Squishyplum

All plants. All the time.

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Hope Springs Eternal (Or How I Learned that Chickpeas Make Me Happy)

I started squishyplum.com back in November 2013 as a 1-year experiment eating a whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet. I had the idea that my experience could help others who wanted to explore a healthier, more conscious way of eating. As it turned out, I did help people. But not how I intended.

As it happened, the wheels came off my experiment after a few months of my newfound WFPB lifestyle. I lapsed into eating shitty processed vegan foods, gorging on vegan cupcakes and cookies and fries—oh my! Ironically, it was my lapse into emotional stress-eating that helped others the most. They realized they were not alone in their imperfection. I struck a chord with people, mostly women, who were making an effort to improve their health, the health of their families, and the health of the planet, but who “failed” in some perceived way or another. I heard a common refrain of: “I suck”; “I can’t do this”; “What’s the point? I never stick with anything”; and my favourite, “I’m not ______ enough.” WTF people?

That initial year has come and gone. In fact, it’s 2016 now and here I am. I’ve been through a job that sucked the life out of me, the end of a relationship that broke my heart, financial stresses, a rollercoaster ride of weight gain and loss, the death of a close friend—and I’ve made it out the other side. Today, I’ve transitioned back to my freelance career which makes me so much happier. I’ve moved from a condo that never felt like home to a calming, homey, rough-around-the-edges old house. I’m working on piecing my relationship back together, slowly, cautiously, hopefully. I’ve extricated toxic people from my life. I’m taking long walks along the water and getting out the yoga mat. And I’m feeling stronger and more grounded for it. Settling back into myself.

image of pink cherry blossoms

My fabulous coach recently reminded me that I am the most important person in my life—a fact that I somehow forgot along the way. For some reason, I’d been equating putting myself first with being a selfish cow. But how wrong I was. Turns out that living your life to please other people—and always being worried about what other people think—is not actually living. So now I’m making decisions based on what makes me happy, naysayers be damned.

And what’s making me happy these days is putting whole-food plant-based foods into this body. Who knew that hummus could bring such contentment? I’m kicking off my return to blogging with a symbolic 3-month WFPB project, in honour of the reason I started this blog in the first place. Come join me on my journey. And hopefully some of my insights will help you on your journey into plant-based living.

Squishyplum: All plants. All the time. Now that’s livin’!

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What Went Wrong?

The plan was to eat a whole-food, reduced-oil, plant-based diet for a year and chronicle how it affected me. Sounds simple enough. So why, eight months on, did I find myself sitting on the couch beside an empty bag of Ruffles, eating chocolate icing out of a tub with a spoon (you know what I’m talking about), when instead I thought I’d be jogging jauntily along the seawall, feeling great and looking radiant and svelte in my new Lululemons? What the hell happened? Where did it all go so wrong?

I’ve been plant-based for a few years now so the vegan part of this experiment was not the issue. But after a couple months of “healthy”—aka oil-free, whole food—plant-based eating, things began to unravel. I grew tired of making different, often inconvenient, choices than everyone around me. I grappled with the discomfort of planning every meal, being organized enough to have ingredients on hand, and taking the time to cook when I was hungry and impatient to fill my belly. I craved the perceived comfort of cookies and doughnuts and French fries.

And so I went into avoidance mode. I stopped writing my blog. I stopped planning my meals. I made poor choices in restaurants. I let processed vegan foods sneak back into my diet. I let my exercise routine slide. It was a slippery slope that led to me sitting on the couch with the aforementioned tub of icing and an extra 15 pounds to deal with.

I could point to a myriad of factors—lack of planning, laziness, erratic hormones, feelings of deprivation—but what it really comes down to is fear. Fear of failing. Fear of succeeding, strangely enough. Fear of change. Fear of always being the weird one who can’t eat at everyone’s favourite restaurant. Fear of being judged – for what I eat and for what I look like. Fear of not making a difference. Fear of letting my readers down. Fear of not having any readers.

Fear can be crippling. And going into avoidance mode and retreating to a comfortable place – a place with ginger snaps and coconut milk ice cream – seemed like the answer, a way to make the fear go away. But I was wrong.

“It is not fear that stops you from doing the brave and true thing in your daily life. Rather, the problem is avoidance. You want to feel comfortable so you avoid doing or saying the thing that will evoke fear and other difficult emotions. Avoidance will make you feel less vulnerable in the short run but, it will never make you less afraid.”
— Harriet Learner, The Dance of Fear

So no, as it turns out, choosing to be comfortable is not the answer – at least not the way I was doing it. Cynthia Pasquella, a champion of transformational nutrition, says, “If you want to transform, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Which scares the shit out of me.

