Confessions of a plant-based novice (plus, FAQs)
A guide to why anyone can live a more intentional, plant-based lifestyle and fully enjoy it. Even as an African or Caribbean.
Giving up meat has never been part of my life-plan.
So imagine my surprise, when I went plant-based in April, and liked it. It’s been enjoyable, and taught me a lot more about life than I ever expected.
Over the last three months, I’ve had many questions from my friends and Instagram-fam about the experience. So I thought I’d share my story in detail: the whys, the hows, the ins and the outs. This is my personal journey — with all its imperfections.
This is the story of someone who was convinced she would be the last person on earth to become plant-based. All I wanted was to just enjoy life. And how could you enjoy without meat and cheese?
All I wanted was to just enjoy life. And how could you enjoy without meat and cheese?
What you can expect in this mega-guide:
- My lessons learned so far:
- Have a good ‘why’ (spoiler: mine is holistic healing)
- Yes there are benefits
- No you don’t need to stick to rules and;
- The biggest benefit isn’t just health-related (and Oprah!)
2. FAQs covering:
- How to get started/the most helpful foods for me
- Biblical perspectives on plant-based life
- Recommendations on which Instagram accounts to follow to guide your journey
- Why plant-based isn’t as expensive as it seems
Happy reading, happy eating and don’t forget to leave your questions/thoughts in the comments!
Disclaimer: It goes without saying that I’m not a nutritionist, I’m still figuring out what works best for me, so make sure you see your doctor for any guidance specific to you!
1. Lesson one: always ‘start with why’
I’ve found that this applies to all aspects of life — including what you choose to eat. So let’s start from the beginning.
This is my why : holistic healing from the inside out, it’s about health.
Two years ago, I went to a talk by Rhian Stephenson, the CEO of Psycle, who overcame her health challenges by eliminating allergens from her diet, and I was fascinated. I started to learn a little bit more about naturopathic practices, tried a few but eventually forgot about it.
So when my sister discovered the Medical Medium, I went back to exploring the connection between your diet and healing. We learned how becoming plant-based had helped people clear severe eczema, among other challenges such as hair loss and even vitiligo. Contrary to popular belief, eczema is not a dry skin condition which can be solved with ‘more moisture’, it’s actually an issue that is related to the immune system.
Contrary to popular belief, eczema is caused by dry skin. #knowyourwhy
It can be triggered/worsened by stress, allergens in food, dust, the material of clothes you wear and the climate you live in (members of my family lived in Lagos, Nigeria for decades and it’s only when they emigrated to the London, UK that they started getting eczema). After 20+ years of dealing with the condition, we have learned that creams are only a bandaid solution — it was time to go to the root.
You don’t need all the answers to get started.
Because of this, and other minor health issues — we decided to tidy up our diet. This is my why : holistic healing from the inside out. This also included significantly reducing the amount of soy (goodbye itching) and gluten (goodbye bloating and stomach triggers) in our diets. I had cut out cow’s milk about 6 years ago, and soy milk 4 years ago — but never considered cutting out food that included large quantities of both ingredients.
We know that good food is only one part of the equation — exercise, reduced stress, sun, fresh air and comfortable clothing also help.
It’s definitely not about weight-loss and it’s not a trend.
It’s definitely not about weight-loss, it’s not a trend and it’s not really about the environment/animals, but if it’ll help protect the world we live in, then that’s a bonus. I also don’t know whether this is a ‘forever’ thing, but we’ll see. You don’t need all the answers to get started.
2. Yes, there are health benefits
Three months in, I can definitely see the change.
First up, my skin has gotten better. That doesn’t mean that all eczema flare-ups have stopped completely, but I’ve definitely seen a change. I’ve learned through social media that it takes anywhere between 2 and 5 years to see any lasting change, so I know I’ve still got a long way to go.
The journey to holistic healing is a process.
A friend of mine also suffered from endometriosis, went 90% vegan and within 2 years had no trace of the issue, no cysts, no nothing. Her doctors were perplexed, but I believe in the healing power of nature — after all, it’s existed from the beginning of time, so this is a no-brainer for me. There have also been some residual benefits — less bloating than I’ve ever experienced in my life, clearer skin and much more functional digestive system.
There have also been some residual benefits — less bloating than I’ve ever experienced in my life, clearer skin and much more functional digestive system.
When you start paying attention to what you eat, you learn your body’s personal triggers and how it reacts to certain foods. So even when I ‘cheat’ (see below), 90% of the time, my body let’s me know that that was a bad idea.
3. …and no, you don’t have to follow all the rules
One barrier that stops people from trying something new is that they think they have to get it 100% right.
When I started, I had a lot of time to cook, shop and experiment — plus, it was new and exciting. But when routine sets in, you feel like you don’t have time, you’re at an event with limited food choices or you just want to rebel and #treatyourself.
The trick is remembering, this is your lifestyle, not a strict regime. Unless you’re actually allergic, it’s not by force. So there’s space for flexibility, depending on your ‘why’. For me, becoming a conscious eater is more important than begrudgingly sticking to a regime that makes me feel trapped. For those in the #BeyHive, this is a similar approach that Beyonce and Jay-Z have also taken.
However, just because making adjustments is difficult, this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Your health is worth the effort, it’s worth giving it a shot. Just be true to your ‘why’.
Your health is worth the effort, it’s worth giving it a shot. Just be true to your ‘why’.
4. The biggest benefit isn’t physical.
Food is more than ‘just food’
By far, the biggest benefit for me has been the restoration of conscious consumption (thinking about what I eat, instead of being greedy, eating when I’m bored, or just being unintentional about my life). Society is beginning to see the true power of intentional living, and it’s only natural that this should also be present in the way we eat.
