Happy Herbivore Blog

Minimalist Monday: Downsizing & Decluttering + 28-Day Live Better Challenge Update!

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Minimalist

Not long after posting about Katharine's simple but effective way to downsizing & decluttering, I received this great email from a Herbie about their own "a ha" moment.

Spoiler Alert: It came when she decided to sell her house. Moving is always a great time to downsize, minimize, and otherwise face all your "stuff", but it wasn't packing up boxes that rocked her world and made her a minimalist. It was a simple comment from her realtor that changed everything.

"When I put my house up for sale the real estate agent wanted me to remove all "clutter." I was kind of insulted. I never thought of my home as cluttered, but I wanted to get top dollar for it. So down came all the shelves, knickknacks, decor, etc.

I found that I liked it clutter free. Just a couple of pictures on the walls, no shelves of things. The house was suddenly cleaner and brighter looking. I never took my clutter back out of the boxes...just made a trip to the Goodwill. Now I can't even remember what my stuff looked like.

Using that revelation, I keep eliminating more and more things. My closet has 10 tops, five pants and 3 pairs of shoes. Every time I go into my closet I find one more thing I don't need. Every time I dump another bag of stuff I cant remember what I gave away!

It has really opened up my eyes to how wasteful we are as a nation. We buy things to be buying things.

My new mantra is if you can't wear it or eat it, don't buy it. You need enough clothes to get you through the week. If you buy something new, give something old away."

My fellow minimalist and Herbie brings up a good point: sometimes you never realize how much "stuff" you have until you need to get rid of it.

And once you've finally decluttered, doesn't it feel like your environment is a lot less stressful?

If you’ve ever walked into a hotel room and felt an immediate sense of tranquility, that’s why. The clean surfaces and sparse furnishing make you feel calmer, more zen. Just cleaning off your counter tops in ONE room can make a world of difference in your home.

That's why on Day 7 of the 28-Day Live Better Challenge, I asked all of the participants to think about their environment and do something to improve it (even if it was something as simple as clearing off the counter) and see how they felt afterwards.

Just look at all the change that happened when they took a few minutes to put things away!

Jennifer R: "One set of counters done. It really does feel less stressful having less clutter"

Debi C: "I put my meal plans into a binder and made a home for my most used cookbooks."

Carolyn M: "Kitchen declutter, dining room not so much. Progress, not perfection."

Emily B: "With 4 kids, 2 dogs, a cat, and a husband you can only imagine how cluttered this family room was before I started it this morning. A winter's worth of toys all in the basement and sorted... also managed to get my youngest son and my room done. On to the kitchen and dining room. Def. needed this motivation to get slacking projects I've been avoiding done."

Marie R: "My son's room, ready for moving in." (Top) "Dining room before and after." (Bottom)

Remember: your environment is powerful! And it only takes a few minutes to make a difference!

Want more minimalist project ideas? Check out my minimalist book Minimalist Monday: Decluttering Your Way to a Zen Home.

Also, it's not too late to join the 28-Day Live Better Challenge!

Get daily tips + email motivation from me. Totally free! You got this!

Sign up here.

P.S. To celebrate the release of my new book, The Happy Herbivore Guide to Plant-Based Living (out tomorrow!), I'm hosting a virtual release party/live Q&A! Join me TONIGHT at 8:30pm EST/5:30pm PST!Check out the Facebook event for more details!

Was I Wrong with my "Progress not Perfection" Mantra?

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Advice

For two years now (maybe longer?) my mantra (in life, as well as with Happy Herbivore and reaching others) has been:

"Progress Not Perfection"

In fact, I spend long chapters talking about it in my new book (out next week), The Happy Herbivore Guide to Plant-Based Living.

I've been a firm believer in applauding the progress people make, rather than get hung up on where they might fall short.

It reminds me of when I used to run and train for marathons. I would say to myself, "Good job Lindsay! Look at you! You've already ran 12 miles! You're awesome!!"

