Wednesday Woo: Trying a Plant-Based Diet

I’m a bit into woo. Not the “woo” of drunk girls at a bar on a Saturday night, the woo of those who are into more crunchy or alternative techniques for health, wellness, and relaxation. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about modern medicine and a huge supporter of vaccines. However, I love to also try out different ways to improve sleep, health, and focus on top of using tried and true scientific methods. I am not a doctor or an expert, and especially now it’s important to adhere to what medical professionals suggest for our safety and health. However, we all have a bit more time and a bit more stress and maybe some of my favorite “woo” methods may be an enjoyable addition to your routine. I’ll have a post on Wednesdays called Wednesday Woo.

Today's Woo is about Trying a Plant-Based Diet

Since turning 40, my husband’s favorite hobby has become finding ways to reduce inflammation. Inflammation can lead to chronic issues such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and more and he has been on a journey to maintain his health and reduce back and knee pain. We began dabbling in seeing how food affected how we felt back when I tried Whole30. We saw by cutting out things like dark liquors we felt better and issues we didn’t even notice disappeared. I ended up cutting out dark liquor, red wine, beer, and most pasta and bread (sticking to “the good stuff” when I dined out) and had less bloating, fewer headaches and body aches. I was happy sticking to eliminating just that, but my husband kept going.

First, it was cow dairy realizing he was a bit intolerant, though he still consumed goat which doesn’t have lactose. Then he cut out eggs and avocado, both which he always had some issue with (as do some of his relatives). Then it was alcohol. And this summer, he went full plant-based. Within a week he was raving about how amazing he felt, how well he slept, how his allergies weren’t as intense, how he could now walk on water (okay maybe not the last but it was annoying to hear all his ravings like eating mushrooms and chickpeas somehow reversed time). I wasn’t sold; I’ve already shared how most natural deodorants don’t work for me while they all seem to work for him… I knew a plant-based diet would be the same.

My husband is the primary grocery shopper and cook; he was cool with our daughter and me eating whatever we wanted but refused to buy or prepare anything that wasn’t plant-based. So while my husband was 100% plant-based and we joined him for plant-based meals at home, our daughter still ate what she liked at friends’ homes and school, and I looked forward to events and outings for work and with friends where I’d indulge in my favorite meats, seafood, and plenty of cheese.

And then we were quarantined. My husband went out and stocked up our fridge and pantry with a variety of plant-based options. My daughter and I decided to try going 100% plant-based and experience this as a family.

Plant-Based vs. Vegan: What is the Difference?

The term “vegan” was created in 1944 by Donald Watson, an English animal rights advocate and founder of The Vegan Society.  A vegan is a person who avoids using animals for ethical reasons.  T. Colin Campbell, a biochemist who specializes on the effect of nutrition on long-term health, coined the term “plant-based diet” to define a low fat, high fiber, vegetable-based diet that is focused on health. 

My Experience Switching to a Plant-Based Diet

The first week sucked. I had dreams about things like cheesesteaks and fondue. I’d open the fridge, and then the pantry, and then the fridge, and then the freezer and just get mad because everything looked so unappetizing. It seemed so complicated to make a meal. Before quarantine, I had a gym meal plan down pat and always had available oatmeal, brown rice, cooked salmon, cooked ground beef, cooked chicken breasts, and plenty of greens. Now I didn’t know what to eat.

In the second week, things improved. My husband made taco night with Beyond Beef, he made pizza with an almond cheese that melted really well. We found new favorites for snacks and meals. The cravings reduced, though a TV commercial with a burger or an Instagram Story with a sizzling steak or runny eggs could get me salivating.

And now it has been two months. I realized that I hardly miss meat, except for the social part. I love sitting at a bar with a great person, sipping a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc and sharing a tray of oysters. Summer is coming, and for a Maryland girl, that means crab feasts, laughing with others while cracking claws and dipping them in vinegar or butter (or both with some extra Old Bay). But these social occasions won’t be happening anytime soon so it’s easier to get by for now. The only craving I’ve had in a long while is when a friend was sharing gorgeous shots of her Italian sub in Instagram stories; in fact just writing this makes me miss that mix of cured meats, spice, cheese, vinegar, and crusty bread.

