Getting Started

In the last nine months, I've lost 85 pounds by following a whole foods, plant-based diet. It all started last October at our club fair when I joined the Eat Smart, Live Longer Club. As we come up on this year's club fair in another three months, I've realized that I'm likely to have lost another 25 pounds by then, bringing my total weight loss to around 110 pounds.

That will without a doubt inspire others to join our club. The question I wonder about though is, how many will follow through and actually do it? And that got me wondering about what hurdles did I need to overcome in order to do this? I certainly would have scoffed at the idea back then that I would ever again do anything that would cause me to lose that much weight. Instead, my inspiration for this diet was to do nothing more than stay healthy. And there too, I've exceeded my wildest dreams. I no longer take any prescription medicines. I no longer wake up at night with acid reflux or cramps in my legs. I can walk for miles now. And I have energy to do things that I never could do before.

But I knew none of that back then. I didn't know what my results would be, so it's hard to say that I was motivated to get the results I've gotten today. Instead, I just knew that I had to do something. But like so many other things, I could have easily started doing this, decided it was too hard and quit. So, what was different this time.

Looking back on it, I think the difference for me this time was that I recognized it was a different lifestyle and I made the decision to go "all in" as opposed to leaning in. I think if I had just done it a little bit, I never would have done it completely. I would have always seen it as just adding more fruits and vegetables to my already meat-centric meals. Or I might have decided to go meatless a few nights a week. But I never would have gotten to where I've gotten by doing so.

I had two early decisions that I think really shaped things for me. The first was a family dinner in early November at the Longhorn. I had been following the whole foods, plant-based diet for about two weeks by that point in time. It would have been easy for me to make an exception for the Longhorn and reward myself with a nice big ribeye steak. But instead, I came to realize that going to the Longhorn would confirm to me that this diet was actually doable.

So, I went, and I ordered as vegan as I could. It wasn't a perfect WFPB meal, but it was better for me than ordering the steak. I ordered a double order of rice pilaf topped with roasted mushrooms from the steak toppings menu. And I had that with a salad and a side of steamed asparagus. That meal was a breakthrough for me. One, it showed me that I really could do it. Two, it showed me that I wasn't considered weird in doing it. In fact, the wait staff at the restaurant seemed to have run across these kind of orders before and they knew exactly how to do it and present it. And third, it showed me that I did what others wished they had done, as both my mother and my brother's wife gazed at my food and said they wish that was what they had ordered.

The second challenge was Thanksgiving of course. And there, I was saved by Dr. McDougall's newsletter, which included recipes for holiday events like Thanksgiving. But again, I had to make the decision. Was I going to do it? I decided yes, I was. I cooked a turkey on my Big Green Egg for the family, but for myself, I made a delicious stuffed acorn squash. I really enjoyed that, and I've now come to consider stuffed acorn squash to be my meal of choice for the holidays, just as the rest of my family considers turkey to be their meal of choice.

So, while going to Longhorn right after starting a WFPB diet and then having Thanksgiving come up so quickly, I was able to dive into the diet and show myself that I not only could do it, but I could enjoy what I was eating while doing it as well. I realize now that those two challenges were actually important to my success. In the past, I would have shied away from such challenges. I would have said, "Let's wait until after the holidays to start this." But by instead meeting the challenges head on, I was able to show myself that it was doable, and I became motivated to stay the course.

My mother asked me at one point if I didn't find the foods on this diet boring. This question, no less, from a woman who could eat the same meat and potatoes dish for days on end! The answer is that I don't.

It makes me think of something Dan Barber said about a dessert they served at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. Chez Panisse is a world-famous restaurant where my own cousin Peg was once a chef before opening her own creamery, Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes, CA. Dan is a world-famous chef in his own right. In The Third Plate, Dan talks about when he was in training and a line cook at Chez Panisse back in the 1990s when my cousin was there and the well-known Alice Waters ruled the roost. One night, Dan says, at this restaurant where the fixed price menu routinely runs over $100 a person, dessert was a peach.

As Dan describes it, it wasn't even a peach with a sprig. It was simply a peach from a local farm. The point being that as chefs, and as world-famous as they were, they could not improve upon the delicious flavor of a well-grown peach from a local farm.

As consumers of a whole foods, plant-based diet, we may never get a peach that tastes good enough to be served on its own at Chez Panisse for dessert, but we do get a bountiful bouquet of flavors from our foods. And the stronger the flavor, the healthier it is. So, do I get bored on this diet? No, I don't. And perhaps someday, restaurants like Chez Panisse and other world-famous chefs will recognize throughout all of their menu, the superb flavor of serving food just as its grown out of the ground.

But for many, it's just a matter of getting started. It means showing yourself that you can do it. Don't shy away from challenges. Meet them head on. And when served a peach, eat it as is. It doesn't need to be all dressed up into something that it's not.