How my love for animals, and the consequent decision to switch to a plant-based diet, saved my mental health. But it's still not what you may think.
This is what happened.
I felt deeply connected to animals, I didn’t want to hurt them, my emotions took over, I stopped eating them, I stopped eating what may, on a larger scale, hurt them. The result is that I ended up eating only plants. I felt good. And sharp. My brain started to function like a charm.
Now, at this point, you probably expect me to go on with data and science-based information about which nutrients in plants have revived my mental health (fyi, I was depressed).
Nope. Sorry to disappoint you. But bear with me because it gets way more interesting than that.
It is true that eating food in the least processed state is excellent if you want to grasp most of its nutrients. And it is easier to eat a raw carrot than a raw cow, at least for me. As a matter of fact, my depression story really started to come to an end when I introduced raw vegan food into my diet.
Nature is a very clever system, you know. It offers us pretty much everything our body needs. So, eating more raw plants and also nuts and seeds with their good fats, nurtured my brain as well as the rest of my body.
I felt more energetic, lighter and, yes, happy. Not happiER: happy. Because I had not genuinely experienced that state in a long long time before raw food appeared in my diet. If you have been hanging out in that grey cloud that depression feels like, you know what I am talking about.
But I digress…
Now, if you are an I-eat-whatever-as-long-as-it-is-vegan kind of guy, what I am about to say might not resonate with you. However, if you, instead, are keen on eating nutritious wholesome homemade food, keep reading.
Once I shifted from a vegetarian to a vegan diet, my food options drastically dropped and my food routines changed.
All of a sudden, I could only choose among 1 to 3 options in the menu at the restaurant rather than, let’s say, 10. Even veggie salads were not a choice anymore as there is always some feta cheese, egg or mozzarella here and there and, honestly, an ordinary raw side salad sounds pretty sad even to me, The Leaf-Eater!
At the same time, I would be interested in only two aisles in the supermarket: fruit/veggies/legumes and toilet/cleaning stuff.
Eventually, deciding what to cook at home becomes the easiest thing ever: it’s veggies + some form of legumes + some grains.
Yes, it felt weird at the start and I can’t deny I was a bit disoriented for a few days. And you are right to think this way of eating can be boring but here’s the thing: there are benefits too. Loads of them.
For instance, if you like experimenting you’ll get a lot more creative with spices and herbs to give flavour to your recipes where previously you would have used maybe cheese or cream. You end up discovering many new interesting ingredients and pairings.
If you don’t feel resourceful like that, eating simple will bring a new skill to you: you’ll start to recognise and learn if an ingredient is really good or not and you’ll be able to select your very own trusted suppliers. I would have never imagined I could tell differences in lentils. Now I can.
There is also a vast array of health improvements you can experience when you switch to a plant-centered diet but those vary from person to person so we’ll not elaborate further on this.
But since we are speaking of health, what happened at that point to the little overthinking and obsessive head of mine was pretty straightforward:
fewer options = fewer choices to make = less overwhelm = peace of mind.
I am the kind of person who cannot shop in big stores: too many things, too much time and energy to spend selecting the right item. And then, exhausted, eventually buy one, only to spot a better option right afterwards on the opposite corner and mull over the missed bargain for the following eight hours (also energy draining).
We put our brain under stress with choices every moment, for literally anything, from pondering whether to stay in bed 5 more minutes in the morning up to deciding whether to check our phone every second,… Whatever we don’t do as an automatism (like washing our teeth, for example) is a choice to make. We make gazillions of choices every day. Each one of them is a piece of mental energy and willpower that we chip away at.
So in my case, in order to stay mentally sane, I need to have little to choose from.
It is true, vegans have an abundant life nowadays compared to just a few years back. Now the industry sees us as a liability, not a nuisance so they are putting a lot of effort into engineering new plant-based yumminess. There are even 100% vegan pastry shops, bakeries, cheese shops, fast-food chains. But I am not a big fan of processed food. I prefer a simple homecooked diet. The fact that I would not buy things like vegan burgers or meat-less sausages has reduced further the selection of items that make it to my trolley.
Not only that. It is exactly because I love a simple home-cooked meal that I make everything from scratch. And that takes time. Or better, it takes being organised. So, I developed 2 more skills!!! The ability to be extremely well organized and the ability to batch prep in a way that I spend big chunks of time in the kitchen only once or twice a week.
The rest of the time, I don’t have to think about it.
If you think I am giving up a lot of taste parties with this approach, you are going to be surprised even more at what I am about to tell you: I do not intentionally eat sugar either (a sugar-free vegan, what a bore! lol). And because sugar is an “appetite enhancer” and makes me hungry, by avoiding it, I avoid cravings too!
So, to wrap this up:
– love for animals led me to eat just plants
– eating just plants cut my options on many levels
– having to choose among fewer options gives me peace of mind
– I eat very simple, yet still creative, meals
– I don’t feel deprived because I don’t have cravings.
I hope this makes sense to you. It sure made my life much lighter and carefree. If you are looking for a multi-benefit shortcut to mental sanity, consider going plant-based and sugarlibre, where “libre” (“free” in Spanish) means to be free to enjoy the life that you want.
PS: One more thing before I go. I ran this post by my life partner to see if I was able to convey my message and he got so excited as he just happened to have watched this TedTalk. It is incredibly spot on with this post. Enjoy it!