An Introduction to Dieting, Eating Plant-Based, and Veganism

 In Americanoizing, Food

Dieting has been ingrained in the American culture for centuries. Countless different types of diets have been popular over the years including the Atkins Diet, Ketogenic Diet, Zone Diet, Paleo Diet… the list goes on and on.

What these and all “diets” have in common is that although they can lead to quick results, they ultimately leave people worse off than before they started. Diets are not just ineffective in the long term, they also encourage people to purposely lose touch with their bodies. Diets involve ignoring your own body’s hunger and satiety signals, and instead, entrusting your decisions on what, when, and how much to eat to a cookie-cutter plan someone else created for the masses. When you really think about it… the concept simply makes no sense!

There’s currently a movement in our country that goes way beyond diet. As a 22-year vegan veteran I can tell you that being vegan is a lifestyle, not a diet. Many people confuse adopting a plant-based diet with going vegan, but there is a powerful distinction. A plant-based diet is still just that… a diet. And while I’m thrilled that unbiased research on the benefits of avoiding animal products and eating plants exclusively has finally made its way into the limelight, the information has led to the need to coin a new term for disordered eating… orthorexia.

According to Steven Bratman, MD, MPH, “Orthorexia is an emotionally disturbed, self-punishing relationship with food that involves a progressively shrinking universe of foods deemed acceptable. A gradual constriction of many other dimensions of life occurs so that thinking about healthy food can becomes the central theme of almost every moment of the day, the sword and shield against every kind of anxiety, and the primary source of self-esteem, value and meaning. This may result in social isolation, psychological disturbance and even, possibly, physical harm.”

A vegan lifestyle on the other hand denotes living according to a philosophy that seeks to exclude, as best we can, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, cosmetics, scientific testing, or any other purpose.

Veganism promotes the development and use of cruelty-free alternatives to benefit humans, animals, and the environment.

As you can see, the foundation for a vegan lifestyle is ethics, not nutrition. In fact, you can be a vegan and not eat a plant-based diet. There are countless “vegan junk foods” available on the shelves of grocery stores these days. Twenty two years ago when I  went vegan, this certainly was not the case. In fact, there were so few choices, back then I was almost forced to eat a plant-based diet by default. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m actually grateful that my only options were whole food options!

When more vegan processed foods started being introduced into the market, I was presented with a new set of challenges for staying healthy. At the same time, using vegan meat substitutes has been instrumental in helping omnivores transition to a vegan lifestyle.

To clarify, from an animal rights standpoint, my goal is to help people stop eating animals and their bi-products. If processed vegan meat and cheese substitutes do the trick, then I’m all for using them.

From a nutritional standpoint, I like to think of vegan meat substitutes as “transition” or “treat” foods. In other words, these products can help people on their journey toward a vegan lifestyle. Once transitioned, there is more to consider. Many of these processed vegan food products are high in refined oils and loaded with sodium. They often contain preservatives as well.

A good rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, it is usually one that doesn’t belong in your body. That being said, I have a unique philosophy for helping people adopt dietary habits that cause them feel good from the inside out, support long term health, and encourage finding pleasure and satisfaction.

I find that empowering people with the tools they need to ditch “dieting”, learn to find balance, and eat intuitively.

I encourage people to get in tune with their bodies and make choices based on many factors, including how the food tastes and the results or consequences of eating the food. I teach mindful eating techniques that play a valuable role in developing a healthy relationship with food and their bodies.

Next time you sit down to a meal I invite you to ask yourself how you feel during as well as after you eat the food. Does it agree with your digestion or do you feel digestive stress? Does it give you energy or cause lethargy? The less we can rely on “diet rules” and the more we can make our own conscious decisions about what we eat, the easier it becomes to manage your weight, feel energized, become healthy from the inside out, and live your life to the fullest!

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