If you follow me on Instagram (@geoffreyahern) you may well have noticed that over a period of about 10 months that I had quite the transformation, moving to a whole food plant based diet and starting to exercise again which in turn saw me lose over 20kg (1/4 of my body weight) and training for my first ever marathon. 

I’m now working on my Master’s in Human Nutrition to build on what I learnt on my personal journey. 

You can read more about my Tranformation

Well, if you’re interested in making a decision that will rapidly overhaul your physical health and drastically improve your mental health, then I highly recommend looking in to a whole food plant based lifestyle.

What do we mean by a whole food plant based diet?  I tend to avoid the word, “vegan” as you can be a very unhealthy vegan if you consume all the processed vegan products.  Plus, to my mind a vegan also doesn’t wear animal products, like leather, and at this stage in my journey I still own leather shoes and leather belts (which one day I plan on replacing with a non-animal option). 

This is a pretty good explanation of what a whole food plant based diet looks like from the T. Colin Campbell Centre for Nutrition Studies:

“A WFPB diet doesn’t include any meat, dairy, or eggs. It’s not, however, the same as a vegan diet, which is defined only by what it eliminates. A WFPB diet is defined also by what it emphasizes: a large variety of whole foods.

The term “whole” in WFPB describes foods that are minimally processed. This includes as many whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes as you want. It also includes, in moderation: nuts, seeds, avocados, natural sweeteners, and certain soy or wheat products that don’t contain added fat (e.g., tofu, seitan).

Heavily processed foods, on the other hand, are not included in a WFPB diet. This means avoiding highly refined grain products (e.g., white rice, white flour), foods containing added sugars or artificial sweeteners (e.g., confectioners sugar, high fructose corn syrup), and foods containing added fat. Yes, even olive oil.”

There are essentially 3 reasons for why I chose to start living this way:

1. It’s very good for your health:

A whole food plant based diet is the only diet on the planet that has been scientifically studied and demonstrates that not only can you halt or slow down the progression of heart disease, but you can even reverse it.

“Current palliative cardiovascular medicine consisting of drugs, stents, and bypass surgery cannot cure or halt the vascular disease epidemic and is financially unsustainable.

WFPB can restore the ability of endothelial cells to produce nitric oxide, which can halt and reverse disease without morbidity, mortality, or added expense.

As powerful as the data are, it is unconscionable not to inform the cardiovascular disease patient of this option for disease resolution. To begin to eliminate chronic illness, the public needs to be made aware that a pathway to this goal is through WFPBN.”

Below is a quote from Dr Alan Desmond’s Instagram page (@devongutdoctor) about the latest recommendations from doctors and scientists regarding what we should be eating.  Dr Alan Desmond is a gastroenterologist from the UK who advocates a whole food plant based diet for good gut health:

“An international panel of doctors and scientists just recommended that we replace meat with beans, peas, lentils and soy foods.

Legumes have so many benefits. They are rich sources of protein and, unlike meat and poultry, their consumption has been shown to REDUCE your risk of chronic disease

Multiple prospective studies have shown that eating even small amounts of legumes each day reduces your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease

Soybeans have added bonus content: healthy polyunsaturated oils and omega-3’s, plus anti-estrogenic effects which protect against breast cancer

For all of these reasons and more, the EAT-Lancet panel of almost 40 international experts advise up to 100g of beans, lentils or peas every day. Plus a fistful or two of nuts.

How much meat do they recommend? Red meat, 7 grams. Poultry, 14 grams. Or none. Small amounts of meat are deemed “optional”

When it comes to eating according to their “Universal Healthy Reference Diet”, designed for optimal human and planetary health, whole food plant-based ticks all the boxes.”

You can read more about Alan at his website.  I heard Alan speak at the Inaugural Nutrition in Health Care Conference in Melbourne in February 2019 and he was fantastic.  You can also hear an interview with him on the Plant Proof Podcast.

