Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thanksgiving, Veggie style!

This was my first holiday since I've changed to a plant-based diet.  I wasn't the least bit nervous about it, because all of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes involved no turkey (or any other meat for that matter).  As I've stated before, I always loved the sides of a meal and usually used the meat portion as more of the side dish.

Thursday we went to Tim's family dinner.  I was a little concerned about how much there would be to eat, since we were the first people in his family that didn't eat meat.  I found that most of the stuff was ok for us.  I should specify that although Tim is almost strictly vegan and I'm getting closer to it, we decided that we would go ahead and eat anything that might contain a small amount of milk or butter, such as mashed potatoes or rolls.  Tim made Gardein Stuffed Turk'y for us to have, which also came with 2 small packets of gravy we were able to use on the Gardein and the potatoes.  He also made his yummy sweet potato casserole, which he switched around to make it vegan this year.  We also had a spinach salad with cranberries and walnuts, cornbread stuffing (which Tim also made for us in case the other was made with meat broth), rolls, cranberries (the kind in the can, which is my favorite!  I'm weird, I know), mashed potatoes, and a glass of sweet red wine. :-)

These are a few pics Tim took of a couple of the dishes we had at his family's dinner. 

This year our family had our Thanksgiving meal on Friday.  Since my sister has been a vegetarian for many years I knew there would be plenty to eat.  Plus, Tim made a Celebration Roast for the 3 of us that weren't eating meat, as well as some vegan gravy.  My sister made a mushroom vegetarian gravy as well.  Since the gravy has always been one of my favorite parts of the Thanksgiving meal more was better! :-)  We also had baked sweet potatoes (with lots of different toppings separate so that everyone could make it their own way, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, a couple different bottles of wine to share, Gigi's midnight magic and raspberry mini cupcakes, and pumpkin pie.  We also had some veggies and dip, cheese and crackers, and chips and salsa (we skipped the cheese) as an appetizer while we waited for dinner to be ready, as well as some peppermint kahlua.
 This is a pic of Tim's plate at my family's Thanksgiving dinner.  Does it look like we starved? :-)

As you can see there was plenty of dishes for us to eat at both family gatherings.  After 2 days of eating full plates of Thanksgiving food I was stuffed!   Then of course I brought home some leftovers and feasted (on a smaller scale) for another couple days.  I forgot to swipe some rolls though to go with the leftovers.  Fail!

Over the holidays I read a blog by The Happy Herbivore about her Thanksgiving meal.  She made a fully vegan dinner for her parents, and got their reactions to all of the dishes she made.  They are meat eaters who had never had a vegan Thanksgiving before, so it was great to hear their reactions to all the great dishes she made!  You can read her blog post here.  Not to ruin the story, but they loved everything she made.  :-)  It just goes to show that if you just just stick your toe into the vegan pool you'll find that the water isn't so cold afterall.  ;-)

Speaking of which, Tim also made his vegan meatballs for his meat-loving buddies over the weekend for a gaming get together they had.  They thought they were really good much to their surprise, but not ours though.  We knew that they would if they'd just break out of their meat box and try something new. 

My next blog I plan to address some of the most common questions, comments, etc. that I have come across in the short time I've adopted my plant-based diet.  I know I said that on my last post, but I wanted to make sure I got my first Thanksgiving post in first. Once again, please follow my blog and feel free to ask any questions you may have.  :-)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Settling into my plant-based world

It's been a while since my last post.  That's what happens when life gets in the way of your life!  On the eating front, I've been settling into my new lifestyle and finding my "niche" so to speak.  I started this journey with an open mind as to how deep in to vegetarianism or veganism I would go.  I have struggled with how "vegan" I wanted to be long term.  For those who have never tried to eat a plant-based diet, going vegan is much more of an adjustment than going vegetarian.  For one, almost every processed food (bread, cereal, pasta, etc.) has some sort of eggs or dairy.  You really have to read every single label and ask questions when you go out to eat or have dinner at a friend's house.  It is not impossible, but it takes a lot of discipline.  My main struggle is with my love of everything dairy!  I have cut the majority of dairy out of my diet already, which was a HUGE step for me.  The first thing I cut was dairy milk, which for anyone who knows me knows this is a big, big deal!  I have switched to flavored almond milk so far, and I'm trying other types of non-dairy milks one at a time.  I already know I'm not a big fan of soy milk.  I have tried a couple different vegan eggnog varieties, and the soy version was my least favorite (coconut milk version is my favorite so far).  I've found that these non dairy versions actually contain more calcium than the dairy version, and also have many more vitamins added, such as B12 (which is a concern for vegans).  I have still not substituted any of these milks in any recipes or used it with my beloved cold cereal.  To be honest I'm scared to, LOL!

