, and legumes out there that I’m sure you haven’t eaten yet. Ever heard of a cherimoya? Me neither, until I stumbled across one at the farmer’s market a couple of years ago, and they’re delicious. (Full disclosure, I thought a “cherimoya” was some sort of weird small dog before I found out it was a nutrient-dense fruit that tastes like a cross between a pineapple and a banana.) Think about how clean and healthy you’d feel if you ate a huge pile of steamed kale with a nice lemon tahini sauce on top or had a huge raw salad for lunch instead of eating one of those strange square-shaped burgers at Wendy’s. If you’re hungry and looking through your fridge for a snack, Think to yourself “Did I eat my pound of raw greens and pound of cooked greens today? Did I include enough legumes? Did I eat enough fruits like berries and apples?” If you shift your brain to this line of thinking, you’ll start automatically eating a lot less of the bad stuff simply because you won’t be able to fit it all in your stomach. Then one day you’ll wake up and realize you haven’t had meat in two weeks, but you haven’t even really thought about it.
There’s yet another way to think about dietary changes that works for some people as well. You can simply train yourself not to think about fatty meats, dairy, and processed foods as actual food. Put cheeseburgers in the same category as a bar of soap. Do you like eating bars of soap, aside from that one time you tried it in 8th grade? While most people see a delicious steak on a plate, not only do I not see it as food, I see cholesterol levels going up, risk of heart disease, and connection to cancer. However, when I see fresh vegetables and fruits at the farmer’s market, I salivate. The bright colors, interesting shapes and textures remind me of the wide variety of rich flavors and nutritional benefits of those foods. They remind me how healthy and energized I’ll feel when I eat them. How my performance in everything I do, from work to the gym to enjoying life, will increase.
No successful lifestyle change ever works if it becomes about depriving yourself of something. It almost always backfires. So don’t think about deprivation at all. Think about adding in all this stuff into your diet that’s going to make you feel better, look better, and live longer. Or train yourself to see unhealthy food as not-food. Or employ a hybrid of both strategies, which is kind of what I do. And I’m sure there are other successful strategies out there other than these to. Just give these a shot, and if they work for you, stick with it. It’ll be well worth it in the long run and it’ll get easier and easier, trust me.