Loved how you looked and felt on a whole food plant-based diet but then life derailed your healthy living plan? I've been there, friend. I was thriving on a WFPB diet for four years. Then I had a baby and found my healthy lifestyle quickly got bumped down on my priority list. 19 months later, I'm back to my healthy whole food plant-based ways and feeling awesome — and these five hacks helped me reset.
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Before I launch into the five things that helped me reboot my health and diet, I first want to assure you that you have not "failed" your plant-based lifestyle. Life has a pesky way of getting in the way of all our good intentions and goodness knows this year has been especially challenging for most of us.
That's OK. Give yourself grace, dust yourself off, then make a plan to get back on track. And if you need help with that whole "making a plan" thing, this blog post can help.
A little background:
For four years I thrived on a whole food plant-based diet. I was a healthy weight, my skin was clear, I slept great. I loved the food I was eating. I loved how strong and capable my body felt. I loved the energy I had!
And even more importantly, my health, against the odds, was on the up and up. I was born with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic and progressive disease that causes recurring lung infections and restricts the ability to breathe overtime. Except ever since I moved to a whole food plant-based diet, my breathing no longer felt more and more restricted the older I got. My CF-related joint pain ceased to exist. My digestion had improved; I finally went off the daily laxatives I'd been taking since childhood. Instead of declining, I felt healthier with each passing year.
And then when I was 30 — a milestone year for anyone, let alone someone with a "life-limiting" chronic disease — I got pregnant! My husband and I were overjoyed. A true dream come true. I've always wanted to be a mom.
I had a very healthy and plant-based pregnancy. If you'd told me 10 years ago I'd be healthy enough to get pregnant, let alone feel good during pregnancy, I don't think I would've believed you.
I ate great. I felt great. I was super active, walking miles a day up until the very afternoon I went in for my induction. I did have gestational diabetes, which is expected in mothers with CF due to pancreatic insufficiency that many of us are born with, but with diet and exercise I never had to go on insulin.
Then my daughter was born. The best day of my life, no doubt about it. But also, it was the beginning of my (thankfully, temporary) departure from complete whole food plant-based living.
Doing nebulizer treatments with 2 month old Winnie
I didn't revert back into a full on Standard American Diet. I never ate meat. I still ate mostly plant-based, but the "whole" part was missing. And my body felt the difference.
In those first postpartum months when I was exhausted and breastfeeding a zillion times a day, reaching for convenience bars and snacks felt a heck of a lot easier than prepping something healthy and whole food plant-based. Overnight, I became a junk food vegetarian. Dairy eventually slipped its way back in as so many processed snacks contain milk. And most of all, refined sugar became a staple in my life again. Consequently, so did the chronic inflammation I'd thought was behind me.
I was coughing up blood, my joints hurt, my brain felt foggy, my digestion was hit or miss. Add all this on top of not getting adequate sleep because that whole raising a newborn thing. I was feeling all kinds of out of sorts.
I was really disappointed in myself. Not only have I worked at MamaSezz, a whole food plant-based meal delivery company (!!!), since its inception, but I've also seen firsthand the healing power of food as medicine. What the heck?! How could I let all the harmful stuff back into my diet, especially during this super important time in my life when someone else is really depending on me?
The mom guilt came in hot, which actually hurt my chances at turning the WFPB switch back on because I started to emotionally eat, too. Feeling bad about making bad choices? Let's drown out the pain with some more bad choices — cookies, muffins, who cares as long as it's got sugar.
Eventually, I realized I had to kind of get over myself. "Knowing better" doesn't protect you from making unhealthy choices. Life gets complicated, and slipping into old, familiar habits can indeed happen to anyone. It was a lot easier to put my health first when I wasn't in charge of someone else's care, too. But in the end, the best thing for me and my daughter (and my husband!) was to get back to my healthiest self, which is achieved when I'm eating whole plant-based foods. And as my daughter became an energetic toddler, I knew it was the time to make a plan so I could keep up and do all the things with her I dreamed of doing.
I'm happy to report, I'm back on the whole food plant-based wagon. And I'm feeling really good. The hemoptysis is back in check. My lung function's stable. My joints are starting to feel normal again. And my belly is also getting back into the swing of things. And my energy is way up, thank goodness because this child certainly requires it. While all of that didn't happen overnight, it did happen pretty fast, within just a few weeks of reinstating my healthy habits.
