Fair warning: I’m about to shamelessly objectify a few very sexy gentlemen. I’m also going to tell you five ways to hack the world of healthy eating. And then, well, and then I’m going to do a giveaway of one of the best books I’ve read all year.

Ready? Let’s do this.

So, October marks 15 months since I switched to a plant-based diet. Which, for a girl who used to plan her restaurant choices entirely around cheese plates, is kind of big fucking deal. If I’m being honest, I never had any interest in a vegan diet, and it’s something that, for 26 years, I would have sworn I’d never try. But we all know how it works when you say you’ll “never” do something, right? And so, as I gradually got more and more into long distance running (something else I’d “never” do), I began to read and research the lifestyles and food choices that some of my favorite endurance athletes were making. How did they perform at such consistently high levels? What could I do to recover faster and train harder?

Questions like these lead me to Brendan Brazier, and to his life-changing book, Thrive. And I know, I know, “life-changing” is such a cliche buzzword, but in this case (for me), it’s an accurate description. His book sincerely changed my life, and it was the push I needed to start seriously considering a plant-based diet for myself. Right around this time I also found Rich Roll’s book, Finding Ultra, and those two books together finally made me say, “Fuck it. Let’s try this.”

At first, I committed to following Brendan and Rich’s plant-based food ways for the duration of the 16-week training cycle leading up to my first marathon. I wasn’t ready to declare that I’d “never eat cheese again,” because a) TERRIFYING and b) how can you commit to something before you’ve even experimented with it?

So, those 16 weeks came and went, and the main thing I noticed was that I had tons more energy. I was sleeping more soundly, which translated to needing less sleep overall, and both my mind and my skin were clear and bright. Surprisingly, I found that I hardly missed meat and dairy at all, and the more I learned about the way most food-related animals are treated in this country (disgustingly), as well as the hugely beneficial financial implications of swapping meat for plants, the more I was convinced to stick to this diet long after that marathon ended.

Which brings me to today, 15 months later, and I’m more in love with my plant-based diet than ever.

[Disclaimer: Even though that’s how I feel, I’m certainly not saying that everyone needs to switch to a plant-based diet, or that it’s the “right” way to eat or the “best” way to eat or anything like that. What I am saying is that I gave myself the freedom to experiment with something I was interested in, found that it worked really well for me, and decided to stick with it.]

I will say, though, that even for people who aren’t interested in completely giving up animal products, there’s a lot to be gained from just increasing the consumption of fresh, whole produce (particularly veggies). Because regardless of which health/diet/whatever advice you believe, I haven’t found a single study warning against eating more vegetables, you know?

So, for today, I wanted to share five tips for how to transition to a more plant-heavy diet.

1. Focus on what you’re adding to your diet
By this I mean that you should keep your attention on the things you want to eat more of, instead of the things you’re trying to avoid. Telling yourself you “can’t” have X thing is kind of depressing, and can lead to feelings of deprivation, whereas playing a game with yourself to see how you can add more spinach/blueberries/green beans into your life makes you feel quite the opposite.

2. Swap two of your regular meals for a smoothie and a salad
At this point, it’s getting a bit ridiculous how much I love/yell about green smoothies. (Here and here, for example) But, truthfully, if you swap your regular breakfast for a nutrient-rich green smoothie and your regular lunch for a big salad, you won’t believe the benefits you’ll reap – even if you don’t change a single other thing about your diet.

3. Don’t try to be so damn fancy
When I first switched to a plant-based diet, I pretty much ate the same exact thing every single day. Why? Because I had found meals that were easy to make and tasty enough to keep me from falling mouth-first into a giant pizza, and I wasn’t ready to get more creative than that just yet. So often, when we try to make a food change, we think we have to get super fancy with how we’re eating. We need to cook so many new recipes! Eat the world’s most varied diet! And, sure, variety is key in the long run, but at first? Find a few things you like, and just eat them for a while until you get used to the change and feel ready to branch out.

4. Commit to 45 minutes of food prep per week
One of my biggest complaints when I first started eating this way was that it took a lot of time to chop so many vegetables. When lunch time rolled around, the thought of cutting up a bunch of shit to make a salad was annoying, which made it much easier to reach for something else instead. And therein lies the value of prep work. When you get home from the grocery store, put on a podcast or an episode of your favorite TV show, and chop all your veggies for the week. Make a big batch of brown rice or quinoa or soup or whatever you want to eat during the week and store it all in the fridge. The result? You literally have no excuse not to eat well, because it becomes the easiest possible option.

5. Find 2-3 practical, helpful resources to guide you
Notice that I didn’t say “research shit until your eyes bleed?” Yeah. Too much information, especially when you’re new to something, can be totally overwhelming. So, find a few blogs/books that really resonate with you, and experiment with the advice and principles they outline. For me, those three resources were Brendan and Rich’s books, as I’ve said, as well as Matt Frazier’s website: NoMeatAthlete.com.

Matt is (and I say this in the most positive, inspiring way possible) just a regular guy. He fell into distance running on a whim, and transitioned to a vegetarian and then vegan diet in much the same way. His evolution into a plant-based athlete who recently completed a 100-mile race (100 MILES, YOU GUYS) is something that, as crazy as it sounds on one hand, seems doable when viewed through the realistic lens of his approach.

After finding Matt’s site, I went back and devoured almost his entire archive of posts. I couldn’t get enough of his real-talk style, and he made both running and plant-eating seem feasible for even the most die-hard cheese addict. Then, about six months ago, I reached out to him in a very fan-girl way to tell him how much I loved his work, and since then I’ve only gotten more and more fan-girl-ish. So, when he asked if I wanted to take a pre-release peek at his first book (No Meat Athlete) and give a few copies away to you guys, I couldn’t say “hell yeah” fast enough. He sent me the PDF version, before the printed books were even done, and I basically went blind from staring at the computer and reading it straight through. Seriously, it’s that good.

More than anything, this book presents the building blocks of both plant-based eating and regular physical activity in a no-nonsense, super easy to grasp way. Packed with actionable tips on what to eat, how to eat it, and why – this book is what I wish I would have had on day one of my own foray into plant-based eating. There’s so much useable information in this book, but my absolute favorite part is the recipe section – filled with 55 different recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts, and sports foods, that each list specific nutritional info. And, when I tell you I want to eat every single fucking recipe in this book, I’m dead serious.

Truly, the little bit of the book I’ve told you about is just the tip of what Matt shares throughout the pages, and even though I’m 15-months into a plant-based diet, this is a resource I’ll come back to again and again.

So, that’s what I got out of the book, but now let’s talk about you. Are you curious about getting more physically active and/or testing the waters of plant-based eating? If so, Matt’s book is the perfect place to start. I wish I could pull an Oprah and give copies to every single person who wants one (“You get a book! And YOU get a book!”), but for now I’ll make do with giving away two copies (one from the publisher and one that I bought for you myself), so if you want one, just holler in the comments and I’ll pick two people later this week.

In the meantime, I’m pretty sure I promised you some shameless objectification of adorably sexy gentleman, yes? And so I’ll leave you with these  photos of Brendan, Rich, and Matt – clear proof that a plant-based diet is not only possible for serious athletes, it yields results that are, um, yeahhhhh

plant-based-men

 [Update: The winners are… Kate & Anna!]