Wednesday, March 12, 2014

confessions of a diet convert (my transition to a plant-based diet) - part 1

You're probably tired of hearing it.  In fact, you're probably giving it the big eye-roll right now, and thinking, "OMG, another preachy post about how eating plants is going to change my life?", and you're just about to click over to (not a real site - don't get excited, people!) ;-)  Well, the truth is, about a year ago, I would have been right there with you. But if you're willing to hang in with me, I'm here to tell you that if you are ready (important!)with a slight shift in mindset, you too might just consider the benefits of transitioning to a mainly plant-based diet.

It seems like everywhere we turn these days - social media, television, books, etc., we are being bombarded with what appear to be the sexy issues du jour - "EAT CLEAN!", "AVOID GLUTEN LIKE THE PLAGUE!", "GO VEGAN!", "ELIMINATE DAIRY!" Not only that, but we are also supposed to be toting our yoga mats around with us in search of the perfect pristine mountaintop, where we can commune with nature and get in touch with our inner selves - (while what we're really doing is thinking about how cute our new lululemon ensemble looks worrying about whether or not these new yoga pants make our butts look fat).

Okay, okay, I admit it - I wish that could be me! 
Geez.  It's a lot of pressure.  No wonder it's just easier to stop by at your local drive-thru on the way home from work and enjoy your double-patty, heart attack on-a-bun with poutine on the side, while watching the latest installment of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (or whatever your guilty pleasure may happen to be). With the advances in technology over the past 10 years or so, it's an increasingly tough world out there, and not easy to keep up with how fast life as we know it is changing. maybe why it's more important than ever to slow down, simplify, and get back to basics...?

You all remember these, right? 
As a woman currently in her mid-50's, I grew up through what perhaps were the dark ages of nutrition - the advent of heavily processed foods (TV dinners! COOL!!), and the rise of the fast food restaurant - not to mention the more sinister "advances" in nutrition, such as hormonally-enhanced meats and GMO-laden (genetically modified) produce. Not only was I ignorant to the detrimental effects of all this "convenience" - I embraced it wholeheartedly.  In hindsight, it's not surprising then, when in my mid-20's, I started developing mysterious recurring inflammation in my knees - they would intermittently fill with fluid for no rhyme or reason, making it difficult and painful to walk.

Stop salivating! This is the enemy, people! 

Even exploratory arthroscopic surgery by one of Toronto's preeminent orthopaedic surgeons failed to unearth the reasons for this phenomenon - and to this day, it remains a mystery.  These flare-ups have stayed with me off and on throughout my adult life - and with 30 more years of living under my belt, have only become exacerbated by age-related aches and pains and arthritic changes in my hands, wrists, shoulders, and hips (but I'm still determined to do this GRACEFULLY people!) ;-)

I've tried in vain all these years to figure out what was causing this, and I thought I had it nailed several times - I had also taken up "jogging" in my 20's and thought for sure that was the culprit - but it continued to happen even after a long hiatus from running . Something I was eating then? (Duh!)  Drinking?  (Yeah, that was it...those pesky sulfites in my vino bianco!)  If I lost those last 10 pounds, that would put an end to it, right? (I've tried them all folks - from Nutrisystem to Weight Watchers, Richard Simmons to Jenny Craig - but although the weight came off - and ultimately back on - the inflammatory episodes persisted).  I had given up, was ready to accept that middle age had won the battle, and that I would be applying an oil can to my creaky joints on a daily basis for the rest of my life.

Tin man no more! 
And day almost a year ago to the A-HA moment!!  (Well, okay, maybe it was a long, gradual, A-HA!, but it was an A-HA! nonetheless).  One of my daughters suggested that I join her in a 5 day "food cleanse" that she found from someone she followed on Instagram (apologies to whoever that person was, I've since lost her reference info). I decided what the heck, it was only 5 days, and it was "guaranteed" you lose at least a pound a day in the process. Skeptical of the guarantee, but still game to lose a bit of winter weight, I dove in, and filled my grocery cart with a bunch of things that for the most part, had never seen the light of day in my kitchen before - dark green and leafy kale, chick peas, black beans, and a variety of fresh berries, nuts and seeds. I even bought a cheap blender to make smoothies - again, never a staple in my house. And wouldn't you know it...not only did I lose 7 lbs. over 5 days - but I felt FANTASTIC.  More energized and alert than I had been in ages.  My aches and pains were still there, but far more tolerable.   And what had I really done here?

The cleanse hadn't been a wacky "eat nothing but grapes" sort of thing - it was simply five days of eating nothing but healthy, whole, plant-based foods for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  In fact, it was almost too MUCH food - I hadn't felt the least deprived - and yet, I lost more than the "guaranteed" amount of weight, and felt like a new woman in the process.  It was then that that old adage we have all heard, again and again, (but never really paid attention to) came to mind - "you are what you eat".  So simple, and yet, so TRUE.  Not only did I feel the best I had in ages eating this way - but it occurred to me that perhaps the opposite was true as well.  If I'd been fueling my body with, well, CRAP, for the better part of my adult life (whether intentional, as in the case of fast food, or unintentional as in the case of processed food that was being marketed as healthy) - didn't it make sense that I would feel like crap too? And in that moment, all the bad things that I superficially knew about food additives and preservatives, hormonally fortified meat products, GMO poisoned produce, hit me like a ton of bricks - and it suddenly all made perfect sense to me.  I had to change my diet for my health - not "diet" to lose weight - and hopefully, in the process, reverse some of the damage that had been done over the past 40 years or so.  

I'm happy to report that not only is that what I've been doing for the past 11 months or so, but I've taken proactive steps to learn more about what a clean diet can do for your body, and have proudly earned myself a certificate from Meghan Telpner's Academy of Culinary Nutrition - which not only taught me things I thought I'd never learn, but also qualifies me to teach what I have learned. (Hover over that little green box up there on the right if you want to learn more about this amazing program!)  One thing this experience has taught me, is that there is a LOT of information out there - and boy oh boy, is it tough to sift through, especially at the beginning of such a journey. It's one thing to know what to do; it's another to put it into practice and stick with it - and it can be confusing and overwhelming.

When it comes down to it, though, it's all really rather simple, and is founded mostly on the basic philosophy of the incredibly gifted food writer Michael Pollan: "Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants".  If you're at all curious about where to start, I'd love to share my tips and tricks for beginning your own journey to improved health through food - and I will attempt to do just that in Part 2 of this post.  I hope to put that all together within the next week or so, but in the meantime, I think I've given you more than enough food for thought (yes, pun fully intended!).  Stay tuned...


  1. Thanks for sharing your story! I just signed up for CNE and I'm so excited to learn from Meghan!

  2. My pleasure, Terri! You will LOVE the CNE program - enjoy!! :)