My journey into plant-based eating originates largely from listening to my intuition.
When I teach yoga, I teach about how to listen to, engage and feel our bodies in a way that allows us to move intuitively.
When I run, I would describe the way I listen to my body and adjust workouts based on how fully I have recovered and what my body needs as intuitive training.
The way I eat I also would describe as intuitive because I pay closer attention to the way my body feels after eating. I pay closer attention to what it was that my body really wants to eat — not just what I feel like I should eat because of what I was taught I needed in order to have a “balanced diet.”
Prior to embracing this way of eating, I noticed that I felt heavy and sluggish after eating animal products and that they didn’t really sound good to me. But I ate them anyway because I needed protein, right? Now plant-based and steering clear of animal products, the most common question I get is, “where do you get your protein?”
Even in my graduate-level physiology and nutrition courses, I was frustrated by the lack of real information in the educational system, so I took it upon myself to dive in and learn about real nutrition.
There are many myths about protein and plant-based eating. Physiologists have long known the body’s ability to store protein. As long as there is a variety of whole foods present in the diet, there is no need to worry about protein.
Whole foods such as almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, soybeans, peanuts, potatoes, leafy greens and most fruits are all considered complete proteins. But every whole food, plant-source, has protein that readily is available to be absorbed by the body.
There are many researched facts about how the body processes animal protein and the risk of many diseases caused by an over-consumption of protein. One great resource to consider is the book, “Conscious Eating,” by Gabriel Cousens, M.D.
But even after having all the facts and understanding completely the need to eat plant-based, the transition of the how-to might not be quite so simple.
We are creatures of habit. I did not grow up eating this way. I grew up in a traditional “meat and potatoes” home and learned that eating “everything in moderation” was OK. Even after feeling a strong pull toward completely changing the way I eat, my transition to plant-based eating was about a decade-long process.
I had the same objections that many of you might have, such as “my family won’t support me or understand” or “what do I do when I eat at a friend’s house or go out to eat?”
My advice would be to start small. Don’t expect perfection. My approach is to focus on adding more “good” in. The more plants we add, the less space is left for animal products or processed foods.
There is something powerful about the mental shift in adding to our diet instead of taking away. Add more fresh, organic (when possible) whole foods to your diet, and make sure you find delicious ways of eating them.
Spices are your friend. Make sure you add flavor, or it won’t be sustainable because you will get bored. Boredom is an open door to return to our old habits. The possibility in the richness of flavors that can be added to vegetables by spices and herbs is incredibly satisfying and largely what we enjoy most about eating.
The internet also is a powerful resource for keeping variety in our diet. Search “vegan Mexican, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Chinese or Thai recipes,” and you will be amazed at what you find.
It is crucial that you love the food that you eat so you don’t feel deprived. I never use the words, “I can’t eat …” Instead, I say, “I choose not to because my body enjoys these foods and the way they make me feel.”
Physically, I have never felt better in my entire life. I feel light, clean, clear and I recover better than ever. I also enjoy the simplicity of the food that I eat and would love to help you on your journey if this is something that interests you.
Jessica Hruska is a plant-based runner, cyclist and yoga instructor from Dubuque. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jessica.hruska.10 or on Instagram at www.instagram.com/jessicahruska.