From environmental impacts, stopping animal cruelty, and improving your health, there are many great reasons people choose to follow a plant-based diet.
So why do so many people have a hard time sustaining plant-based diets, what are the biggest mistakes that people make, and what can you do to sustain your plant-based lifestyle for the long haul?
From misunderstanding your constitutional needs to eating too much raw food, many common problems associated with plant-based diets are easily remedied with a little effort and information. Read on and learn how to thrive as a meat-free marauder.
Ayurveda recognizes three primary constitution types—vata, pitta, and kapha—which each have different nutritional requirements.
One of the biggest reasons people fail when following plant-based diets is following a diet and lifestyle that is constitutionally inappropriate, thus leaving them feeling like sh*t.
Please remember, the founders of many fad diets likely found success through a diet that was constitutionally appropriate for them, and mistakenly thought it would be great for everyone else too. This is because many people don’t understand basic constitutional differences or that these differences are critical for understanding what helps us to thrive.
Of all the constitution types, vata is least suited to veganism according to Ayurveda. Why, do you ask? Vata is thin, dry, tends to be ungrounded, and doesn’t really have the body mass to be vegan.
I can attest to this firsthand. I tried to go completely vegan (and did a real sh*t job of it) and ended up anxious, skinny, and exhausted. My happy medium is that I use dairy products, like fresh cheeses, ghee, organic raw milk, and butter.
If you are trying to go vegan and have a vata constitution, you may wish to consider going vegetarian instead of vegan and should incorporate cruelty-free, organic dairy products into your diet regularly.
Your body will tell you if your diet is right, so please listen!
Pitta people can be vegan more often than vata people, but pitta is often not as robust as they think. I often see the “mind dragging the body behind” syndrome in pitta folks, and these are the ones who tend to go the extreme with their raw-only diets.
Pitta raw-foodists are some of the most aggressive people I have ever met because their vata aggravating diet is actually fanning the flames of their pitta temperament. While they may be able to sustain a raw, vegan diet out of sheer will, they may become very unpleasant to be around and will drive friends away with their incessant “you should go raw because” rhetoric and their general bullheaded nature.
If this is sounding like you or someone you know, don’t worry, there is a solution! Start cooking your food and consider adding raw, cruelty-free milk to your diet. Why? Milk is one of the most peaceful foods out there, given from a mother cow to her calf out of her love for her young one. Some of this love is transferred to us (read cruelty-free, small-scale farms) and can help to balance some of pitta’s extremist tendencies. Simply boil then cool 8-12 ounces of milk at night to consume before bed or as a morning snack. Cooking your food will decrease its vata tendencies, thus can help to calm down a pitta psycho.
Of all the constitution types, kapha is the one who can really go and stay vegan long-term. Naturally robust, this constitution type holds onto mass easily and has the constitutional strength necessary for a purely plant-based diet. Kapha should still cook their food, as they tend toward sluggish digestion, but as long as they don’t have any major vata imbalances, they can do this diet for the long haul.
The Three Most Common Problems and Solutions to Following Plant-Based Diets:
Problem (or misconception) One: Plant-based means raw, and raw is better.
Nope, not so, and here is why: Raw food is much more difficult to digest, and relying too heavily on raw can leave your digestive system overworked and your body undernourished. Some signs you are having too much raw are excessive gas and bloating, a feeling of tiredness, and feeling cold all the time.
While you might think you are getting more nutrients from raw food, the truth is you are probably accessing fewer nutrients because cellulose is hard to break down. Though there are a few select people who have the right digestive power and constitution to handle greater quantities of raw foods, most of us need the predigestion that cooking offers in order to fully receive the benefits vegetables have to offer. Not to mention that raw food increases vata in the body, and Ayurveda is supremely concerned with mitigating vata, as it is vata that causes you to age.
Solution: Cook your food!
Cooking is essentially predigesting your food and breaks down the fibers of vegetables, thus taking the load off of our digestive systems and freeing our bodily energy up for other work. This also makes vata very happy, keeps us warm, and supports our digestive system and longevity.
Problem Two: Gas and bloating.
So many people I talk to say they have a lot of gastric distress from going vegan/vegetarian, and many seem to think this is normal, which sends me into a state of distress as an Ayurvedic practitioner.
Guess what? Gas and bloating should not be considered a normal part of any diet and are your body telling you that something is off.
Solution: Cook and spice your food!
Yup, this is so important I had to say cook your food twice!
Beans and lentils become an important part of your diet as a vegan or vegetarian and are also a vata-provoking foods. In order to be digested properly, without gas and bloating, you should use carminative spices. This means spices that reduce gas and bloating and make beans more digestible. Some excellent choices are cumin, coriander, hing, hingvastika, salt, ajwain, and black salt. All of these are helpful in reducing the less desirable and noisier side effects that beans may offer us.
You should also cook your food well. Presoaking lentils is an effective method of reducing time needed for cooking and will help save you time in the long run.
Problem Three: Low energy and exhaustion.
One of the biggest barriers to people maintaining a plant-based diet long term is that they end up feeling like sh*t. The truth is, unless you come from a long line of vegetarians who have adjusted genetically to this lifestyle over time, you will need to supplement the critical nutrients missing from plant-based diets. While many say you can get enough iron from leafy greens and other sources, the real test is how you are feeling in your body.
In Ayurveda, the health of your blood tissue can be measured by your feeling of enthusiasm for life. So if you notice that you start dragging and lose your zest a month or two after quitting meat, these deficiencies could well be why. It’s also these deficiencies that can cause you to crave meat—it’s your body’s cry for help and a sure sign that you are missing critical nutrients.
Never underestimate the wisdom of your own organism. Every craving, thought, and emotion is a clue to our underlying health and a powerful tool for taking charge of our lives.
Solution: Supplement, supplement, supplement!
The biggest players you need to worry about for sustained energy are iron and vitamin B12. You may want to play close attention to your fatty acids intake as well, including omegas, EPA, and DHA. There are many great brands offering algae-based supplements, so be sure to do some research.
Whoever is telling people to go totally vegan, raw, and oil-free is putting many people at risk of serious health issues down the line, from an Ayurvedic perspective.
In truth, there are very few people who can follow this type of diet long term and maintain health, and 95 percent of the people trying this shouldn’t be. Every constitution type has different needs, and these needs must be honored if we are to achieve long-lasting health.
I believe that only kapha people can go fully vegan and maintain health, that pitta people can be happy vegetarians, and that many vata people will need some animal protein in their lives in order to maintain health. This is the ayurvedic perspective, as well as my own.