Transitioning to a WFPB diet: Part 1

This week’s post about a really rewarding experience I had helping a friend who’s trying to put the plant-based diet into action. A few months ago I introduced a childhood friend of mine (Judy) to the whole food plant-based diet as a means to help her control her diabetes. My friend was encouraged by the amount of credible research into the effects of plant-based eating on diabetes and she became determined to make some serious changes to her diet. It wasn’t long before she set a new health goal to get off her current medications and reach a higher level of overall wellness at the same time. Well, I know my friend – she is smart and disciplined and she can do anything she sets her mind to, so when she told me she was struggling with the transition to plant-based, something didn’t seem right. Judy is an elementary school teacher and she also coaches a swim team 3 or 4 nights a week. On the nights she coaches, she sometimes has 30 minutes or less in between jobs to grab something to eat! Judy also spends a fair amount of time on weekends grading student assignments or planning the following week’s lessons, in between attending to the needs of her own family. (No wonder she was finding the transition challenging!) It became clear to me after we talked, that her biggest challenge is her ridiculously crazy-busy work schedule which leaves her very little time to plan and cook her own meals. I also learned that Judy is unfamiliar with some ingredients on a plant-based diet and lacks a bit of confidence when it comes to using them in recipes. I knew I could help her with all of those things! These are a few of the things that I do best!

Read on to learn about Judy’s struggle with diabetes in her own words ….

After my third child (age 35) I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and the doctors noticed that my triglycerides were high. I also had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and I was diagnosed with Metabolic X syndrome and told that diabetes was inevitable. That was 20 years ago.

I am now a type-2 two diabetic with progressively deteriorating blood sugar control. When first diagnosed and medicated I thought I could fix these things. Being an elite athlete in my teens and early twenties, I knew I could commit to a plan and I was not a stranger to hard work. I refused to believe diabetes was my destiny. I believed that if I figured this out and worked hard enough, I could lick it. My doctor didn’t agree. He gave me no hope of improvement and prescribed another medication to control my blood sugar – in addition to the medications I was already taking for my thyroid and triglycerides. The only recommendation my doctor made was to lose weight – but he didn’t say how.

So I did. I lost, gained, lost, gained . . . and really, nothing changed. I have always believed that what we do with and to our bodies and what we put into our bodies matters. But, life has a way of interfering the best of intentions and my exercise regime went from 4 hours a day while training and competing in my teens and early 20’s to next to nothing in my 40’s and 50’s. Eventually, my medications were no longer effectively reducing my A1c blood glucose (it was continuing to creep up) so I knew the next step for me would be insulin, and I was terrified.

For years, I continued trying all sorts of diets. And they would work for a while, but in the long run none of them were sustainable. I was dieting – not making a lifestyle change. Around the time I was at my wits end and ready to give up, I was introduced to the plant-based diet and lifestyle. I began reading many convincing arguments about the benefits of this way of eating and even more encouraging, about the potential to reverse and cure diabetes by embracing a plant-based diet. I was skeptical but I really had nothing to lose and thought it was worth a shot.

Since January 2017 I have been moving closer to a vegetarian diet, and I am working towards becoming vegan. The meat was less of a challenge to give up than I thought it would be, but the dairy has been harder to give up. Cooking vegetarian and vegan meals has been stressful for me because some of the ingredients are new to me and the methods, unfamiliar.  And I would like to say that I am not an incompetent cook. On the contrary I love to cook and have made some wonderful meals. However, oil-free, plant-based cooking is a different beast and I have definitely struggled to stick with it.

I have spent hours scouring a multitude of cookbooks, blogs and websites for plant-based recipes and found the process of figuring all of this out on my own extremely time consuming.  I tried a few recipes from websites and books and found that they were either lacking in taste or that the recipes were complicated and labour intensive to prepare – at least for me. In March I enrolled in a free on-line diabetes summit and listened to experts explain the science and research behind the plant-based diet. That was when I learned that the food also needed be low fat. In fact, I needed to avoid all oils. That really threw me for a loop! I was already struggling with the giving up dairy and I didn’t know how was I going to manage without oil as well. The transition definitely wasn’t easy for me. My blood sugars were improving but my stress levels were going up.

