Highlights from my interview on the Healthy Lifestyle Solutions Podcast
I had the honor of being interviewed on the Healthy Lifestyle Solutions Podcast with Maya Acosta. We discussed my vegan journey, the transformative effects of a plant-powered lifestyle, and how to inspire healthy lifestyle change. We also discuss definitions of vegan and plant-based, and reasons for a vegan lifestyle. Below are some excerpts from the interview.
Tell us about your journey to a plant-based, vegan lifestyle
For most of my life, I was not a healthy eater. I ate a lot of comfort foods, microwave meals, sweets, and processed foods. I didn’t like to cook. Although I exercised a fair amount, I didn’t eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.
What opened my eyes and led me to eating more plants was when I learned about how animal agriculture works. I saw a TV program about workers in a meat processing plant, and many of them were immigrants. They had frequent injuries from this difficult work, and were so financially vulnerable that they couldn’t speak up. They didn’t have power in this system. It made me think about how my food got to me. At that time I was working in a pain management program that helped injured workers. That TV program made me think about what meat processing workers were going through.
And then I started to think about all aspects of it, including the treatment of animals and what was actually going into my body when I ate animal-based foods. I started reading everything I could. I went to the library and read every book on vegetarianism and veganism. I learned about the health benefits for reversing heart disease from Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. That really hit home for me because I have a strong family history of heart disease. I learned about the impact of animal agriculture on animals and the environment.
After watching that program, I started cooking. The very next day, I bought my first vegetarian cookbook, and made vegetarian lasagna. I had to buy all these new pots and pans because I never cooked. It was a great experience and I found that I loved to cook – once I switched to plant-based.
So many doors opened. I tried new spices. I tried new ingredients that I’d never thought of before. I started trying a new recipe or two every week. And over time, I gave up meat entirely. A few years later I started to give up dairy and eggs. I found that after releasing dairy from my life, my seasonal allergies – that I thought I would always have – just went away. Some skin conditions that I struggled with went away too.
So here I am 15 years later, in my mid 50’s, with good health and a lot of energy. I feel good about the way I’m eating, knowing that it is kinder to animals, the planet, and my own health. So it feels good on all levels. And now my food choices are so much more varied and interesting and nourishing than they used to be. I would never go back.
(To read more about my vegan journey, check out my blog article: How Veganism Inspired Me to Find My Voice.)
What is the difference between vegan and plant-based?
Veganism at its core is an ethical way of living that seeks to avoid harm or exploitation to animals. People who identify as vegan avoid buying anything that has animal products, including food and other items as well (clothing, shoes, household items, cosmetics, etc).
A vegan diet excludes all animal products (meat, fish, dairy, or eggs). A vegan diet can vary in terms of healthiness. For example, fruits and veggies and beans are vegan, but so are Oreos and potato chips. In general, a vegan diet that favors whole plant foods (fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds), with fewer processed foods, brings optimal health benefits.
A plant-based diet is a more general term, often used interchangeably with vegan diet. Most often, it refers to a plant-exclusive diet. However, it should be noted that sometimes the term “plant-based” can refer to a diet that is predominantly plant-based (e.g., 80% to 90%).
A whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet is a plant-exclusive diet, focused on whole plant foods, as minimally processed as possible. This way of eating has been associated with health benefits, and is high in nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber.
Why do people choose a plant-based (plant-exclusive) lifestyle?
One reason is health. Eating more plants (and eliminating animal products) helps to prevent and even reverse certain diseases that are common in Western countries, like heart disease, diabetes, certain forms of cancer, and autoimmune disease. Plant-powered nutrition also supports better fitness and overall health and energy.
There are also ethical reasons, which I touched on when sharing my experience of learning about the slaughterhouse workers. When I realized that I didn’t like how the workers were treated, it occurred to me, well, what about the animals? So many of us love dogs and cats, but we don’t give a second thought to other animals and what that they go through. When we awaken to realize that cows and pigs and chickens matter too, the obvious choice is to no longer consume animal products, to no longer contribute to the suffering of these sentient beings.
A third reason for becoming vegan is caring for the environment. Animal agriculture, especially the way it’s expanded into factory farming, has had an increasingly toxic effect on our environment, from the use of land and water, to greenhouse gases, as well as cutting down rainforests to create more feed and grazing space for the animals grown for food. All of that has a huge impact. One book that I found really helpful is Eat for the Planet by Nil Zacharias and Gene Stone. The authors show that by eating a vegan diet, you save 1500 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, and 30 square feet of forest per day. Simply by eating lower on the food chain, you save all of that, along with lowering your carbon emissions by 50%.
(For more information about the reasons for a vegan lifestyle, check out my resource page Why Vegan?
Tell us about your book research on the transformative effects of a plant-powered, vegan lifestyle.
One thing that really intrigues me as a psychologist is how what we eat affects our mental health, our emotional well-being, and even our spiritual well-being. I’ve been collecting surveys and doing interviews with vegans on this topic. My goal with this book to convey the changes in mind, body, and spirit that many people experience as they eat in ways that nourish their body, and that are aligned with the deeper values that they hold. There’s the nutritional benefit of giving our body the nutrients it needs. And then there are psychological benefits of living aligned with our deepest values — caring deeply for our own health, living lightly on the earth, and causing the least harm to other sentient beings. There are amazing shifts that people are reporting, including more interconnectedness with all of nature. As we eat in this healthy way, there’s a sense of fulfillment, purpose, and peace in honoring our values through our daily choices.
To listen to the full interview, check out The Healthy Lifestyle Solutions Podcast.
(Note: For this article, the interview transcript was copy-edited and some points expanded upon, to improve clarity).
Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist and transformational coach. She is passionate about empowering people to create healthy lives that nurture mind, body, spirit, and planet. Dr. Crawford is certified as a Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, and has a Plant-Based Nutrition certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at e-Cornell. She is currently doing research for a book on the psychological and emotional benefits of a vegan lifestyle. She serves as a psychology advisor for WeDidIt.Health, an on-line community that shares the benefits of a plant-powered lifestyle.