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Embracing Balance: My Journey of Prioritizing Health and Transitioning from 100% Plant-Based

Barbara Cooking Food at home according to her health needs

Today's post has been a long time in the making, and I must admit, I was quite hesitant to write it. The fear of being judged held me back, but I've decided to overcome that fear and share my story with you.

When I embarked on my journey with Plantiful Kitchen, I was still discovering the wonders of a plant-based lifestyle. It was back in 2016 when I fully transitioned to a plant-based diet. Prior to that, I mostly followed what could be considered a paleo diet, although I never liked the idea of labeling or categorizing people based on their food choices. In fact, the word "diet" itself doesn't sit well with me.

The reason I shifted to a plant-based lifestyle initially was because I strongly detest the way animals are treated in the meat industry today. Moreover, it became clear to me that relying heavily on meat for every meal is neither sustainable for our planet nor beneficial for our health, despite my previous meat-heavy eating habits.

As I delved deeper into the subject, I immersed myself in books and other resources that supported the notion that a plant-based diet is the most optimal choice. When I first made the switch, I experienced a remarkable transformation. My body responded positively to the increased fiber and micronutrients, and many of my digestive issues, such as constipation and bloating, greatly improved. Surprisingly, I shed some weight, which seemed to be mostly water weight.

Naturally, when I founded Plantiful Kitchen, I wanted my business to align with my plant-based values and I might not be 100% plant based now, but I fully stand by that decision today and wouldn’t have it any other way. Everything was great for a few years until I began to feel a decline in my well-being.

Running a new business naturally brought its fair share of stress, but something else troubled me. My muscle mass seemed to be dwindling, and the strength I once had started to wane, even though I continued to work out vigorously. I constantly felt exhausted, and my mood was consistently low. My sex drive disappeared, and I always felt like I wasn't functioning at my full potential, mentally or physically. I no longer recognized myself. Being in my mid-thirties, I realized this couldn't be normal. I shouldn't be feeling this way.

That's when I sought help from a functional doctor, and together, we decided to conduct some tests. The results revealed several deficiencies, which were quite common among individuals following a plant-based diet. However, the most significant deficiency was iron.

I began taking various supplements to address the deficiencies, and I made sure to incorporate iron-rich foods into my daily meals. Despite my efforts, my iron levels didn't seem to improve, and the fatigue persisted. My functional doctor suggested introducing eggs and fish into my diet, but I found myself torn. It contradicted my belief system at the time, as I still wanted to prioritize the welfare of animals and the environment, even if it meant compromising my own health. Moreover, I worried about disappointing our clients if they discovered I was no longer strictly plant-based. Eventually, I made the decision to prioritize my own health and well-being. After all, I had started this business with the intention of helping people feel their best every day by creating delicious food made with the highest quality ingredients. How could I promote such a lifestyle and brand associated with when I wasn't nourishing myself in the way that allowed me to be my personal best?

The transition wasn't immediate. I reintroduced certain foods gradually. I started with oysters and shellfish, then gradually incorporated high-quality, wild-caught fish, and eventually pasture-raised organic eggs. However, I'm mindful of my consumption and strive to minimize my environmental impact. Something that I’ve discovered along with that, is that my body feels better when I eat meals that are higher in protein and fats and moderate in carbohydrates.

That's where I find myself today, and I must say, I feel much better than before, although I believe there is still some healing to be done. My iron levels have improved to some extent, and I no longer feel constantly tired and fatigued. I now experience a surge of energy during my workouts. Additionally, I'm working closely with a functional doctor to rebalance my hormone levels. Years of having low iron levels led to a mild case of hypothyroidism and hormonal imbalances, but I can feel myself gradually improving, and that's what matters most.

I want to make it clear that I'm not here to preach about a specific way of eating. Today, I simply believe that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each person's body has unique and individual needs. I merely wanted to share how I arrived at this point in my journey. I felt compelled to do so because I believe there might be others out there who have experienced the same internal conflict that I faced. It's a struggle between staying true to our beliefs and finding what truly benefits our own bodies.

And I want to emphasize that it’s ok to adjust your belief system, it's perfectly okay to change your mind and prioritize your own health when you feel ready to do so. Our understanding and circumstances evolve, and it's essential to listen to our bodies and make choices that support our well-being. Remember, it's a personal journey, and we each have the right to navigate it according to our own needs and values. Be proud of who you are – every day.

Bonus Material - How I eat today:

I really try to listen to my body nowadays and eat intuitively to what I feel it needs. I discovered that I don’t do well when I have a very high carbohydrate breakfast. I used to eat oatmeal in the mornings sometimes and I don’t do that anymore, because I would find that 2 hours later my blood sugar levels would crash. Now I basically switch it up between 3 things: 

Breakfast

  1. I eat our bread or bagels with savory toppings on most days. I feel most balanced when I do that.

  2. I make some chia pudding topped with fresh fruit (mostly berries) and nut butter.

  3. When I had a hard workout the day before I eat some homemade whole grain sourdough bread made from Einkorn (it’s the only non-hybridized grain available). Yes, this has gluten, but my body tolerates it well. It’s higher carbohydrate, but also high in protein and I usually pair it with avocado and a pasture raised organic egg to balance out the carbohydrates.

Lunch: At lunch I usually eat a meal very high in vegetables, either left-overs from the night before, or I make a very quick salad. I use non-starchy vegetables a lot, because it makes me feel light for the rest of the day. I eat a big portion of that and I make my own dressings, which is where I get some healthy fats and sometimes even protein. Depending on what I had for breakfast and how I feel about my protein and carbohydrate balance, I will add either some beans, an egg or sometimes canned fish (I like Patagonia Mackerel). Small fish are more sustainable and lower in Mercury.

Dinner: My dinners can look very similar to lunch. I often make salads, but I also love roasted vegetables. Depending on what my activity level was for the day, this is where I potentially incorporate some starchy vegetables and beans and once or twice a week I will have some wild caught fish (I like Alaska Gold Seafood and Seatopia). During fall and winter, I love curries and hearty soups with lots and lots of vegetables and potentially some protein. And occaisonally I love to indulge in some lentil pasta. 

Snacks: I snack during the day when I feel I need a little something extra. My favorite snacks are a handful of berries, some nuts, I like seed crackers with some dip or vegan cheese. When I travel I have a list of favorites, which you can find in my Healthy Eating Travel Guide (Sign up for our newsletter to receive it)

I also love something sweet, which I usually eat daily. I love our cookies – macadamia chocolate chunk is my favorite and I really love our Vegan Ferrero Truffles. The original used to my childhood favorite, so naturally it’s still a go to for me today.