My boyfriend (Tim) and I have had many questions (and attitudes) about our diet.  I will say that I am not here to convince people that it is right or wrong.  It is a personal choice, and is not limited to just the nutritional and health benefits.  It's a very complicated decision each person has to make for themselves.  I do not believe that eating meat is wrong or unhealthy.  It is a personal choice I've made.  Consuming animals has never felt quite right for me.  I do believe that the mass production of meat is unhealthy and unethical.  I know many people who eat only free range meat and poultry, and often get it from a local farmer where they purchase an animal (cow, pig, etc.) with several other people and divide the meat.  It is both healthier and much more ethical.  I see nothing wrong with this.  These people have made an educated and conscious decision about their diet, and that's what I think everyone should do!  The problem is that people preach about how humans must eat meat, yet they've never done any research or educated themselves on the topic, or nutrition for that matter.  THAT is when I get angry and annoyed when people make fun or try to preach how being vegetarian or vegan is wrong or stupid.  If someone has a well informed and educated reason behind their claims then I'm interested in discussing it with them.  I've had many enlightening conversations with people like this!

I know I have ranted and complained about how many unsupportive and judgemental people I've come across in the last few months since I've started this journey.  So, I feel I should praise the many people who have been supportive!  I also appreciate those who may not understand my decision but ask questions so they better understand this lifestyle.  My family has always been supportive with any lifestyle or diet decisions myself or any of my 3 sisters have made.  As I've mentioned before, my older sister has been a vegetarian for almost 20 years, and I don't remember a single time where my parents were unsupportive.  My younger sister eats mostly organic foods, tries to avoid processed foods as much as possible, and gets her meat from local farmers whenever possible.  She is raising my niece and nephew this way as well, and also tries to avoid cooking and eating from containers that contain BPA.  My youngest sister is a hardcore meat eater, but never tries to convince us that she's right and we're wrong.  My parents sit somewhere in the middle of all of us in their dietary choices.  And we're all supportive of each other and understand that we all have our reasons for how we choose to live our lives.

The last thing I wanted to discuss on this post is my decision on how "vegan" to go.  I have decided to cut out all dairy and eggs by themselves (i.e. drinking milk, adding cheese on foods, eating eggs, etc.) and eventually cutting them out of anything I make or consume at home (I still have some products at home that have dairy in them which I will use until they are gone, but don't plan to purchase any more).  If eating at someone's house or at a restaurant I will not worry about foods like bread or pasta that may contain cheese or butter.  I still won't eat any meat or meat products of any kind (if an animal had to die to make the dish and part of the animal is in the dish then I won't eat it).  Fyi for those of you who are unaware, this includes any kind of meat broth (beef, chicken, fish, etc.), and cooking a dish with meat in it and picking it out does not work for vegetarians either!  You would be surprised how many people don't understand this.  And yes, fish is considered meat!  Where is fish located on the food pyramid??  Yep, under meat.

My next post I am planning on discussing the common questions I am asked and my responses.  As well, I will discuss some of the negative comments or attitudes I come across as well.  Some people also say things (even jokingly) and may not realize it is insulting or condescending.  And please, if you have any questions at all about vegetarianism, veganism, or my decision please feel free to ask!  I have had some very interesting comments and conversations with people, and I love explaining this lifestyle and hopefully help dismiss some of the misconceptions and negative attitudes about it.  I've also enjoyed hearing from friends and family that have been inspired to try new foods because they heard me rave about them.  Not all of the stereotypical vegetarian and vegan foods and food items are "icky"!  ;-)  And just because you eat meat doesn't mean you can't incorporate some of these healthy items into your diet. :-)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Don't worry, we aren't dying from lack of protein and iron...

One of the most common questions I get since i've stopped eating meat is "Aren't you concerned that you won't get enough protein and iron?".  That's the most common misconception about vegetarian and vegan diets.  Curious to find out some of the real facts about how much protein and iron I need in my diet, as well as how much of these nutrients are in non meat and dairy products, I decided to do some research.  I was definitely pleased at what I found!

Most vegetables, grains, and beans/legumes contain protein, and most contain iron.  This I already knew.  But how much?  Here are some facts about how much protein a person needs, as well as a list of foods and how much protein they contain.  As you can see, it's fairly easy to get enough protein as a vegetarian or vegan.  Also, remember that these vegetables, fruits, and legumes all contain other vital vitamins, minerals, fiber, and micro nutrients that the majority of meat and dairy sources do not!

But the most surprising facts I found were about iron however.  Here is information as well as a list of foods that contain the most iron.  Notice that the majority of the foods that contain the highest amount of iron are vegetables and grains, not meat or dairy!

After I read all of this I decided to calculate how much protein and iron I was getting in my daily diet.  My typical breakfast is old fashioned oats with a tablespoon of ground flax seeds (it adds omegas and fiber without adding any change in taste), and other various things to add some flavor.  This particular morning it was chocolate flavored Ovaltine and strawberry preserves.  When I calculated this breakfast contained 1/3 of the protein and iron I needed for the day!  Plus, I didn't even include the dark chocolate almond milk I drank with it, because most people wouldn't drink almond milk.  Fyi, almond milk contains more protein and iron than regular milk. 