I would never, under any circumstances, allow myself to do the math.... "You still have 14.2 miles to go!" because well...yeah...

Yet I found myself in an interesting... and sticky situation recently. Someone, or shall I say, a group of someones, said doing that sort of thing -- preaching progress not perfection -- does a disservice to everyone I'm trying to help.

They suggested that I encourage absolute perfection, and tell people they have to comply with the full 100%.

Their logic made sense and reminded me of Les Brown's famous saying, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

The point was that most people won't ever reach 100%. So if I push for and preach 100%, maybe most people hearing my message will end up at 80-90%, which is fantastic! However, if I'm only encouraging 80-90% as the finish line, then they'll stop at 60-70% (and there you have my giant disservice).

"If you give someone an inch, they'll take a yard"

I get it, I get it. I read "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie..."

I thought about it... debated it over in my head... and then my daily (r)evolution email popped up and I remembered why I started it all in the first place.

I'm happy if you only reach 2%. I'm not here to judge you, just encourage you along... that's why I say progress not perfection! Because going from 2% to 3% is way more possible than 2% to 100%... and 2% is two times more than 0%! That counts for something! Plus 2% to 3% is still jumbo progress!

My friend Natala, over at Engine 2, wrote a great blog post on this topic, too. In her post, Natala addresses a growing trend that my other friend, Jeff Novick MS RD, calls nutrition elitism, a type of nutrition perfectionism. (Jeff has addressed this topic before here.). (Both of their posts are a good read--check 'em out.)

I've seen it happen on HH's Facebook page.

The other day I posted about a sale on Facebook: 10 cans of organic beans for $10 bucks at Kroger, and the first comments were about BPA, and about how bad canned beans are, that we should always cook our own... And then something about how you can't trust Kroger's organic label?? (See the thread here.)

(Image by Amanda Smith, 2014)

Those comments made me want to close my laptop and go home (I happened to be at Starbucks, juicing their free wifi). "Why do I bother?" "Why do I try?"

Speaking of Starbucks, a few days before the Kroger post, I'd posted about how thankful I was that Starbucks sold oatmeal, so I had a healthy option at the airport. (I was flying at 4am, after leaving a conference at 11pm the night before)... and again, the first responses were about why didn't I pack my own, and how could I support Starbucks, and blah blah. (You can read the thread here.)

Thing is, both times, I was just trying to help.

I'm trying to show people how easy and realistic this way of life is.

If you want to cook your own beans, cook your own beans. If you want to make your own oatmeal, go for it!

But please recognize that not everyone can or wants to.

(and judging them, or bopping them over the head, or bopping ME over the head, or pointing out a better and more perfect way, doesn't make us want to do it... it turns us off... scares us off... my thoughts were "Why do I bother?" "Why do I try?" and I know I'm not alone.)

I'd rather someone eat canned beans and Starbucks oatmeal than McDonald's.... so yes, I am standing firm with my progress not perfection.

One of the "public figure" things that still bothers me is something that didn't happen to me. It happened to my mom.

My mom (my mom!) shared a picture of her fridge on Facebook, super proud of all her beautiful veggies (she was newly plant-based at the time), and the first few comments bopped her over the head for putting potatoes in the fridge.

"OMG! Get the potatoes out of the fridge!" (direct quote)

This is not helpful. I get wanting to be helpful and share information, but there is a better way to do it, and it's all in the phrasing.

It's all in the delivery.

Another example:

I posted a pic of my cooked potatoes in a plastic bag (proud that I'd packed them for a plane flight) and some of the first comments bopped me over the head for using plastic. (You can read the thread here.)

Okay, I'm flying and I wanted something light that I was sure TSA wouldn't take...

Or when I posted a picture of my salad from the California Pizza Kitchen on the first day of the 28-Day Live Better Challenge. I was so excited to share that they always sub avocado for chicken in any salad free of charge.

And guess what? One of the first comments was about how the company that owns CPK has a horrible record of human rights violations and environmental issues. (You can read the thread here.)