2. It’s good for the animals:

My journey in terms of considering the impact of eating animal products on the animals themselves started with me reading a book titled, “Do Animals Have Rights?” by Alison Hills.  I found it very interesting and compelling.   

The more I looked into it, the more I came to the realisation that I simply didn’t want to contribute to any harm done to any animal, particularly when the science tells me I can live without animal products. 

Some will argue that we can, “humanely” raise and slaughter animals, but I disagree.  I actually lived in the outback for 5 years and I’ve been personally involved in ending the lives of sheep, goats and chooks for consumption. 

And I’ve been out kangaroo shooting during the drought when the local farmers were culling the big male roos to reduce breeding as many of the kangaroos were coming into the yards of the houses on farms for grass and water which created a danger to small children.  Plus, let me tell you, you don’t want a roo to crawl under your house to die in the middle of the outback in the middle of an Australian summer.  The smell is atrocious. 

There is something deeply moving, confronting and impacting about holding an animal in your hands and taking their life. And from my perspective, I didn’t see it as humane, again particularly when the science tells me I can live very well, maybe even better, without animal products.   

And it concerns me that we are so removed from the actual cycle of life with animals these days.  I read a post on social media by a school teacher last year who said that one of her primary school students thought that chocolate milk came from brown cows!!!!

After reading Alison’s book I then watched some very compelling, and in some cases, very disturbing documentaries.  If you’re interested in having a look, I’d recommend the following:

Cowspiracy:  is a ground-breaking feature-length environmental documentary following intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.

You can watch it on Netflix or stream or purchase a copy via the Cowspiracy Website

Earthlings:  Earthlings is a 2005 American documentary film about humankind’s total dependence on animals for economic purposes.  Presented in five chapters (pets, food, clothing, entertainment and scientific research) the film is narrated by Joaquin Phoenix.

This is actually the first documentary I watched.  Be warned, it has some very confronting content.  You can actually watch this one online for free

3. It’s good for the planet:

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who is feeling deeply, deeply concerned about the state of our planet at the moment.  Not only does eating a whole food plant based diet reduce the impact we’re having on this planet, when you’re eating primarily fresh foods and not packaged foods, you’re reducing landfill as well.

Of course, saving the planet is going to take more than just not consuming animal products.  We need to look at other important things like soil degradation, the over use of chemicals, and declining bee populations and a whole lot more.

The Guardian published an interesting article on this topic in 2018 which drew some criticism particularly around some of the statistics quoted in terms of how the research was conducted.  But even critics of the statistics agreed that it still made some compelling points.  You can read that full article

So, if you’re interested in moving to a whole food plant based diet how on earth do you do it? 

Well, here are some great places to start:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:

PCRM is dedicated to saving and improving human and animal lives through plant based diets and ethical and scientific research.  They also happen to offer a free, online, 21 Day Kickstart program for anyone interested in trying out a plant based diet.  You can sign up for it here

The Happy Gut Course:

Run by, “The Happy Pair,” David and Stephen Flynn, are renowned wholefood and plant-based chefs, award winning and international best-selling authors, who along with Dr Alan Desmond (see above) and a dietician, offer a 6 week online program which as well as educating you in the importance of good gut health and how to maintain it, you’ll be doing a full reset of your gut.  You’ll clear out all the toxins from week one and reintroduce foods week on week until full health is restored. 

This online program does cost money, it’s €149 (roughly $250 Australian dollars depending on the exchange rate) which is extremely good value for money.  I’ve completed this online program myself and found it extremely helpful on my transition.  

I’d considering watching these two documentaries too:

Forks Over Knives:

Researchers explore the possibility that people changing their diets from animal-based to plant-based can help eliminate or control diseases like cancer and diabetes

Available on Netflix or you can purchase it through the documentaries website.

What The Health:

Filmmaker Kip Andersen uncovers the secret to preventing and even reversing chronic diseases, and he investigates why the nation’s leading health organizations doesn’t want people to know about it

Available on Netflix or you can purchase it and stream it online at What the Health.