So as you can see, us vegetarians and vegans aren't going to starve or die from malnutrition.  Like I said, it's a common misconception among meat lovers and skeptics.  Once again, it's all about eating healthier.  If you still want to eat your meat and dairy just make sure to do your homework and learn what healthy eating is.  And be sure to include more vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains in your diet!  :-)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

To V or not to V. That is the question.

I didn't mean for it to be so long between my last post and this one.  I've failed!!

A lot has happened in my "vegetarian" world the last couple of weeks.  The first (and most important) thing is a video of a lecture by Gary Yourofsky.  He is a vegan and animal rights activist, and is an excellent public speaker.  I had never heard of him before but happened to stumble upon this video on a veggie forum.  Even if you're not considering vegetarianism you should watch this video.  EVERYONE should be educated on the nutrition of what you're eating and where your meat is coming from.  There IS severe animal abuse in the meat processing industry, and everyone needs to see what happens.  If you watch this and still choose to eat meat then at least you're making an educated choice!!

Please watch the Gary Yourofsky video here

The lecture didn't change my views on vegetarianism and veganism, but I feel i'm much more educated on the subject.  Now when someone throws at me "Well people are made to eat meat" or "Veganism is unhealthy" then I can tell them why this isn't true.  I have started eating less dairy since watching the video though.  I am basically just eating whatever dairy products I have in the house and replacing it with mostly non dairy items.  And I do have some cheese or other dairy if I eat out and there is some on whatever it is i'm having  (And yes, there are nutritional benefits to cutting out dairy in your diet).

And that leads me to the new things i've tried since my last post.  There are several since it's been a few weeks!  The biggest thing was non dairy cheese.  It's the biggest because I LOVE my cheese and am very picky about it.  I was very nervous that I wouldn't like it.  It was surprisingly good though!  I have been using it on some things I have been cooking at home.  I still use regular cheese on occasion because I already have it in the house.  I don't see any benefit in throwing out food i've already purchased!  I also bought non dairy butter and dark chocolate almond milk the last time I was at the grocery.  The butter you can't tell a difference at all.  I was also nervous about trying any of the non dairy milk (it took me years to switch to skim milk!), but transitioning with a dark chocolate version was great.  I will eventually try the non flavored version as well as the other non dairy versions (soy, hemp, etc.) of milk.  One thing that I tried that I was not impressed with is a non dairy ice cream sandwich.  The soy ice cream had a weird taste in my opinion.  But, i'm not giving up on finding an ice cream that's non dairy just yet!

Tim and I have also tried several vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants.  Yang Kee Noodle is great because they can substitute tofu for meat in almost all of their dishes.  I have loved their cool lettuce chicken wraps for years, and i'm SO glad I can still have it!!  If you've never tried tofu and are nervous about it I would highly suggest going somewhere like this to try it first.  They know how to prepare it correctly so that it still has the same flavor and texture as the meat it is substituting.  Vietnam Kitchen is also great for this.  My 3 favorite dishes there (hot and sour soup, cold spring rolls, and J7 chicken) can all be gotten without meat or dairy.  YAY!!  Btw if you like hot and sour soup you will absolutely LOVE theirs.  It is the best i've ever had!  Last night we tried Boom Bozz pizza.  They have tons of toppings to choose from (other than the boring typical ones you get at regular chain pizza places).  We both decided to order ours with no cheese and just add the non dairy version when we got it home.  Delicious, not to mention healthy! 

I have gotten mostly positive feedback to anyone I talk to about my decision about going vegetarian.  I had one frustrating moment at work last week.  We had a drug rep. bring lunch for the office, and they were very late getting there.  It's frustrating because we only have a certain time frame we are free.  When they got there it was KFC.  Whee, vegetarian paradise...(insert sarcasm here).  I had already had a busy and frustrating day/week, so when I got to the break room and discovered the majority of the sides were gone I was not pleased.  Someone asked me "Aren't you going to get chicken?"  to which I responded with my usual "No, I don't eat meat anymore.".  The response was "Why, what's wrong with you?" in a joking but condescending tone.  Being the true redhead that I am I wanted to say something smartass, but I refrained and just walked away saying nothing instead.  You would think that working in healthcare you would get more understanding responses.  However, i've found that most of the healthcare industry (from medical assistants and nurses all the way up to most physicians) know absolutely nothing about eating healthy.  It's frightening and sad, especially when I see a patient with conditions that could be reversed by simply eating healthy.  Instead they are given a bunch of medications and told "Oh yeah, and try to eat healthier." in passing.  It makes me frustrated and sad that our country is so unhealthy and no one is doing anything to really fix this.

