Overcoming Challenges on a Plant-Based Diet as a Runner {by Cedric Torres: Part II }

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Once you have a purpose and the right resources to get started and transition, as discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, sustaining a more plant-based diet in the long run can be quite simple if you know how to overcome any challenges.

In this part, I address some situations in which you may encounter challenges, my experiences and ways to overcome them.

It is important to remember that plant-based eating is not a fad or weight loss diet. You are not restricting, but simply adding and replacing foods, often times including a larger variety than you consumed before. It is not that you can’t have certain animal products. You are just choosing not to or to consume less of them. There are no food rules or food police telling you how you should eat and you should not feel bad for your choices or if you make mistakes. 

Restaurants

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Every restaurant has plant-based options. To what extent there are vegetarian or vegan choices on the menu can vary, from a salad or side dishes to a more appetizing meal. 

You can look or ask specifically for these options or ask to customize a meal item if possible if there are none on the menu. 

You can plan ahead of time by checking online for restaurants and their menus. 

If you are going to a restaurant not of your choosing and know or find out that there are not many options to satiate you, you can simply plan to eat more before or after going to the restaurant.

I have not had many issues eating out since following a more plant-based diet. The exceptions include places where everything contains a certain animal product that I avoid, for example, a traditional bakery where every item contains dairy or egg and can’t be customized.

However, there are some traditional eateries that are adding more plant-based alternatives to their menus these days. I have found vegan items like tofu, mushroom or veggie burgers on the menus at restaurants like burger places. When I order pizza, I ask for veggies and no cheese as toppings or replace the cheese with dairy-free cheese if I have that option. I have also found completely plant-based vegetarian or vegan restaurants and bakeries. 

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Travel

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The strategies for finding plant-based options in restaurants apply to travel as well. Depending on where you are staying, you have the additional option of finding a grocery store in that area to buy food or bringing food from home with you. You may run into difficulty if you travel to another country or area with a different culture and way of eating. I faced that challenge when I traveled to France for vacation and did not have control over what was served or was limited in my preferred options. In that situation, you simply have to adapt as best as you can and see it as temporary. 

When you travel for races, it is best to bring what you will need, preferably what you practiced using, during your stay and the race. If needed, you can find places to get food or race fuel in that area as mentioned. During and after the race, there are often many plant-based food options provided, like bananas, bagels and more. 

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Food Shopping

It can seem like a big challenge to many people who are new to a more plant-based diet, but it does not have to be. Food shopping can be quick and easy, without much label checking, if you mainly go for the minimally processed whole foods. Think produce like fresh or frozen whole vegetables and fruits, dried or canned beans, lentils or split peas, grains, nuts and seeds. Meat and other animal product replacements can be fine as well and there are many vegan certified brands to choose from.

More processed conventional foods like breads and some frozen and prepared foods can require some label checking for animal products. Meat can be easy to spot. Milk and eggs, conveniently marked in bold as allergens on the ingredients label if a product contains them, can sometimes be in products you wouldn’t expect them to be in. Honey, gelatin and other non-allergen animal derivatives are less clear and require ingredient checking if you avoid them.

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Depending on what you buy, plant-based eating does not have to be that expensive either. There are many things you can buy in bulk or buy frozen to save money and grocery trips. As a university student, sticking to a plant-based diet has helped me immensely and although there were many plant-based options in the dining hall, I decided to cancel my meal plan to just buy and prepare food myself.

Cooking

You don’t have to be a great cook or enjoy cooking to eat a more plant-based diet. During a busy week, I certainty don’t have time to put together something complicated. Luckily, most plant-based meal options are easy to cook or prep. Many items can be cooked ahead of time in bulk so that you have leftovers to use during the week. A strategy that works well for me is to meal prep, or proportion and pack what I plan to take along with me to eat at work or school. In those cases, I stick to easy to make and portable meals. When I have more time, I’ll make something more elaborate and have leftovers of that too.

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Family, Friends and Others

Telling your others about your dietary choice to eat more plant-based vegetarian or vegan can lead to challenges. Here are tips to keep in mind to prevent them:

Don’t talk about it unless others ask something about it.

Tell them your dietary choice at the right time, for example, in advance before a get-together or meal. Don’t say anything more in detail about it unless they specifically ask.

If they ask, keep the focus on yourself and not others.

If they ask why you chose it, mention your personal reasons and how the choice has worked well for you, for example an improvement you saw in your own health with the additional perk of aligning with your own morals. 

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Don’t get defensive or judgmental and avoid arguments.

Show that you are confident in your decision, but don’t take offense to opposition or force it onto others. Understand that others may have a different perception than you have. The more you make your choice seem normal and act positive, the more you may become a role model for others that makes them curious to try eating more plants.

During the holidays or other special occasions, food is something that culturally and traditionally brings people together and can start conversations. There may be food prepared with animal products that you choose not to eat. You may feel pressure or spotlighted for your dietary choices if they are different from what the majority of others around you choose. 

In those case, I used the tips mentioned above for telling others about my choices. I have either made and brought my own dishes, informed the hostess of my choices or just winged it and found options anyways. No one else in my family was plant-based vegan when I made the switch, but some of my family members and others who I have met have since started eating more plant-based because of me.  

In any situation, a plant-based diet does not have to be a fuss and if you take things in stride, sustaining it in a way that works for you is possible. In Part 4 of this series, I will discuss my experience as a runner after switching to a more plant-based diet.

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-Cedric

More on me over at my blog: 

http://plantbasedstride.com