The Benefits I've Experienced from a Plant-Based Diet

But this post isn’t about my diet, it’s about woo. So let’s get back to the effects of going plant-based for two months straight. Things I have noticed:

  • My allergies are better. Along with using a neti pot daily, I’m finding my allergies aren’t really that bad, and I am one who grew up getting allergy shots and dosing myself with Benadryl on top of my Claritin to get through the spring. I get on Zoom calls with friends and they complain about their allergies, and all I am experiencing is the occasional sneeze.
  • I am less bloated. I’ve had a few say they’ve noticed my weight loss, but I don’t think I have lost weight, I think I am just less bloated. My stomach used to be firmer, now it looks deflated. I feel less bloated everywhere, not like I weigh fewer pounds but that I am not so… full between my skin and my insides if that makes sense. My clothes fit the same; same bra size, same waistband so it’s not weight, it’s something else.
  • I can go longer between meals. When I was on my high-protein, low-refined carb diet, I needed to eat every two hours or I would crash or be ravenously hungry. Now hunger comes on more slowly and crashes don’t happen.
  • No heartburn. I have dealt with heartburn, especially when stressed, for a few years now. It reduced greatly when I cut down on alcohol, but I found it disappeared completely when I cut out dairy and red meat. I’ve only had heartburn twice since going mostly plant-based this past summer and not at all since quarantine.
  • My skin is happy. I haven’t changed my skincare routine besides the few weeks I tried out a new brand for a campaign, yet my skin feels and looks better. There’s a bit of a glow, it looks more even, fewer breakouts during that time of the month, fewer clogged pores. Also, my undereye bags and darkness is seriously reduced and I’ve noticed the same on my daughter and my husband.
  • My knees are happy. And my ankles. And my lower back. These are all parts of me that get achy and I attributed to getting older. I don’t think it was just age, I think it was inflammation.

My Favorite Plant-Based Dairy and Meat Alternatives

For those who are considering going plant-based, I think your choices make a major difference on how successful you are in sticking with it, especially if you’re a meat and cheese lover like myself. Trying to stick just to whole foods – grains and veggies and beans… that’s a good base but having the fun stuff has helped this become not just an experiment but a lifestyle for me and my family. While your diet should not be primarily from these sorts of foods, bits of them make a plant-based diet easier to embrace and more “normal.”  Some of the foods that we really love to help this become our new normal:

I have found these items at Wegmans, Thrive Market, and our local independent organic and traditional grocery stores. I’ve found many chain markets and big box retailers you wouldn’t expect to have such specialty items carry them. Aldi, Target, Costco, even Walmart carry a large percentage of these or similar plant-based items.  A perk; we find most of our favorite items are still in stock while friends have a hard time getting meat and some dairy products during this pandemic.

A perk to vegan dairy alternatives is they have a much longer shelf life. I’m writing this while eating pretzels with Tofutti sour cream from a tub we bought two weeks ago; the expiration date on the bottom is March 27, 2021. The bags of shredded cheeses we have expire at the end of September 2020. Sure it will go bad within a couple of weeks of opening the container, but it makes it easier to stock up for fewer grocery trips and many are available through national delivery programs like Thrive Market.

As someone who weight trained, I felt I performed best with meat, produce, and minimal dairy and grains. As someone who admits to having food issues, I never thought me, a cheese lover, could go this long without cheese and not want to cut somebody. I never would have tried this if I wasn’t literally in lockdown without any of these things. I don’t know what will happen when the world opens up, especially when on travel, and how my body will handle meat and dairy after so long or if I’ll even want to try it. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Please note this isn’t me preaching my food choices. I am not opening up a discussion about ethics in the comments; that discussion can happen on another site. I am also not sharing to discuss weightloss as that is not a focus for me or this blog. Food is a touchy topic, food is personal, food is political, and I know especially now having food choices is a sign of privilege. I am just impressed that this woo that I was so against for so long actually has improved my health and well-being and want to share in case it may help you too!