Point is, no one likes an elitist (at least I don't) and you attract way more flies with honey (agave) than vinegar. (For more on this, check out my post Build Them Up (Why I'm not a Skinny Bitch)).

I think when we make these kinds of comments (and I'm not perfect, I know I've done it) it's to show off. Show how smart we are. To make ourselves feel superior.

Real winners build people up, they don't tear each other down... because it's not a competition.

Be gentle with advice. Nudge. Encourage. Applaud progress... don't get mad because people don't live to your standards of perfection.

Also as a reminder :)

UPDATE: (May 9, 2014, 3pm)

Thank you x 1000 for all the amazing comments here on the blog, the private emails, tweets, Facebook comments, etc. I am blown away.

Thank you, THANK YOU for your support + being YOU. I hope the message of "progress not perfection" rings loudly (including in our own heads) and real, loving change can be made... Together we are building a better world with compassion, kindness, acceptance, and NO judgment.

While I have read every single comment, I can't reply to all of them :) But know that you're in my heart forever and you mean the world to me.

Let's be the leaders of change, and continue to take a stand against nutrition elitism + head boppers!

Herbie of the Week: Catherine (Her Brain Fog & Headaches Are Gone + She's Lost Weight!)

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Herbies

Meet our Herbie of the Week: Catherine!

A couple months ago I received an email from Catherine detailing all the health benefits she's experienced since going plant-based on January 1, 2014.

Her email was SO inspiring, which is why I asked her to be part of the Herbie of the Week series.

Here's Catherine's story in her own words...

I should have become plant-based years ago. In fact, my family genetics and life experiences should have made me a poster child for “Why vegan?” Both of my parents have family histories of high cholesterol, heart attacks, and strokes. The biggest health threat however is that EVERY woman on my mothers’s side develops Type II Diabetes and autoimmune diseases after the age of 50. (Not too long ago my grandmother’s kidneys shut down due to autoimmune complications…EEP!) Furthermore, I observed the effects of the standard American diet on the body first hand when I worked as teaching assistant in our university’s human donor lab, dissecting donors with fat-coated organs, heart stents, and tumors.

As a third year Cancer Biology PhD student, I have heard countless seminars on the mechanisms of disease. However, for over a year I followed the Happy Herbivore blog, jokingly calling myself a “closet herbie,” because, despite everything, I still ate meat and dairy. Twice before I tried adopting a plant-based diet for my health. However, that made meat and dairy a “treat” in my mind, so I failed both times. It was so hard trying to quit animal products for my health, because at 23 years old I was a healthy weight and had no physical concerns besides minor headaches that could be easily taken care of with ibuprofen. I have included a photo of my fiancé and me before I made the switch so you can see what I mean. I knew my future health would most likely not be so nice, but I just could not motivate myself into a preventative healthy lifestyle.

Thankfully, I finally found my motivation. This past Christmas my family and I watched the documentary Blackfish, which follows the life of Tilikum, an orca whale at Sea World involved in the death of three people. It also explains the injustices of keeping killer whales in captivity, including the fact that many of the whales are kidnapped from their mothers as young calves. I was a wreck after watching the documentary. It was the final straw for me. Unable to handle my disgust at the far-reaching human exploitation of animals, I decided this was the kick in the butt I needed to officially make the switch to a plant-based lifestyle. If I could not give up animal products for my own health, I could certainly become vegan for the animals. Around the same time, my roommate had gotten me Happy Herbivore Light & Lean as a Christmas gift. With that, my plant-strong journey began! It is amazing what a difference in perspective can make. Now I think of becoming plant-based as a way to be a spokesperson for our animal friends instead of a sacrifice.

I became a plant-proud vegan with the expectation that I would not directly benefit from the lifestyle change until I was old, if even then. I never expected to have any of the health improvements I read about from other herbies. Turns out, I was wrong. What a pleasant surprise! Here are some of the health benefits I have experienced since going plant-based:

Weight loss. Like I said earlier, before going plant-based I was a healthy weight. However, between New Year’s and now I have lost 7lbs but still feel very strong. This is one of my favorite things about a whole foods, plant-based diet. If you are eating correctly, you will be whatever weight your body is supposed to be! Well that’s one less thing to worry about!