I’ve discovered many ways to eat the fruits and vegetables I love, and have tried so many new things that were right under my nose. People think there’s no variety in plants, but there is — you just have to look into it.
A friend recently shared with me this incredible interview between Oprah and author, Michael Pollan. I loved this conversation, because he summarised my entire philosophy about this lifestyle: pursue to good life, and don’t be hard on yourself.
Pursue the good life, and don’t be hard on yourself.
Pollan highlights just how intimate the process of cooking can be, how the difficulties of things like baking are more of a blessing than a curse, and how the ‘slowness’ of cooking actually brings us back to centre in a world that feels super-rushed.
I can attest to that: I’ve spent more time cooking, cleaning and planning meals in the last three months than I ever have. It has reduced my stress-levels, increased my gratitude for the small things and made me feel more connected with myself and others. If this is the only benefit of a plant-based diet, it’s worth it. Of course, sometimes I do enjoy the occasional quick meal cooked by someone else — because ‘everything in moderation, including moderation’.
Everything in moderation, including moderation — Oscar Wilde
And now for the lightning round⚡ ️some frequently asked questions:
FAQ — So, what do you eat? What would you suggest for beginners?
Fruit and vegetables mainly! That’s the short answer. It sounds really boring, but the truth is many of us haven’t taken the time to explore just how much is out there, and how many incredible combinations we can make.
For beginners — like me, some staples are: plantain, sweet potatoes, avocados, lentil pasta, lentils and mushrooms. Of course, accompanied by the normal stuff: peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onions etc.
I also try to cleanse my system regularly by drinking freshly made watermelon or celery juice early in the morning.
FAQ — I heard you’re doing ‘more than’ plant-based. What’s that about?
True — what’s most important for me is avoiding soy, dairy, meat and gluten (in that order). That means, no ‘vegan’ chicken nuggets, burgers or meat replacements as they’re mostly made of soy. I have to be extra careful.
That means, no quorn, ‘vegan’ chicken nuggets, burgers or meat replacements as they’re mostly made of soy .
FAQ — I like African/Caribbean food, so it’s impossible to be plant-based
I am Nigerian, and most Nigerian food is actually gluten-free and dairy free, all you need to do is remove (or reduce) the meat.
We have so many brilliant fruit and vegetables in our cultures, like this plantain and okra porridge (I adapted this recipe to suit me). I’ve also made a Caribbean-inspired butternut squash curry with plantain roti, which is one of my favourite dishes to date.
Tip: Most of the Instagram accounts in my recommendations below are African and Caribbean people who make incredible meals.
FAQ — I want to try it, but it’s too hard 😫 and I don’t have any time!
As I mentioned in point four, you’ve just got to make the time. And the easiest way to do that is by slowing down the way you live — despite what it feels like, life isn’t a race.
The art of cooking, eating together and being conscious in your consumption has become a cornerstone of wellness. These good things require an investment, and you need to get rid of the old in order to create space for the new.
FAQ — It’s too expensive and I’m on a budget
This one’s simple. Shop more in local markets, or if you’re in the UK, there are loads of cheaper supermarket options. At Aldi you can get more than a week’s worth of fruits and vegetables for less than £20, you don’t need to shop at Wholefoods to eat natural!
Also, if you plan your meals out in advance, you can make the most of the same ingredients with minimal wastage. Planning is everything.
If you plan your meals out in advance, you can make the most of the same ingredients with minimal wastage.
FAQ — There’s way too much research I need to do for this, I can’t!
This might be a good or bad thing but I don’t bother myself with too much research —I live by two rules:
1. Eat as little processed food as possible and;
2. Trying to eat a good variety of plants which are high in the basics: protein, iron etc. Let’s keep it simple.
FAQ — Ok, maybe I’ll give it a try, how can I learn more about this #plantbasedjourney?🤓
These Instagram accounts have helped me significantly in terms of inspiration and food. All of these are Instagram accounts about nutrition and/or being vegan. Some of these accounts still eat meat and dairy products!
My recommendations (in no specific order):
@clairemariam — conscious cook who provides additional advice about women’s health
@rgveganfood — great recipe ideas with a caribbean perspective
@tishwonders —intuitive eater lots of brilliant, simple food ideas
@rachelama_ — who just released an incredible cookbook! makes super-healthy, hot dishes that are full of flavour
@sophiatheherbalist — medical herbalist
@rogue.vegan — great recipe ideas with an African/Caribbean perspective
@minimalistbaker — detailed recipe ideas, she’s got SO many — including vegan, soy-free bacon
@vegansofldn — a curated list of great vegan-friendly places to eat in London
@medicalmedium — celebrity author
@queenafua — holistic wellness teacher
If you’ve got any other recommendations, leave them in the comments below!
Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with or endorse every aspect of these profiles, especially some of the spiritual aspects, I filter everything through what I know of the Word.
Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil. — 1 Thessalonians 5:20–22
They were hungry to learn and eagerly received the word. Every day they opened the scrolls of Scripture to search and examine them, to verify that what Paul taught them was true. — Acts 17:11
FAQ — Were there any faith-based reasons why you started?
This wasn’t my main ‘why’, but I was aware of what people call ‘the Daniel fast’. Daniel and his friends ate only fruit and vegetables for two weeks and became healthier and stronger than all the other men on the King’s training programme.
Some years ago, I was also moved by this part of Genesis, where meat isn’t explicitly introduced as food.
Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. “— Genesis 1:29
However, I believe that it’s a matter of personal choice, as it is demonstrated here, here and I’m sure at many other points in the Bible. My advice would be, do your research, reflect and pray in your own life, and be led by your conviction.