I always do this to myself. I watch health documentaries on Netflix and want to give up meat or go vegan or adopt some other extreme diet that makes me feel like a better person. Generally, I feel very strongly about the issues for a few days and then I realize I love food too much to stop eating meat or dairy. This time though, I may have finally seen enough documentaries to make a (small, slow) change.
What the Health
“What the Health” is a new (overtly biased, but still good) documentary on Netflix that’s been gaining in popularity. It’s centered around why we should all adopt a plant-based diet, namely because animal products can cause cancer and other life-threatening conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and the very institutions that exist to educate on and decrease the prevalence of these conditions are taking money from companies like Tyson, and encouraging the population to eat processed meat, red meat and other animal products that have been categorized as carcinogens (or are known to increase the chances of getting certain diseases).
The undeniable health risks and corruption were more than enough to make me rethink my diet. That is, until I realized what it really means to go plant based. (First thought: What about pizza?!)
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
A whole foods, plant-based diet is defined by Forks Over Knives (another great Netflix health documentary) as a diet “centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.”
THAT MEANS NO CHEESE, PEOPLE.
~ Moment of silence for those living without cheese. ~
Ok, back to the serious stuff.
There are actually a lot of amazing things you can still enjoy on a plant-based diet, but you’ll have to kiss some of your favorites goodbye, too. This is where my love of food (and my laziness) usually prevents me from seriously committing to a diet like plant based. But, after watching “What the Health,” I felt duped. Knowing that the advice and guidelines top health organizations are feeding us are fueled by bias and corruption made me really want to reconsider how I approach my diet, lifestyle, and general idea of health. By buying processed foods and animal products, I support a lot of companies whose morals – or lack thereof – I disagree with. But I’ve always done it, because it’s easier and I was under the impression it was still fairly healthy. The more documentaries I watch, the more I realize how important it is to put my money into products and companies that are transparent and environmentally/animal friendly.
The Struggle is Real
I’m not totally onboard the plant-based diet train yet, though. I know myself well enough to recognize that jumping into a plant-based diet “cold turkey” is not going to work for me. I’m very emotionally attached to food and it’s a huge part of who I am and how I interact with others. So rapidly giving up large food groups and changing my entire thought process for cooking and eating is not going to bring me long-term success. I’m slowly transitioning into a life with minimal or no animal products based on my personal fitness goals and lifestyle. Right now, that means I’m not eating meat, but am still enjoying dairy and processed foods. So yeah, I’m vegetarian now.
What’s the Difference Between Vegan, Vegetarian & Plant Based?
If you’re confused about the difference between popular diets like vegetarianism, veganism and plant based, I do not blame you one bit. Here’s a simple break down:
Vegetarian: People who don’t eat meat. This includes seafood unless you’re a pescatarian and then you don’t eat meat with the exception of fish. Vegetarians still eat animal products like eggs and dairy.
Vegan: Going vegan is a complete lifestyle change. Vegans do not consume animal products or products that were made at the expense of animals (i.e. makeup that has been tested on animals, clothing made from animals, animal food products, etc.). Veganism is commonly thought of as just a diet, but in reality it’s supposed to be much more than that.
Plant Based: A plant-based diet is essentially a vegan diet without the lifestyle change. Going plant based is limited to the food you consume; it does not extend to any other products you may use or buy like Veganism does.
A plant-based diet also requires that all foods come from plants, and therefore excludes things like refined sugar. While certain treats – like Oreos – may be void of animal products and safe for vegans, (Okay, technically Oreo doesn’t promise that their cookies haven’t come into contact with milk, but they don’t actually contain milk, so it’s up to you if you want to eat them) they aren’t made from all plants, so they don’t belong in a whole foods plant-based diet.
Currently, I have adopted a vegetarian diet. I’m working my way towards vegan, but don’t see myself ever being truly plant based. While I may make a more conscious effort to avoid processed foods, refined sugars, and oils, I will likely never be fully plant based.
Why I Can’t Commit to Plant Based Right Now
There’s a few reasons I’m not ready to commit to a plant-based diet right now, one I’ve already mentioned above. In addition to wanting to go slow and set myself up for success, I’m also currently following a diet that makes it extremely difficult to go plant based. I’ve been following a Ketogenic diet for a few months and have a hard enough time staying on track without meat, let alone without all animal products. On a ketogenic diet, you limit your daily carb intake to 50 grams net carbs or less. Since most vegetarian and plant-based protein sources are carb heavy, I haven’t been able to accommodate both diets. (It’s not impossible, just VERY difficult!) Eventually I plan on abandoning the Keto diet in favor of going more plant based and putting on more muscle. In the meantime, I’m getting the majority of my protein from eggs, so I’m just focused on not eating meat.
Why I Can’t Commit to a 100% Plant-Based Diet, Ever
I love food; that’s the honest reason. I don’t believe in depriving myself of things that make me happy, as long as I’m enjoying them in moderation. I know even once I make it to vegan, I will still eat animal products occasionally, and I don’t think there’s any shame in that. I’m not perfect and I’m not going to try and be. When I deem it worthwhile to have a slice of pizza or a milk chocolate bar, I will eat it, enjoy it, not feel guilty about it, and then return to my diet. For those that actually commit 100% to diets like these, I commend you. I do not however, want to join you.
Is a Plant-Based Diet for You?
- Does it enrage you that there’s evidence dairy causes breast cancer yet the Susan G. Komen foundation is partnered with Yoplait?
- Does it piss you off to think that your loved ones who have been affected by cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and more could have prevented it if they knew more of the real facts about nutrition and weren’t just told to take a bunch of pills?
- Does watching documentaries like Food Inc. and seeing footage of animals being abused so already rich corporations can make more money make you sick to your stomach? (Fun fact: I once threw up in my mouth while watching Food Inc. during a college class.)
- Could you realistically give up meat?
- Is it important to you to support companies/organizations that are transparent and socially responsible?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider going plant based or vegan. I recommend starting with “What the Health” and “Forks over Knives” if you want to learn more about the benefits of a plant-based diet/the corruption in our leading health organizations and government.