I’ve been intending to explore plant-based eating for years. But I’ve been scared. Like really scared of the imagined inconvenience, the hunger pains, the fantasies about dishes that I’ve loved for forever that I can no longer eat, you name it. What most I feared had to do with time and whether I’d feel like the necessity of preparing my own healthy meals would overrun my entire life, and leave little room for any of all the things I love to do that I’ve spent years of careful crafting to finally have real time to enjoy. Why does there never seem to be enough time in life for the things that keep me thriving? Lawd. If I have time I’ll circle back to the principles of money and labor that our culture revolves around that make it practically impossible to prioritize one’s health and how said principal is a vestige of slavery. In the meantime I’ll focus on food and clean eating.

What changed my narrative on diving in to the possibility of going plant-based in a real way was l a 21-day Purification Cleanse facilitated with incredible knowledge by my friend Jovanka Ciares. I have to admit to being a bit skeptical in the beginning. The recipes (that I would be cooking myself) seemed complex, and the time that the average person spends cooking, I prefer to spend receiving my plant-based prepared meal plan and at the gym:-).  But as if like magic, a full three weeks of atypical spaciousness opened up in my schedule at the start of 2020 that allowed me time to both cook AND sleep, the latter of which I did not anticipate needing quite as much of as I did during this cleanse.

Immediate observations:

1. Mental Clarity
Like whoa, though. For real. I honest to goodness just knew I would go a little nutty with no coffee in my life every morning. Like for real, for real. I can get myself up, do a yoga practice and sit for meditation, and feel really really good. But even with all that, my mind typically needs a jolt to get back online. And I love coffee! I love a full-bodied Italian or French roast cut just perfectly with a little cream and raw sugar. I was prepared to brew less coffee at least, and to use my favorite oat milk instead of half and half. But to my surprise I actually needed none. My mind was sharp in the morning. By the third day the most apparent impact of plant-based eating was that my mind was lucid and the creative ideas were flowing. After my full fall, I was out of my usual writing routine, so I needed time to gear up again, and the cleanse was the perfect tool to facilitate that.

2. Better Workouts and Increased Stamina
There was a day last week when I though I might lose it. I hadn’t consumed enough calories and I had had a mindfulness workshop to present to Dalton School parents. By the end of the presentation, I felt faint and hangry, honestly. I emailed Jovanka and she told me that faintness was a sign of insufficient calorie intake. When she asked me how many carbohydrates I’d eaten, I realized that I hadn’t had many at all. I was so programmed to eat few to none on an omnivorous diet, and I hadn’t realized what a detriment that might be to my energy level when only eating plant-based foods. So I loaded up on lentil soup and some soba noodles that the cafeteria at school made that day and was good to go! When I made it to the gym shortly after work, I ran at my highest speed for a full 45 minutes, when typically I’ve lost stamina (or interest) at about 30 minutes. A plant-based eater friend mentioned a documentary called The Game Changers which explained everything that I experienced regarding the relationship between plants and physical wellbeing. I highly recommend it because its compelling data and research  helped seal the plant-based deal for me, a true game changer.

3. Keener Emotional Awareness and Heightened Intuitive Sensitivity
I won’t lie, the increased emotional sensitivity was likely also brought on by the traged(ies) and the challenging circumstances that befell the school community in which I work the first month of 2020. But what felt distinct amidst the melancholy, was a deep capacity to witness my sorrow and the sorrow of others, rather than be consumed by it. I was quite present and clear. In the midst of all this, I also felt notably connected to a higher sense of purpose, trusting that if there was some sense to be gleaned from all the sorrow experienced, it would reveal itself in the most perfect way in due time. One beautiful insight during this time was witnessing how it often takes tragedy to truly connect people empathetically to one another. I couldn’t help but wonder over and over again why more of us didn’t make the time in community to check in and make space for each other’s overall state.

4. Slimmer Body
Now this one was a true surprise. I had always heard that people on plant-based diets often end up gaining weight. I am here to report the contrary: I lost 7 pounds! Yes. And I can tell you that on my body just 5 pounds is a major visible difference, so this shift is significant when I put on certain clothes. Being middle-aged, as I am now more honest with myself about being, has come with humbling acceptance of things like it taking a full year of working out like it’s my job, to see a measurable shift in my physical appearance. Not that this was my actual goal, to “look different”. Rather, I’ve needed to feel different, more vibrant and sharp the way I always have when I’ve been physically active with everything from dance, to yoga to pilates, to running, hiking, gym workouts, and walking. When I was younger, I took that feeling of aliveness for granted, not realizing that I’d have to “work” more to cultivate it as I aged. Though I felt amazing within a matter of weeks of registering for my gym membership, a visibly apparent difference took an official year to observe consistently in myself. And though I do not own a scale, I did hop on one a couple times during the past year in doctor’s offices, each time curious about whether my weight would reflect what I was seeing in my looser fitting clothes. The only proof of my hard work, other than more muscle mass, perhaps, was how much stronger and balanced I felt in my body from one fitness, yoga, or dance class to the next. It wasn’t until another appointment last week that I noticed a huge (for me) reduction in the number on the scale. 7 whole pounds lighter. And with shoes and clothes on and everything!

5. Reducing My Negative Impact on the Environment
Finally, though it is not so much an immediate observation I can personally measure, it is important for me to share that my primary reason for going plant-based quite honestly has more to do with the environment rather than any of the reasons above. I hope in my short existence on this planet that part of my contribution will be to have left it better than I found it in some way. Knowing that I am doing my part to, at the very least, to preserve a viable home for all the children and adolescents whose lives I’ve aimed to educate or empower makes ensuring that they might have a place to live seem like the most obvious and logical act I can perform on their behalf. To that end, eliminating meat-based foods reduces water and land use, lowers pollution, slows deforestation and reduces destruction of topsoil, among other benefits. A recent report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence noted that “there are 7 billion people to feed on the planet today and an estimated 2 billion more are expected by 2050, they demonstrate that most of the water we consume as a society is used to produce our food. In educational materials designed to reach as many people as possible, they point out over and over again that meat products are tens and sometimes hundreds of times more water intensive to produce than plant foods. For example, producing 1 kilo of beef consumes 15,000 litres of water while 1 kilo of wheat ’drinks up’ 1,500 litres.4 On average, meat takes 2,025 litres of water for every 150 grams, while fruit takes only 69 litres of water for the same amount, oats take 355 litres and soybeans take 412 litres.

It took what may turn out to be half of my life to get here to this plant-based world, but I finally did. I framed the original 21-Day Purification cleanse as an “experiment” so that I could relate freely to eating plants without putting the internal strain that rigid rules can create when trying something out of my comfort zone. But I am Reorganizing myself and my life around practices that are fundamentally life-affirming for all is the only way to truly thrive. We’re in this thing called life together, after all. Though exploring a plant-based way of life yields gifts galore and more than I imagined were possible, becoming a plant-based eater feels like the least I could do to support a more socially just and holistic way of life for all.