It began with a phone call from my sister. We were catching each other up on our lives– hers as a single mom and healthcare administrator, and me, recently divorced, in my new home, and my two kids away at college. She mentioned she was suffering from some stomach issues and wanted to try a vegan diet to see if that would help her discomfort.
“I’ll do it with you,” I volunteered.
I figured it would be a good way to lose the ten pounds I had put on during my divorce. Unlike those who lose weight on the “divorce diet,” due to stress and anxiety, my divorce was a six-month-long celebration punctuated with many girls’ nights out and lots of wine and cheese.
When the dust cleared and the final settlement was signed, I found myself living alone for the first time in nearly thirty years, and loving it. I enjoyed full control of the thermostat, music volume, TV channels, coffee strength, blankets, and toilet paper direction (not to mention my opinions, self-esteem, bank account, and future).
And I was no longer cooking for a meat and potato loving man. After decades of hosting barbecues and steak dinners, baking holiday turkeys and hams, and countless weeknight chicken dinners, I could make food choices that didn’t affect anyone but me.
Talk about empowering.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved a good steak, burger, or taco, but I have always been “plant-centric” in my diet. As a health educator and fitness specialist, eating healthy was not new to me. I was the one no one wanted to pass in the grocery store for fear I would judge their cart. My friends waited to hear what I ordered for lunch before making their selection. I ordered based on what side vegetables came with the entrée.
But as a suddenly single, middle-aged woman, I was ready to crank healthy eating up a few notches. After raising a family and taking care of a very high-maintenance man, it was time for me to focus on me, and for me that meant being the healthiest version of myself possible.
My sister and I began texting daily, swapping recipes, and movie titles. We started with Forks Over Knives and What the Health and worked our way through all the plant-based or vegan documentaries. We joined Facebook groups of like-minded vegan newbies and learned about the impact a plant-based diet has, not just on our health, but on the planet.
Our text chat expanded when our other sister joined us. With a meat-loving husband and three boys to cook for, she wasn’t ready to commit to becoming a full-on vegan, but she started making more meatless meals for her family or plant-based alternatives for herself.
After a few months, something happened that I didn’t see coming. Our brother, the family foodie and chef, wanted in. I had not mentioned our vegan experiment to him, sure that he would not change his culinary lifestyle. Our parents must have tipped him off. I can hear my dad now, “Do you know what your sisters are up to?” And then, what I know he said, “It’ll never last.”
But what I didn’t know was that my brother had already begun eating a plant-based diet on his own. He is a passionate environmentalist and animal lover, so aside from improving his health, he is also motivated by his desire to help conserve natural resources and end factory farming of animals. Three became four and we named our text chat Fab Four Recipes. From four cities in three states, we supported each other as we all experimented with this lifestyle to various degrees.
Here’s what we all learned:
We Feel Good
Everything is better: our moods, our sleep, our digestion, our concentration, our energy levels, and our lab work results.
Spices = Flavor
It’s not meat, cheese, or cream that makes food delicious, it’s the herbs and spices you add. Would you enjoy baked chicken with nothing added to it? The meals we make from plant foods are flavorful and satisfying because we are eating all the same vegetables, herbs, and spices that are used to flavor meat and dairy products.
You Stop Missing It
Your desire for the taste and texture of animal flesh goes away with time. None of us came out of the womb craving chicken wings. It’s a learned thing and you can unlearn it.
Plants Have Protein
The obsession with high-protein diets comes from misinformation. We now know that plant protein is not inferior to animal protein, and people don’t need as much protein as the supplement industry has made us believe. It’s far more important to focus on our intake of fiber. Fiber feeds our gut microbiome, keeps us full, and helps control blood sugar levels.
It’s Getting Easier
The trend is growing. From new plant-based products, increased restaurant options, and countless recipes and how-to sites, it’s never been easier to give up meat.
It’s Not Automatically Healthy
While there are many vegan meat and dairy products available in grocery stores, it’s important to recognize that these are processed foods that may contain high amounts of oil, refined carbohydrates, sugar, and are low in fiber. Cooking at home using whole foods, and eating a minimal amount of processed foods, is important to becoming a healthy vegan.
Now, years later, I like to say I am 100% plant-based 99% percent of the time. I slip up now and then, either by accident, limited options, or cultural curiosity, but I don’t beat myself up about the occasional lapse. I love my plant-based life. I create new recipes every week–there are so many more things you can do with vegetables than chicken!
My brother continues to be 100% vegan even though his wife is not, while both of my sisters eat a plant-centric diet that includes occasional lean animal protein. Sharing this journey with my siblings has brought us all closer than ever before. We continue to be each other’s accountability partners with food, exercise, and intentional living.
Having the support of my family has been key. Initially, I worried about how my two adult children would respond when they come home to visit, expecting their favorite meals from their childhood. We solved this by not passing judgment on each other. I teach them how to make their favorite meals, and they try my new favorites. As a result of my influence, both are including more plant foods in their diets. This gives me great pride.
I encourage you to find the support you need to make big changes towards living your best life. It’s never too late to make positive changes in your lifestyle.
Deb is a health coach and award-winning health and wellness writer covering plant-based nutrition, fitness, sustainable living, mental health and relationships. Deb also writes for the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and manages YouOnPlants.com, helping people eat more veggies. She lives near her daughter in St. Petersburg, Florida, and travels often to Southern California to visit her son. Deb enjoys nature parks, restaurants with vegan options, movies, and the end of hurricane season.