Why Going Plant-Based Is Easier Than You Think
Hannah O’Malley, founder of The Better Base, shares her top five tips for building a delicious lifestyle fueled on plants… and why it might be far easier than you think.
Intrigued about 'going plant-based' but don't think you could do it?
Guess what? You’re already plant-based. Yep, unless you are an outlier, most people in the world live on a diet that’s majority food from plants.
So the real question is something more like…. could you increase the amount of plant foods you eat and decrease the amount of animal products? For most people the answer is probably a big heck yes, especially with a little help on the ‘why’ and ‘how’.
So why might you want to be more plant-based?
The three most common motivators are to improve health (both short and long term), and live in an environmentally friendly and ethical way.
Healthwise, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “vegans and vegetarians are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity.” It seems the more whole plants (ones that have been minimally processed) the better and many people find benefits across a whole range of health conditions.
On the environmental front, the Acadamy also state that “plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.” Furthermore, Oxford University researchers recently published in the most comprehensive study ever to analyse the impact of food production on the environment. Lead author Joseph Poore concluded that: “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.”
These are just a couple of examples of a growing consensus and mountain of evidence signaling one thing: that a diet based mostly on unrefined plants is best for our health and the planet.
The ethical angle is unable to be summarised in a few sentences but I’d definitely encourage you to research where and how your food arrives at your plate. Many people find this process gives plenty of reason to eat more plant foods!
If you have a solid rationale as to why you want to eat more plants, then you’re already most of the way there. However sometimes it’s easier said than done.
If you're anything like me, you find change hard.
As humans, we are creatures of habit. It’s easier than ever to wake up each day, do pretty much what we did yesterday and rinse and repeat for weeks, months, sometimes even years on end.
We have alarm clocks to wake us at the same time each day, calendars with recurring appointments and TV shows set to record our favourite programmes each and every week. Convenience and routine are comfortable, familiar and there’s a sense of safety in doing what we know… or simply what everyone else is doing.
This goes for food too. Many people say that they ‘could never give up meat’, or cheese, or eggs – the list goes on. I totally agree that this does seem incredibly hard to begin with. In fact, a few years ago I said the exact same thing. “I could never give up meat”.
But I did. And cheese, other dairy products and eggs. At the time, this decision surprised me and many people around me. But the most surprising thing was it wasn’t actually that hard at all once I had made the decision to start making some changes. It didn’t happen overnight, it was over four months, but it did happen.
Why eating plant-based is easier than you think.
You don’t have to give anything up. That’s right, nothing is set in stone, just consider it as an experiment. Do the research, try the amazing foods and meals out there and if you don’t like it, then nothing is lost. You might decide to just do it in the mornings or on weekdays. Many people find they have strong reasons or want to get the maximal benefits so go 100%, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Think of it as exploring a whole new world of food, where carbs are good and plant-protein is plentiful! Vegetarian and vegan diets have been shown to be some of the only eating patterns that people can stick to long term. And in studies where people are asked to eat whole food plant-based, they generally report that they are just as satisfied with the food as previously. You can eat pasta, burgers, curries, tacos, soups, salads, pizza and burritos and so much more. Sound like fun?
The bigger the challenge, the better the reward.
Just a few years back, I was a meat, cheese, yoghurt, egg and ice-cream lover. I also wanted to stay active and healthy, so I would go to the gym fairly often and run every now and then. Just as I signed up for my first half-marathon, I went for a routine visit at the GP for eczema and she put me on the scales.
To my horror, she told me that my weight had gone up by several kilograms and that she didn’t want to see this happening every year. Whilst it was very hard hearing this, I am so glad she said it. Because it set me off on a new direction.
Like many families in New Zealand, my family has a history of heart disease and diabetes. As a trained clinical pharmacist I have a huge interest in health and I want to look after myself as much as possible – whilst still enjoying life of course! So after the memorable GP visit, I tried to cut down on the greasy meat filled kebabs, junk food and started taking ‘working out’ a bit more seriously. A few kilograms came off and I was fairly happy that I was on the right track.
Fast forward two years and I moved to London and was working at a large health charity that offered free health checks. I opted in out of curiosity, half expecting that they would tell me what a great job I was doing. I felt healthy and was training for a full 42km marathon.