Black panther growling in foilage

In her book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”, Susan Jeffers suggests that the only real fear is the one that belies all our other perceived fears: the fear that we won’t be able to handle what comes. But when examined up close, this fear has no legs. I have lived through the illnesses and untimely deaths of both my parents; uprooting of my life to move house, city, and country countless times; crushing, unnerving heartbreak; and the uncertainty and risk that accompanies self-employment. And I survived. Thrived even. So why am I so afraid that I can’t handle this? Why do I find the idea of changing the way I eat so scary?

What if I try living this healthy, plant-based lifestyle and fail? What will people say? What if I succeed and have to constantly live up to people’s expectations of me? How hard will that be? The judgement of others—even the perceived judgement, what we assume other people must be thinking—can make us feel inadequate, like we are not enough. But we are all enough. Just showing up and putting myself out there is enough—a huge accomplishment worthy of accolades, frankly. So I am willing to step into a place of discomfort until it stops feeling so bloody uncomfortable. I can handle it. I am enough, damnit. Bring on the green smoothies.

So let’s try this again. Time to step back into the kitchen and re-embrace the whole food, oil-free, plant-based lifestyle – for the good of the environment, my health, and the animals. Wish me luck!

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The Power of the Pound: How to Avoid Being Bullied by the Scale

When I started Project Squishyplum, weight loss was not a primary motivating factor for adopting a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet. My main goal was simply to feel better and more energetic in my body. I did anticipate, however, that eating the WFPB way would lead to some weight loss. After all, whole plant foods are definitely poster children for a super nutritious and healthy diet. And by eating fewer processed foods and less junk, I surmised I would effortlessly consume less calories, provide my body with the right kind of fuel, and start moving towards my new healthy normal weight, naturally. And I was right.

The scale started to move. A pound or two each week. Slow and steady. And I was pleased. But then the holidays arrived and brought with them all the glories of wine and Christmas cookies and dark chocolate – all vegan, mind you, but still. The scale stopped moving. And then it went in the wrong direction. That was when I realized that, although I was only weighing myself once per week, I was letting that number on the scale dictate how I felt about myself for the rest of the week. This was not good. And definitely not in the spirit of WFPB living.

Fit from Within coverI am not a Skinny Minnie, to coin my mother’s term. And according to BMI charts and medical parameters, I am not at an ideal weight. Certainly, I’d be happy to drop a few pounds but it’s not like I’m a cheeseburger away from a heart attack, as Joe Cross of Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead fame likes to say.

I have a pretty healthy body image — I genuinely embrace my curves and am blessed with a partner who loves my body and makes me feel sexy — but it hasn’t always been this way. In my early thirties, struggling with a serious weight gain, I read a book that made a significant difference in my relationship with my body: “Fit from Within: 101 Simple Secrets to Changing Your Body and Your Life — Starting Today and Lasting Forever” by Victoria Moran.

And now, more than 10 years later, our paths serendipitously cross again. Moran is the co-founder of Main Street Vegan – a book, a podcast, a vegan lifestyle coaching program. Just makes sense that she also turned to a plant-based lifestyle to make peace with her body. And became healthier, lighter, and happier in the process.

So I’ve put away the scale. Relegated it to the storage locker, alongside the Christmas ornaments and garden tools. For now, I’m going to measure my progress in yoga classes and Pilates sessions and walks along the seawall. And remember that the ultimate goal is TO FEEL GOOD!

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The Month in Review: Confessions of a Serial Snacker

So…it’s been a month of whole-food plant-based eating. What have I learned?

Apparently I’m a snacker. A habitual snacker. The snacker who trolls the cupboards grabbing handfuls of tortilla chips because she’s bored. Not the organized kind of snacker who eats eight healthy snack-size meals a day. Nope, I’m the “I-fancy-a-cookie-with-my-latte-just-because” kind of snacker. The kind who can hoover up a package of Snapea Crisps in the blink of an eye. I simply had no idea how often I reached for “just a little nibble.” I may have a problem. 🙂 Who knew? Well, deep down I probably did, but denial is a powerful thing!

Let me just say that this WFPB thing has thrown a wrench into my usual snacking habits. And this is good thing. Really. Processed snack foods like crackers, granola bars, and chips are all off the table, literally. So what does that leave me? Nuts are good but I can easily throw back a couple day’s worth of calories of cashews during one episode of The Good Wife.

