Southern State of Grace

Plant-Focused Eating

Plant-based, vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, pescatarian, lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, carnivore, omnivore, paleotarian, pollotarian, fruitarian, raw foodie. Sheesh! Even coming up with this list is enough to make my head spin.

There are so many classifications for the way people choose to eat. This doesn’t even touch on the smaller categories like ketogenic, paleo, whole30.

My husband and I come from different eating backgrounds. Growing up, my family ate incredible healthy (with the exception of Blue Runners every Monday. My Louisiana people Where ‘yat?). I can remember as a kid thinking that we never had anything to eat in the house. When I would go to friends houses I would “ooo” and “ahh” over the white bread in their pantry. Then when I got to college I rebelled and bought all the white bread and processed carbs I could get my hands on (hello freshman 15). By second semester I got my life together and started running and getting back on track with food (more on this another time-I’m skipping over a lot here).

Stanley on the other hand grew up in a very active family. Active both in sports as well as socially. I remember opening their pantry when we first started dating and it was a total snack heaven! Pop tarts, honey buns, ALL THE THINGS people. I’m telling you this because we had a little learning curve when we got married. Stanley could eat jalapeno cheese burgers for dinner every night and I was a recovering from very restrictive eating habit.

Now that we are 5 years into marriage and our lives have blended, our activity and eating habits have changed from our childhood ways into what really fits our own family now. We are both pretty active as a family and food is a big part of life for us. Breaking bread with our family or friends is a time we want to spend nourishing our bodies and our relationships and we had to actively work to find what suited us.

It’s important to me to feed my family food that is wholesome and good for them but it’s equally important for me that they get to experience treats regularly and that they feel excited about food. I have practiced intuitive eating for a while and it’s something that I try and talk to them about regularly. But enough family history- let’s get to the meat of it already (wink).

If you aren’t familiar, a plant-based diet is exactly what it sounds like. It is a method of eating centered around eating mostly food derived from plants with minimal to no animal products. For me, I wasn’t so much worried about meat but I felt like I would miss the parm on my broccoli and the feta in my salad and the truth is, I did (but more on that in a minute).

My hope with sharing our experience is not to sway you to the cow or the kale but to give you a little information on how it worked for our family of four as you explore what healthy, nourished eating looks like for you and your family.

Let’s start with the data, shall we?

It’s been proven that following a plant-based diet can lower blood pressure and has positive outcomes for people with diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. In fact, one study of diabetes patients indicated a more significant improvement in overall health from switching to a plant-based diet than the improvement that is to be expected from daily exercise and medication. Additionally, it as been shown to reduce inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

“Diets higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in a general population.”

The American Heart Association

I feel like most of that is the traditional advice we’ve always heard-eat more greens and less red meat. But what about for those of us that are mostly healthy? Is this method of eating still considered healthy?

The most common hesitation for plan-based eating that I have heard is the concern for protein. Now, I’m not a nutritionist and this information while gathered from credible sources is still my opinion so I would encourage you to do your own research, making sure that your sources are researched-based. All that to say a well-balanced plant-based diet still contains essential amino acids and sufficient protein, with the added benefit of not containing saturated fat found in animal protein. Think legumes, beans, chia seeds, and grains like quinoa. Some surprise protein sources include: spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, cucumbers, and tomatoes.

Here are some additional options for plant proteins

If you have a vitamin deficiency or any health concerns, I’d strongly suggest consulting your doctor before making the switch. For me, I found out that I had a couple vitamins in the low-average range (while not on plant-based diet). This is something I have to be aware of when eating and I take a supplement as well. Quick plug to go get your levels tested, it can be super informative!

I think the thing that stood out to me the most was the correlation between plant-based diet and overall decrease in all-cause mortality. The more I researched the more evidence I found for what I already knew to be true- That what you eat has the opportunity to be one of the greatest sources of preventative medicine or one of the most contributing factors in disease. That caught my attention.

