Roughly a year ago, I decided that the time had come to begin my transition to a vegan, plant-based diet. The Universe had been conspiring for years, and I was finally ready to tune in. As overwhelming as any major lifestyle change appears at first glance, I can honestly say that the entirety of my time as a plant enthusiast has exhibited a clear undercurrent of ease. Fortunately for me, I was able to maintain this fluidity throughout my dietary transition.
Research and Inspiration
What undoubtedly assisted with the drastic changes to my diet was my dedication to carefully researching a vegan approach to nutrition. After two short weeks, I had already found my groove without a single hitch. It certainly didn’t hurt that my reasons for transitioning to a plant-based diet demanded a quick and steadfast response. I’m an empath and an environmentalist. If you ask me, the combination of these two traits is an exceedingly rational reason to embrace a plant-powered life. While animal maltreatment tends to be the most commonly discussed reason for transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, I’m opting to focus on the second key influencer (which is, notably, of equal significance) that motivated my decision. After watching Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. on Netflix, I decided to thoroughly research the topics discussed. I was blown away, and truthfully left deeply hurting for this world. In the documentary, I learned that about 56 billion animals are killed every year to meet consumer needs. Animal agriculture, sometimes referred to as animal farming, is the leading cause of species extinction and habitat destruction. It’s responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions that the entire transportation industry, and 65 percent of the emissions from animal agriculture are nitrous oxide. For those who napped through their environmental science classes, nitrous oxide has roughly 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. To put it plainly, animal agriculture is burning holes in our ozone layer. Global warming and climate change exist, friends, and animal farming is the leading cause. Animal agriculture is also responsible for 91 percent of Amazon deforestation, 31 percent of water consumption, and it’s currently taking up a third of the entire planet’s land. It’s even the leading cause of oceanic dead zones, with some scientists predicting that all saltwater fish will be extinct by 2048. That’s only a terrifying 30 years away! If you want to consider how you personally may be involved in this, think about date nights at your local burger joint. The water consumption needed to make one hamburger is equivalent to two months of showering. That’s 660 gallons of water—more than most of us drink in an entire year. As someone who grounds herself in nature, I couldn’t stand the thought of contributing to these statistics. Being a meat-eating environmentalist was not only illogical, but truly impossible. The two stand in complete contradiction. I knew I had to make the change to protect Mother Nature and all her glory.
From Mother Nature to Macros
As a weightlifter, my approach to eating prior to my plant-based makeover was what people commonly refer to as “the bro diet.” In transitioning, it was clear that I was moving from one extreme to another. To support my strength training, I used to consume 150 to 170 grams of animal protein per day. As a 115-pound woman, this was quite excessive, but nonetheless, it was the prescription for an athlete training in bodybuilding and olympic weightlifting six days a week. Within a two-week diet conversion, though, I had mastered the art of fueling my body with 130 to 140 grams of plant-based protein instead. As an athlete, meeting my nutritional needs and maintaining high levels of performance is paramount. Throughout this transition, I made it a point to not allow my intake to drop below my initial baseline. This meant that I consumed the same macronutrient (carbohydrate, fat, and protein) allotments as I did when I was eating animal products. At first, meeting my protein requirements presented the greatest challenge. However, with careful planning and plenty of creativity, I quickly grew accustomed to the new foods gracing my plant-loving approach. I allowed myself to think of the changes as opportunities to have fun in the kitchen with new recipes and cooking styles. Throughout the first two weeks and those immediately following, I experienced a long list of noticeable benefits. My adult acne had started clearing up, my sleep was far more restful, my energy and strength increased, my recovery time between training sessions decreased, my IBS symptomatology decreased (after the initial influx of fiber-induced constipation was relieved), my body fat percentage and extracellular water retention dropped, my vitamin and mineral consumption skyrocketed, and my weekly grocery budget was showing a welcomed reduction.
Tips for the Transition
My number one tip when it comes to supporting yourself through a dietary transition is to review the nutritional information for the foods you’re buying and that same information for the foods you already habitually consume. Chances are you could use a refresher as it’s important to note macronutrients in the foods you’re consuming on a regular basis. As you’ll come to find, plants have protein. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at our dear friend, broccoli. One cup boasts 3 grams of protein and only 4 grams of carbohydrates. Load up! For a few more helpful suggestions and crucial reminders, read through my early blog post on the subject of all things vegan. For each one of my many nutritional needs, it takes nothing more than a stop at my local grocer or health food store to fully stock my pantry and replenish my fridge. Truth be told, I have yet to master growing my own garden to further benefit sustainability—emphasis on yet. Ideally, we’ll all get there one day. To tie things up, sit with this: So many people live their lives as if there’s a second planet to hop to once this one is deemed uninhabitable. The hard truth is, we only have one planet. Something needs to change. I may not be able to save the world by changing the current practices of human beings in totality, but I can certainly change my own habits. It all starts with one person.