No more headaches. I used to get minor headaches every couple weeks. During my time of the month, I used to automatically take 3 ibuprofen pills in the morning or else I would have a throbbing headache by late afternoon. It has been almost three months now and I have not had a single headache!

Thicker and shiner hair. I’ll be honest. I never really believed that diet could change your hair so dramatically and so quickly. However, my hair has gotten so much fuller since going plant based. I thought maybe I was imagining it, but this past weekend my hairdresser commented on how much thicker my hair is.

Mood elevation. This is my favorite health benefit I have experienced, though it is the one I least expected. I have always been a very anxious person. For years, everything scared me, from driving on unfamiliar highways to sending emails to superiors. Also, when I failed at something or was stressed, I did not handle it well. For example, during my first year of graduate school, if my experiments weren’t working I would break down in tears and feel like a failure with no hope of a future career. My mom recommended multiple times that I go talk with a counselor, but I truly felt these were all normal feelings for a highly motivated and cautious, type A individual. However, a more recent experience suggested that I was also exhibiting depressive tendencies in response to stress.

My fiancé is a post-doctoral fellow in California (I live in Ohio). When he first left nine months ago, I felt the normal and expected sadness. It was hard, but my fiancé is amazing and worth it (I love you, Joshua!). However, as time went on it became harder and harder to handle the combined stress of my thesis work and a long-distance relationship. Eventually, it became nearly impossible to get out of bed and daily life felt like a battle. I just wanted to sleep all day and my body ached. I tried to snap out of it, but it felt like my brain was not functioning properly. Shortly after going plant-based I began to notice changes in the way my body coped with stress. Everyday activities were not as hard because I was thinking much more clearly. I never realized I had a “brain fog” until it was gone!

My fiancé and I (before going plant-based).

My experiments still go through the normal successes and failures, but I am now able to better troubleshoot them because instead of instantly feeling despair, my mind remains focused and I am able to think logically about how to improve my experimental design. I still miss my fiancé obviously, but I am more emotionally strong than I have ever been. I firmly believe that, for me, eating meat and dairy caused a physiological imbalance that was exacerbated during times of stress, making me vulnerable to anxiety. I am so grateful to have discovered this connection!

I have been so lucky that my family and friends have supported my decision 100%, even if they themselves do not have any desire to change their lifestyle. My fiancé is mostly plant-based and has the same feelings I do about animal rights. We have been having fun trying new recipes, and it has given us something to talk about and connect through while we are living apart. Having a strong support system has been such a blessing during the transition.

My motivations for staying plant-based.

This experience has also taught me how to confidently stand up for my beliefs. It has been so great to be able to share my experience with those around me and have an open dialog about how to better the world. Thankfully, adopting a plant-based lifestyle this time has been free from the struggles of craving food made from animal products. I did go through a weeklong dairy withdrawal, but it was so worth it! Now, anything will dairy milk or cheese looks so unappetizing. When I see dairy, all I think about is a story my veterinarian friend told me about the time she had to abort a bull calf on a dairy farm during vet school. She said it was the worst thing she has ever seen or done as a vet. I read a quote shortly after going plant-based that said, “The difference between people who state that veganism is easy, and those who say veganism is hard, is those who say it’s easy are focused on the victims, while those who say it’s hard are focusing on themselves.”

Everyone has different motivations for going plant-based. If yours is your health, rock on! For me, this quote exemplifies the problems I had the other times I tried to go vegan. I could not do it for myself. I had to do it for the animals, the planet, and the humans that are starving around the world from lack of resources that are instead used to raise animals for the meat and dairy industries. To any other “closet herbies” that might be reading this: find your motivation. You will be shocked at how much better you will feel, both physically and emotionally!

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Catherine! Keep up the good work!