Plant-Based Basics: A Primer for the Curious

standard February 16, 2018 Leave a response

I get asked all the time, “How did you become a vegan?”

“How do you get your protein?”

“How do you get enough nutrition, especially for running and breastfeeding?”

I also frequently get, “How do I get started on a plant-based diet?”

“How can I follow a plant-based diet and train for a marathon/have a healthy pregnancy/get enough nutrition/etc?”

“I could never do that.”

“I don’t know where to start.”

In today’s society, with its focus on protein is king, and carbs are bad, it can seem really daunting to figure out how to get enough nutrition, regardless of any other parameters. This month, I’ve decided to focus on the basics of plant-based nutrition, sharing the benefits, busting the myths, and outlining how it does not have to be complicated to eat well.

Plant based nutrition blueberry smoothie

The term “plant-based” itself can be confusing. How is it different from vegan or vegetarian? What are the benefits of plant-based vs. the standard American diet? Before embarking on any new health journey, it is first important to understand what it means, why it’s valuable, and how to practically implement it into your daily life.

What does a plant-based diet mean?

First, and foremost, a plant-based diet does not mean animal foods are off-limits. It does not mean you must omit, restrict, or count any particular food or nutrient. And it is not a diet in the sense that it is something you are “on” or “off.” A plant-based approach to nutrition is simply the way you choose to eat, based on your personal and cultural preferences. If you decide to give up meat and dairy, and then choose to eat a slice of pizza one night, you have not “failed.” You have simply made a choice based on what your body wants to eat at that moment.

A plant-based approach to nutrition focuses on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains It does not mean no animal products. You may be ready for a plant-only diet, you may have a dairy allergy, or maybe you just want to feel healthier in your every day life. A plant-based approach can work for you!

Plant-based means focusing on plants FIRST. Instead of thinking of the protein first as the main element of your plate, focus on the plant foods. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, with protein and starches on the side.

Plant Based Nutrition: A Primer for the Curious

Why plant-based?

A plant-based diet promotes optimal health and wellness. Whole plant foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and other bioactive compounds. A plant-rich diet has numerous health benefits including lower blood cholesterol, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, lower blood pressure, and a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. Plants are high in dietary fiber, low in saturated fat, and contain no cholesterol.

Plant foods support healthy brain function by reducing chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Healthy fats rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts and flax seeds may also play a role in reversing cognitive defects and decreasing risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

A topic of much interest today, plants also play a role in supporting a healthy gut and digestive system.  By eating a diet rich in fiber, we can cultivate and maintain healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract. This in turn supports the immune system as a whole and can aid in preventing disease.

Creating a balanced plant-based plate

There is no need to make sure you have a “center of the plate” main dish with two sides like we grew up eating. Think of the meal as a whole, with an emphasis on color, variety, and flavors. Mix things up. toss them together. What items do you have in the fridge that you can get creative with? What vegetables are in season? Start there and build your plate around fresh, whole plant foods.

Plant Based Nutrition Basics: A Primer for the Curious

Foods are composed of 3 macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fats. I tell all my nutrition coaching clients to make sure to eat 2 of the 3 at every meal (and snack!) Carbohydrates will give you energy, while protein will slow the absorption of the sugar, and give you steady, lasting fuel, instead of a spike and then crash. A sprinkling of fat will also aid in satiety and brain power.

Plant-based carbohydrates include whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruits. Legumes (lentils and beans), nuts, seeds, whole grains, and soy foods are all rich in protein. Healthy fats are found in avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds. By incorporating a variety of whole, plant foods into each meal, you will be able to get a balance of macronutrients with ease.

Ready to stock your pantry with plant-based staple foods, so you can always have quick meals on hand in a pinch? My Plant-Based Pantry list is full of the staples I keep on hand at all times. Grab your copy here and always have the ingredients on hand to make fast, satisfying meals anytime!

Plant Based Nutrition Basics: Love Your Body, Honor Your Health

Nutrition implications

What about calcium? Leafy greens, broccoli, tofu, beans, and blackstrap molasses are all calcium-rich foods. The calcium content varies by food, but by incorporating a variety of foods into each meal and each day, most people can easily meet their calcium needs through plants and calcium-fortified foods.

At the end of the day, plant-based nutrition is a way of eating that promotes a healthy body, a healthy mind, and a healthy world. Whether you are looking to lose weight, overhaul your dietary habits, or protect the environment, a diet based on whole plant foods provides optimal nutrition to fuel your everyday activities. Remember, no foods are off-limits. No foods are “good” or “bad.” By incorporating more plant foods into your daily meals, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of rewards.

