This is an evolving list of the main points of what I have done to get to where I am today. They are the quick guide to getting started, and to becoming consistent.
The approach I use is The Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet by Rip Esselstyn. This gives you choices of tens of thousands of outstanding food choices, including any vegetables; fruits; starchy foods like potatoes and sweet potatoes and winter squash; whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, farro, spelt, and many others; and the rich tapestry of pulses (beans and lentils). Leafy green vegetables should be your mainstay, especially the hard greens such as kale, collard greens, and chard. In fact, I try to consume greens in an equal quantity (after cooking) to the rest of the food that I eat, at most meals (nine out of ten).
I frequently hear from people who say that they are following plan A or plan X 80% of the time, or 90%, or 99%. I’m not sure what this means. First, are they weighing and recording everything that they eat and figuring out what 1% of their food is allowed to be chocolate cake? How are they deciding that they are eating 90% according to their plan, and what are their expectations for results? Second, I can’t understand why you would want to make this harder on yourself by teasing yourself with small bits of food you should not eat. I just don’t get that. The only thing that weakens desire to eat Buffalo wings or cheesecake is the time between last having them and now. Even one bite puts you right back where you started.
I flatly refuse to eat even one bite of food that is not consistent with my way of eating. This is critical to the success that I have had. It means that sometimes I am sitting in restaurants watching others eat. It means that sometimes I have to tell others who have gone to some trouble on my behalf that no, even a tiny amount of oil is not okay. It means that sometimes I am hungry for a while (not usually).
Here is a hard truth: there is only one person in the universe who you can count on, to support you in living healthfully, 100% of the time. No one can do this for you. Similarly, you cannot do this for anyone else. You are the one who puts the food in your mouth. You are the one who either goes for a run or sits and watches a movie. If you want this to work, you have to accept the responsibility, and you have to do the work for yourself. If you put any responsibility for your health behaviors, or any of the blame for your health condition, on another person, you are toast.
Even wholly vegan restaurants are not often places that can offer you a satisfactory meal based on whole, plant foods. It is a rare establishment that can produce oil-free food for you. Instead, seek out local groceries and buy some things to put a reasonable meal together. Especially if it is just for yourself, you can make do with a can of salt-free beans, some washed and cut produce and fruit, a box of baby kale, and maybe some whole-grain no-oil unsalted crackers. Overall, very few restaurants will be able to offer you food that is as good as you can make for yourself.
I cook almost all of the food that I eat. I like to try new recipes. From the outside, it may look as though I am constantly churning out wonderful food, but the truth is that for every great meal that I add into my regular cycle of recipes, I make probably a dozen that I don’t like much. At some point I will make posts about recipes, oil-free cooking, flavoring plant-based whole foods, stocking your kitchen, and other things. For now, you can find a lot of information and videos online with a little searching.
Check out the link section and set about learning. In the end you may choose completely different approaches than I have, or you may choose to abandon this process entirely in favor of enjoying life in another way. I hope that you will do that from an informed perspective. Watch food-related documentaries such as Forks Over Knives and Plant Pure Nation. Read books such as The Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet, The China Study, and How Not to Die. Join discussion groups on social media. The more that you learn about food, nutrition, exercise, and human physiology, the more equipped you will be to help yourself and others.
I want the people I love to choose a life of wellness for themselves, and to enjoy the amazing outcomes I have had. But the changes I have made are hard enough when I am only worrying about me. One thing that try to practice is never telling anyone else what they should eat, unless they ask me. This is hard. In fact, it may be harder than abstaining from the unhealthy foods that I am addicted to. People have to make their own choices regarding how they live their lives. Quality of life is entirely subjective. If another person chooses bacon and buffets over longevity and freedom from lifestyle-associated diseases, well, that is their choice.
Similarly, I do not let what anyone else says or does influence the choices that I make about eating or exercise. My food is my business. You may find, as I have, that there are not many things that will rankle people more than how another person chooses to eat. Some folks get really upset. They become instant nutrition experts, and they drag out all of the old myths about eating a plant-based diet.
The price of the ways that most people eat is obesity, astronomically increased risk for chronic diseases and debilitation, loss of function, and death. I am absolutely no good to anyone else unless I am taking the best care of myself. As a nurse, I am part of a long tradition of self-sacrifice; eating fast meals of maximum convenience, losing sleep, meeting others’ expectations and preferences, and denying my own needs in order to care for others. This phenomenon is not unique to nurses, however. Chances are, you do it, too. Changing this is a big, difficult step. I have found, though, that when I put my health needs first, I do a much better job for others.
Often, I hear folks say that this journey is 80% food and 20% activity. I don’t know about exact numbers, but conceptually, this is true. Especially in the beginning, changing your diet will have a huge effect on your health, and will get you a good part of the distance on its own. But exercise is essential to making it the whole way, to preserving and maintaining muscle, and to become the healthiest person that you can. If you can find cardiovascular and strength-building exercise that you enjoy, that’s wonderful. If you can’t, you still have to do it. I get intimidated by seeing others, who are much more developed athletically than I am, achieve great things. I have to remember that I to start from where I am, train slowly, and train consistently.
This is not easy. This is not a part-time job. Success does not come from deciding that you are going to pursue health, then sitting back and watching television. Success does not come from taking days off or from completing a checklist. Success comes from the moment-to-moment, everyday decisions that you make. The cookie or the carrot. Running in the rain or snow. The gym or a movie. The stairs or the escalator. The close parking, or across the lot. Go to bed on time or stay up to watch those shows. Hardcore truth: sometimes it is a slogfest. But you become what you practice, moment-to-moment.