MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Although new adventures can be exciting, changing habits that you’re used to can play tricks on your mind. Your mind, in its attempt to keep you safe, might encourage you to be careful or to be wary. Changes can cause stress, and when you’re stressed, you’re less likely to resist temptation. Learning what to expect when you eat a plant-based diet sets you up for success and reduces stress.
“Neuroscientists sometimes say that we have one brain, but two minds: a mind that makes conscious choices, based on self-reflection and awareness, and a mind that makes automatic responses based on instinct and habit,” according to Kelly McGonigal writing on the science of willpower. Being mindful of what's to come when you're eating a plant-based diet will help give you resolve.
Read on to discover what to expect when you eat a plant-based diet, both the things that are challenging and things that are beneficial. You may have already experienced some of these yourself. If so I'd love to hear how you’re doing in the comments below. What surprised you when you started eating a plant-based diet?
Let’s look at what you have in store so you won’t be surprised or feel overwhelmed when you start eating a plant-based diet. And, remember the first thing to expect, IT WILL GET EASIER!
You’ll want to be especially good to yourself while learning this new habit. You are learning a new skill. Once those neural pathways in your brain get stronger, it will be like riding a bike… it happens naturally.
You’ll know where all of your grocery items are in the store, you’ll know how to set up a plant-based meal plan, you’ll factor in getting the right nutrition and you won’t let other people steer you off track.
10 Things You Might Experience When Eating a Plant-Based Diet
1. NEW FOODS: There are many foods that will help you make the transition. Some might be familiar to you and others may be completely new. Some of these new and uncommon ingredients in plant-based recipes are there for flavor or for your health. Others are meat and dairy substitutes that will help you get enough protein; things like tofu, seitan or tempeh. To help you with these new ingredients, be sure to check out this article, “Uncommon Ingredients,” which has a downloadable PDF of ingredients that can be found on Amazon (if you can’t find them in your local store).
Takeaway: Take time in the market to find these new foods.
2. NEW WAYS OF COOKING: Along with new foods, comes new ways of cooking. If you’re not familiar with tofu or tempeh, it may take a few times making a recipe until you feel you’ve got it. To help you with some of these, check out our article, “Cooking with Tofu,” and “Cooking with Tempeh.”
Takeaway: Read the articles mentioned above and try something new each week.
3. CHANGING TASTE BUDS: Changing your palette. Since some of the foods will be new to you or you might find yourself pining for that steak or cheese again. It’s best not to compare your new plant-based recipes to your old favorites, or to think of the things that you’re missing. Instead think about the plethora of new foods… Just as with eating less sugar and salt, your taste buds will adjust and you’ll begin to want food prepared this way. Not more fatty sauces… because you’ll have a new palette. Also, as you filter out the overly-processed, highly flavored items, your tastebuds will “reset” and not need such overwhelming flavors to be satisfied. The bonus here is that as the adjustment sets in, you will be shocked to discover how delicious simple fruits and vegetables can be!
Takeaway: Throw out old, preconceived notions about what plant-based foods you do and don’t like, and try everything “for the first time” all over again.
4. TIME: Eating this way may take more time at the beginning. More time spent thinking, shopping, preparing. Don’t be frustrated, because before you know it, you’ll easily be practicing your new skills and eating a plant-based diet. As mentioned above, when you’ve practiced this new skill, it’ll become old hat. The added time and effort you put in at the beginning of this endeavor will balance out to much less time in the future, once you get the hang of it.
Takeaway: Again, as with learning anything new, be patient. The extra effort will pay off.
5. YOUR BODY: One of the most common issues is that you might feel hungrier if you’re not adding enough carbs in the form of grains, beans, or legumes. A plant-based diet is not just about fruits and vegetables. Grains, beans, and legumes are the staple of many cultures around the world and provide the fiber and nutrition to make us feel fuller. In addition, the more bulky foods you eat, such as salads and crunchy vegetables, the more full your stomach will feel.
Additionally, your body may also experience some changes. You may have more gas, bloating, some constipation, or other digestive issues. This is completely normal, and is due to a couple different factors.
For one, you’re likely eating more fiber than before. This can be an adjustment for the body. To lessen the strain on your digestive system, start your transition with cooked veggies rather than raw. And if you find grains particularly difficult to digest, try adding them in in smaller amounts, and substitute some root veggies in place of a larger portion of grains. And for any difficult digestion, you can always use digestive bitters before a meal to help your body in the process.
Second, with this dietary overhaul, you are changing the bacterial profile of your microbiome. Chances are, you are changing things for the better, so this somewhat uncomfortable adjustment period will likely lead to much healthier digestion in the future. Further, with a healthy microbiome comes a healthy immune system, and you may even see long-term skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema improve over time. Further, our microbiomes play roles in mental health and hormonal production, so you may see some improvements in these areas as well.
