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I've followed the Mediterranean diet for nearly 2 years. Here are 11 reasons I won't eat any other way.

INSIDER logo INSIDER 4/22/2021 (Jennifer Barton)
a person cutting a pizza: After following the Mediterranean diet for almost two years, I don't want to stop. Jennifer Barton for Insider © Provided by INSIDER After following the Mediterranean diet for almost two years, I don't want to stop. Jennifer Barton for Insider
  • I started following the Mediterranean diet almost 2 years ago and still love it.
  • I feel less bloated, and my skin looks much healthier.
  • My kids have learned about meal planning and cooking from a young age.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

In July 2019, I stopped eating meat and opted for a more plant-based diet with fish and seafood, plenty of vegetables and whole grains, and lots of home-cooked deliciousness.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I'd inadvertently started following the Mediterranean diet by pairing olive oil with everything, serving a rainbow of fruits and veggies at every meal, and eating moderate amounts of dairy, legumes, nuts, and herbs.

This way of eating has been linked to various health benefits, and I personally have noticed improvements like less bloating, better skin, higher energy levels, and a healthier relationship with food, to name a few.

The Mediterranean diet has become a lifestyle for me and my family. Here's why I'll be sticking to it long-term:

The Mediterranean way of eating isn't a typical 'diet'

a plate of food on a table: The Mediterranean diet is not about limiting food intake. David Silverman/Getty Images © David Silverman/Getty Images The Mediterranean diet is not about limiting food intake. David Silverman/Getty Images

I have negative associations with the word "diet" since I think of restrictive eating, dangerous calorie cutting, and food deprivation.

I also remember when I was training to be a ballerina and trying all kinds of diets, many of which were damaging to both my physical and mental health. When I stopped dancing in my late teens, I vowed to be kind to myself about food.

And that's exactly one of the reasons I love the Mediterranean way of eating so much - it's not really a diet, because you're always eating a variety of delicious foods and constantly discovering new ones.

It's the opposite of limiting. In fact, I'm eating a more extensive range of foods than I ever have before, on top of integrating elements from international cuisines into my everyday meals.

I can eat bread and pasta, yogurt- and cheese-based desserts, and heart-healthy foods like oily fish, avocado, and nuts, so this diet satisfies pretty much all of my needs.

Since I've started eating this way, my cravings have also changed, as I'm much more likely to want to snack on hummus and carrot sticks than potato chips.

I don't feel so bloated anymore

Prior to following the Mediterranean diet, I used to eat a lot of red meat, refined carbs, and hardly any vegetables.

As a result, I was usually in some degree of pain after finishing a meal and had to undo the top button of my jeans or unzip my skirt to finish dishes at restaurants.

I would lie awake at night after consuming an enormous steak dinner, listening to my stomach churn in discomfort, unable to sleep, and I got used to thinking that was normal.

So I cut meat from my diet and deemed oily fish, seafood, eggs, and legumes, like chickpeas and lentils, my main sources of protein. I also made sure I had whole grains like brown rice, pita bread, quinoa, or freekeh (roasted young wheat) with each meal.

I started piling vegetables on my plate - the more colorful and varied, the better - and experimented with new ways of cooking them to make each meal exciting and delicious.

My body quickly rewarded me for the choices I was making with more energy, and I haven't had any bloating or stomach issues since. I can never see myself going back to eating the way I used to.

It's so flexible, even pasta is allowed

a hot dog and fries on a plate: I still enjoy my favorite dishes while following the Mediterranean diet. Jennifer Barton for Insider © Jennifer Barton for Insider I still enjoy my favorite dishes while following the Mediterranean diet. Jennifer Barton for Insider

If there's one food I could eat three times a day, every day, without ever getting bored, it's pasta.

And unlike several other diets, this one allows for whole-grain pasta dishes. At this point, I can't even taste the difference between wheat and white noodles.

The Mediterranean diet has allowed me to explore my favorite dish in all kinds of new recipes, like chilli-and-shrimp spaghetti and veggie-loaded pasta with a sauce made from eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach.

Whole-grain bread is also a welcome accompaniment to the lifestyle.

Gallery: 10 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Sodium (Taste of Home)

I'm more experimental with my food than ever

I never thought of myself as fearful when it came to food, but looking back, my eating habits were pretty safe.

I didn't include many spices in my cooking and often reached for bland, processed alternatives with no nutritional value that left me feeling hungrier.

I also barely knew how to cook vegetables in a way that would retain their flavor - I shudder just thinking about how I used to boil broccoli to within an inch of its life.

