Getting Started with WFPB
Updated: Oct 6, 2021
The number 1 question people ask me is "How can I get started eating WFPB?"
WFPB is a diet that prioritizes whole plant foods like whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts/seeds. This diet reduces/eliminates animal products (including meat, dairy, and eggs), refined sugars, refined flours, processed foods, and oils (yes, even olive oil!).
Adopting this kind of diet can be very confusing and intimidating. Here are my best tips for getting started!
Note: These tips are designed for people who are generally healthy and who want to steadily transition to WFPB for optimal long-term health. This guide is designed for flexibility and is not super strict. If you currently have a more serious health problem, your doctor might recommend more drastic changes more quickly.
Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor. Talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes! I'm just a woman in my 20's who's been "WFPB-forward" for 10+ years! :)
Do NOT try to go 100% WFPB when you're starting out. In diet communities, there is usually an undertone of "I want to try this diet cold turkey for X weeks and see if it makes me FEEL better." But the reality is that there is very limited research to support the idea that going 100% WFPB is all that much better than going 70-80% WFPB. The over-under on nutrition is this: people who eat more whole plant foods have less chronic disease. So do your best to fulfill your daily caloric needs with whole plant foods, and be confident that every bite of whole plant foods you eat is having a cumulative effect on your health. Focus on the big picture instead of trying to make a bunch of stressful all-or-nothing changes all at once.
Your stomach may require some adjustment time! The bacteria that exist in our gut is a direct result of our diet. If you suddenly change your diet, your body might be out-of-whack at first. Many people who transition to WFPB experience upset stomachs, gas, and even nausea at first. Don't be discouraged by this, and give your body time to adjust to the huge influx of fiber it's getting! (Also, see Tip #1! Ease into things!)
Do your research! There is an overwhelming amount of research to back this lifestyle, and reading up on it will help you keep the big picture in mind while you're making these changes to your diet. Some of my favorite doctors and researchers are T. Colin Campbell (The China Study), Caldwell Esselstyn (Cleveland Clinic Cardiology), Michael Greger (How Not to Die), Kristi Funk (Breasts: The Owner's Manual), John McDougall (The Starch Solution), Neal Barnard (Diabetes Prevention), and John Mackey (The Whole Food Diet).
Be kind to yourself when you fall off the wagon. The only people I see stick to this diet long-term are people who view WFPB as simply a health/lifestyle goal (rather than as a black-and-white "diet"). Think of it this way: if someone considers themselves to be a "healthy" eater, that doesn't mean they'll never again have a piece of cake or roll through the McDonalds drive-thru at 2am. In the same way, I consider myself WFPB, but that doesn't mean I don't occasionally indulge in oily food or even some meat. (In fact, I think I'm the most "vegan non-vegan" you'll ever meet lol.) Recognize that this is a cumulative effort (this will also help you avoid binge mentality if you do slip up!).
Data is your best friend! Get comprehensive bloodwork done every year (or maybe even every 6 months), and use that data as feedback for your dietary changes. Some key data points you'll want to keep an eye on: A1C, fasting glucose, Vitamin D, B12, lipids (including LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides), and CRP (if your insurance covers it). And of course, you'll also want to buy a blood pressure machine and scale if you don't have them already. Keep in mind that there are some data points that are considered "normal" even though research concludes that they are not "optimal." As an example, most doctors won't bat an eye if your LDL is less than 100 mg/dL, but the vast majority of research states that your LDL should be less than 70 mg/dL to be consistent with the absence of heart disease. There are similar findings for blood pressure and A1C. So do your research and embrace your data! :)
Take a B12 supplement! We used to get adequate B12 from dirt, but it's hard to get enough in modern day society because our environments are so clean. You'll also want to check your Vitamin D levels (depending on where you live and how much sunlight you get, you might need to take a supplement every few days). Also, you'll want to make sure you're using iodized salt!
As a way to make transitioning to WPFB more approachable, I developed this Hackberry Starter Plan.
HACKBERRY STARTER PLAN:
Every day, check off each of these requirements:
- at least 1 serving whole grains in its "whole" form (ex: not whole grain bread... try oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, farro, etc.)
- at least 1 serving berries
- at least 1 serving other fruit
- at least 2 servings vegetables
- at least 1 serving beans/legumes
- at least 2 meals completely 100% oil-free
This could be accomplished pretty easily in just 2 meals per day, giving you a lot of flexibility on your third meal. Some examples:
- oatmeal with berries and banana for breakfast + oil-free hummus and veggie sandwich for lunch or dinner
- smoothie with kale, zucchini, and fruit for breakfast + salad with quinoa and white beans for lunch or dinner
- avocado toast with tomatoes and side of berries for breakfast + grain bowl with tofu and veggies for lunch or dinner
*I like this approach because it focuses on adding things into your diet, rather on taking things away. If you prioritize filling up your daily caloric intake with nutritious whole plant foods, you'll naturally eat less of the bad stuff. :)
If you can keep this up for a few weeks, you'll be ready to transition to an even more WFPB diet! And trust me, you'll start to really WANT to once your taste buds and stomach adjust! :)
As always, feel free to email me with any questions! firstname.lastname@example.org