When I started this article I had no idea was going to be that long. I thought I can stick to 10 steps, but it turns out, even with the 12 steps I didn’t manage to cover everything. I obviously believe in the power of food as medicine. I truly believe that we are what we eat. But, unless food is also our passion – we are chefs, foodies, food photographers, food producers etc – we should not build our life around food. I call this food freedom – even if I am a foodie, a food blogger and photographer and food is a big part of my life – I still consider food just a tool to keep me healthy so I’ll be able to live my best life and reach my potential.
What this article doesn’t cover is soul food – as in what do we feed our souls in order to live a meaningful and joyful life. For me those elements are made of reading, learning new things every day and improving my skills, exploring new cultures and languages, mastering new skills, listening to good music, worshiping nature, the universe and the creative force, helping others, strive to be a kind and generous human being, achieve inner peace. Mind, body and soul are interconnected and what we feed each part will affect how the other parts work. But maybe another piece should be entirely dedicated to these topics.
It’s not a race to the finish
I’d like to start with one of my favorite quotes from The Plant Paradox book, to set the right mood. This Plant Paradox journey and these steps are just a framework. The journey will be different for each of us, and it’s important we are kind to ourselves, that we do not compare our own journey to others’. One of the reasons I believed in the Plant Paradox program was Dr. Gundry’s compassionate voice. Keep that compassion in mind when going through you own journey.
As I’ve said before, none of the Phases of the Plant Pardox Program […] should be considered a race to the finish. The object is not to get through the program as quickly as possible. Rather than a competition, regard the program as a path to a lifestyle you can live with, a lifestyle and is life- and health- affirming. Always do what you can do, with what you’ve got, wherever you are. If you fall of the wagon for a day or two, simply climb back in. Once you have experienced the health enhancement of the Plant Paradox Program offers, why would you do anything else? Dr. Steven Gundry, The Plant Paradox
1.READ AND RE-READ THE PLANT PARADOX BOOK
I know, this might be so obvious to start with, but in fact so many people fail because they haven’t read the book, or if they did they forgot part of it. Which is natural, that’s why I read mine more than once, I highlighted parts that I considered the most important, and I memorized the YES and NO lists. If you are at the beginning make sure you have the lists with you everywhere. Plus, stay updated with the latest information from Dr. Steven Gundry, his research is a living body and he is not afraid to say if he was wrong about something and some things have changed.
2.CHANGE YOUR MINDSET, TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR HEALTH
All our bad eating habits are just that, habits. A habit is defined as a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. A habit is something that you do often or regularly, like eating bread every day, or eating out most of the time, or having a donut for breakfast every day, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be changed. When a habit is formed, your brain goes into automatic mode and the food industry has been capitalizing on that for decades. So simply put, the food industry takes advantage of us being on this automated mode. We should be able to make our own choices, based on what makes us feel good and what not.
I remember when I was younger I hated eating in the morning, in fact the thought of food when I woke up made me sick. But then I heard so often that breakfast is our most important meal that I started to believe it. Slowly I started to eat early breakfast and it became a habit, so much that I thought I’m not able to perform if I don’t have breakfast. That was just in my mind, of course. Once I decided I want to fast and went back to my natural state of not needing food in the morning, my body just adapted. Don’t blindly adopt everything new, but make your research, asses your habits and how they influence your health, ask questions and be open to receive answers. If you are not sure something will work for you, you will have to try. Give it some time and decide how much your health has improved and if the new lifestyle is worth it. We all deserve to feel vibrant and healthy, and that can be done, for most of us, by taking control of our own life and listening to our bodies. If you practice long enough, you will achieve what I call food freedom, that means I am perfectly capable to see and even cook food that is bad for me without craving it.
