I have to make a confession… I am on a mission in life to become more beautiful and healthy as I age! This is one of the (selfish) reasons why I choose to eat a plant-based diet.
Shifting towards a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be about making a personal sacrifice for the sake of saving the environment… it can also be a selfish act – one that will make you healthier, and perhaps, more beautiful too?
As a young child, I was terrified of death; whose cold hands seemed to grip the old and aging many years before their time would inevitably come.
As I got older, I grew fascinated by the disparity I observed in different circles of ‘old’ people; many seemed to embody the idea of old age as a handicap, with a weak body and deteriorating mind and physical appearance.
In stark contrast, a lucky few seemed to grow radiant with time and somehow managed to age gracefully into stronger, wiser, and more beautiful version of themselves. What was the secret to this graceful aging, I wondered? Annette, knows! Check out her interview below:
I most often noticed this divide during my years working as a customer service team member at Whole Foods Market. There, it was my job to stand at the check out for eight hours a day, checking out people and their groceries. As the United States’ largest luxury-natural supermarket, Whole Foods attracted super-health conscious individuals, food lovers, and those who were just looking for an indulgent treat minus the guilt.
The store consisted of an impressive and massive produce section, an organic salad bar whose offerings seemed to stretch for miles, a prepared foods section with precooked healthy meals awaiting hungry lunch-takers, and a high-quality meat and seafood department, each with their own rating system (seafood sustainability & animal welfare).
Often I would walk down the aisles of the grocery dry goods section, surrounded by the thousands of ‘healthy’ processed foods we had on offer (kale chips, raw cacao, spelt milk, vegan and gluten free chocolate chip cookies), and stand in awe of the pure luxury that enveloped me. Did the people shopping there ever stop to realize how lucky they were? To have all these incredible foods within their reach and at their disposal?
It was during my time at Whole Foods Market that I began to eat a strict vegan diet for several months. There I recognized that living on such a nutrition plan was actually possible. Working there and eating a plant-fueled diet went hand in hand – on my break I would fill up on a combination of greens, beans, veggies, olives, fruit, nuts, or grains from the salad bar. Or I’d choose from one of the hundreds of prepared foods waiting to be consumed. Arugula, kalamata olive, mango salad anyone? Don’t mind if I do!
I was just starting to learn about the many benefits of a plant-based diet and used my time at work to soak up information about the veggie trend like a sponge. I read health books from the employee library, learned about food and supplements from my knowledgeable coworkers, and chatted with customers all day long about their diets, food preferences, allergies and experiences with different products. We exchanged recipes and stories, samples and smiles; it was an amazing experience to be able to communicate daily with the health-conscious, foodie community of my hometown.
Before long, I started to observe a trend at the registers: I began to notice that my regular customers, and others who popped into the store from time to time, actually did seem to take on the appearance of the foods they were purchasing. The woman who bought pounds upon pounds of organic carrots for example – was coincidentally tall, thin, and tanned herself – physically resembling the vegetable she so enthusiastically consumed.
Others came through the checkout lane with foods laden in animal products (pound cake, dairy, cheeses, ham) and these people also tended to resemble their food. They often took on a bloated, fleshy, white, puffy quality – not as agile and light as the carrot eaters (or should I say juicers).
It’s no secret that people on the SAD – standard American diet – take on an unhealthy, overweight appearance that is now what many people abroad, associate with America. In my English courses, when I would discuss cultural stereotypes with my German students, two of the most common American stereotypes were ‘McDonald’s’ and ‘fat people’, right next to ‘guns’ and ‘SUVs’. In fact, the standard American diet has not only contributed to the obesity epidemic but a string of other health ailments affecting the nation, such as cancer and diabetes. As other nations adopt the meat- and sugar- heavy American diet, they are also feeling the devastating effects of such poor nutrition on their quality of life.
When my own mother came down with breast cancer – a disease which would ultimately spread throughout her body and claim her life – I began to fanatically research foods that would help her to overcome the disease. While my mother never adopted a fully plant-based diet, it is possible that her experimentation with green juices and clean eating added a few more years to her life.
My observations at Whole Foods Market were subjective and by no means scientific, but there is, however, a growing body of research suggesting that we do in fact, become what we eat. Foods rich in Vitamins A, C, and E, such as avocados, leafy greens, and citrus fruits, have been shown to have a positive impact on skin health. The Omega-3 fatty acids in foods such as walnuts can help to fight the risk of Alzheimer’s. Consuming fish that has been contaminated with mercury, on the other hand, can lead to neurological and behavioral disorders. A diet high in meat and processed foods contributes to the dangerous onset of chronic inflammation in the body.
Personally, since going vegetarian 7 years ago and additionally cutting out things like eggs, yogurt, and milk, I have experienced major improvements in my skin, and overall appearance. Check out these two (embarrassing) photos of me at around age 16, at a time when I consumed nearly all types of food:
At this time, I struggled with my weight, weighing 20lbs more than I do today. You can see in the following two pictures, taken in recent years, how dramatically my physical presence has changed.
I believe, that it is no coincidence that I am looking and feeling better now than I did back then; it didn’t happen by accident. I actively strive to incorporate live foods in my diet, to eat fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis and avoid the animal products that made me feel heavy and sluggish. Now I can eat whatever I want, and maintain a healthy weight. For healthy skin, I avoid sugar and dairy and eat foods like bell peppers and avocados. I subscribe to the belief that nature gave us these foods freely and abundantly so that we might be able to thrive throughout our lives and into old age.
So many older people reach a certain age and seem to give up on their health and vitality. They remain comfortably complacent, sticking with habits formed long ago and eventually surrender to what they think will be an inevitable decline in their health and wellbeing. Does it really have to be this way?
I may still be young, but I know there are so many others out there who attribute their extraordinary livelihood and vitality later in life to their vegetarian, vegan, or raw foods diet. Head over to Conscious Nourishment to check out their list of 6 Raw Foodists Over 50 That Look Decades Younger.
My personal observations and journey with plant foods have inspired me to take charge of my health and steer my body and mind into a future of improved wellbeing. For me, part of feeling great is about looking great, too! What do you think, what effect does a whole food, plant-based diet have on you?