Plant Based Basics: A Nutrition Primer for the Curious

Ditch the Diet and Find More JOY

standard January 17, 2018 Leave a response
Find the JOY in Food

Our society has placed such an emphasis on diet culture, being thin, looking just right. Even without realizing it, we have grown up thinking if we just lost 10 pounds, if we just gave up sugar, if we just worked out harder, we would feel better about ourselves.

But what if we said NO THANKS to always trying to make ourselves better, believing that we aren’t awesome the way we are? What if we said YES to the cookie, YES to clothes that fit our body, YES to loving ourselves at whatever size and shape that might be and enjoying our food each and every day?

It is possible to love our relationship with food and with ourselves without counting calories, dieting, restricting, binging, or comparing. It does take time, attention, and focus. Which is why we do this TOGETHER. I’ve worked with many clients one on one to make peace with food, but being able to share our struggles, progress, and success as we go with others who are on the same journey is even more powerful. Together we can hold each other accountable, cheer each other on, and succeed as a team.

So now, you’re thinking, “Yeah, this all sounds great. But HOW?”

1. Start listening inward instead of outward. 

Instead of focusing on what our society has been telling us for years is how we should look or act or eat or feel, let’s turn our attention inward and focus on what our own body is telling us it needs. This means we have to be honest with ourselves. We have to meet ourselves where we are at today. Recognize what is and is not working. It may be scary. It may not feel good. But we cannot move forward and make progress without evaluating our starting point. The world tells us we need to look a certain way. And we’ve been told these lies for years. Let’s remove all that baggage and start fresh.

2. Make peace with food. 

Food is not the enemy. Food is not good or bad. It’s just food. It is meant to nourish us. Fuel us. Give yourself permission to eat.

3. Learn to enjoy and savor meals.

In this fast food world, let’s stop and slow down. Let’s choose food that tastes good, is made well, and is good for our bodies. Let’s sit down at a table, see the food in front of us, take the time to savor each bite and find satisfaction in our food.

4. Respect and honor your emotions.

We love using food to make us feel better. We all do it. But that is doing a disservice to both our mental and physical health. Let’s find ways to resolve our emotional issues without food, and let food be a positive, savored, and enjoyed part of how we fuel our physical bodies.

5. Respect and honor your body.

Once we figure out how to properly take care of our mental health, we also need to spend some time on our physical well-being. Let’s treat our bodies with dignity and respect. They’re the only ones we have! This means getting comfortable with our own skin, using movement and exercise to feel good, and taking care of what we’ve been given.

6. Make a commitment to yourself.

None of us are perfect. We live in a world that is constantly bombarding us with how to feel, how to look, how to act. But in order to continue to respect and love ourselves, we need to honor our health as a whole. Recognize that we will not always eat a “perfect” diet (and here’s a secret: there is no perfect diet!), we will have ups and downs, we will make choices we are not proud of. But that is not what matters. What matters is what we are going to do after we make that choice. Instead of giving up, spiraling down into old habits, let’s make a commitment to ourselves to press forward, keep going. Progress, not perfection is what counts.

Are you ready to get started?

I am starting a brand new group coaching program designed to help you ditch the dieting mentality for good and find the JOY in food and life lived to the fullest. This program is completed all online, at your own pace. There will be live office hours each week, where you can hop on, and we can chat about your progress, but if you miss those, you can always shoot me an email and we can continue the conversation. We will walk through each of these steps one week at a time, with action items and assignments along the way, designed to guide you forward on your journey to freedom from dieting. There is also built-in accountability and support, as we focus on progress, not perfection, together.

We are only taking 10 participants for our first round of this program, and they will fill fast, so join now to save your spot!

Why I Got Rid of My Fitness Pal

standard January 15, 2018 Leave a response

While I was in school to become a dietitian and was training for a marathon (Goofy in particular), I got in the habit of tracking what I ate in MyFitnessPal. Not so much to make sure I ate less, but to make sure I ate ENOUGH.  While it is true that most people gain weight when training for a marathon because of the free thinking of running warrants eating whatever you want, this is not always the case. When I was training for Goofy, I was following a fairly strict plant-based runners diet that filled me up on fewer calories, so I was struggling to maintain my weight. And yes, part of me was happy with this change. But I also knew I needed to eat enough to fuel the extra distance that this training required. I wasn’t just doing one long run on the weekends. I was doing two to mimic race day.

Nothing I was doing seemed unhealthy. I was consuming what I needed. I was feeling good. I was, however, spending almost all my free time thinking about what I was going to eat next, when I was going to prep it, what I needed to buy at the store. I made everything from scratch (crackers, cereal, sauces). I worked from home when I wasn’t traveling, and the husband was traveling so much, I mostly had to worry about my own meals. So I had the time to spend my energy on this. I was also living in Chicago, walking everywhere, and practicing hot vinyasa yoga twice a week.

So yes, it was helpful to track my calories to ensure I ate enough.

