I’m going on a whole-food, plant-based diet and you can watch along as I do so.
A few weeks back, after a binge on documentaries and medical lectures, I decided that I wanted to go on a whole-food, plant-based diet.
Guiding my decision was three things:
- I can’t justify to myself anymore eating animal products such as meat and dairy. This is both an ethical and an environmental decision. I want to reduce the amount of suffering that exists in the process by which my food arrives at my plate and also reduce my impact on the planet (animal agriculture has significant environmental impacts).
- There is a growing body of evidence that suggests a whole food plant-based diet is a very powerful and health promoting diet. Given a family history of cardiovascular disease, a whole-food, plant-based diet is the only diet shown to halt or even reverse cardiovascular disease.
- A recognition that my diet, as it stood, whilst not terrible, had a number of problems and as I head into my 40’s and 50’s I need to be more mindful of making choices that optimise my health.
So what is a whole food plant-based diet?
Essentially, you try to get the bulk of your nutrition from whole plant foods: whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and legumes. In my case, I would eliminate meat and dairy and try to limit processed foods.
The keen-eyed amongst you would note that this is essentially a healthy vegan diet. So I guess, by definition, I am becoming a vegan. Now it is worth acknowledging that a plant-based diet and a vegan diet can be different things. Vegans emphasise the end of animal exploitation as a key driver of their diet. They eliminate all animal products from their lives (as far as is possible), not just their diet.
A plant-based diet, on the other hand, is one that prioritises whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and legumes in the diet. This may be done for animal welfare reasons, but may also be a health choice or an environmental choice. All vegans follow a plant-based diet, but not all plant-based dieters are vegans. Does that make sense?
It is also worth noting that the ‘whole-food’ part is maybe just (if not more) important than the ‘plant-based’. ‘Whole-food’ refers to eating foods that are as close to their original form as possible, i.e. less processed food. Doesn’t mean you can’t cook or mix or do some relatively simple processing yourself of these foods, but the bulk of your shopping list should contain foods in their mostly original form.
The problem is, adopting such a diet is not a responsibility that should be left up to me. I have a terrible history when it comes to food. There is little doubt in my mind that I would likely meet the criteria (were such criteria developed) for orthorexia. “people with orthorexia become so fixated on so-called ‘healthy eating’ that they actually damage their own well-being”.
I’ve been gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, salicylate free, amine free, low-oxalate, paleo, vegetarian….you name it, I’ve likely tried it. In the process I have made myself quite ill. In fact, I got so ill on a previous eating plan that I picked up a gastrointestinal infection that basically wiped my gut out and in the years since have struggled to maintain any kind of good nutrition.
So this time we are getting the experts in……well, an expert.
Rebecca Greco is a dietitian who used to coordinate the Eating Well @ Flinders Program. After she left Flinders, we stayed in touch and I have recommended to students in previous blog posts to follow her work. She runs Nourish Adelaide.
I am going to consult with Rebecca as I transition my currently ordinary diet to a whole-food plant-based one. She’ll be paid as I would normally if I was consulting with her. The only difference is we’ll be sharing the process publicly.
She has got a bit of a job ahead of her. I have two diagnosed conditions that will give her a bit of a run for her money – IBS and Cramp Fasciculation Disorder. Also, she inherits someone (as I mentioned earlier) who has had a bad relationship with food in the past. Finally, I hate to cook. So I don’t envy the challenge she faces!
Why am I telling you all this?
- You might be considering a move to a vegan diet for similar reasons as me (ethics, environment and health). If so, you get to watch along as I make the changes and hopefully learn some cool stuff in the process. It might help make your transition to plant-based eating easier. If you are looking for a kick-start to your vegan lifestyle, you could try either of these documentaries (Dominion, Land of Hope and Glory)
- I am hoping the process will give you an insight into what it is like to work with a dietitian in addressing one’s health. Although my background is psychology and I’ve had a rocky history with food, I believe fundamentally that food is there to nourish and heal us and I believe food plays as much a role in our mental health as it does our physical health. So we’ll all learn something in the process and hopefully find other ways to enhance our wellbeing.
- I do yoga and weights training and I want to increase those over time and maybe even get to a point where I can run (more than 100m, without dying). So those of you wanting to learn more about nutrition for fitness and performance, as well as health more broadly might find something useful in the journey as well. I was particularly taken with the Game Changers documentary that showed high level physical fitness capacity was absolutely possible on a vegan diet.
- I want to arm you with the knowledge required to navigate a complex food environment. We are lucky in Australia that we have lots of great food available to us, but that food is interwoven with lots of highly processed and questionable foods. Also, you might have noticed that the world of nutrition advice is often contradictory. You’ve got the vegans and the paleo and the keto and the Mediterranean and the high-fibre and the low-carb and the ……..you get what I mean. We’re going to try and dig through that and work out what a health promoting diet looks like at a core level.
So if this sounds interesting to you, stay tuned. Things are about to get funky!!
I have my first appointment with Bec this afternoon!
🍇 🍅 🥕 🥗 🥜 🥦 🍞