3.EAT LOTS OF VEGGIES, GREENS AND HERBS
There are more than fifty thousand edible plant species around the world – plants that provide a bevy of unique and beneficial nutrients that we consumed as foragers. And yet today, our diets are dominated by three crops: wheat, rice and corn, which together account for 60 percent of the world’s calorie intake. Max Lugavere, Genius Foods
In fact, they should make the biggest part of our diet. Build your meals around nutrient dense veggies and greens. The easiest way to do this, at least it is for me, is to follow the seasons and what’s available in farmers market and our local supermarkets or stores. Make your first stop in the store be at the produce section. See what’s available and buy a diversity of produce. It can be easier if you split your veggies in few categories, these are mine but you can do it whatever way speaks to you most. These are not scientific categories, some cruciferous go on my roots list, and we all know avocados are not technically vegetables, but the purpose of these lists is to serve my everyday cooking and planning, not to be scientific or correct.
- Main cruciferous: broccoli, cauliflower, bok choi, collard greens, Brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage
- Greens and salads (some of them are still cruciferous, but for my cooking purposes, I like to keep them in a separate category): arugula, romaine lettuce, mixed leaves, butter lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens
- Roots and bulbs: rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, carrots, celery root, radishes, beetroot
- Others: avocado, okra, mushrooms, celery, artichokes, resistant starches, asparagus, lemons, limes
- Herbs: basil, thyme, mint, tarragon, oregano, rosemary, parsley, cilantro
In conclusion, build your meals to be at least 70% (volume) made of veggies and greens.
4.ANIMAL PROTEIN SHOULD BE YOUR SEASONING
Use animal protein to add flavor and enhance the nutritional value of your meals. And only eat animal protein if you have access to clean sources. That means 100% grass-fed for beef, pasture raised for chicken and other poultry, humanly raised pork from small sustainable farms, wild game, wild caught fish and seafood that is low in heavy metals and sustainably caught. You can start at 8oz animal protein a day (4oz of protein is about the size of your palm without fingers) and try to reduce it even more if possible. My rule is if I don’t find the clean protein I want, I don’t eat it. But I know we are all in different situations and mine is rather an easy one. If you have big families to feed, or budget restrictions, sometimes doing your best is good enough.
I always remember the stories my 89 years old grandma tells me about their meals when they were kids, in rural Romania. They would grow their own chickens, but there was no way they could afford having chicken every day for a family of nine (plus they were saving them for eggs). So chicken was a treat, maybe once a week or every two weeks, and usually the parents were abstaining from eating so the kids would have enough. The abundance of food we have access to today is not normal and we should be able to go through days of scarcity with no problem.
5.FAT IS YOUR FRIEND, NOT YOUR ENEMY
We’ve been brain washed to think fat is bad for us, soI totally understand when we become wary of having too much of it. But healthy fats is what fuels us and there is no way around it. Keep it low to moderate on saturated fat, but indulge in good quality extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, avocados, nuts and nut oils (and remember, cashews and peanuts are not nuts!). Dr. Gundry recommends 12 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day. Soak your salads and veggies in olive oil, make dipping sauces and dressings with extra virgin olive oil. Be careful with nuts if you are trying to lose weight. I do not calculate macros, but I learned how to combine foods to make sure most of my calories (at least 70%) come from healthy fats, and the rest from a mix of carbs and protein. If you can’t figure that out yourself, a macros calculator might help (there are plenty of apps available).
6.TREAT FRUIT LIKE CANDY
Within a single generation we have gained unprecedented access to sweet fruit. […] Today, 365 days of high sugar fruit consumption is reading our bodies for a winter that never seems to come. Max Lugavere, Genius Foods
I always had a pretty tough stomach and rarely got sick, but the few times I got sick was from fructose poisoning. At first I couldn’t make the connection but then I realized there was a pattern; when I ate a lot of fruit (because you know, we are taught fruit is healthy) I felt yucky. I have not eliminated fruits from my life, I actually enjoy having seasonal fruits, in small quantities, mainly those low in sugars like berries, peaches, apples, pears, plums, oranges and grapefruits, kiwi, plums, pomegranate. They are a treat and I enjoy them in moderation: twice or three times a week, about 1/4 cup berries, or half of a bigger fruit, or few slices of grapefruit or oranges in a salad. Sometimes I go for weeks without having any, especially in the winter. I am not counting lemons and avocados here, because they are fruits, but they are not limited; same for figs, which are flowers. Dry figs and dates are allowed in super small quantities, but I suggest having none if you are trying to lose weight. Fruits won’t help in general. Also, no fruits in Phase 1 or if you are doing the Intensive Keto program.
