Making The Switch To A Whole Food Plant-Based Lifestyle

vegan plant-based whole food diet

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When I was 13 years old I declared myself a vegetarian over dinner one evening.  This news did not go over very well.  At the time we lived on a hobby farm in Washington State where we raised pigs and cows for meat and chickens for eggs.  I had come home the day before to see something that changed my world.  The bus dropped me off at the end of our quarter mile long driveway.  As I walked down the driveway, alone,  I could see a strange vehicle backed up to the barn.  I panicked.  I had no idea who it was, where I should go, or what I should do.  We lived in farm country which meant acres and acres of crops between houses.

As I got closer I started to develop a game plan to sneak around my house so that I could (hopefully) enter without the person/people noticing I was home.  Just as I was coming around the corner on the driveway, a man walked to the back of the vehicle and swung the back right door out.

And there it was.
An animal carcass.

And I knew it was one of my animals.  MY animals – the ones I was responsible for taking care of every single morning before school and every single afternoon after school.  MY animals – the ones my parents let me name.  MY animals – my friends, because I was an only child, that I would spend afternoons with, telling them my hopes and dreams that I couldn’t share with anyone else.

I was absolutely devastated.

My plan to discreetly enter my home was now gone by the wayside and I ran, full speed, to my house, grabbed my house key with my shaking hand, and flung open the door to call my mother at work.  This time, rather than the usual “I’m home” phone call, I was crying and screaming and downright angry.  Angry that I’d lost one or more animals in this manner, angry that the animals were my responsibility yet no one bothered to let me know the grand plan, and angry that I had no idea which animals were now gone, only to end up in that bland white freezer paper in the stand-alone freezer.

So, that evening at dinner, still angry from the events of the day, I declared myself officially a vegetarian.  My mom and step-father chuckled, not understanding why I was so upset.  Not surprisingly, this upset me even more.  Their callous response to my devastation was certainly not making me feel any better about the situation.  My mother smiled and challenged me with “you can’t be vegetarian – you’ll eat meat, you like chicken”.  I responded by telling her she was wrong.  And then, in my 13 year old wisdom, I came up with what I thought was a legitimate statement that would put them in their place.  I stated “if Michael Jackson can be a vegetarian then so can I”.  And with that, I was a vegetarian for the next 13 years.

The problem with having been a vegetarian was that I wasn’t a healthy vegetarian.  This means that, although I didn’t eat meat, I still ate junk – French fries, candy, chips, etc.  Although I’ve always loved vegetables, I didn’t eat a majority of my meals plant-based and I certainly did not eat a healthy amount of legumes and/or whole grains.

And this is the problem with the terms “vegan” or “vegetarian”.  That although it may exclude animal products, it doesn’t concentrate a lifestyle based on plants and whole foods, leaving you with an unhealthy, albeit meat-free, lifestyle.

Switching To Plant-Based Whole Foods Lifestyle
So why, after eating meat for 20 years have I now switched to a plant-based whole food lifestyle?  For health reasons.

It all started with Netflix…..

I’ve been told, since the age of 22, when I was first diagnosed with allergies that would result in severe sinusitis, that if I would just cut out all dairy products I would notice a significant difference in how I felt.  I thought it was absurd.  First, I’m not allergic to dairy.  Second, who can give up cheese?  Third, what would I put in my coffee if it wasn’t going to be milk or half and half?

And so I’ve suffered with constant congestion and 2-4 severe sinus infections annually for the past 24 years.  I’m severely allergic to dust, cats, and some molds and mildews and test positive for a minor allergy to dogs.  As you know, I have a cat, 2 dogs, and many chickens whose litter is full of dust, molds and mildews……I certainly don’t help myself out at all.  Two years ago I’d about had it with sinus infections.  I just couldn’t catch a break.  Each time I would go on antibiotics to get rid of one, someone in my office would come down with a cold, and I’d immediately get another sinus infection.  The dairy thing kept playing in my head.

Last year I ended up with 3 severe sinus infections in a row.  When I went to urgent care with the first one, I was told I had fairly high blood pressure.  I'd been told it was on the high end of normal at my last annual appointment, which was new since I’ve never ever had high blood pressure before.  On the second trip to urgent care, I still had high blood pressure which told me it wasn’t a fluke.  The third time, after hearing the news again, and being so sick I couldn’t even stand myself, I wanted to figure out what I could do to take control over my own health.  I’m sure the blood pressure is very much related to the amount of stress I endure from juggling everything, regardless, since I wanted to continue working outside the home as well as our own business and needed to figure out how I was going to holistically treat this.

Sitting at home, head pounding, coughing constantly with a nose running like a faucet, I had nothing to do and nothing to watch.  So I watched Netflix.  I didn’t feel like watching a series or a movie so I watched documentaries.  I watched them on both Paleo lifestyles as well as plant-based whole food lifestyles.  And that’s when I decided that I would give up dairy (I never have had it again since that day) as well as meat.  Although I do eat chicken or fish from time-to-time, for the most part, I now only eat plants and whole foods.  Although I didn't salt my food often, I also stopped adding salt (although I still add a small amount when cooking).  And I feel great!!  My blood pressure dropped significantly and I’m no longer in danger of needing medication to decrease it.  I have more energy, feel more "awake"/clear-headed and no longer have the daily congestion.  All because of a dietary change.