So I’ve been turning to fruit which, I’ll admit, sounds a bit lame. I mean, how many apples can one girl eat? I’m finding the trick is to have a wide variety of fruits on hand. Who knew discovering a container of melon chunks in the fridge could bring me such delight? Pineapple, mango, grapes — oh my! And oranges are particularly luscious this time of year — big orbs of sweet, juicy, citrusy goodness. Yes, I’m excited about oranges. This is what four weeks of livin’ the good WFPB life does.

Bowl of whole oranges and oranges sliced in half

OMG just look at those oranges!

WFPB Snacking 101

Fruit — Keep it interesting. Rotate through the gamut of melons and berries and citrus. Those yummy bite-size clementines are in season right now. Experiment with all the varieties of apples; smear some almond butter on a Honeycrisp apple – decadent!

Hummus and veg — Hummus is my go-to food. I just love it. All the different variations. And non-traditional versions made with black beans or lentils too, accompanied by those little cherry tomatoes, celery (the often overlooked veg – I’d forgotten how tasty raw celery is!), cucumber, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and so on.

Air-popped popcorn — The crunch of plain air-popped popcorn in front of the tv has kept me satisfied during many a Coronation Street marathon. Don’t slather it in vegan margarine or oil. Remember, we’re avoiding high-fat, processed foods. Instead, try it with a sprinkling of salt or nutritional yeast. Yes, I realize the salt doesn’t stick too well to the dry popcorn but you’ll survive.

Applesauce — make your own by peeling and cutting apples into bite-size pieces and putting them in a pot covered with about an inch of water. Add some cinnamon and a little sweetener of your choice. Simmer until the water evaporates and the apples go mushy. Doesn’t sound that appetizing but, I assure you, it’s very yummy. (Thanks to Leah @mixedbagmag for teaching me this simple but sweetly satisfying recipe.) Or pick up some jarred applesauce at the store. I keep organic unsweetened applesauce on hand in case I need to do some baking (did you know ¼ c applesauce = 1 egg in recipes?). I also sometimes use it to replace oil in baking. Very handy stuff.

Nuts and seeds — Sunflower seeds, almonds, unsalted mixed nuts. Just don’t go crazy. Keep the handfuls small and infrequent.

Please share any other unprocessed, lower-fat WFPB snacking ideas you may have. This chronic snacker is always looking to expand her snacking repertoire.

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Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy: How I Kickstarted my WFPB Adventure – And How You Can Too!

Eating the WFPB way is not rocket science. Anyone can do it. Really. Case in point: my culinary-challenged boyfriend cooked the inaugural Project Squishyplum dinner in my honour. And it was damn good!

When I say this man is a neophyte in the kitchen, I’m not exaggerating. Until that day, he had never — and I mean never ever — cooked a dish from a recipe or prepared a meal that involved much more than heating something up. His culinary repertoire rested solidly on such gourmet classics as Cup Noodles and Lipton Sidekicks. Indeed, cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, and small appliances frighten him. But after a quick lesson in knife skills and a tour of our spice cabinet, this fledgling cook managed to pull off a bloody delicious Three-Bean Tomato Curry Soup. (Thank you to Dreena Burton for her fabulous cookbook: Vive Le Vegan. Check out Dreena over at www.plantpoweredkitchen.com or on Twitter @dreenaburton.)

Three Bean Tomato Curry Soup

The happy chef and his delectable creation!

Kickstart your own WFPB adventure. You can do it. And you don’t have to be a whiz in the kitchen. Grab a plant-based cookbook from the library (I currently have Dreena’s The Everyday Vegan checked out) or peruse the shelves of your local bookstore. Here are a few ideas that I have in my kitchen to get you started:

  1.  Eat, Drink & Be Vegan by Dreena Burton
  2. The China Study Cookbook by Leanne Campbell
  3. The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook by Dr. Neal Barnard
  4. Skinny Bitch Ultimate Everyday Cookbook by Kim Barnouin
  5. Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons by Nava Atlas

My scrumptious Project Squishyplum kickoff meal of Three-Bean Tomato Curry Soup can be found on page 79 of Dreena’s awesome Vive Le Vegan! Simple, Delectable Recipes for the Everyday Vegan Family. (To limit consumption of refined oil products in this and any recipe, I would recommend using a splash of veggie stock instead of olive oil to sauté the veg. I’ve been doing it for all my culinary experiments with happy results.)

Give this soup a whirl! You’ll be glad you did.

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