By this time, I knew I needed help or this would end up being just another effort that too would fail.

That’s when I had a heart to heart with Carol at (                      

In my initial consultation with Carol, I explained my dietary needs, the problems I was having with transitioning to a whole food plant-based diet and we went through my work schedule. Carol immediately saw that a big part of my problem, apart from lack of time, was lack of confidence and we agreed to an in-house hands on cooking demonstration a week later. A few days prior to that, Carol provided me with a list of 4 meals that could be made in an afternoon, would last me the week and would fit into my lifestyle of often “grab-and-go” meals. She took into consideration that I live in a house of meat eaters and the meals needed to either appeal to them too, even if only as a side. She also sent me the recipes and a grocery list so that I could look everything over for allergies (one of my kids is allergic to avocado), and potential “ no ways.” Having the grocery list in advance was a huge bonus because I was also to check the ingredients against things I already had in my pantry and wouldn’t need to buy before the demonstration.

Carol even came with me to MY local grocery store. This was super helpful because she knows what to substitute for what if your grocery store doesn’t carry something on the list – which was always a source of stress for me!  I can’t tell you how much time I have wasted driving all over town looking for specific ingredients because I didn’t know enough about the ingredient itself, and whether not it was one I could substitute. Being a professionally trained chef, Carol is intuitive in all things related to plant-based cooking and she is really comfortable replacing items on the list – either with ones that are less expensive or ones that will work just as well. (Sometime bloggers or recipe books will suggest using brands that are not available in my local stores, and as a newbie – if it says amino something or other – I would not know what to do if I could not find it. Lord knows I have sent my husband on numerous grocery scavenger hunts for items that were listed in a recipe but neither one of us knew what they were or what affect its omission would have on the recipe!

The grocery shopping took less than an hour from start to finish and I felt confident that there would less wastage, which in the long run means cheaper grocery bills. On the day, Carol organized the order of preparation and we set about working in MY kitchen. We had to function with MY pots and pans, MY kitchen layout . . . this was more of a challenge for Carol. Where we were just cutting vegetables or measuring spices, Carol lent a hand. Where process or procedure was needed, I did a lot of the work. That was to ensure that I would have the confidence to repeat these recipes on my own. More often than not, Carol had to improvise with the pots and pans and utensils that I had and showed me how to make them work. I didn’t feel that I had to run out and spend money on new equipment or kitchen supplies!

Summing up …in an afternoon, we had shopped at MY grocery store, cooked 4 complete main meals (5, if you include one switch-up option) in MY kitchen and prepared condiments that would keep in the refrigerator for the week. Everything was nutritious and prepared without any oil, and BEST OF ALL, worked with my hectic life style! And the food was delicious! All of it. And everything we made was a hit with my two adult omnivore daughters and even satisfied my carnivorous husband, though he will never admit it (but he had two helping of the quesadillas).

We even managed to fit in 3 oil-free salad dressings (forgot to photograph) to keep me going throughout the week – and these were not on our original plan!

The following day, I actually relaxed in my back garden because for the first time, I didn’t have to plan dinner for the family – it was was already done. For once, I felt like I was ahead of the game and this was something I could do! The whole experience reminded me of the Chinese proverb, “You give a poor man a fish you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish; you feed him for a lifetime”.  My day with Carol showed me that a low fat plant-based diet and lifestyle change is a real possibility for me and I am no longer overwhelmed by it. For my particular meal plan I learned what to buy at my own grocery store with an eye on possible substitutions and fiscal management. I learned how to prepare the food in my own kitchen using my utensils and appliances and how to work in a time-efficient way. Carol really knew how to organize prep stations and our time which ensured that we achieved all that we had set out to do in an afternoon. I have four new wonderful meals to add to my repertoire and I am comfortable making adaptations where necessary. Interestingly, the morning after having eaten a very hearty meal of quinoa and roasted vegetable casserole, corn and salad, my blood sugar was the lowest it has been in almost 2 years. And more importantly, my recovery sugars after eating are falling within the normal range. I am still on medication but will be returning for an A1c check in mid-May. It’s early days, but I am very encouraged, so I will keep you posted!