I opted for plant-based whole foods as opposed to paleo because I wasn’t convinced paleo was healthy.   It’s a personal choice that I believe was the right one for me.

Switching my lifestyle wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be once I had a few ideas for meals.  My big hang-ups were:

  • what would I put in my coffee, and 
  • would I have to make 2 meals since J wouldn’t be switching? 
I have yet to be satisfied with any of the milk alternatives, as it relates to coffee, so I drink it mostly black with a splash of Betterhalf (unsweetened).  And yes, I am making 2 different meals since J told me he has no interest in changing to the same lifestyle.  Some of my main dishes I can serve him as a side dish, but others he has no interest in so I make 2 completely different meals.

Eating out was a tad difficult since almost every single vegetarian option is loaded with cheese.  I tried eating a bit of cheese once and I could feel it in my sinuses immediately.  So I usually eat chicken or seafood when we go out if I can't find a better alternative.

coffee is a must!

What I Eat
I’m a huge believer in Dr. Michael Greger’s advice in his book “How Not To Die”.  The book is quite voluminous as he speaks to many health conditions including what specific foods can harm as well as what can help.  His cookbook, also called “How Not To Die”, gives a much smaller synopsis of his actual book in addition to over 100 recipes.  One of the nice features of Dr. Greger’s books is that he has his list of recommended “daily dozen” which helps me with what I should be eating.

Dr. Greger's daily dozen:
3 servings of beans 
1 serving of berries
3 servings of other fruits
1 serving of cruciferous vegetable
2 servings of greens
2 servings of other vegetables
1 serving of flaxseeds
1 serving of nuts
1 serving of spices (turmeric every day)
3 servings of whole grains 
5 servings of beverages 

I realize this list looks overwhelming but remember “servings” are ¼ - ½ cup (depending on the item), so it really isn’t hard once you start to vet it all out.  Dr. Greger recommends going oil and sugar free as well.  So I’ve taken his outline and added my “occasional” items – olive or coconut oil, and (rarely) sugar (I try to use dates/date suger, coconut sugar, maple syrup or honey).

The reality is - I feel better than I could have ever believed.  I didn't have any aches, pains, etc. but I believe that any internal inflammation I had is gone or at least significantly decreased leaving me feeling good.  Also, animal products give you a fullness beyond satisfactory fullness, in my opinion, and I no longer have that.  I would guess that these two factors are a big reason for my increased alertness and overall general health.

What I Don't Eat:
  • I don't eat any grilled meat any longer.  There's just too much research pointing to the high levels of carcinogens carried in grilled meat.
  • I don't eat lunch meat.
  • I don't eat, in general, any "replacement" meat.  I am not a fan of non-sausage sausage, or non-chicken chicken (tofu or tempeh).  If I want tofu or tempeh I add it to the dish, but I don't make or purchase any of the mocked up replacements.
  • I try to stay away from anything not on the Real Food outline.
  • I try to avoid carrageenan.  And it's seems to find it's way into nut milks and non-dairy creamers.  Although I suspect in a small (and infrequent) consumption it's ok, it worries me to consume it regularly.  You can read more about it on Wellness Mama.

I've heard from many of you that after 8 months or so of only plants, legumes & whole grains you no longer felt your best.  I believe eating a little bit of meat/seafood protein as well as a little of the oils (based on the real food factors) from time-to-time is what has helped me.  I did not eat any meat at all for the first 8 months and would feel a bit "off".  I'm not sure how to describe it.  Since I began eating meat/seafood at least twice a month (only a small portion each time) as well as cooking a little bit with oils again, I have gone back to feeling great.  I also found that eating meat twice in a week was a bit too much.  You've got to listen to your body.  It's all trial and error I guess....

vegan plant-based whole food diet


  1. We share similar stories. I was a vegetarian for most of my adult life, now I eat fish a few times a week. You are so right that each person needs to figure this out for themselves. Different diets work differently for different bodies. It sounds like you've found a great balance for yourself. Although I love cheese and ice cream, they are only a once-in-a-while treat, as I believe they cause much of my sinus issues as well. I'm currently off of chocolate and most sugar since the beginning of the year, as a challenge to myself. I was hoping that it would help my congestion more than it has, but I don't see it happening. Guess that means I can still enjoy chocolate!

    Congratulations on listening to your body and what it needs to be its best. I'm sure that even if J doesn't want to make the switch, he is fully supportive.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. I just want to say how brave you are for making such a dedicated change in your lifestyle. Over the past year, I have cut out all wheat products, and all processed sugar. Although I made the changes for weight purposes...There has been little change. My next cut has to be dairy and that is what scares me most! How will I live without the cream in my coffee ??? Here's to you being healthy and an inspiration!

  3. Daisy - thank you for your comment!! Have you tried omitting nightshade veggies? I've heard that some people have sensitivities to them and find relief from allergy and sinus-type symptoms. And you are right - he is certainly supportive. :)

    Jennifer - thank you!!!! Yes, dairy was VERY scary. You can do it though!! I finally had to tell myself - it's only 30-60 days. If I don't find relief, I'm bringing it back! Then, when I did find relief, I realized that the taste of cheese and milk in my coffee just wasn't worth the congestion. I hope you figure it out!! Have you tried cutting out/down cooking oil? When I started really paying attention to how much I use oil, butter, etc. I was shocked! Just a thought. :)


Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on this post!