Going plant-based was unexpectedly emotional

by | Feb 28, 2020 | Thoughts

three pyrex dishes of rice and vegetables

It took four little words to catapult my husband and I onto a 100% plant-based dietary path basically overnight. The catalyst that led to the “ok let’s do it” moment was watching the documentary The Game Changers, followed by a brief but memorable discussion. During this time my husband revealed (surprisingly to me) that he’d considered a plant-based diet for environmental reasons, but had not pursued the thought as he was under the impression you need to eat meat to get protein (a quick heads up, you don’t). Why he hadn’t thought to ask his nutritionist wife about this point will forever remain a mystery.

As for me, I had flirted with going plant-based for years but struggled with the idea of going it alone, and had subsequently filed it in what the Aussies charmingly call the “too hard basket”. The thought of living different culinary lives was simply too overwhelmingly difficult for me to make the switch. So here we were without any prior mention of the topic apparently wholly and synchronously on the same page, and so I found myself in the space of a couple of hours suddenly at the end of decades of omnivorous life. Now I had to deal with my choice. 

I was not feeling particularly phased by the practicalities of a dietary change—nothing made me think it could be that hard—but what I didn’t expect to encounter was the rollercoaster of emotions that bubbled up over the first few days.  

Something clicked inside me

Two days later and walking to work, I became abruptly aware of a sense of alignment. That’s the only word that does the feeling justice—something that had been out of place was suddenly where it should be. I mentally explored the feeling in an attempt to make sense of it, but without a precedent or point of reference I was floundering. Upon further reflection what was clear is that this choice we had made was more profoundly ‘right’ for me then I would’ve expected. I felt lighter in spirit, but why?

What I had to admit to myself was I had successfully buried some very real but unacknowledged inner conflict for a while–that despite my attempts at being congruent there had been a disconnection between my life choices and my personal values. It’s hardly surprising I experienced a shift and a feeling of relief when this inner tension melted away – matters of the heart are like that. 

I’d been living out of sync

I consider myself an honest person and like to be transparent, but I finally acknowledged to myself that I’d been being less than completely upfront about what I was eating. Not such a big deal you may think, but when you work in the field of nutrition and your own personal diet is less than ideal, then that feels pretty incongruent.  

Let’s be clear, I already followed a largely wholefood diet and had done for many years, but as someone with a Bachelor of Health Science with one of my majors being nutrition I know all too well that eating a well planned plant-based diet can be one of the healthiest strategies with regards to positive health outcomes[i]. So whilst on the surface my diet looked pretty good I also knew there was plenty of room to improve.

In fact, my husband and I had become a little too meat-centric and hedonic in our eating style in recent years. At heart I knew I could’ve been healthier and more energetic by going plant-based or at least making some changes in that direction, but had just chosen not to do so. Finally aligning with what I knew to be a healthier eating style for me felt right. 

I also strive to be compassionate – to care about the wellbeing of others – and to be environmentally conscious. Yet I had for a long time simply ignored the reality of where my food was coming from. As someone fortunate to have lived on acreage in the past, I had previously romanticized the idea of River Cottage style small-holdings where animals are reared for consumption on land “just like ours”, where they are loved and treated humanely and given the opportunity to live well before the inevitable happens.

But let’s be honest here—that’s not where our meat and dairy had been coming from. Most, even if not all came from intensive, arguably unsustainable and often brutal industrial farming practices that I simply do not want to support. But I did, because I refused at some level to be honest with myself about the ethical, environmental and sustainability concerns my choices were contributing to.

The way the world is right now regarding climate worries and other concerns I feel adopting a 100% plant-based style of eating is a way to do my bit to contribute to a solution, rather than adding to the problem. So whilst examining these personal revelations felt a little uncomfortable, it also felt good to show my inner conflicts the light of day and resolve them. It still does—and whilst I never want to become too rigid about anything in life, it was a timely reminder to be more mindful of my choices in the future.

A feeling of mental calm descended  

The next transformational shift came a few days later as I noticed I had more mental space than usual. I’m a thinker—one of those people who is pretty much always pondering something, and I moderate this mental activity the best I can via breathwork and yoga. Nevertheless, I have accepted that a touch of mental hyperactivity is in my nature. So it was with some surprise that I caught myself basking in a ray of wintery sunlight and feeling a touch more Zen than usual. The world just seemed a bit slower and calmer, though more accurately it was how I was experiencing my environment that had shifted.

This was curious enough to me that I did a little research and there does appear to be some correlation between following a plant-based diet and improvements in mental wellbeing[ii],[iii]. It’s a welcome bonus that I have continued to observe and enjoy.

Every choice matters 

One of my mantras is “every choice matters” – that your choices make a difference, for good or bad, large or small. I find this helps guide me as even when things seem to be out of my control, I still get to choose how I respond to a situation and that makes a difference to how I feel. Right now I’m feeling good in ways I didn’t expect simply for making this choice and sticking to it.

What’s more, I’ve become aware of how much momentum this plant-based lifestyle is gaining – something I had not specifically noticed before taking this step, and I’m grateful for it. My life is simpler than it may have been a few years ago as there is more to choose from when eating out. I’ve also stumbled onto a very welcoming global community that I can connect with in ways I couldn’t before.  

For now, I find myself observing what other emotional shifts occur as they crop up. Such as how I sometimes feel challenged by living in a different way to the majority of people, or awkward when going out to dinner with others and navigating a limited menu. Or how I feel when some random animal-derived ingredient makes it into my food when travelling. The answer to this last one? Weirdly not cool about it, but I did choose to eat some egg in Thailand waiting for a ferry because clearly it’s my problem if I failed to communicate well enough that I only wanted rice and veggies! 

So, I’ve learned that though I’m committed to my choice and strict 99.999% of the time, I’m clearly not a purist about it when the circumstances are extenuating and the alternative was to be rude, ungrateful and wasteful. But as this transition has shown me little but positive results, I’m curious to see how my chosen culinary path continues to develop over time, and what else will be revealed about myself along the way.

 

[i] Medawar E, Huhn S, Villringer A & Veronica Witte A (2019). The effects of plant-based diets on the body and the brain: a systematic review. Translational psychiatry, 9(1), 226. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0552-0

[ii] Beezhold B, Radnitz C, Rinne A, DiMatteo J (2014). Vegans report less stress and anxiety than omnivores. Nutritional neuroscience. 18. 10.1179/1476830514Y.0000000164.

[iii] Agarwal U, Mishra S, Xu L, Levin S, Gonzales J, Barnard N (2014). A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial of a Nutrition Intervention Program in a Multiethnic Adult Population in the Corporate Setting Reduces Depression and Anxiety and Improves Quality of Life: The GEICO Study. American journal of health promotion: AJHP. 29. 10.4278/ajhp.130218-QUAN-72.

Featured image by Ella Olsen on Pexels

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