36 Comments

  1. kate
    May 18, 2020 / 9:11 pm

    I’m intrigued to hear you say that you aren’t as hungry because I find I get ravenous between meals when I’ve tried to do plant-based. Maybe using more dairy/meat substitutes is the key. An easy vegan recipe that my carnivore husband also loves is Oh She Glows lentil walnut tacos!

    • May 22, 2020 / 1:28 pm

      When I started I was STRUGGLING but when I reduced the number of grains I consumed and added more substitutes it balanced out my cravings!

  2. May 15, 2020 / 6:49 pm

    This post made me laugh out loud several times, so just wanted to note that. The walking on water was the first. My husband is like that… he can look at a vegetable and drop five pounds. Very annoying. LOL

  3. Delora
    May 15, 2020 / 2:24 am

    My family doesn’t eat plant-based, but my son has a dairy allergy, so we’ve tried all the cheese substitutes. Some of our favorites are ones you already mentioned, but I also wanted to recommend the Go Veggie Parmesan cheese. My Wegman’s sells this in the pasta aisle near the other shelf-stable “shaker cheese.” It doesn’t melt, but the flavor is excellent, and is great on a variety of things.

    http://www.goveggiefoods.com/products/grated-topping/vegan/parmesan

  4. Makayla Sampson
    May 14, 2020 / 11:56 pm

    I enjoyed this blog and hearing about your family’s experience with doing the vegan diet. Here is my experience after being a vegetarian sometimes vegan for two years. A doctor discovered that I had very low iron stores. I had two intravenous treatments of feratin (iron) pumped into my body. The doctor told me that heme iron is very hard to get from plant sources only. Heme iron is where we get our iron stores. The best source of heme iron is red meat. After that I went back to eating meat. I don’t like the idea of eating animals but apparently my body needs it. I did take iron supplements for a time, but it wasn’t enough to bring my iron stores up. If you continue with veganism, you may want to consider a high quality multi vitamin with B12 and iron, and be sure to have your levels checked at your annual physical

  5. L H Carter
    May 14, 2020 / 9:03 am

    I recommend Chobani Oat milk plain extra creamy for coffee creamer. It returned joy to my morning cup of coffee.
    I also recommend Talenti dairy-free sorbetto. The peanut butter fudge flavor is smooth and creamy and an exact dupe for premium ice cream.
    It is also wonderful that I can find these two items at a regular grocery store. No extra trip.
    Great topic!

  6. Melissa
    May 14, 2020 / 8:15 am

    What are you (all) eating for breakfast? I am not a same-a-tarian; I have a hard time eating the same meals day after day and breakfast is always the hardest meal for me to adapt to on any diet.

    • May 14, 2020 / 8:21 am

      My breakfasts:
      – Oatmeal. It’s my favorite and I like it savory so I sometimes add vegan cheese, hemp hearts, hot sauce, etc.
      – A bagel with cream cheese and sauteed greens
      – Grits and some fresh veggies like sliced tomato
      – Non-breakfast things like cucumber rings and pepper slices with hummus
      – My husband will take all the leftover veggies and make a frittata with JUST Egg. I don’t love JUST Egg but it gives the right consistency and with some seasoning it is good.
      – Avocado toast, either on toast or rice cakes

      • Melissa
        May 14, 2020 / 8:40 am

        Thanks!

        • Sheri
          May 18, 2020 / 4:47 pm

          One of my FAVORITE breakfasts is sliced cukes, grape tomatoes, a tiny bit of “feta” and whole grain pita cut into wedges. You can stuff the pita too if that is your preference. Yummy and refreshing start to the day.

