Growing up outside Boston, spaghetti night was a favorite night for Dr. Beth Motley. She and her four siblings would promptly gather around the table at 5:30 to share a meal and tales of the day’s adventures. Dinnertime nowadays includes her husband, Dr. Jay Motley, and 5-year-old daughter, Lilla. The menu features plant-based fare, which Beth advocates with patients at Greenville Family Medicine. As one of the first, board-certified lifestyle medicine physicians in town, she also instructs students on prevention and reversal of disease through healthy nutrition at the USC School of Medicine Greenville. The former competitive figure skater was sliding into sports medicine before discovering this growing medical specialty that’s successfully battling disease and extending lives.

The plant-based diet is billed as one of the hottest health trends of 2018. Has it taken hold in Greenville? >> It’s not a trend. It’s a movement! People are tired of the current healthcare system, tired of being prescribed yet another medication. People are looking to take back their health, and that starts with lifestyle. Plant-based eating is absolutely on the rise in Greenville.

What are the benefits? >> Enormous! A lot of people equate health with weight. There are many ways to lose weight that include fad diets, even drugs. What sets a plant-based diet apart is its ability to prevent and reverse our most common chronic diseases, like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. A plant-based diet puts you on the trajectory for health and longevity.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to try plant-based eating? >> Educate yourself. If you don’t understand the science behind plant-based eating, you won’t be motivated to stick with it. Start by watching the Forks Over Knives documentary with your family. Change is easiest when everyone is on board. I also highly recommend the book How Not to Die.

As a lifestyle medicine physician at Greenville Family Medicine, Dr. Beth Motley prescribes healthy nutrition to prevent and fight illness. A proponent of whole foods plant-based eating, Motley says, “Other than a little B12, and perhaps a prenatal vitamin for young ladies, we shouldn’t need supplements if we eat proper food.”

Should you ease into it, or go whole hog (pun intended)? >> You need to know who you are personality-wise. I’m a Band-Aid ripper. I do things full force, all the way, 100 percent. Patients who are like that tend to be successful. The problem with wading into the water is that, sometimes, people never get all the way in. Or, they make such slight changes, they are never going to see an effect, and get positively reinforced to continue. If people are a wade-in-the-water type, I recommend setting a start date and do six weeks of 100 percent, and then recheck your lipid panel. 

What’s the difference between plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian? >> That’s a common question. I don’t like the terms “vegan” and “vegetarian” because they describe what you don’t eat. There’s lots of vegan junk food out there—cupcakes, donuts, fake meats, etc. Those terms also tend to be tied to ethical matters. “Plant-based,” or “whole foods plant-based,” describes what you do eat: single-ingredient foods, unprocessed, as they exist in nature, and based in plants that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

What are your favorite local food sources? >> I have so many favorites! I love Mother Earth Produce. Their weekly harvest delivery is a great deal. Some of our favorite restaurants are Mekong, Pita House, Asada, SWAD, Sun Belly Cafe, and anywhere with veggie sushi. Tacos are an easy go-to. Check out White Duck Taco Shop at Hampton Station. And Table 301 restaurants will make a great “plant-based plate” if you ask for it.

What about meal-delivery companies? >> Purple Carrot and Plated are popular options. If these help you learn to cook, or help meet your goals, then I think they are great. Home cooking tends to be healthier than eating out. Plated only offers a vegetarian meal, but cheese and butter can easily be eliminated.

Tell us more about the subspecialty of lifestyle medicine, and when patients should consider it. >> We’re recognized in Greenville as national leaders in the field. Lifestyle medicine stands apart from other holistic approaches in that all of our recommendations are evidence-based. This means we have the medical research to back up our advice. Rarely do we order more than the standard lab tests; most of the information we need can be gathered from interviewing the individual about their lifestyle habits. My personal focus is on nutrition, as I believe this is where most of the confusion lies.

You can follow Dr. Motley on Facebook at Food Is Medicine Greenville.