• Lydia Chu

What to expect when going plant-based

Updated: May 11, 2019

Choosing to go with whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet does not necessarily mean you're going vegan.

As I explained in my previous blog "veganism versus plant-based diet", there is a clear difference between the two. Veganism is mainly about a lifestyle focusing on eliminating animal cruelty and plant-based is a diet focusing mainly on healthy eating. When I decided to change my diet in 2016, it was purely for a health reason and nothing else, but everybody automatically started labeling me as vegan.

Honestly, I had no idea what "veganism" was exactly. I thought veganism was just the dietary preference where people didn't meat. I had no clue that it had more to do with animal rights and their well-being. I grew up not knowing much about being a vegetarian or vegan and thought they were, to be honest, a little strange. My motto was "eat everything in moderation". This was until I started digging deeper into veganism. It has opened my eyes to all the sufferings we incur on the animals and our environment and gave me a whole new perspective on life.

Since then, I have tried becoming vegan. I have to say it's been pretty darn hard. My dietary preference is whole food plant-based (WFPB), meaning I try to eat mostly fresh, organically grown vegetables, fruits and nuts while eliminating all dairy, refined sugar and oil including all processed and frozen food, vegan or not. If you know the difference between veganism and plant-based, just eating this way does not classify you as vegan, and just because you're vegan, it doesn't necessarily mean you're eating healthy. For me, eliminating animal products from my diet has been the easiest part. Eliminating all animal based products from my life has not been that easy.

I still own many animal based products like furniture and clothing that I have acquired over the years, but since learning about veganism, I try to be more conscientious about the choices I make and try to avoid buying anything that comes from animals. I respectively admire those of us who are true vegans. Even though I try my best to live my life as vegan and happy trying, it's not without challenges.

Family and Friends

Don't expect your family and friends to automatically come aboard or even to support you.

The most difficult part, for me, has been the reaction I've received from my family and friends. At first when I discovered this new healthier way of eating and lifestyle, I was so excited that I wanted to share it with everyone especially my family. At first, I thought this was no-brainer. You eat healthy things and you'll get healthy, right? Well, it didn't exactly work out that way. With the exception of my husband, I ran into a lot of resistance especially from my teenage daughters. Despite my efforts, my daughters have shown almost no interest in plant-based diet or going vegan.

My husband, on the other hand, has been the only supportive person right from the start and happily eats all the vegan meals I cook for him, but despite his efforts, he still hasn't fully adopted the vegan lifestyle or WFPB, and not sure if he even wants to. So, it feels pretty lonely most of the time being the only member of the household being on a plant-based diet trying to live a vegan lifestyle.

Be prepared to be talked about and be ridiculed

When it comes to my siblings and my parents, it has been even more challenging. I was met with a lot of criticisms and doubts especially in the beginning. I was told that I looked unhealthy because I was too thin. They would say things like "you're too thin", or "you need to eat some meat to get your protein and to gain some weight". Recently, at one of my family gatherings, one of the cousins I haven't seen in many years gave me the worried look and made a comment to my parents about how thin and ill I looked. He was genuinely worried about me, he said. I'm not sure if it's a fear or lack of knowledge but whatever it is, I often feel like an outsider intruding on their beliefs and lifestyle.

Even when I'm at restaurants making special requests, I'm often perceived as being "difficult" and "inconveniencing" the people around me. Some of my family members and friends act uncomfortable with my "vegan" requests and sometimes makes hurtful comments about my choices.

So, now, I just mainly try to keep it to myself. I have definitely learned my lesson the hard way. Trying to influence the way my family eats has been one of the most difficult things I have ever tried, and I gave up trying. Even though things have gotten better over the years, talking about veganism or WFPB has become an uncomfortable topic that we all tried to avoid as a family. You can't make anybody do anything they don't want to even if it's out of love.

Grocery shopping is simplified

For grocery shopping, I have found it to be much easier. Since I have limited my food choices to mostly vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts, I have fewer choices to make and end up spending less time at the stores. I'm no longer distracted by the unlimited amount of things that I don't necessarily need or aren't healthy like processed or frozen food. With fewer options, it makes my shopping easier and less complicated. It also saves me money since I'm not buying any miscellaneous junk food that I used to buy. This has definitely simplified my shopping experiences for the better and has helped me to eat better and stay healthier.