  7. Allison
    May 13, 2020 / 9:05 pm

    Longtime reader, first time commenting…

    I think it’s worth pointing out that goat milk has lactose, although marginally less lactose. All actual milk- which only comes from animals, despite marketing fluid from nuts and grains as milk- has lactose as its carbohydrate because it is an important energy source for young mammals.

    I say this so that lactose-intolerant people don’t have a bad experience from that information.

    Goat and cow milk aren’t the same, so your husband is probably reacting to something else, just not lactose.

    • May 14, 2020 / 8:21 am

      Thank you so much for this, Allison!

  8. Kathy
    May 13, 2020 / 7:53 pm

    Loved this post! I immediately stopped getting heartburn when I quit meat 8 years ago. I kept thinking it would come back but it never did. I second the recommendation for Nada Moo- so good! Jeni’s dairy free ice creams are also awesome.

      • Tara
        May 15, 2020 / 8:27 pm

        My daughter moved back in with us for the quarantine. She has been vegan for almost 3 years. We eat vegan as a family 3-4 times a week, the other days we are are in our own. (All adults). I enjoy it, but as I have severe allergies to tree nuts, many things are off the table. A lot of the nondairy cheeses and milks are nut based. I like the flax milk alternative, but am cautious around the cheeses. I do think I feel better, but the. I balance that with a steak…

  9. Marcia Brinkley
    May 13, 2020 / 4:51 pm

    My husband learned two years ago that he’d had a silent heart attack sometime in the past. He then had a stent put in after a blockade artery in his heart was food. He immediately went on the Ornish plan, and cut out meat, dairy, poultry, sugar and most breads. He eats fish occasionally. He’s now 100 lbs lighter, no longer needs insulin, and feels better at 68 than at 48. I still eat chicken occasionally but otherwise eat the same as he does, and feel great. The Ornish plan also includes exercise, stress reduction and emotional support, so it’s a way of life.

    • May 14, 2020 / 8:22 am

      My dad did the Ornish plan for a bit and it was a gamechanger for him!

  10. Margot Hoyt
    May 13, 2020 / 3:09 pm

    This is great timing for me. I am working on shifting to plant based more than the dabbling I have been doing. Thank you for the recommendations and the feedback on how it has worked for you. I have autoimmune issues and inflammation is the enemy.

    I would also be interested in any favorite recipes you/your husband wants to share!

    • May 14, 2020 / 8:31 am

      Taco night is a crowd pleaser and so easy. We cook up Beyond Beef ground in a pan with a packet of taco seasoning (no special type, we’ve done El Paso and organic). Shells, shredded lettuce, tomato if available, Violife shredded cheddar, Tofutti sour cream, jalapenos, even some chopped olive if that’s your thing. The leftovers then can make a taco salad the next day with a bit of ranch dressing!

      We have pizza a lot because it’s so easy. You can buy crusts but Karl makes his own because it’s pretty simple. Canned sauce, shredded almond cheese, and whatever toppings you desire.

      My favorite quick lunch is a bit of olive oil in a pan, and in the olive oil cook some garlic (or garlic powder) and crushed red peppers. When the garlic is softened, add a ton of fresh spinach and/or kale and let it cook down. Add in some crushed walnuts the last minute and place in a bowl and top with chopped vegan feta. I swear I could eat this every day and it’s also a great side dish for dinner.

      For a nice switch from pasta, we get the premade tubes of polenta, we’ll slice it and cook it in the toaster oven and top with spaghetti sauce. This goes great with the garlicky greens.

      We do ramen or pho often, you can find the kits with the broth and noodles. Then we add basil (we don’t have Thai but regular is fine), shredded carrot, sprouts or thinly sliced onion or sliced jalapenos, siracha, sometimes shredded fresh spinach to wilt in the broth, broccoli, all the random things in the fridge that you don’t want to waste.

      Just a few quickie ideas. Nothing super gourmet, but they’re crowd pleasers, don’t take a lot of time, and we don’t tire of them!