The hard part

The biggest adjustment was how to get the kiddos on board and plan meals that they would be interested in. My two tots (ages 2 and almost 4) are pretty good eaters already. They are accustomed to having a fruit and vegetable on their plate at almost every meal, and they aren’t strangers to mama putting something crazy on there. However, they both like meat and especially love cheese. I kept organic 2% milk in their routine and really made their meals more “plant-focused”. What I mean by that is that the fruits and veggies were the stars of the show and any animal products were add-ons. (Think bean burritos with some shredded cheddar on the side or lentil soup with crusty french bread and butter.)

Messy picture but real life moment of a thrown together weeknight meal

Here’s the actual message though my friends. I’m not into fad diets. Like at all. I actually find myself being really put off and resistant to them. Part of this is the rebel in me, part of this is that I’ve seriously struggled with restrictive dieting. Plant-based is such a hot topic right now and so many people are blindly jumping on board and I feel the need to clarify something. Hear me out on this one because if you take one thing away from this post let it be this this:

Know your body.

Know what works for you. Know what doesn’t. Know what you have the mental capacity to take on right now with all of life’s demands. Know the difference between something that can add another dimension of health to your life and something that would be an added stressor.

The good part

The biggest change I noticed from eating only plant-based was how I felt. Within just a couple days I was significantly less bloated, I felt more satisfied throughout the day and didn’t feel the need to snack. My husband felt the same way, too.

As I mentioned, we are both pretty active. At the time we were eating plant-based we were both training for a half marathon so making sure the food that we were eating was providing energy and sustaining us was really important. I broke my foot in this process so I had to stop training all together. Then we sold our house, bought a new one, and moved right before Christmas. I’m telling you this because with the craziness of life we weren’t able to maintain those same eating habits and we both saw a significant decrease in the way we felt and our overall energy levels.

Where we are now

One of the things I equally enjoyed and despised was the challenge of planning meals around plants first. I think this has been the most fundamental change that we’ve seen in the way we eat. Even when we eat meat. For example, instead of first saying we will have poultry for dinner, now what sides are we going to serve with it? We say, it is going to be cold this week so we will want something hearty, or we haven’t had Tex-Mex in a while, and then we plan what vegetables we are going to have and let everything else fall in. This past week we had a quick week night ratatouille with warm french bread, Tex-Mex night might include a bean burrito, or if we want roasted brussles we pick those first and then toss some potatoes in there and add some fish to the sheet pan.

What we’ve done is actually take a tip from what I prepared for the kiddos in that we eat mostly fruits and veggies and our meals are plant-focused but nothing is considered an “off-limits” food. We still very much enjoy high quality meat and seafood. I mean.. we live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where you can buy your shrimp right off the boat and crawfish have their own season. It’s a way of life down here. But every week we try to have at least a couple meals that are no dairy, no meat.
Another takeaway here is to overall focus on wholesome, minimally processed food or reducing your intake of processed food for overall health. If you keep it that broad, if you take it out of the box it’s “supposed” to fit in then and it becomes much easier to implement. Something you can ask yourself is “How can I intentionally add more nutrient-dense food to my life?” rather than breaking it to your husband that you’re throwing all the meat out of the freezer and having tofu for dinner.

For our house, not every week looks the same and some weeks I fail to plan, some weeks have the best planning but life happens (like when your husband swears he turned the crock pot on before leaving the house and you come home to find out he indeed turned it on but forgot the small detail of plugging it in). What this has helped us do is find a way of eating that we feel put us at an optimal health level for our individual bodies and then scale it down to be easily maintained for the life stage that we are in.

There’s so much that goes into being healthy. What I’ve found as I have continued to explore our family’s journey in health is that for us, there are some days where health means eating the perfectly prepared plant-based meal that my children love and I feel like I could run for president, and others it looks like getting the juiciest cheeseburger and enjoying every bite.

I think it’s part of human nature to want to label things. Just how we want to categorize how we eat, we want everything to fit perfectly in it’s place with a color coded detailed description. But what if we worried less about what eating habit or lifestyle we identify with and more about how how we feel and what does/does not work for us in that moment? It’s taken me a really long time to not put so much of my worth on food and this experience has added another dimension of balance to our lives in the best way. It’s continued to reaffirm for me that you don’t always have to color inside the lines. That in fact, color should be all over the place, perhaps most importantly all over your plates.

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

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