My First 30 Days of Going Vegetarian or Plant-Based
After hitting the three-month mark of eating a plant-based diet, I thought it might be helpful if I shared a couple of things I learned since going plant-based. The first three months were positive. With that being said, I am still learning about the plant-based diet and what works best for my lifestyle. I hope some of these tips I discovered will help you in your journey.
What I discovered
First, I can say that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Before I started eating plant-based the main reason I didn’t want to start was because I thought it would be too hard. I have eaten meat my whole life. How could I ever stop? Every meal I ate was surrounded by the main entrée of some sort of meat product. I knew that once I started this journey everything that I have ever learned about nutrition would be challenged. Having said that, once I committed to not eating meat, I realized how easy it was. My body thrived without meat and over time it really didn’t appeal to me anymore. I thought I would have way more cravings for meat. That hasn’t been the case. Maybe the longer I go without meat, I will eventually start wanting to eat meat, but that hasn’t happened yet.
One of the first things I noticed after eating plant-based for a couple weeks was that I wasn’t always starving. Once I filled my body with low-caloric dense foods, those hourly cravings disappeared. A few helpful definitions…Calorie density is how much energy (calories) is provided per unit measure of food. Calorie density is simply a measure of how many calories are in a given weight of food. A food that is high in calorie density has a large number of calories with a low weight. A food that is low in calorie density has much fewer calories with the same weight. You can consume a larger portion of a low-calorie dense foods than a high-calorie dense food for the same number of calories. The chart below from Forks over Knives is a good visual representation of what foods fill your stomach.
When I was eating out once a day and eating whatever I wanted, I was ALWAYS hungry. I would wake up at 7am starving. It felt like I had not eaten food in a week. I would not feel satisfied until I ate a huge breakfast. Then the next meal would roll around and the same sensation would come again. I would be so hungry by lunch I would eat another huge meal. Then an hour after lunch I would be hungry again. I would usually eat a snack until dinner. Then after work, I would be starving for dinner. In short, I was eating a lot, but I my food choices lacked minerals, sufficient protein and the right mix of calorie density. I was feasting, but simultaneously staving myself. I would usually eat out for dinner or eat a bunch of processed foods. My body was never satisfied. I was constantly filling my body with oil, cheese and processed foods. Those would never fill my stomach and I would always be hungry.
After switching to a plant-based diet, I began to fill my body with low calorie dense foods that reduced my cravings. I would not wake up at 7am starving and thinking about my next meal. I would eat a healthy breakfast and not be hungry until lunch. Once I filled my body with the right foods, I was not constantly starving and looking for that next “fix” of greasy food. This realization was huge for me.
I Expanded my Palette
I thought that removing several comfort food categories from my diet would leave me feeling like I was restricting my meal options since every dish I ate prior to this new lifestyle was dependent on a meat-centric meal. I was worried that once I remove the meat, I would not know what to eat. I was worried that I would eat the same boring vegetables over and over again.
The opposite happened. I ended up experimenting with new recipes more frequently and eating foods that I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. I learned quite a few new recipes. Pinterest and the internet helped in finding good plant-based recipes I know I would like. It is still a learning process to discover new recipes. With time, I plan on sharing more about my plant-based meal plans since those have proven to be the cornerstone of my new lifestyle.
Within the first week, I began to feel unusually light and alert. I could feel a difference in my energy level. I was previously slow to get out of bed in the morning, but suddenly I was bouncing up. I was not as tired as I was in the past. Everything seemed to require less effort. I felt myself wanting to exercise more. Going to the gym also seemed a lot easier.
One of the main benefits of living without meat in your diet is that you have to replace it with more fruit and vegetables to fill yourself up. I noticed that my concentration levels dramatically improved and I found myself not getting as tired at work. There are a lot of benefits of not eating meat and I feel like there are so many other benefits that will present themselves as time goes on.
This seems obvious. But, when I used to go out to a restaurant, I gravitated toward the meat dishes. For one, they make up the bulk of the entrée section. During the first two weeks of my meatless diet, I did not step foot into a restaurant. I knew that I would be tempted to get something that was off limits. When I ate out for the first time I was shocked by how many vegetarian/plant-based options restaurants had. Sushi was the first meatless dish I ordered. It is very easy to find a veggie rolls at a sushi restaurant. Other bigger chain restaurants have realized that many people are going vegan/plant-based and often have menu items for that audience. If restaurants don’t have any non-meat options, they usually have a salad option. Being disciplined with my food is the hardest part of this new lifestyle. I have had such poor eating habits my whole life. Restaurants/fast food will always be a temptation for me. But, I have realized most restaurants have options for plant-based. Don’t give up when you start your journey just because your local restaurants haven’t caught up with their menu options. Keep looking and you’ll find many have.