Dining out can be a challenge

I never liked going out to eat even before I changed my diet, but once I did, it has become even more of a challenge. Even though there are more vegan restaurants than ever before, it's difficult to find dishes that are completely vegan and healthy. Most vegan dishes served at restaurants are usually drowning in unhealthy oil or refined sugar like salads topped with unhealthy salad dressings. Even though I'm able to make special requests when eating out, my options are definitely limited. So, for most part, I just try to eat at home where I have complete control of what I put in my food.

Change in taste buds and smell

After being on WFPB, my taste buds have definitely changed. I'm able to eat fresh vegetables and fruits and can actually taste their natural flavor without adding unhealthy sugar or dressings. Before I changed my diet, I used to hate salads because I thought they tasted bland and didn't enjoy them at all. Now, I can actually eat raw vegetables and fruits and really enjoy them. My typical salad dressing usually consists of small amount of balsamic vinegar, fresh lemon juice and little bit of salt and pepper that don't overpower their natural taste.

My sense of smell also has changed. I'm more sensitive to the foods that I'm not use to eating like oil or animal products. Now, smell of cooking oil or meat often gives me the unpleasant feelings to my stomach, and most of the meat dishes I used to like no longer appeals to me.

Overall health

Expect to lose weight

Whether your goal is to lose weight or not, some of your weight will come off pretty quickly. When I first started on WFPB diet, I lost about 8 lbs in just a matter of few weeks. I focused mainly on the quality of the food versus quantity without counting calories. When you're eating WFPB, you'll be automatically consuming things that are high in nutrients and less in fat and calories. Things to watch out for are oil and sugar. Without knowing, you could be adding a lot of unnecessary fat and calories to your diet that can be unhealthy.

You'll be feeling less hungry and your weight will stabilize

At first when I went WFPB, I was hungry all the time and I couldn't keep my weight on. Over time, my body adjusted to my new way of eating and now, my weight has stabilized to where I want to be. As far as being hungry all the time, that went away too. Depending on how active I am, I hardly ever get hungry and don't have to eat as often to stay alert and energized.

You'll be sick less

I no longer experience hunger pains or drop in energy levels, and my cholesterol level has remained at 133 mg/dL for the past two and a half years. Aside from many other health benefits I received, I rarely get sick but when I do, it's very minor and I recover very quickly. Every once in a while I might get a cold, but It only lasts for few days with only minor symptoms. I no longer have sinus problems , and my seasonal allergies have completely disappeared.

Constipation is also almost non-existent, but do expect to make multiple trips to the bathroom on a daily basis (the only bad side effect). Also, if you're going on a full WFPB diet or going completely vegan, be sure to take vitamin B-12, the only supplement you will need.

I know that healthy diet does not necessarily guarantee a perfect health or that I expect live forever, but by eating healthy, I can feel good about taking care of myself and increasing the chance of living a healthier life.

How difficult is it to be on WFPB diet and live a vegan life?

After almost three years of being on a WFPB diet, I'm realizing that it's very difficult to be completely vegan. Even though I try to avoid all animal products, it's not an easy task and sometimes it's even difficult to know. How do you know whether the lotion you buy was made using animal products or was tested on animals? The most recent item I bought by accident is a wool sweater. I honestly didn't think about it until I brought it home and realized that it came from an animal.

Every once in a while when I travel, I end up eating a little bit of animal products like seafood or things with egg or butter. Even though I try to eat healthy and avoid all animal products 99% of the time, in a world where temptations are everywhere and most people in the world eat meat on a regular basis, I have found that it's extremely difficult to be not just vegan but to eat healthfully at all times.

I'm still happy to be on WFPB diet and striving to live as vegan, and wouldn't have it any other way! I still feel great knowing that I'm taking care of my body by eating healthy while doing my part to minimize the pain and sufferings of our fellow animals and helping to preserve the beautiful world we live in.



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