When I was in elementary school, my brother brought home a girl who was vegan. I remember it like it was yesterday, too: the puzzled look on my mom’s face when she asked him what she should make for dinner based on his new girlfriend's dietary needs, how limited she felt as a cook when he specified no animal meat, dairy, or eggs. Back then, veganism and plant-based diets were a tricky concept, but fast-forward to now, and it might be the game-changer you need in terms of figuring out how to take care of your body in 2018.
Look, I’m not naïve. I am very well aware that going plant-based is extremely trendy right now, but I’m not preaching veggies over meat because it might garner more likes on Instagram. Trust me, my husband and I are the type of people who do thorough research on trends before we commit to our own trial, so I wouldn’t be encouraging you to adhere to a more plant-based way of eating if I hadn’t looked into it myself. We've been plant-based for almost six months now, and I can honestly say the rumors are true: the more wholesome, earth-grown foods you consume, the better your body will feel.
The first step is to do your own research and decide why it's in your best interest to become plant-based in 2018.
Like most people in 2017, I was inspired to go plant-based after watching the Netflix documentary What The Health. From there, I read articles, watched a few more documentaries (Gary Yourofsky’s Best Speech You Will Ever Hear was really the deciding factor for me), and on July 15, I officially made up my mind that I was not going to eat animal meat from there on out.
I made the decision to go plant-based for a few different reasons. First of all, I suffer from irritable bowel syndrome which, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, basically means my stomach is hyper-sensitive and has trouble breaking down different foods. I was on the hunt for an alternative way of eating that would be easier on my digestive system, and thought now was as good a time as ever to experiment. The second reason was that these films and presentations opened my eyes to the very real issue of animal cruelty, and some of the images I was exposed to I’ll never forget, and can no longer ignore or support.
These are my own personal reasons for going plant-based and, if it’s something you’re interested in pursuing, you’ll have your own. Once you’ve established why you’re doing it, then you can figure out how you’re going to lead a plant-based lifestyle.
Ultimately, you define what plant-based means for you.
Becoming plant-based isn’t an easy transition for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be immediate. This isn’t a process you have to commit to cold-turkey. What is important to keep in mind, though, is that your plant-based journey is all your own, which means you get to make the rules, not anyone else.
Of course, like anything else, once you identify as plant-based, some people are going to judge how you practice, and the best advice I can offer is to ignore them. If you’ve been an omnivore all your life, your body is going to crave animal meat. It’s up to you whether or not you give in to a craving.
Personally, my rule of thumb is this: If a craving for, say, a cheeseburger flares up multiple times over the course of a few weeks or a month, it's best to honor your cravings and give your body what it wants.
And even if you don't want to cut out meat entirely, that's totally fine, too. According to Consumer Reports, research shows that those who follow a plant-based diet made up of 70 percent plants "had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease or stroke than those whose diets centered on meat and dairy." So, you see, it really is up to you how far you're willing to take this lifestyle.
Remember, it's not about what you're giving up, it's about all that you're gaining.
Now that we’ve established that there’s no wrong way to be plant-based, let’s talk about all the reasons why it’s right for your body.
For starters, adding earthier items to your diet — such as vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, nuts, beans, legumes, and the like — means increasing your daily intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and yes, even protein. Because you'll be fueling your body with an abundance of these elements, you’ll feel good from the inside out.
Leading a predominantly plant-based lifestyle can improve a range of aspects in your day-to-day. In the long run, consuming more vegetables and fruits can prevent chronic disease, stabilize blood pressure, and keep you regular (yes, I'm talking about poop). You’re also bound to see an improvement in your mood overall. Healthline reports that, according to a 2016 study published by the American Journal of Public Health, increasing your consumption of these natural whole foods over the course of just two years was proven to be “equal in size to the psychological gain of moving from unemployment to employment.” Pretty impressive, right?
It’s also true that, if you’re eating enough of these food items regularly, you’re definitely going to see an increase in your energy levels from day to day. This is because animal meat is incredibly dense and hard for your body to break down, so your digestive system uses more energy to process it all. Plant-based foods, according to One Green Planet, are easily digested, therefore your body has more energy to focus on other things.
Plus, there are a ton of beauty benefits that come along with a plant-based diet — feel good, look better, right? A handful of vegetables and fruits are loaded with vitamin B6 and magnesium, which help you fall and stay asleep throughout the night. And you know what they say about beauty sleep, right? A better quality and greater quantity of sleep will not only have you looking and feeling well-rested, but plant-based diets are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and antioxidants, among other essential properties that keep skin clear and glowing.
So, as you can see, there are literally countless benefits to going plant-based, and even if you feel like you can't or don't want to commit to the lifestyle entirely, that's perfectly fine. By implementing even just one or two more servings of vegetables and whole foods into your diet, you'll be doing your body a huge favor in the new year.