Someone can choose a more plant-based way of eating, such as vegetarian or vegan, which avoids certain or all animal products, because of personal ethical values towards that food. Avoiding these foods for those reasons is not considered a restriction, which is not possible, because that person does not consider those foods as food or as part of his or her “food environment”, as Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN calls it in this blog post on how to balance ethics and intuitive eating.
We each are able to choose which foods are a part of our personal food environment. Accessibility, budget, culture, needs, preferences and values towards food are some factors that can affect our chosen food environments and can change over time. Culture often has the greatest influence on our food choices, but it’s okay to deviate from what is considered the traditional way of eating to accommodate the values within your food environment. As an example of differing values and viewpoints, think of how some cultures include traditions of eating cows and not dogs, while others include traditions of eating dogs and not cows. An American will likely oppose the eating of dogs, because they are brought up in a culture of seeing dogs as pets and not an option as food likely due to their ethical values. Such personal values change. Think about being brought up in a culture with a tradition of eating dogs and developing values, which you have now, that cause you to avoid doing so.
The key is that foods are not avoided due to unnecessary values involved in “dieting”, such as eating for weight loss or covering for an eating disorder. It is not wrong to have a goal to lose weight and adapt your way of eating to accommodate that goal. The issue with “diets” though is that they tend to be a one-size-fits-all way without a focus on individual differences. They are more prone to causing feelings of restriction and negative self wellness and promoting one “healthiest” way of eating for everyone when there is no such thing. Plant-based eating can encompass a broad range of different customizable ways, even within vegetarian and vegan eating, to meet personal needs and preferences as well as values and other factors within one’s food environment if applicable.
The foods that someone may not considered as options, such as meat, dairy, eggs and/or other animal products, are not necessarily “unhealthy” and it’s okay to include them if they fit within your food environment. I grew up including those foods for 20 years and then have not included them for the past 4 years and equally have been in good personal health. I choose foods that I enjoy and that fuel me, but that fit my personal values as far as is practical. I used to enjoy the taste of chicken and salmon and the sight or smell of it can bring back memories of enjoyment, but my values towards my personal food choices prevent me from considering it as food and wanting to eat it again. It’s not a result of discipline, but rather what Fraser Bayley of Evolving Alpha calls a paradigm shift in which your viewpoint changes. If my values were to shift and I wanted to eat these foods again then I would.
No, plant-based is not synonymous with “healthy” (which can mean something different to everyone) as refined foods, such as donuts, can be be plant-based, yet are not as health promoting as less processed foods. In any way of eating though, I’d consider it more “unhealthy” to completely restrict a food that they wants to eat. I encourage more whole food based ways of eating, but that does not mean more processed foods can’t be included. The point of plant-based eating should not be about completely avoiding foods that you want to it, but diet culture considers as “good” or “bad” for you from a health perspective.
To sum up, the intentions behind plant-based eating should not be about excluding the food and forms of food that you enjoy, but rather about avoiding the things that they are made of that you don’t consider as food due to your personal ethical values and replacing them with alternatives and introduced foods made with plant-based ingredients that you do consider as food.