But I now know that drizzling olive oil and sprinkling some herbs can make any plate of vegetables come to life, steaming fish and veggies is a game-changing technique, and regularly challenging myself with new flavorful dishes keeps cooking interesting.

Inspired by a José Andrés recipe I saw on an episode of Netflix's "Waffles and Mochi," I recently made gazpacho for my kids, and it was eye-opening.

We had fun as a family, chopping up vegetables and throwing them into the blender, and my kids all tasted the cold soup.

Although some liked it more than others, we were all trying a dish that mainly consisted of vegetables, which blew my mind. The Mediterranean diet has made both me and my kids more courageous eaters.

It's helped me find a love for cooking

I used to find cooking stressful and tedious, but now I realize I just wasn't passionate about what I was making. I was also pretty grossed out whenever I cooked meat, yet forced myself to do it because I felt I had to.

Since I started the Mediterranean diet, cooking has become one of my greatest pleasures. I love the sensory stimulation every time I start to make a dish, researching the benefits of the ingredients and discovering new foods to tantalize my taste buds.

Lately, I've been having a lot of fun with spices and Mediterranean-friendly pantry ingredients, from rose harissa (a spicy sauce made with rose petals) to tahini (a sesame-seed paste).

It's also easy to throw together a meal with frozen, canned, or staple ingredients. Tinned tuna, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, and lettuce make a great salad, and brown rice, which you can find in microwaveable packs for when you're in a rush, is the perfect complement to salmon and greens for a quick, wholesome dinner.

My kids are learning about food and nutrition at a young age

a plate of food with stew: This colorful and beautiful salad is packed with veggies. Jennifer Barton for Insider © Jennifer Barton for Insider This colorful and beautiful salad is packed with veggies. Jennifer Barton for Insider

In addition to chopping fruit and vegetables and cooking dishes, my children have been much more involved in choosing ingredients and meal planning since we started following this lifestyle.

They're eating far less meat and processed foods and understanding the nutritional value of what's on their plates.

They've also been exposed to a variety of ingredients since enjoying chopped-up vegetables or fruits as snacks and regularly eating salad at lunch and dinner.

Plus we're even starting to try growing some of our own vegetables.

I have a lot more energy

I used to eat a lot of processed foods and calorically dense snacks, but I never felt full or energized afterward.

In fact, I was usually sluggish, and my diet adversely affected everything from my moods to my skin, which was blotchy and dull.

Now that I'm eating more slow-release carbs and high-fiber foods, having tons of nutrient-rich vegetables and legumes, and getting my protein from fish like salmon and tuna, I feel like a different person. I have fewer mood swings, more energy, and my complexion is healthier overall.

This way of eating is a lifestyle, not just a weight-loss goal

My immediate goal when I started eating this way was to cut out meat to see if I'd feel differently at all. I have also lost some weight while following this diet, but that wasn't my initial intention.

The Mediterranean diet works as a long-term choice - it's so easy to follow and maintain that it becomes a lifestyle you don't need to think about.

There are plenty of opportunities to snack

a plate of food on a table: I still enjoy snacks in addition to my meals. Jennifer Barton for Insider © Jennifer Barton for Insider I still enjoy snacks in addition to my meals. Jennifer Barton for Insider

I am naturally a person who is happy to munch away on something every couple of hours instead of sitting down for proper meals, but the Mediterranean diet has improved my habits. Although I'm cooking a lot more and eating three meals a day, I still love a good snack.

From yogurt with chopped-up fruit to veggies or whole-grain pita strips with hummus, which I've learned to make on my own with chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, and tahini, the Mediterranean diet has lots of tasty snack options.

Roasted nuts are another favorite of mine. I buy bags of raw almonds in bulk, which tends to be cheaper, then toss the contents in olive oil and a spiced herb combination and cook them on a baking tray for a fantastic midafternoon energy boost.

It lets you explore new cultures

This past year has been isolating for everyone, and even though I didn't travel all that often with four young children before the pandemic, following the Mediterranean diet has been like visiting all sorts of amazing destinations without leaving my kitchen.

The immense variety of foods available allows me to sample the cuisines of France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, and many other countries.

Whether I'm having falafel and hummus in a whole-wheat pita or enjoying roasted artichoke hearts, I don't see myself ever getting bored of eating this way.

I can enjoy a glass of wine when I want to

Wine isn't only allowed on the Mediterranean diet, it's encouraged (in moderation).

Although I don't drink daily, I do like that I can have a couple of glasses of wine a week and still adhere to the lifestyle.

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