  11. Another Alison
    May 13, 2020 / 1:42 pm

    I am loving your Wednesday Woo posts! This topic is so timely for me! I have also been shifting to a more plant-based diet for a number of reasons, but mostly health-based (inflammation, kidney stones, hot flashes, etc). I have also grown averse to cooking meat – even when I am willing to eat it when out. Like you, cheese has always been harder for me to consider giving up (and haven’t done so yet – but we are eating much less than before). This stay-at-home order has been both helpful and sometimes less so for me. Helpful in keeping me cooking and eating at home and giving me time to explore plant-based eating blogs/books, etc. Less so in that I have been slowly trying to eat what we have and not all of it is plant-based but I am less inclined to go to the store to buy something else right now – especially when the brands and things I want to buy are new to me. (Thanks for the recommendations by the way!)
    For others who might want to explore further I can suggest based on my recent reading: The Starch Solution by Dr McDougall (https://www.drmcdougall.com/) or How Not to Die by Dr Michael Greger (https://nutritionfacts.org/) both of which are surprising readable. Both give you recommendations about what to eat/not eat and why and the studies behind it. Both suggest ‘frameworks’ for plant-based eating but the Starch Solution also has some recipes and meal plans if you find that helpful. There are also plenty of blogs and youtube channels for plant-based and vegan cooking. (Note they are not always the same, since most plant-based cooking often excludes salt, oil, sugar and sometimes flour. Example: Minimalist Baker is mostly Vegan recipes and Nutmeg Notebook or Krocks in the Kitchen are plant-based blogs/channels. All good in their own way.)
    I liked what someone suggested online – it was to come up with about 3-4 meals, maybe ones you are already making and modify them as needed to make them more plant-based and use those as a basis for shifting your diet to healthier options. Basically don’t try to have a totally new meal plan overnight since that doesn’t typically work for most of us and we tend to rely on our few standby meals when we are in a pinch. Try to make those standby meals more plant based. As an example – we have veggie soft tacos almost weekly and it only took a few tweaks to make it more plant-based than before so it didn’t feel like a big change.
    We haven’t totally shifted to complete plant-based diet but we are moving that direction. Mentally I have a hard time telling myself ‘never’ – it sometimes makes me crave that ‘thing’ more than before – so I may leave off the label and see what happens. I do feel better, sleep better, etc to more I eat this way – so that is reinforcing.

    • May 14, 2020 / 8:32 am

      Thank you for these resources! And I can relate to the mindset of “never” and I am going with just day by day without worrying about the future as it feels more positive and attainable.

  12. Mary Beth
    May 13, 2020 / 1:39 pm

    If you can find it, NadaMoo makes the best non-dairy ice cream! I’m dairy-free and one of my best friends is vegan. Last summer, we made it our goal to try every non-dairy ice cream we could get our hands on. A close second is Haagen-Dazs.

    • May 14, 2020 / 8:32 am

      Thank you so much for these suggestions!

  13. M
    May 13, 2020 / 12:35 pm

    Would it be possible to get a Guest post from your husband on some simple starter recipes that your whole family enjoys, for people wanting to switch more to plant based? I know there’s millions of other blogs and sites that offer this, but I find with many of them they’re producing content from almost an experienced chef’s POV. I have never enjoyed food shopping and I don’t enjoy cooking but it’s something that I’ve been doing my best to get better around and heal the baggage I have during this quarantine. Also, as a picky emotional eater I’m curious if there’s any vegetarian/vegan options that would replace the dairy/meat focused recipes.

    • Melissa
      May 13, 2020 / 2:54 pm

      Seconding this! Would love some new recipes. We’re not entirely plant based (1-2 meat or seafood meals a month; we eat dairy on things I can’t find good subs for, principally cream cheese, blue cheese, sour cream) but have cut back a lot. We’ve had really good luck with Terry Romero’s books (Vegan Eats World; Salad Samuari; Protein Ninja, etc.). Clear directions, well tested and a range of items, including familiar items reimagined (e.g., feta/spinach pies with cashew feta instead). Also stupendous is Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty More, his all vegetarian (but not vegan) cookbook. I will say the latter is more adventuresome and requires access to lots of spices.

