In college, I gained the dreaded “Freshman 15” (meaning pounds), and that was enough to shame me into making my health a priority. I simply needed to suppress my inner T-rex, so pressing pause on meat-eating was an easy decision. But nature abhors a vacuum, and I now needed a lifestyle with a plant-based or plant-forward diet. Others pursue this diet out of compassion for animals, religious convictions or food costs, but for me it was all about the weight — at least to start.
On a school trip to Amsterdam, however, I picked up some vegan literature and learned animals experience anxiety before slaughter. This sealed the deal. Time passed; T-rex slumbered.
Now in my mid-thirties, a nutrition “check-up” was in order. I recently attended Benefits of a Plant Based Diet, a seminar by doctors Tracy Larson and Laura Pridemore held at Thrive, a health-and-wellness center in SouthPark. Essentially, I wanted to find out how to incorporate more plant-based foods into my meals. After all, just because my mac and cheese is meatless doesn’t necessarily mean it’s that much healthier. T-Rex stirred.
At Thrive, you enter a personal wellness mecca. A two-floor, spa-like setting offers personalized care through a combination of medical practices and personalized wellness services. This soothing place offers fitness and cooking classes, yoga and health education, just to name a few.
After checking in on the first floor, I was directed upstairs. Here, I was greeted with a glass of fruit-infused water. Yes, replenishing with plain ol’ water is the ultimate hydrator for our organs, plus it flushes out toxins. So, here, let’s rack up a few bonus calorie reduction points for simply infusing flavor. But if I’m being honest, the rare treat of fruit-infused water is that it makes me feel sort of … fancy.
After a brief introduction, Dr. Pridemore began with a few personal facts. She finished law school but realized it wasn’t what she wanted to dedicate her life to, then eventually became a pediatrician. She also noted that her first child was born when she was 38, which was instructive for me; if I decide to expand our family beyond fur babies there’s still hope!
Pridemore reviewed the benefits of a plant-based diet, to include improved digestion and reduced risks of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Higher energy is also a consideration. And fiber? It plays a key role for digestion, weight loss and cancer prevention. Natural fiber is found only in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. The only downside, so far, is that cheese isn’t anywhere on this list. Sigh.
But honestly, have you considered what your stomach would say if it knew words? Grumbling is its way of talking to you. A growling stomach can indicate intestinal blockage, or (dare I say) constipation due to low fiber. Studies indicate the importance of a diet rich in fiber, which would include plenty of the aforementioned foods.
Moreover, various studies reveal a whopping 60% of our daily caloric intake comes from ultra-processed foods that contain fat, sugar, salt, added colors, flavors, emulsifiers and additives. What’s a processed food, you ask? Everything that tastes good, basically: breads, salty/sweet snacks, ice cream, frozen meals, pizza, sugary drinks, breakfast cereals, fries and burgers. T-Rex tossed and turned.
Those studies conclude that switching to whole foods can effectively reduce our sugar intake. It sounds easy enough, but what exactly is a whole food? They weren’t talking about shopping at the grocery store. Simply put, a whole food is a food that’s processed or refined as little as possible. For example, we should opt for the orange versus its sugary counterpart, orange juice. Sugar lights up the same part of the brain as cocaine, which is why we can easily drink a whole bottle of orange juice in one sitting instead of over-indulging on the actual fruit itself.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes and beans, too. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.” This is great news for cheese lovers like me who aren’t quite ready to go vegan and would rather tiptoe around it. “Proportionately.” T-Rex loves that word.
In hindsight, my vegetarian journey should have begun by reading more health-focused literature instead of relying on animal cruelty brochures, vanity and my fear of T-rex. A more solid knowledge base about what to put in my body would have been helpful. Yes, Pridemore did influence me. In particular she noted it’s important to keep in mind that it’s “progress over perfection” that counts. Heel, T-Rex! Heel!