So when the nurse took my cholesterol level and it came back as high, I was perplexed to say the least. Here I was thinking I was doing all the right things to reduce my risk of heart disease, yet I had high cholesterol levels.
It was around this time that I also began to research the impact of food production on the environment and of animal products on our health. I watched the documentaries ‘Cowspiracy’ and ‘Forks Over Knives’ on Netflix and started reading articles and books such as ‘Comfortably Unaware’ and ‘The Food Revolution’. The more I learnt, the more I wanted to eat more plants.
After spending four months researching online and in the kitchen, and cutting out one animal product at a time, I ended up eating plant-based all the time. I also aimed to eat unrefined foods as much as possible.
Whilst it seemed like a huge challenge to begin with, the rewards were sweet and I felt far too good to stop. I even went and studied a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition to get a better understanding of how this lifestyle would affect myself and the planet.
How does it feel two years on?
Effortless. Peaceful. Fun. Delicious. And 100% satisfying. There are so many levels on which I could answer this question.
I have a deep comfort in knowing that I’m investing in my long term health, doing what I can to buck the family history trends. My cholesterol levels have normalised, which I’ve learnt is common on a low fat whole food plant-based diet. Having the power to control that to a large extent feels pretty darn good.
I’m a healthy weight, eat as much healthy food as I want and never go hungry. It was never about the weight, but it’s a big bonus knowing that I no longer need to restrict my calories or carbs, or work out for hours at the gym to feel comfortable in a bikini. My eczema has also cleared up, which was incredibly painful at times over many years in my 20’s.
Other major drivers were living in an eco-friendly and ethical way. For me, it’s important to live in line with my values and I feel far more connected with nature and life than ever before.
It seems too good to be true until you give it a go. But for what my two cents is worth, I’ve found it to be all that it’s cracked up to be – and more.
My top 5 tips for the plant-curious:
Let’s be honest, you probably still think you could never give up meat. But if you’re dabbling with dialing it down and upping the plant presence in your life, here are a few tips from someone who’s walked the road before!
1. Find a good reason why
If you don’t have this, then changing your diet will be hard and you’ll come up with all the excuses not to. People will ask, so practice your answer! Why are you doing this?
2. Find another good reason why
If you want to do this for the long term, then you need big, ongoing sources of motivation. Discipline doesn’t work for long. Do your research, watch the documentaries, read the books and talk to others who are eating loads of plants.
Our free 7 Day Course has all sorts of inspiration from health professionals, athletes and more. The enthusiasm is out there and helps make it a whole lot easier!
3. Learn to make meals to drool over
It doesn’t have to be expensive, time consuming or difficult. Plant-based recipes are all over the internet and there is a veg version of everything! Trying the free week of Ridiculously Good Recipes is an awesome intro. You will find dishes you love as much as your old faves, trust me.
4. Take a B12 supplement if you make big changes
Plant foods don’t naturally contain vitamin B12 so this is the one supplement you must take if you move towards a mostly or fully plant-based diet. At least 100mcg per day should allow you to absorb the recommended daily intake. Have a chat to your GP to discuss whether there’s anything else to consider specific to you, especially if you are on medicines or have long term health conditions. Food is a powerful medicine itself, so changes may need to be managed carefully.
5. Celebrate the results
Notice how eating plant-based makes you look and feel and celebrate the wins no matter how small! Each meal that you eat plant-based is doing you and the environment a lot of good. It will save approx 1kg C02 equivalent of emissions. Knowing this made me feel like Captain Planet! Your efforts will also have a ‘halo effect’ and others in your life who you might be feeding or influencing may start noticing benefits too.
Focus on progress over perfection
Many people are put off eating plant-based because they think it’s all or nothing. The truth is that any progress towards eating more plants is better for our health, the environment and life on the planet. It’s not about perfection and even One Meal A Day can help, as Suzy and James Cameron’s recent campaign outlines.
Our habits were crafted over a lifetime so whilst long terms goals are great, create a short term achievable action plan too. Do you think you could become a bit more plant-based over the next week or month? Set your own pace, find yourself a few cheerleaders and enjoy the adventure!
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