    • Karin
      May 13, 2020 / 8:05 pm

      Would love this! My husband became a nondairy pescatarian (eats fish/seafood) last year and it’s getting really hard to find recipes that don’t involve chickpeas, beans and spinach (I’m retching a little bit just thinking about eating one…more…chickpea).
      I am the primary cook; he’ll cook but literally everything he makes is the same (mushrooms, peppers, onions and spinach) and it gets boring fast. I am reluctant to base too many meals around meat substitutes; it doesn’t seem healthy. So I’d love to see some recipes.
      Also…thank you for the line about “mushrooms and chickpeas somehow reverse time” LOL. I hear you

      My challenges with veganism are: I feel like every vegan substitute costs 3x as much as “normal” items and it never goes on sale. Also, some brands of substitutes are really good; some are horrible—it’s not like buying chicken or beef, where it’s all the same. Getting all of the brands you like from one store can be tough, but I’m really trying to limit trips right now. Will try some of the places you mentioned.

  14. Kim
    May 13, 2020 / 10:53 am

    I switched to oat milk from almond about a year ago and for a while Oatly was my brand of choice. However, Planet Oat Extra Creamy is just as good (might even be better!) at half the cost. It’s usually available and cheapest at BJs, but even at the local supermarket it costs considerably less than Oatly. Just putting in a plug for a less expensive option folks may want to try! 🙂

  15. Emily
    May 13, 2020 / 10:45 am

    I’ve been eating more vegetarian since the start of lockdown (less worry about accidentally giving myself food poisoning!) but have ended up gravitating towards pasta and cheese quite a bit… you’ve inspired me to try and diversify my recipes 🙂

  16. Colleen
    May 13, 2020 / 10:00 am

    Our daughter and grandson are living with us and are long time plant based (with occasional seafood), and my husband and I have adapted that way of eating a few days a week. I enjoy eating plant based, my husband not so much. I think it is a healthier way to eat and anything that reduces the dreaded inflammation has to be a good thing. Good for you and your daughter for giving it a try. This is the perfect time to try this new way of eating.

  17. Roberta
    May 13, 2020 / 9:24 am

    Have been a vegetarian for 25 years-but had not given up dairy until this pandemic. Now I have done that and realize I do not miss it as much as I thought I would. My husband has also used this time as an opportunity to shift to a more plant-based diet. He is feeling better and has some Woo! of his own…

    Love your blog…keep up the great work, I look forward to them each day!

  18. Aleta Hong
    May 13, 2020 / 9:03 am

    I know you’ve said that you are not the primary cook but would love to see a weekly food diary/photos. I’m not plant based but am moving slowly toward vegetarianism and more plants primarily for environmental reasons. Getting my bf on board is hard and he does most of the shopping and we split the cooking. The lack of meat in the stores has been good for him as w’ve definitely been doing more vegetarian meals.

    I definitely struggle with the meat and cheese substitutes though as I find myself just wishing for the real thing. I do much better when I make meals that are just designed to be vegetarian.

  19. Linda M
    May 13, 2020 / 8:57 am

    You picked a great time to try this out. When my husband had a heart attack and we decided to go primarily plant based (we do eat some eggs and cheese, although I try to keep the latter for going out as many restaurants have cheese in their vegetarian dishes), we got great advice from a nurse at the hospital. She said when trying a dietary change, stay out of restaurants for two months. I think this was key for us. You don’t watch other people eating what you crave, and get reintroduced to all the salt and fat restaurants use. Over the last eight years, our way of eating has become more and more a habit, and we use less of the products you mentioned using in your transition. Our lab results show a huge difference and we enjoy our food, the same as we always did.

  20. Peekiesmom
    May 13, 2020 / 7:44 am

    The Healthy Foodie food blog has some delicious vegan recipes. The author went vegan a little over a year ago. I recommend checking her out! Love your blog and look forward to it daily.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.