Fast forward three years, and I was still tracking my meals. When I wrote out my meal plan for the week, I input all my recipes into MyFitnessPal and planned out what I was going to eat for each meal. This helped me not waste food, as I was able to plan out how many meals of food I had to eat within the week. It also helped me not have to think about what I was going to make at mealtime. The app just told me, and I followed it without thinking. I was so used to planning things this way, that when I got pregnant and found myself not interested in food or meal planning, I ended up kind of lost. My phone wasn’t telling me what to eat anymore.

I eventually got back in a meal prep routine and continued to track, estimating the extra calories I needed for growing a baby.

And then I actually HAD a baby.

No one has time to plan and track all their meals with a newborn. Your only goal is when you can sleep. People are bringing you meals, so you don’t have to think about food.

But I also found myself STARVING. All the time. Breastfeeding hunger is REAL. I had snacks next to my chair for each middle of the night feeding. The people who brought me those snacks were my best friends.

Once I got back into (very slowly) running again, the hunger only increased. I realized I needed to start tracking again to make sure I was eating ENOUGH. Or at least that’s what I told myself. The hunger eventually subsided as I figured out how much extra I needed to fuel my current lifestyle.

I continued on this way for a while. Until I started seeing counseling clients again. I don’t have clients track meals. I encourage them to listen to their body, their hunger and satiety cues. What does your body need from you today? Is it a salad? Or is it cake? Whatever it is, go eat that. Savor it. Enjoy it. And move on.

So why wasn’t I taking my own advice? What happened?

I looked back over the past few years and realized that the breakdown from me listening to my own body’s cues for what to eat to relying on an app for every meal had happened without me even realizing it. I really do LOVE food and the whole process that comes with eating. Planning, shopping, cooking. The feeling you get when you prepare just enough and have everything ready for the week and then seeing the empty fridge on Saturday before starting over again. I have this crazy JOY in all of it. But somehow I had twisted that love into this reliance on an app instead of honoring my own body’s needs. I was practicing, in theory, a twisted form of dieting. I was limiting what I ate to what I had pre-scheduled out, based on my caloric needs for the day. No, I wasn’t restricting overall calories. I was making a plan based on an adequate amount for my current stage of life and activity. But I was addicted to those numbers. In hitting them, in making sure I had the right amount and balance of nutrients each day. That I drank enough water. It is possible to have disordered eating around a healthy diet. And I had suddenly found myself on the edge of something that could have very easily gotten way worse. It’s easy for any of us to do. But as dietitians, people look at what we eat A LOT. They assume we eat perfectly all the time. That we eat only kale salad and green smoothies. (Guess what? We don’t!)

Right then and there, I quit. Cold turkey. I made a split second decision to just stop. App deleted off my phone. I got out a piece of paper and a pen and wrote out my meals and grocery list for the week the old-fashioned way.

It was honestly, very strange at first. Not necessarily hard. Just different. I relied on that written down menu A LOT the first week. I just had this compulsive need to know what meal was next. And then thought to myself, WHY? Why did I know what I was going to eat for lunch? Why couldn’t I just make what I wanted when lunch time came around? The learning curve for me took some time. To remember to just eat what sounded good in that moment with what I had. Granted, I don’t keep a ton of food on hand in the house. I like to keep a lean pantry and fridge to avoid waste. But of all the things we did have, I still had a variety of options to choose from each day. I could afford to not plan out every single meal.

After a few weeks of writing everything down, I slowly ditched that as well. It wasn’t as intentional as it was time-saving. I just didn’t have the time to sit and plan everything out anymore. I had a set grocery list of things we bought every single week. And then I just bought a few extra things that sounded good at the time. On Sundays, when I planned out my schedule for the week, I wrote down in my calendar a rough dinner plan. And that was it. That’s where I am at today. No formal menu. No real grocery list. Just a handful of staples plus some extras. Sometimes I pick out a handful of recipes for the week. Sometimes we do Hello Fresh all week. It all works out. No one is starving. Even jumping back into marathon training, I have enough fuel and energy to succeed in my workouts.

I have clients that ask me if I want them to keep a food diary. Or if I can just tell them what to eat. It seems so much easier to have someone else, or something else, dictate it for you. But there is no JOY in that. Yes, it may help you with your short-term goals. There is a place and a purpose for tracking intake. I do 24 hour food recalls with all my new clients to get an idea of their usual dietary patterns as we get started on their goals. But every day, mapping out meals, is just not worth the time or the energy. Let’s get back to what our body needs today. It’s smart. It will tell us. We just have to learn to listen and interpret what it’s telling us.

Sound to good to be true? If you’re ready to change how you look at food and meal planning, I’d love to talk to you! Leave a comment below, or schedule a quick chat with me here.