“Endure and persist; this pain will turn to good by and by.” – Ovid
My road to a whole-food plant-based lifestyle has been a long and winding one. From the time I first learned that the food on our table came from animals, I wanted to quit eating it. But I was only five, and living during a period when people thought eating meat was mandatory for good health. Unfortunately, many still think this way.
In my teenage years, I did attempt to become vegetarian, even though most people still thought only “crazy hippies” were doing so. Our suburban mall had a “natural foods” store where they sold things like carob cookies, raw milk and kefir. But I just couldn’t figure out how to put together a meal. Plus, my family still thought the concept was extreme and I didn’t know how to cook.
In my early twenties, I was married and living in rural Oregon. My young husband was open to the idea of eliminating meat from our diet, but we ultimately found the logistics time-consuming and impractical. Frances Lappe’s book, “Diet for a Small Planet” was considered the vegetarian bible at the time and her whole concept of combining foods to get whole proteins was confusing and too much trouble for us, we decided.
In my mid-thirties, I returned to college to finally get my Bachelor’s degree (another thing I kept stopping and starting over the years). I took a mandatory health class that required reading a book with a very vivid description of how meat gets to our plate, that included the horrendous conditions animals have to endure before they are cruelly slaughtered.
I stopped eating meat from that day forward and never looked back. It was one of those instant clicks. Something that rarely happens for me; I was someone who made numerous attempts to quit smoking, drinking, and maintain a right-sized body. But this time I reacted emotionally and the transition was immediate and permanent.
To be honest, the decision caused a lot of commotion in my life, especially with my two teenage sons, who refused to become vegetarians. I ended up cooking meals with and without meat, and it worked. At least for them, although I was less than happy having to continue serving meat in my house. My extended family and friends were not on board, and in fact never got on board. But it really didn’t matter to me, as I was committed and had no desire to eat meat.
What do I eat?
That is not to say it was easy at first. It was such a different way for me to eat, and I didn’t know exactly what I would eat. The books I read (no internet back in the 80s) advised me to eat beans, and I hated beans. I considered them tasteless and with a texture like soap. Plus, they gave me gas. I pretty much disliked all vegetables too, except for iceberg lettuce, which I drowned in dressing. I ended up relying heavily on dairy products and a lot of processed meat substitutes. Garden burgers had just arrived on the scene and I loved them. I ate them almost every day for lunch.
Over the years, my diet expanded, and I came to love beans and most vegetables. I learned to choose ethnic restaurants for my best options. And I learned to cook ethnic recipes too. I considered my meals more interesting than the slab of meat, potatoes and limp salad I had been eating as a carnivore.
Forks Over Knives
But while I was fairly content with what I was eating, I wasn’t so happy with how I was feeling. I was still drinking too much alcohol, and eating a lot of sugary vegetarian treats, like cookies and ice cream. I often greeted the day with an alcohol and food hangover, bloated and fat from my binge the night before. I kept yo-yoing the same 20 lbs, gaining and losing continuously. I had at least three sizes of clothing in my closet. I was depressed and food obsessed, just as I had been for the last 25 years, regardless of whether I ate meat or not.
Then I watched the documentary “Forks Over Knives.”
Of course, I had already considered becoming a vegan over the years, for the animals and the good of our planet. But it just seemed utterly impossible. What would I eat if I didn’t eat dairy? And, of course, that question popped up that all us vegans know too well: how would I get my protein?
Nothing quite convinced me of the wisdom of adopting a whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet like the documentary “Forks Over Knives” (FOK), I finally got the message that my vegetarian diet was contributing to the cruelty to animals perpetrated by the dairy industry, and I was doing the environment and my health no favors either.
FOK led me to read “The China Study” which further persuaded me to adopt a WFPB diet by showing that chronic conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes could be prevented or reversed by avoiding animal-based meals and highly processed foods. It was time to give veganism an honest shot.
Where will I get my protein?
But I still felt overwhelmed by the practicality of adopting a WFPB diet. I had been relying on dairy foods to create meals and find meals I could eat in restaurants. Plus, there was still that all-pervasive question of protein.
I have come to learn that most people who try to adopt this lifestyle believe, as I once did, that the only way they can get adequate amounts of this nutrient is by eating meat and dairy products, even it means compromising their ethics and their health.
The truth is that whole, plant-based foods have adequate protein and that people thrive on a plant-based diet without ever going out of their way to find “sources” of this nutrient.
According to Naomi Imatome-Yun in her article “Do Vegetarians and Vegans Eat Enough Protein?” on the Forks Over Knives website, the recommended intake of protein is 42 grams a day. On average, non-vegetarians eat above and beyond this at almost 80 grams, but so does everyone else. Vegetarians and vegans actually average 70% more protein than they need every day.
