I call it the “Year of the Broccoli.” My husband calls it his skinny jeans season. Regardless, about this time last year, we both decided to take a break from meat.
It started out as a challenge for Lent to see what it would be like to be veggie-based for the 40 days leading up to Easter. When my husband found out what I was up to, he decided to join me as a good sport. At first, I thought it was simply a creative cooking challenge to only eat plants. But what happened next was pretty amazing.
My husband had his annual physical a little over a month after starting the challenge. Not only did he quickly shed 10 pounds, but his annual bloodwork came back so remarkable, even his doctor wanted to know what he was up to. My results were subtle - I simply slept better, felt lighter and clearer-headed. My skin looked nicer. I eventually did lose some weight, but not as much as my husband’s eventual 20 pounds. I’m not sure how to explain it, but we just felt better entirely.
With COVID in full force, it became the perfect time for making health a priority. To be clear, I’m not saying that everyone should become plant-based. What I will say is that we had some pretty remarkable results without trying very hard. Overall, we aimed not to be too legalistic about it. Sometimes we ate bacon. If someone cooked us a special meal that had meat, we ate it happily. But for the majority of the time, we were plant-based.
Full disclosure: I’m not a dietician. I’m not a scientist or a medical doctor. I’m pretty average in my cooking abilities. I know just as much as you do about eating healthy. But I did learn some new recipes and tried a bunch of things with vegetables. If you need more reasons besides COVID and boosting your immune system, being plant-based is pretty Biblical (see the book of Daniel). But there are always exceptions, aka Adam and Eve, where plants didn't work out too well. So there's that.
Nevertheless, here’s what we learned after a year of eating a plant-based diet.
1. You Will Be Fascinating, Sort Of.
People will make fun of you for eating only plants at first but then be totally fascinated. My husband loved it when his friends were dying to know how he dropped 20 pounds, seemingly without trying. I didn’t lose weight like that, but when people found out we were plant-based, without fail, the conversation typically went like this, “tell me everything.”
2. It Takes Time.
Like all new things, it takes time to get the hang of it. Most people thought being plant-based means salads and carrot sticks at every meal. Not true. It does take a bit of re-thinking for how you do meals. Vegetables do require chopping, prepping, and a different mindset for main courses. To make it more automatic, I ordered a mail delivery vegetable box. You will have to play with spices and food groups that may be new to you. Learning how to make tasty things with tofu, lentils, beans, and other things I hadn’t cooked before was foreign cooking territory for me. We definitely threw away some things that tasted terrible. But for the most part, it was a fun new adventure in eating.
3. Keep Your Favorite Things.
Burger Sundays were something my husband wanted to make sure we kept even if we were plant-based. This required some tinkering. There are plenty of faux-meat products on the market, but the ingredients in some of those are actually worse for you. The fake meat stuff makes for good transition foods, but eventually, you may want to move beyond them. Play around with creating your favorites like veggie burgers, pizzas, nachos, and other things that feel like treat foods. With a little experimenting, it’s amazing how delicious the plant-based version can be.
4. Treat it Like a Fantastic Health Experiment.
After we had gone plant-based for 40 days, it was hard to go back. Surprisingly, our tastes changed and we were able to enjoy food differently. In fact, when Easter came and I put out the big ham, my husband refused to have any of it. He loved the way he felt so much, he didn’t want to go back. I’m not saying we will always be plant-based, but I do know we enjoy keeping plants as central for our meals. Try it for whatever amount of time you like - a day, a week, a month. See if you notice a difference in how you feel.
5. Keep Learning to Stay Inspired.
If you are curious about plant-based living, start with watching some documentaries and learning about it to see if it’s for you. A few good sources to consider are: The Game Changers, Engine 2/PlantStrong and Forks Over Knives. If you need help with meal planning, check out some plant-based cookbooks from your local library to inspire you. The Engine 2 Diet has many simple, hearty recipes that are a perfect start to figuring out where to begin with plants. I also love the How Not to Die Cookbook for great cooking and healthy living advice.
Give Plants a Chance
There are a few downsides to being plant-based. You may find that restaurants have nothing on the menu for you other than a salad. Sometimes you may feel like the oddball sticking out. My encouragement is to make it work for you. When friends make a special meal involving meat, have freedom to give yourself grace and eat it, or not. If you are at a restaurant and want to enjoy meat, enjoy it fully. We decided as a family to make plant-based eating our goal, with the option to enjoy other foods as special if desired. When we do enjoy occasional meat, we appreciate it completely.
My encouragement is to give plant life a try. Perhaps it’s Meatless Mondays or rotating every other day as full-on veggie-focused. Make it work for you. From a health benefit, there are virtually no downsides. It’s a fun experiment for your health – then you, too, can declare your own Year of the Broccoli.