Other bodily complaints may include possible detox symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, skin eruptions like acne or eczema flair-ups, insomnia, and irritability. These symptoms might be especially potent for those who have been eating a diet heavy in processed foods. This is totally normal, and will pass as your system clears out years-worth of junk. Hang in there. The physical symptoms will pass, and the long-term results will be worth it. And remember to drink plenty of water to aid in the detoxification process!
Takeaway: Stay strong! Don’t let initial difficulties sway you, as they are short-term and pave the way for incredibly wonderful changes.
6. YOUR EMOTIONS: Along with the physical symptoms, there will likely be mental and emotional symptoms. These will include cravings for foods you miss or feel especially attached to. This is why it’s never recommended to begin this journey around any holiday where food is of central importance. For example, if November and December holidays are important to you, it’s best if you have several months practice of eating plant-based heading into those months.
Cravings are something that we all deal with no matter what our diet. The best solution to that is having food substitutions that you can rely on when the urge strikes. Read this good article by Kris Carr on cravings, “Five Ways to Overcome Food Cravings.”
As you make the switch, there will be emotional highs and lows. You may do great for a week, and then have a weekend that makes you feel as if you’ve taken 10 steps backwards. Know that moments like these happen to everyone, and be kind to yourself. No one gets anything down perfectly without practice. Consider these steps backwards as opportunities for learning. What can you do differently moving forward to avoid this happening again? With each restart, your efforts will become more solid on the way to becoming permanent.
Takeaway: Be prepared for the emotional aspect. As with the initial physical concerns, they fade with time and the results are worth the perseverance.
7. YOUR FRIENDS & FAMILY: This area could go either way... be a challenge or a benefit, depending. When you change your diet and stop eating meat and dairy, there's a chance your family & friends will think it's strange and question if this is a healthy change or if you'll be getting the right nutrition. If so, arm yourself with the science and read this article, “Plant-Based Nutrition: Getting it Right” The only thing you can't get from food on a plant-based diet is Vitamin B-12.
Unsupportive people may even try to get you to change or start to feel guilty themselves for the way they eat.
Or, you might have a positive influence on those around you when they see how well you're doing on a plant-based diet. I've heard many stories about spouses and loved ones getting on board.
Takeaway: Knowing you're doing the best for your health, the health of the planet and for the well-being of animals can keep you strong. Keep being the example of a better you and a better world.
There are so many long-term benefits, it’s difficult to decide where to start! You will likely find that you...
- have more energy,
- are sleeping better, and
- simply feel better. Many people say they
- feel happier,
- worry less, and
- feel less overall stress.
8. PREVENTION: You will, most likely, prevent the kind of diseases people experience when eating a poor diet – things like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, impotence, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and osteoporosis, among others. While genetics does play a part in disease, it's becoming more and more evident that changing one's diet can effect the start or progression of your genetic predisposition so that you may never experience it in the first place.
Not only will you be providing your body with boundless amounts of the necessary nutrients for healthy cellular processes, there is even evidence that shows that eating plant-based can actually protect your DNA from damage, and make DNA repair more possible.(1) This is especially important when it comes to the prevention of diseases you are genetically predisposed to.
9. REDUCTION: There's a chance that you will experience a reduction in some of the conditions you're already experiencing. I can attest to personally having a reduction of arthritis symptoms after switching to a plant-based diet and a lowering of my cholesterol by 40 points. Many people find that after only a few weeks they can reduce medications. You can read more about my personal health journey in this article, "Sharing a Personal Health Journey." A reduction of diabetes markers or those for heart disease are commonly heard of. Of course, you should always speak with your doctor before changing any medication.
10. REVERSAL: There’s also a chance that you will experience reversal of disease or illness you currently have. If you have health concerns related to pain & inflammation, you will see improvement as your body experiences a reduction in inflammatory load. You may develop better markers for a healthy heart & brain such as lower cholesterol and better triglycerides. In addition, you may experience better digestion, better blood sugar, clearer skin, weight loss, and feeling fuller. It’s also possible that you’ll be able to reduce medications and therefore be spending less money.
SUMMARY: These are some of the potential benefits and challenges you will find from going plant-based. The only way to know how you’ll be affected, is to make the change and start living your new, healthier, happier life. I’m here to help you on your way, so please feel free to reach out to me in the comments with any questions, concerns, or thoughts you have about going plant-based OR how eating a plant-based diet has affected you.
For more BENEFITS see this page about plant-based diets.