Woman vs. Plant
Challenges and Changes as I Transition into a Plant-based Diet
I preface this by saying that I am neither a doctor nor a nutritionist. I am, however, a Board-Certified health and wellness coach consistently trying to “walk the talk.” I will also say here that while there is significant research supporting Mediterranean (AKA Blue Zones diet), vegetarian and vegan diets to lower the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and inflammation (the leading cause of disease), while also reducing our carbon footprint, I am not writing this to change anyone’s mind about anything. As I mentioned, I’m a coach, not an advisor, nor anyone’s judge and jury.
With that said, I’m sharing my ongoing transition to a more plant-based diet because I believe that it is the healthiest and more compassionate way to live. And, it may help other women who are at the same stage of change as I am. For some people, changing their diet is easy and they feel no ill effects. This was not the case for me. Just like you can’t change an animal’s diet overnight, I too had to adjust my diet gradually. And, I’m still adjusting.
Like it as not, women who have not yet gone through menopause need twice as much iron as men. Furthermore, heme iron found in beef absorbs more easily in the body and helps absorb plant-based iron better too. So, for those of us who naturally run low on iron (or are borderline anemic), we need to be getting enough iron, B12, zinc, vitamin C, and complete proteins (i.e. nine essential amino acids). Then there are other things, such as getting enough Omega-3s if we’re not eating fish, and calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients if we give up dairy. I found one particularly helpful article about the nutritional needs of women HERE.
And yes, I understand we can get most of this through the right combination of plants. For me, changing a diet of a lifetime took relearning how to cook, apologizing to my digestive system when I got it wrong, and giving my body time to adjust to a new way of eating.
What I’ve Learned (So far…)
I started keeping a food diary and practicing intuitive eating, marking down things like, when I had energy, when I was fatigued, and when my head hurt (more on the brain-gut connection another time).
I enlisted the help of services such as Purple Carrot and Sun Basket to learn healthy food combinations and new recipes, while also keeping it simple. I still buy lots of produce from local farms and the grocery store and have been ordering vegan products from Vegan Essentials.
After all, with my work schedule, if I had to figure out what to cook for every meal of every day, I would have driven myself crazy (I do the cooking. My husband does the dishes. This system works out well for us, as I’m more particular about the foods we eat, and if I left him in charge, we’d be eating cereal and store-bought waffles most days.)
As of right now, I found a vegan multivitamin and mineral supplement that works for me, along with adding nutritional yeast, vegan Omega-3s and liquid aminos to my diet. And, I would say I’ve landed at “flexitarian” — mostly plant-based (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, etc.) with fish and meat once a week, and dairy in very limited doses (Cheese and bacon have been the hardest for me to give up. Some women have sexy dreams. I dream of bacon…I wish I were kidding.) But so far, this is where I feel the healthiest (with lab work to confirm that all nutritional needs are met).
That said, I recognize that everyone’s body is unique, and what works for me may not work for you. Therefore, I encourage people to talk to their healthcare providers for support as needed. Our bodies (both men and women) are incredibly sophisticated in some ways and yet very intricate in others, and getting just the right nutrients can be a delicate balance.
The Good News (I think)
But there’s just one remaining problem. I’m not keen on eating animals.
Fortunately, I think the food industry is going to be turned on its ear over the next decade. Lab-grown meats (where no animal is injured) will likely be more readily available, and products such as the Impossible Burger are now adding genetically-modified heme iron (typically found in beef) to their burgers. Yes, this will spark new debates over the health impacts of genetically modified foods, and processed plant-based foods. However, I am optimistic about the overall future of food production and in people eating in a healthier way.
*Note: This article has been fact-checked by a physician for accuracy.