I do take a vitamin B12 daily, however. A WFPB diet, while rich in other vitamins and minerals, is devoid of this one, and consequently carries the serious and potentially fatal risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.
To learn how to put together WFPB meals, I joined an online meal planning service. I learned how to make flavorful dishes with new food combinations that I would never have considered before. I used beans to make curries and other sauces, and new spices such as Ras el Hanout, Chinese 5 Spice, and Jamaican jerk seasoning to inject exotic flavors.
I will admit there was a bit of an investment to buy all these spices and other new ingredients required to make tasty meals, like nutritional yeast, and all kinds of nuts and seeds. But once I had stocked my cupboard, the cost to put together meals was very little on a weekly basis.
I was spending an awful lot of time with food prep, however. I learned to batch cook, which was helpful, but I was still spending hours and hours chopping and cooking.
Though I was feeling better, I was still having trouble sticking with the diet consistently. While I never ate meat, I was eating eggs and other dairy occasionally.
And I was still 25 pounds heavier than I wanted to be. This was no doubt due to the fact that I was eating flour- and sugar-laden treats, albeit now vegan ones (can anyone say Oreo cookies). And I was drinking alcohol, daily.
I was about 2 years into my WFPB diet, and while I felt better about the way I was eating, I wasn’t at the balanced, consistent place with my food and habits that I knew I could be.
After one particularly bad food binge, I woke up feeling despondent. Not only was my weight up, but I had just been diagnosed with osteoporosis (my doctor said I had the bones of an 85-year-old woman and I was only 62) and felt terrible; bloated and tired with a persistent cough and runny nose that just wouldn’t go away.
I tried to distract myself on Facebook, praying for an answer. And my prayers were answered when a message from Susan Peirce Thompson about her Bright Line Eating 14 Day Challenge popped up on my screen. Since it was affordable, short in duration, and something different (as a yo yo dieter I was always on the lookout for something new, and different that I hadn’t already tried and failed on in the past), I decided to give it a shot. Even though it did involve cutting out flour, and sugar, my favorite food group. It also required I eat only three meals a day, with nothing in between, and I was a big time snacker. Oh and no alcohol, which I’d actually done without many times when embarking on diets. But just for the duration of the diet.
The missing link — Bright Line Eating
However, Bright Line Eating (BLE) appealed to me because it had a structured food plan for losing weight that allowed me to follow my whole-food plant-based diet. Most WFPB programs just tell you to eat until you are full and you will get thin, which hadn’t happened to me. And it had a solid maintenance program, which almost no food programs have. I could lose weight pretty easily but always gained it back, so a maintenance plan really attracted me. But I was still skeptical — I had tried a sugar restricted diet years ago and it “didn’t work.”
I ultimately decided “What have I got to lose?”
I found out what I had to lose after taking the challenge, and then a 10 week BLE boot camp, followed by joining the online, ongoing Facebook group, Bright Lifers, and going to the BLE Family Reunion in San Diego (brrr, it was so cold, but such a fantastic experience). I also purchased Susan’s book, “Bright Line Eating, the Science of Living Happy Thin and Free.”
What I had to lose was 23 pounds, my chronic cough, and runny nose. Along with my depression and foggy brain. The program delivered — I was finally happy, thin and free. Looking back, I think flour and sugar, and especially alcohol, had been a big part of the reason I had not been able to consistently follow a WFPB diet and to once and for all lose weight and keep it off.
I admit that I may have had an easier time making the transition to a WFPB lifestyle because of my long experience as a vegetarian. Similarly, spending several years as a WFPB eater helped me transition to BLE, as I loved so many of the vegetables and fruits and grains and plant-based proteins the program encouraged.
One of the things I particularly have enjoyed is the simplicity of meal prep. I just put together a few ingredients and it is a meal. Plus, food tastes better now. Vegetables actually taste sweet, and fruit is dessert sweet.
Happy, thin and free at last
Bright Line Eaters aim to get “happy, thin and free.” For me, eating WFPB is also a necessary part of achieving that goal.
Today, at 63 I feel more energetic and at peace with my food than I did in my 30s. My message to those of you trying and slipping with this way of eating — both WFPB and BLE — is to hang in there, keep trying, and keep re-zooming, as we say in BLE. While some people hit their stride right away, for those of us who take 10, 20, even 50 years to get it right, it is worth the prize of health and peace when success comes.
If you have questions or ideas about your own experience with BLE and WFPB eating, please leave them in the Comments section below. Or feel free to write me at email@example.com.