7.EMBRACE HOMECOOKING AND MEAL PLANNING
I have to be honest, meal planning is not my forte. But it is something I force myself to do and try to get better at. I get a lot of cues from my own culture and family. I grew up in Romania, an ex Eastern block country where both men and women had full time jobs and outsourcing cooking, as well as eating out were not a thing. So people had to find ways of preparing food for a whole family. My mom was making big pots of soups and stews every weekend that would last us for several days.
Meal planning is a full topic in itself, so I won’t go into details here, but from my experience, it helps to always have in the fridge and pantry:
- Washed and dried salad leaves, including arugula, baby spinach, romaine, curly and butter lettuce, even kale
- Blanched leafy greens vegetables, such as collard greens and Swiss chard
- Avocados and lemons / limes
- Cauliflower rice
- A big pot of soup
- Home made or compliant store bought stock
- Cooked animal protein: cooked chicken, meatballs, compliant sausages, shrimps, etc
- Eggs – boiled or not
- A big tray of roasted veggies
- Nut butters and mix of nuts
- Compliant chocolate
- Some baked goods – frozen
- Frozen vegetables
- Frozen meats and seafood
- Onions and garlic, ginger and turmeric, parsley and cilantro
Also, check my PANTRY SHOPPING LIST for other items that might not be on my weekly shopping list, but I always make sure I have some available.
Last but not least, you can give yourself permission to keep it simple. If you find few vegetables and greens that you love and you don’t mind having them all the time, go ahead and do it. Some people, like myself, need diversity to stay motivated and happy, some are happy with simpler, fewer ingredients. As long as they are healthy and your diet is balanced, give yourself permission to do it, at least to make your life easier at the beginning.
And when you travel and eat out, learn how to order and how to plan so you can stay on track and enjoy your experience. More details in this article:
8. ALWAYS HAVE SOMETHING READY TO GRAB AND GO
A muffin, a biscotti, a fat bomb, a piece of chocolate, a bag of green plantain chips, a mix of nuts, a cracker, a keto brownie, granola, a cookie, nut butters, boiled eggs, olives – all these are items that we should always have around, especially if we know we are easily tempted by food. Cakes, fat bombs, biscotti, cookies and muffins freeze really well, so make a bigger batch and have them frozen. Have a little compliant snack with you wherever you go, this way you won’t be tempted when out of the house. Also, make sure you cleaned your pantry of all off limits foods if you know you are easily tempted. These are some of my favorite recipes of snacks and compliant sweet treats:
9. PRACTICE INTERMITTENT FASTING
For the first time in history, there are more overweight than underweight humans walking the Earth. Max Lugavere, Genius Foods
It’s been proved (also, tried and tested) that giving your body a 12 to 16 hours every day break from digestion has immense benefits on our health. According to Dr. Rhonda Patrick, Phd, “one of the major benefits of fasting is a dramatic increase in autophagy, followed by a massive boost in stem cell production.” Autophagy is an essential biological process, a self-cleaning mechanism within our cells, which helps your brain detoxify, repair and regenerate itself. Each of us is different and we need to explore what works and what not for us. After trying several ways of fasting, I figured for me the best way to do it is skip the morning meal, so now my first meal of the day is around lunch time and my last one is not later than 7pm. My mornings are productive without having to think about eating or preparing food, even my workouts are done before I eat. Having just two meals a day it definitely simplify things. Fasting is healthy for you, it’s flexible, it’s free, it saves money and time.
