Four Unexpected Effects of a Plant-Based Diet.

Update: My article was published in elephant journal! You can find the latest version here: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/05/four-unexpected-effects-of-a-plant-based-diet/

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What if I told you that you could do something today that would make you look and feel amazing, save lives and the earth? I think without knowing what that action was, most if not all people would agree to trying it. Unfortunately, when that action involves breaking with societal norms and traditions, the decision to change is harder fought. My only viable option then, is to share my own experience of how going vegan and relinquishing all meat and dairy from my plate, drastically changed my life in unexpected and beautiful ways. My ultimate purpose is that someone reading this will be curious enough to try the experiment out for themselves, and watch their own life transform for the better. 

Common sense dictates that when you eat more fruits and vegetables, while simultaneously eating less sugar, processed foods, and fat, you will feel better. A diet consisting mainly of meat, eggs, and dairy has been proven to sink the body into a state of inflammation which leads to disease and a poor quality of life riddled with medication and corrective surgeries. But what I found surprising is that in the past few months while I slowly eliminated meat, then eggs and dairy in favor of a plant-based diet, I experienced a myriad of benefits that I never anticipated. Aside from feeling happy about my choice to live an environmentally friendly existence, I experienced perks that I had not even considered when making my initial decision to become vegan. I knew I would feel clearer and have more energy, but I never expected these next four items to happen, and certainly not so suddenly.

Sleep: Within days of eating a diet free of meat, eggs, and dairy, I started needing less sleep. Typically I would feel exhausted by 9:00 pm. Right after putting my two young boys to sleep, I would want to crash too, and often did much to my husband’s dismay. Our time to talk and bond as friends and a couple was truncated because all I wanted to do was clean up the dinner dishes and get to bed. This shifted almost immediately when I began consuming more dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, fruit and grains. And aside from having more energy at night, my quality of sleep improved. I fell asleep fast, and slept soundly all night, which was not typical for me.

Before the switch, I would toss and turn to get to sleep (despite being overly tired) and would wake frequently throughout the night. The result was that I was groggy and reluctant to get out of bed in the morning. I set the alarm for 5:00 am so I can practice yoga and mediation, and usually it’s a battle for my feet to hit the floor. Not so under this new diet, and that’s with receiving even less sleep that I was used to getting. Now when the alarm sounds, I am alert and ready to start my day from a place of mindfulness and strength while the rest of my house soundly sleeps.

Athletic Endurance: I love to workout, it’s something that has been a constant companion my entire life. It’s rarely a chore, and something I honestly enjoy. Through working out I connect with my body and reach meditative states I can’t by simply sitting still on the floor. That’s why I was intrigued when I went completely plant-based, and my running felt different. I felt as though I could run forever, there was no resistance in my lungs, heart, or legs. My body moved in synchronicity, perfectly free and full of life. The amount of energy I source from nutrient dense foods has changed that way my blood flows when taxed, and I sensed it immediately. It has been shown that patients with high cholesterol and arterial blockages can improve their vascular health by switching to a plant-based diet. The body wants to heal itself, and it will if you only let it. It takes about three hours for the arteries to de-harden after the consumption of food high in salt and fat, which is usually when they are hit again with another damaging meal. Imagine what happens when you let the body go into a state of healing instead of destruction, and imagine what happens if you don’t.

The change I felt in running carried over to the weight room too. The weights felt lighter, and my recovery time was shorter between repetitions. Usually, the day following a tough weight session, I am sore, but I felt very little of that. At first I thought I was just having a good day, then a good week, but I saw the same encouraging results each time I went to the gym. My performance had definitely improved, and the only variation was the quality and make-up of my diet. After my workout, I typically drink a protein shake or eat an apple and it carries me through until dinner, no 2:30 pm sugary snack needed.

Sugar Addiction: Sugar is one of the most damaging ingredients in the human diet, and one of the most addicting. I certainly was not immune to its pull, however with an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies in my diet, my urge for soda, candy, and yes even Nutella has subsided substantially. Its been theorized that sugar cravings are actually caused by a depletion of nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, and chromium. Because I was getting plenty of the core nutrients my body needed, my usual sugar cravings evaporated. And as a result of consuming less sugar, I noticed my skin, hair, and nails looked better. I was healing my body from the inside on a cellular level, and it was showing on the outside.

Relationships: Truly happy people have a good relationship with themselves first, and feeding yourself well and with care, is the ultimate act of love to your body, mind, and spirit. By choosing to eat nutritiously and mindfully, I show myself love everyday, and that impacts how I interact with my sons, husband, family, co-workers, and friends. My improved levels of energy, athletic performance, and general sense of well-being made me happier and more excited about life and my relationships. It’s a scenario where everyone wins. Plus the more I talk about how great I feel, the more questions I receive about it. At first there is always a joke, usually accompanied with an eye-roll, but then more often than not, the conversation transforms to honest curiosity and openness about how a plant-based diet changed my life for the better, and how it could change theirs too.

The list above details just a few examples of how going vegan has had an enormous impact on my quality of life, and I am looking forward to discovering more as time goes on and I get more creative with my recipes. For those individuals who inexplicably deride a vegan lifestyle because it opposes cultural norms, I just want to convey that we have one life and one body, and to truly honor yours and live your best life, you need to actively take control of what you put in your body. And who knows what exciting ways your life might improve if you are curious enough to try a plant-based diet out for yourself.

Why Diet Trumps Any Workout Regime

As we near the end of February, and the New Year’s motivation to head to the gym begins to dwindle for so many, it is important to emphasis the critical role diet plays in a person’s actual weight. I am by no means discounting the massive and documented benefits of creating and maintaining a vigorous and ever changing workout routine, however, you can also absolutely lose weight by not doing any exercise whatsoever.

The reason I can so confidently say this is because I did it. When I was a freshman in college I was out on a run and incurred a stress fracture. Besides being incredibly painful, it relegated me to a life of zero impact exercise. The only treatment prescribed was rest, and even if I wanted to disobey the doctor’s instructions, the pain was so intense, that I would not have lasted long. At first I was petrified that I was going to gain weight and never be able to get it off. Afterall, I was running 15-20 miles a week and just barely maintaining my then heavier frame of 135 pounds. What the hell was going to happen to me now that I couldn’t do anything?

My solution came slowly and timidly. I started to eliminate items from my diet that I had never really thought about before. The first thing to go was soda (duh). It was surprisingly easy. The next step was a vast reduction of bread and simple carbs (eg cereal, pizza, pasta). Next was milk and processed foods (ie anything in commercial packaging). I replaced these old favorites with raw vegetables, fruit, protein and complex carbs. As I systematically cut out known calorie and fat dense foods, I immediately began to feel clearer and lighter. The oddest discovery of all was when I removed milk my seasonal allergies virtually disappeared. They have not returned since.

The biggest impact of all, and the reason for this post, however, was that I ended up losing 25 pounds and did zero cardio. I would do an ab workout 3 times a week, but that alone would not have produced such results. I had to laugh when I thought about how much I had been killing myself, at times not even remotely enjoying the workouts–all because I thought it was what had to be done in order to maintain the status quo, and maybe even lose some weight. It became clear that it was so much easier to just cut out the processed junk, reduce calories intake, and revamp my diet with foods high in nutrition and low in calories.

Eventually my stress fracture healed and I went back to running, but not because I had to. It genuinely felt good. Since this little experiment, I no longer feel the need to punish my body during a workout. If it doesn’t feel enjoyable I simply let up a little and continue to push on a lower gear. I know now that working out is not about weight, it’s about how it makes me feel emotionally, and that elicits so much more joy in the whole experience.