Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Getting Started

I thought that my first posting should be short and sweet, and based on a question I get asked very often, which is "how do I get started eating healthfully?"
In the most basic sense, here are the steps that I think make the transition to a more wholesome, plant-based diet as simple as possible....
Step 1 - Bring Plant Foods IN
Too often we begin our process of changing our diet by thinking about how much food we need to stop eating, how much our diets are going to change, how much harder it will be to eat out and with other people...it makes it seem like healthier eating is a miserable thing.  Instead, begin to think solely about what to include or increase.
The most important food, no doubt, to increase is that food that comes from plants.  Whole grains, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, seasonal and local fruits, just start eating them more and more often.  Don't worry about the chocolate, the sodas, the chips, the candy, we'll deal with them later.  Instead, just think about how you can start getting these plant foods in your diet.
What will happen as your intake of vegetables, grains, and other plant foods increases is that your tastes will naturally begin to change.  After about 30 days, you will find you start craving these foods, your taste buds are now in love with arugula and barley and chickpeas!  And as your tastes change and refresh themselves, what you will naturally notice is that your intake of the above-mentioned junky foods will decrease.  Not because you are denying yourself, or forcing yourself to stop eating them, they are just less and less appetizing, less interesting.  Plus, with a belly full of fiber, there's no room for much else.
Step 2 - Slow Down and  Make Time
Now,  you are eating tons of these plants foods a day.  Excellent!  Next, start to look at how you eat.  Do you eat on the run?  In front of the TV? In the car???  Do you take 20 minutes out of your day, 3 times a day to sit down and eat?
Your next goal is to just....slow....down.  Eat an actual  breakfast in the morning, take your lunch break to eat lunch (not to catch up on e-mails), have dinner.  Eat slowly, chew well.  Take at least 20 minutes for each meal.  This will improve your digestion about 1,000,000 times.  The more you chew, the more your brain realizes you are eating and a truer sense of satiety and fullness can set in, leading to less overeating.  The more you chew (notice a pattern here?) the more efficiently you can actually taste your food, which only adds to the deliciousness factor of all those wonderful grains, beans, and veggies.  After a couple of weeks, your stress levels will decrease, your sleep will improve, your skin will  look clearer (I kid you not!), and your digestion will be amazing.
If you are looking for a great experiment, make yourself some plain-cooked brown rice.  Chew a mouthful at your normal speed and rate of chewing.  Then, take another mouthful and chew for about 50 times.  How different do they taste?  How do you feel?  Was the rice more enjoyable?  Finally, take another mouthful and chew between 50 and 100 times.  Again, what was it like?
Next, time a mouthful of a food you are hoping to reduce (ice cream, chips, cheesecake, whatever).  Chew it normally and swallow.  Chew another mouthful 50 times and then swallow.  How as that?  Did you find yourself enjoying the flavor more, the same, or maybe less?  Did it start to taste too sweet, too salty, to oily?  Finally, take another mouthful and chew 50 to 100 times.  What was it like? 
Step 3 - Begin to Transition Harmful Foods Out
Ok, you have accomplished a lot of great work here.  Maybe it took you a month, maybe it took you 6 months.  Whatever, who cares?!?  Take the time you need to increase your plant foods and take your time with meals.  Then, once that is now routine, now you can focus on removing any remaining yuck-foods from your diet.  What you'll probably be blown away by is that without having to try, you have naturally removed a lot of foods from your diet anyway.  Try slow-chewing a handful of potato chips, your mouth gets so oily and salty its revolting!
So any remaining items you would like to remove, now is the time.  Again, do it slowly, gradually, chances are there's no rush.  Take 2 months if you need. 
Take a  year!  Take all the time you need.  As long as you are honest with yourself, and always being aware of what you are doing, you will be eating more healthfully and calmly than you ever thought possible.  Just keep increasing the plant foods on your plate with each passing meal, chew them well, and slowly replace the less health promoting foods.  And the most important thing of all: enjoy that meal!

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