When it comes to extended fasting (more than a day), you have to do it under supervision. I recommend getting this book if you are interested in exploring fasting: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO FASTING by Dr. Jason Fung, MD
Exercise is one of the best ways to boost autophagy in the brain. It keeps us healthy and happy. It’s not about killing yourself exercising, but finding a physical activity that you enjoy, suits your personality, and keeps you active and happy. Some love running, some hiking, some yoga, some HIIT, some weight lifting, some play tennis, some swim, some just love walking… it doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you are active. Our brains and bodies need that positive stress to stay healthy. If your activity is done in nature, it’s double yummy.
Dr. Gundry recommends hiking (or any activity that is done against gravity), and I totally agree. I don’t do as much as I would like (work in progress) but i feel this would be the best activity for me. Also, I learnt that having no time is not a valid excuse, and at least you should be able to do short exercises wherever you are. My favorite one is this 4 minute daily workout, I do it at least once a day and it feels great (I did it this morning while waiting for my coffee to brew).
11. AVOID ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with endocrine (or hormone) systems at certain doses. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors. (Wikipedia)
According to Dr. Steven Gundry (pg 111, The Plant Paradox), they are found in most plastics, scented cosmetics, preservatives, sunscreens, household cleaning products, laundry products, register receipts, make-up, deodorants, toothpaste (with triclosan), food treated with pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, NSAIDS, broad spectrum antibiotics, stomach acid blockers, exposure to blue light.
Did you know that US allows some 1,500 toxic chemicals in cosmetic products, banned by most of developed countries in the world?
Endocrine disruptors are everywhere. Here there are few ideas about how to avoid them:
- Replace use of plastic with other non harmful materials. Check this article for some ideas.
- By having an anti-inflammatory diet, you will barely need any NSAIDS (anti-inflammatory pills) and acid blockers, since the food you eat is doing the work. I haven’t taken one in 1.5 years, since I started the Plant Paradox.
- Buy organic fruits and vegetables, especially when it comes to THE DIRTY DOZEN. Buy only high quality meat, as described at point 4.
- Find cosmetic products that don’t use any of the 1,500 toxic chemicals. I use BEAUTYCOUNTER for everything skin care and make-up. Not only I’m sure they make some of the safest products on the market, but they advocate for women’s health and for legislation change so the use of these toxic chemicals be banned from the entire industry. By using and promoting their products I feel not only I keep myself and my loved ones safe, but I contribute to something bigger that will benefit future generations.
- Try to find safer replacements for your household products. I use Mrs. Meyers for cleaning and hand soaps, and few months ago I finally found a safe laundry product I also like how it works, My Green Fills. Not only they are safe products but they are made on a refill base, so you will never have to buy a jar again. You get one at the beginning and then you mix the refill powder with hot water and use the same jar. I use the washing powder, the softener and the Dryer Angel.
12. FIND YOUR WHY AND YOUR TRIBE
We all have a reason for wanting to be healthy, live pain free and enjoy a quality life for as long as possible. For some of us is our children, grandchildren, for some our spouse, for some something greater we want to accomplish, or to be able to pursue our passions for as long as possible. Whatever that is, find it, write it down in big letters and put it somewhere where you can see it every day. That will remind you why you need to stay committed to a healthy lifestyle.
I’ll end this long article with a warning: this journey might seem a little lonely at the beginning. At least that’s how it felt for me. We are ready when we are ready, and no one can be forced to eat healthily, unless they are ready for it. When I started, I was so excited to share the improvements on my health after my first month, that I wrote a big article about it (I didn’t have a blog or food instagram at the time, so I did it on my personal Facebook). To say I was disappointed by the reactions (or lack of…) I got, is an understatement. But that was the moment when I realized I have to make my own tribe, who would support me in this journey. That’s how ‘CreativeInMyKitchen’ seed was planted. If the people around you are not ready to hear your good news about your health, don’t get discouraged. Search for a group who will appreciate your experience or make your own tribe. When your results will be obvious, those who are ready for the change will come to you with questions. Pay it forward.