Transitioning to Healthier Eating- Advice From a Mediocre Cook
There are a lot of good books on healthier diets like whole-food plant-based (wfpb) with recipes. You can also find a lot online, such as by googling “oil free veggie burger recipe”. All of which is great if you are good cook. But I am here to testify you can do this anyway if you’re not (most assuredly not, in my case).
It can be daunting if you’re not a good cook. I’m sure anyone who’s cooking-challenged and tried any new dietary change has encountered this. You have to go to the store, get ingredients including spices you never heard of, and not you’re not sure how it’s gonna turn out. I’ve been there, many times. And for me it usually turn out poorly. This is not specific to WFPB, as I’ve managed to screw up recipes from various cuisines. What finally worked for me was “semi-homemade” cooking, made famous by Sandra Lee. A good is example are the famous Campbell’s “back label recipes”. Buy a can of soup, throw in a couple of ingredients from the recipe, and it comes out great. I have found this translates really well to WFPB, but you start with a more healthy brand, like say Amy’s or Dr. McDougall’s soup.
Another tip is to change your mindset. We’re used to think of a main course and side dishes. I tried being a vegetarian when I was 18 (described in My Eating Story), when my grandma would cook for me she had no vegetarian recipes in her repertoire, so she simply served me the side dishes. That’s actually not a bad idea. Think of your meal as just lots of side dishes. Or a casserole, chef’s salad, stir fry, or one pot meal.
If you have meat-based versions of any favorite dishes, the easiest way to start is with all the “faux” meat alternatives now available. Beyond Burgers and Impossible Burgers and the like are definitely overly-processed foods. But there are healthier versions, like Amy’s or Dr. Prager’s veggie burgers, or “beefless ground beef” from Trader Joes. Tofurky products are also pretty good, but they’re pretty high in fat. Anyway, this is just a transition.
After you’ve got “semi-homemade” recipes like this that, then you can start looking for ways to make your own veggie burgers from scratch, and work them into the recipes instead.
I also love lots of fresh fruit. Don’t be afraid of fresh fruit, it’s processed foods like high-fructose corn syrup that are bad, not the natural fructose in unprocessed fruit. And I eat veggie snack foods like grape tomatoes, carrots, and peppers.
And potatoes. Potatoes have been demonized by low-carb authors and it’s kind of in the cultural mindset now that they make you fat. That’s not been my experience. They are to the left of Chef AJs “red line”. Baked potatoes were found by researchers to have the highest satiety of any food tested (they keep you from getting hungry again the longest amount of time). Not convinced? Read Spud Fit, about Andrew Taylor who lost a lot of weight and kept it off eating nothing but potatoes (and some condiments). French Fries and baked potatoes loaded with butter or sour cream are not good for you, oil-free oven-fries are fine.
I’m also a fan of smoothies. I start with a healthy plant-based powder like “Orgain Protein and Superfoods“, throw in some almond milk and frozen fruit, then sneak in some greens. By rotating type of fruit and greens I get a lot of variety of plant-foods, as suggested by Dr. Will Bulsiewicz in Fiber-Fueled. I remember a trick I learned at “Jamba Juice”: If you asked them to throw kale powder into your fruit smoothie, it turned it green but did not spoil the flavor. I’m able to do that at home, by starting out with a smoothie made from frozen fruit. Throwing in some greens changes the color but it still tastes good. If you’re worried about overdoing raw greens, you can always cook them first and cool them in the frig before adding them.
I even used smoothies for more than a week in a row as a transition to reset my taste buds. Andrew Taylor recommended this idea in Spud Fit. He knew things get easier after your taste buds change but you have to fight off cravings during the transition. Temporarily narrowing your food choices helps with the transition. He chose potatoes as the food to concentrate on because he knew they were satisfying. He figured that would be easier if he stuck to as simple as possible, and you can’t get much simpler than potatoes only.
I did a similar thing while transitioning, but with smoothies. They worked especially well for me because they are low salt, and my palate was accustomed to too much salt. After doing this for over a week, when I went back to “real food”, my taste for salt had diminished.
Regardless of what you do to get through the transition, I will add my voice to those assuring that it does get easier, because your taste buds will adjust. Soon healthier foods start tasting delicious. Fruit becomes by itself a sweet dessert.
Freedom From Cravings
I also found it helpful in the beginning to set the hard and fast rule of no unplanned between meal snacks. And I had to preplan what I was going to have for each meal. I don’t mean way in advance, I could do it right before the meal, like “OK for dinner I’m having soup and crackers, a side of corn, and watermelon for dessert”. Then after I’d started eating, I wasn’t allowed to change my mind and add something else. And “no junk, no exceptions, no negotiations” was my affirmation.
While adhering to this, I was looser about trying to be plant-based, but strict about junk. I also was generous in my “pre-planning”, I wasn’t emphasizing losing weight during this period, only getting free from cravings. I found after doing this strictly for about 10 days, this more structured way of eating got established, and the little voice was no longer there trying to lead me down the path of temptation. After that, it was easier to also transition to being eating more plant-based.