My plant-based diet journey: Why it has been a game changer

I would have never guessed that my brisket-eating, bacon-savoring, chicken wing-loving husband would give up meat. But it happened. Exactly one year ago.

Long-story short: My mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer. We encouraged her to eat more vegetables, consistent with recommendations for a cancer-fighting diet. In turn, she introduced us to the documentary The Game Changers – and my husband, Ryan, was sold.

I would say that Ryan is more of an “eat-to-live” kind of guy — not to say that he doesn’t enjoy a delicious meal, but our neighbors have teased him about surviving on bean paste (i.e., mashed up beans and hot sauce) when I go out of town.

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I, on the other hand, am a wannabe chef and have more of a “live-to-eat” mentality. So, when Ryan announced that he was going on a plant-based diet, I immediately thought, “What will I cook?”

Turns out, a lot. I had already come to appreciate the glory of roasted vegetables. But going plant based, we really kicked it up a notch. I started making roasted potato hash nearly every weekend. Hash is delicious on its own, but it also filled our tortillas and topped our bowls of beans. Ryan branched out and began trying different bean varieties — cannellini, mayocoba, mung — to make in the pressure cooker. Likewise, he experimented with various types of rice and quinoa. It was all good, fresh, and inexpensive.

However, I was not one to give up the delectable dishes that we so enjoyed in our prior non-plant-based diet. I began looking up vegan variations of the foods I loved, including queso, fettuccine alfredo, and buttermilk biscuits. Turns out, there are lots of options for substitutions, particularly for dairy items that are common in these types of recipes.

At the same time, we continued our meal-kit subscription, but I edited our profile to show us vegetarian options. A vegetarian diet can include animal-derived products, such as cheese and eggs, and a vegan diet is stricter – it excludes anything that involves animals, including honey. It was easy to leave out or substitute the ingredients Ryan would not eat, and recently, the company began offering meals that include plant-based meat alternatives.

While Ryan’s diet is 100% plant based, mine is not. Even so, my diet is radically different from what it was a year ago, when I was consciously including meat and meat-derived products in nearly every meal. People often ask us, “Do you miss it — the meat?” My answer? “Not really.” You know what else I don’t miss? The 15 pounds I’ve lost.

The weight loss came as a surprise. I wasn’t actively trying to lose weight, and I changed nothing else about my lifestyle. I knew that Ryan was losing weight — he was also working out and keeping closer track of his progress. In fact, he’s lost more than 30 pounds.

This isn’t the only benefit. Physically, Ryan and I also feel good. And it shows in our blood work. Ryan just had his yearly physical at the beginning of January—a year after he went plant based. Every single metric in his blood work improved, many quite dramatically. The doctor told him that whatever he was doing, keep it up.

So we are. This is not to say that it’s always easy. For example, we don’t go to restaurants (partly because of COVID-19) nearly as much as we used to because the options for vegans are frequently limited. And I would be lying if I said there were never squabbles about how to satisfy everyone’s preferences, particularly around extended family.

But it has definitely been worth it for me. As someone who loves to cook (and eat!), I appreciate the challenge to find delicious recipes that everyone can enjoy and feel good about (thank you Angela, Toni, and Forks Over Knives, and a shout out to Ree specifically for her drunken spaghetti!)

If you’ve been curious about plant-based options, consider giving them a try. You may be surprised about what you don’t miss. In fact, it could even be a game changer.

-By Robin Kochel, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics-psychology at Baylor College of Medicine


Additional Resources

Check out these meatless recipes from our experts.

Debating Diets: What is the vegan diet?

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