Whether you are a veg-food veteran or just taking your first steps on the plant-based journey, there are more resources and research support than ever before for making the switch to plant-based.
This is a good thing.
Yet it can also present some challenges to transition due to the ‘too many choices’ phenomenon. With increasing popularity of vegetarian, vegan, and whole food, plant-based eating, the variety of opinions about the ‘best version’ can lead to confusion, frustration, and even abandonment of your quest to eat better.
Is it time to get back to plant-based basics?
To cut through the clutter and get what you are looking for – better health, reduced environmental impact, more compassionate eating – is it time to simply get back to plant-based basics?
First, let’s look at how too many choices can derail your journey. Then, we’ll underscore some plant-based basics so you can easily get back on track.
Research tells us that the more choices we have to make, the more likely our rational brain might just check out – along with our willpower and self control. Self-control is a critical element in any lifestyle change, let alone a change as embedded as what we eat each day. Yet decision making presents a stress that hammers away at the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, our command center.
Initially coined by Alvin Toffler in Future Shock, overchoice – when we have too many choices – makes decision making overwhelming because we feel faced with too many potential outcomes.
Too many choices often makes us more likely to choose nothing at all. This decision making saps our self-control. It’s too taxing to think through all the alternatives.
More specifically, a growing body of research suggests that we can have a hard time managing complex choices. Having too many fairly equally good options is mentally draining because each option must be weighed against alternatives to select the best one. We do well when weighing the evidence comparing the health-building properties of, for example, a plant-based diet vs. the standard American diet vs. a high-protein diet. Obsessing over the choices within the plant-based option can also become problematic. Burdened by the responsibility of distinguishing good from bad decisions hidden in the fine print, we fear the risks that may result from making the (real or imagined) wrong choice. This can seriously curtail our motivation to make any change at all.
Spending an afternoon agonizing over exactly how many pieces of whole grain bread you should eat, if you can put any salt in your pot of rice, or if you can put a teaspoon of brown sugar on your oatmeal tomorrow morning is more likely to avert your attention from the task at hand – eating more whole plant foods and less of everything else.
It just might drive you to abandoning your goal of good health.
Similarly, investing hours in wringing your hands over the exact right ratio of starches to vegetables on your plate, or how to fit in some ideal amount of kale or collards you should be eating, can lead to a success/failure mentality. This more often than not sinks the several-servings-is-good ship before it can get out of the dock.
We know that a good plant-based basic is, by day’s end, to fill about half your plate with starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes. Fill the other half of your plate with fresh vegetables and fruits, and sprinkle in moderate amounts of nuts and seeds. The exact amount of each is decided by your goals. Yet this simple guide is enough to get going.
To get started – or get yourself moving forward again if you’ve gotten stuck along the way – all you need to do is increase the amount of vegetables, whole grains, and starchy vegetables you are eating. Processed foods and animal products take a back seat and can immediately or eventually be left behind altogether. Start where you are and increase the amounts of whole plant foods on your plate.
For example, if previously the vegetable content on our plate was largely comprised of ketchup and the occasional side salad, then setting a standard of one or two servings of leafy greens every day is stellar. Make it your goal for every day this week and then revisit in a few days. This offsets the feeling of being overwhelmed and the accompanying procrastination.
The priority should be enjoying what you eat and increasing your consumption of whole plant foods while crowding out everything else.
Approaching transition to plant-based living from a positive perspective like this – back-to-plant-based basics – keeps the mind happy.
And it’s the best antidote for overchoice.
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