It’s Not About What You Call Yourself
Although I would love to share with you my experience of switching to a whole foods plant-based diet, I realize that giving up all animal products is not for everyone. I believe my practice as a Health Coach is inclusive. I choose to work with people who like to eat different foods than I do, and who want to find what choices they can make to achieve their goals. One client recently told me that he will never have a lifestyle like Mark and I do. I told him that our goal was not for him to become me, but for him to become the best version of himself.
The labeling of our food and dietary preferences has gotten a little bit nutty. Surely you have heard these words: vegan, vegetarian, ovo-lacto vegetarian, pescatarian, omnivore, flexitarian, and so on. My intention here is to inspire you in making choices with which you can live and thrive, which is more important than how you label yourself.
As you move through life, hopefully, you find that your awareness of your body and your knowledge of how to make healthy choices are increasing. Although some individuals might make a sudden and radical change in how they eat – say, for example, following a devastating medical diagnosis – often you might see yourself evolving gradually over time. Looking back over the years, and starting from horrendous eating habits when I was a kid, and into my twenties and early thirties, I see how I have made changes toward more clean eating one adjustment at a time. It feels like some habits dropped away when I was ready. A partial list of some now erstwhile habits includes: eating copious amounts of candy, sipping Bailey’s Irish Cream before bed, stuffing myself with pretzels and sugary drinks in the afternoon, gorging on ice cream, devouring all of the contents in huge bags of chips, and many more self-destructive habits. There was even a time when I called myself a vegetarian because I did not eat meat. However, I was a million miles away from living a healthy lifestyle. You get the picture.
I’ll describe my own evolution but know that your journey will look different than mine. No two people are alike, although many of us have similar habits. Gradually, over the last several decades, I gave up junk food; quit binging; gave up sugary drinks; eventually gave up meat, then poultry, then later, fish, then dairy and eggs; and now enjoy an all whole foods plant-based diet. At this time in my life, my diet is full of radiantly wholesome food, most of which I prepare in my kitchen. I grow my own sprouts, micro-greens, and herbs, and make plant-and-seed-based pizza dough in a dehydrator. Again, this happened over time.
This would be a good time for you to look around. Can you assess your evolution? What might be next on your ever-evolving role in making your health and taking care of your body priorities?
Why Labels Don’t Matter
A vegan is a person who does not eat animal products. Usually, a vegetarian does not eat meat, although some people call themselves vegetarians but they do eat fish. The labels are not clearly defined. There are three things faulty about this labeling system:
- When we define ourselves by what we don’t eat, that does not really tell the story. As my hero, Dr. Michael Greger points out, he met self-proclaimed vegans when he taught at Cornell who lived off of beer and French fries. The point is that for people who don’t eat animals, how does this equate to a healthy lifestyle and relationship with food? It may or may not.
- The labels often point to what we believe around food. Talking with countless people who gave up meat because they believed that doing so was “healthy” helps me understand how locked in to our belief system we can be. When we limit ourselves out of beliefs that may or may not be grounded in science, we may or may not be making fully informed choices. Let’s say, just to make a point, that not eating any red meat is a good thing given the challenges to the environment, production, and manufacturing of meat products. (Watch Food Inc. and Food Matters for your own enlightened education.) When we define our approach to health by what we don’t eat, that leaves us exposed to the potential risks of other foods that perhaps we have not examined.
- There is a risk of sanctimony when one defines oneself through labeling. “I eat this but not that” is a self-identify. Imagine going to a function where all of the so-called vegans are in one corner, the pescatarian is in another, and the omnivores are in another. Each group may think that theirs are the best diet. They might think that they won’t get sick, and they won’t die early because of their label. This may or may not point to fundamental practices that promote optimal health over time. What I call self-care practices are more important to our wellness than which corner we are standing in.
Why Whole Foods Plant-Based
As I mentioned, being vegan is not necessarily about health, although it can be. I love and respect someone who does not eat animal products for humanitarian purposes. After listening to The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle, my appreciation for the compassion that lives in many vegans’ hearts brought me to tears. This was a turning point for me. My love for animals plus my passion for living a wholesome life settled for me why this lifestyle works in my home and in my kitchen.
The thing about veggies is that they are among the healthiest food we can put in our bodies. Dr. Greger’s red light/green light traffic analogy is a great beginner’s guide to incorporating whole foods even if you aren’t giving up animal products. Of the many things I love about filling my plate with gorgeous fruits and veggies is the fact that the health benefits of food like this crosses every dietary theory. Being a vegan is a description of a person. But eating whole foods that are plant-based is a description of someone who loves her body and wants to make health a priority. This is the most important labels of all: I LOVE MY BODY AND I TAKE CARE OF MY BODY AND I GET MY BODY TO LOVE ME BACK.
The other powerful aspect of adding whole foods that are plant-based to your diet is that you can do this regardless of your label. If you are struggling to adopt a healthier approach to food and nutrition, you can do this and it’s not about what you call yourself. I remember before Mark and I became complete non-animal-product-eaters, many of my home-cooked meals had no animal products in them. I would make some edamame pasta with grilled mushrooms, nutritional yeast, and homemade marinara sauce. I wasn’t wearing a Vegan label at that time, but that did not matter. Nor should it matter for you.
Our dietary choices will never look the same. I have a good friend who won’t eat beans. I love beans. Another friend won’t eat meat, but she eats more processed sugar that might be good for her. And the list goes on.
This is all about you. You have one body and you don’t get to trade it in like a car. Living an embodied life is a privilege. What might be next for you on your journey?
Rosie Bank is Board Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and the founder of Health Matters Coaching. She is the author of the book, Health Matters. Rosie is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and is certified by The Center for Nutrition Studies (e-Cornell) in Plant Based Nutrition. Rosie is an international speaker, blogger, and the founder of Health Matters podcast. She is certified as a Nutrition and Wellness Consultant through the American Fitness Professional Association and as a Nutrition Advisor through Sanoviv Medical Institute. Rosie founded The Vitality Club in Brentwood, CA in 2018.
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