Here's how I got back to where I need to be.
1. Remember Your Why
Everyone has a different reason for starting their WFPB diet. Whether you are doing it for your health, the environment, or the animals, it's important to remember and reinforce your reasons every day to remain aligned with your goals.
For me, a whole food plant-based diet was originally a way to feel better during my day-to-day, to keep the nastiest of my cystic fibrosis symptoms in check as much as possible. And that's still part of it. But now that I'm a mom, it's about more than simply not feeling crappy. I want to live a long healthy life so I can be there for my daughter as long as I can. I try my best to remind myself of that every day.
I also want my daughter to eat a healthy plant-based diet as much as possible, so I have to walk the walk, too!
2. Clear the junk out of your pantry
Here is what I learned in that first year postpartum: if there are easy processed snacks on hand, I will eat them when I am hungry and crunched for time. And when you're a new (breastfeeding) mom, you are always hungry and crunched for time.
I was surprised at how quickly I reverted to processed snacks. For years I ate a whole food plant-based diet and my husband didn't. He ate mostly this way, but he definitely snacked on tons of stuff that didn't fit with my diet, and I never felt tempted to have some, too. But once I'd let these types of snacks back in, I had a real hard time resisting.
So the first step in breaking this habit? Don't have these processed snacks on hand in the first place! I did a pantry overhaul (like I'd done when I first went plant-based four years back), getting rid of anything that may "tempt" me when lack of time and an abundance of hunger get the best of me.
3. Then fill your pantry and fridge with easy plant-based snacks and meals
Once my pantry was clear of junk, I filled it with good stuff to make healthy choices, well, my only choice. Everything needs to be super EASY to eat (i.e. little to no prep) so I can grab and go while I try to keep up with my busy toddler.
I always have easy-to-eat WFPB foods in my pantry, like:
- Raw unsalted nuts
- Dried fruit (raisins, dates)
- Lara bars
- MamaSezz Not-A-Cookies (my daughter's all-time favorite)
I also keep plenty of no-prep fresh fruit on hand — apples, bananas, berries, clementines. And I never, and I mean never, leave my house without healthy plant-based snacks in my bag (for me and my daughter).
And probably the most sanity-saving component of my plant-based reboot: I started ordering MamaSezz plant-based meals on a regular basis again. Now I almost always have ready-made and healthy meals in the fridge for weeknights when I'd much rather hang with my family after work than cook dinner. Bonus: my daughter loves MamaSezz, which anyone with a toddler knows is a big win!
4. Go for more walks and drink more water
I used to do a lot of both before I had a baby. Then once she was here, somehow this also got derailed. And while neither one is technically part of a WFPB diet, they both support a healthier lifestyle and I am a big believer of bundling healthy habits.
Going for walks and drinking water also are great activities if you tend to eat out of boredom, like me. My suggestion is you do this: first, ask yourself, am I really hungry or do I need to just drink a big glass of water? And if after your glass of water you realize you're not hungry but you still want to eat, get out and go for a walk instead!
By the way, maybe you'll actually be hungry when you get back, in which case: eat! Just choose those healthy snacks in your pantry, yeah?
Hot tip: if you think you're hungry but an apple doesn't sound good, I hate to break it to you, but you're not hungry.
5. Stop feeling guilty
This was a big one for me. All that guilt I was feeling for making unhealthy choices, regardless of "knowing better," wasn't serving me or my health. If I could tell myself one thing in those guilt-ridden moments it'd be to look forward, not backward.
And if you have a "bad" day, remember: progress, not perfection!
- All is not lost if you're healthy lifestyle gets away from you!
- To reboot your whole food plant-based diet, these five things can help: remember your WHY for wanting to feel and eat better with a whole food plant-based diet; Clear out your pantry, then fill it up with whole plant-based options that are easy to grab-and go; Foster other healthy habits that support your lifestyle change, like drinking lots of water and going for walks to keep you from eating when you're not really hungry; Stop feeling guilty!
By Ali Brown
Ali is a mom, wife, and nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor. She has her Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.