Plant-based diets or ways of eating made up mostly of food derived from plants, may sometimes be muddled up with “diets” or a certain set of foods to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons. The intentions behind plant-based eating can include reasons beyond the priority of health, such as personal ethics and values towards the effects of food choices on animal welfare and environment, which allows for all food needs and preferences and differentiates it from “diets”.
ALL FOOD (THAT YOU CONSIDER FOOD) FITS
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.
FLEXIBILITY AND INTUITIVE EATING ARE IMPORTANT
Our current world is not the perfect environment for vegans, vegetarians and other predominantly plant-based eaters. However, it’s not about being perfect, which is not possible, but about carrying out your values to the greatest extent that is possible and practical to you. It’s not possible to contribute to zero animal deaths, zero food waste and other effects of food choices. It’s okay if you mistakenly or even purposefully eat certain animal-based products that you want or don’t want to eat. Everyone is on their own health journey and it is best to do what feels right for you right now, because you know your body best. It’s your personal choices and values based on your own experiences, knowledge, considerations and beliefs, not based on others. I talk about some of the challenges you may face eating more plant-based and ways to adapt and overcome them in this blog post.
While confidently embracing many parts of a vegan lifestyle as far as is possible and practical for me, I choose to not force personal values onto others, want to help with all ways of more plant-based eating and most often do not label my own lifestyle or way of eating except in cases where it helps to distinguish from what is traditional. Others who are new to a plant-based lifestyle may find it helpful to not include labels as they let go of restrictive rules that can be a part of “diets” and find what flexibly works best for them right now, which accommodates a wide range of options, from those who want to include one meatless meal a week to those who want to transition to eating fully plant-based.
Intuitive eating is a response to “dieting” that embraces inclusiveness with all personal food choices and positive body images. It essentially encourages you to choose foods that fit your food environment and to become more in tune with what your body wants and needs as an individual rather than make certain food choices out of fear or guilt. Regardless of food choices, I think the non-diet message of intuitive eating can be important especially for athletes and active individuals in which nutrition and body images can be involved in their performance and young adults who begin to choose their independent food environments and values.
To sum up, intuitive eating practices can be applied within plant-based eating to encourage flexibility and practicality in accommodating individual wants and needs and to take the focus of food choices away from just weight and body image and more towards their broader effects that contribute to one’s personal values and should be the main reason for choosing more plant-based eating.