Overall the transition is still going smooth.  I'm still feeling healthier and still enjoying everything I eat!  And, I am eating whatever I want without being concerned with how it may be unhealthy.  If you can change your tastes to where you crave healthier foods and be fully happy and satisfied, then what's wrong with healthier eating??  :-)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A moderate trapped in a judgemental world...

When it comes to politics I consider myself a moderate.  Contrary to popular belief, that doesn't mean I waver on my opinions.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have an opinion and i'm not afraid to tell you about them.  I am a redhead after all!  My stand on certain issues fall most often to the left, but I do have a few right sided views as well.  The main reason I consider myself a moderate, however, is because I don't think that one side or the other is necessarily completely right or has all the answers.  Also, if someone has a valid explanation as to why their view is different from mine I can respect it, even if I don't agree.  When it comes to my religious beliefs I now consider myself a United Methodist.  Their beliefs are that although Christians have different opinions on specific beliefs, the main thing is that you believe in God and that you follow a good life.  Again, many people see the religion as having no opinion on specific issues, and therefore is a moderate religion.  Again, here I am stuck in the middle again!

So, why do I bring this up in my blog about being a vegetarian?  It seems I have found myself stuck in the middle of an issue yet again.  When I first announced that I was no longer going to eat meat I got a lot of slack from meat eaters.  The usual, asking what in the world I eat if not meat, judgements assuming that I suddenly hate all those who eat meat, etc.  The most annoying is the ones who seem to feel the need to poke fun and make jokes about it.  The most annoying was when people accused Tim (my boyfriend) of deciding to become a vegetarian because I had just announced that I was.  Which is very amusing!  He has been a vegetarian off and on for years now and has been talking about going back to it for months.  I also didn't even tell him that I was no longer eating meat until almost 2 weeks into it.  He is also much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am.  But of course many people have this view that a guy "needs" to revolve their life around the woman in their life and do everything they say.  Which makes me want to vomit!  I don't want a male clone of myself and would be annoyed if a guy tried to.

Since I was getting such a hard time from much of the meat eating world I decided to reach out to vegetarians, my peeps.  So I started browsing some vegetarian and vegan forums.  They would completely understand the struggles i'm having, and give me some good tips and recipes I could use, right?  Apparently that wasn't entirely true.  Many of the people on these forums were the stereotypical vegetarians that have turned many meat eaters against the whole idea of vegetarianism.  Killing animals for food or anything else is completely unacceptable to them, and anyone who doesn't believe or follow this will be judged and chastized.  They were even cutting down people that follow a vegetarian diet except eat seafood on occasion.  How dare they smear the vegetarian name like that!!  "Those" people just want to be in the "cool group" of the vegetarians without actually having to commit fully, to them anyway.  Then, I got judged and chastized for not believing that all meat eaters are going to hell.  How dare I not be judgemental!  Oh, and if you don't think eating animals for food is completely wrong yet you don't eat any meat for other reasons then you aren't ALLOWED to be called a vegetarian!

So here I am, stuck in the middle.  A moderate yet again!  What is funny is that moderates, the ones who judge no one and try to understand your point of view, are the ones that are chastized the most.  So should I not think that Americans should eat a more plant based diet to better our country's health?  Should I bash vegetarians for being "tree hugger" types?  I don't want to do either!  Of course it is up to me to be comfortable with my decisions, not others.  I know this 100%, but everyone still would like some support and validation in their life.  Ironically the most support i've gotten have been from many of the hard core meat eaters in my life.  Meat eaters that are educated on nutrition know that there are health benefits to becoming a vegetarian.  It's just not for them.  These are the people that are most supportive.  I have been able to weed through the crazy hard-core freaks on the forums and find a few supporters.  Imagine being supported for NOT judging others.  What a novel idea!!

I am 4 weeks into my no meat diet now, and still no desire to have any meat.  I figured I would have found my niche in this new lifestyle by now, or at least be closer to it.  Having a unique perspective it looks like it's going to take me a little while longer.  I can say that becoming a vegetarian has made me feel like i'm doing something I can really be proud of.  When I sit down for a meal I feel good about the nutrition I am putting in my body.  I feel good that I am not sacrificing the life of any animal to enjoy my meals.  And most importantly I am standing up for something I believe in, and still striving to make a difference in people's lives.  I've said from day 1 that if I inspire just one person to clean up their diet and take care of themselves then I will feel like i've made a difference.  I know it won't happen overnight, but I feel confident that it will happen.  :-)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Vegetarian assumptions (You know what assuming does!)

Here is an article about one of the most common questions vegetarians get:  How do you get enough protein?

I can't even count the number of times I had to explain that i'm not trying to "convert" people to become vegetarian this week!  I began this blog to convince people to educate themselves on healthy eating and make healthier choices.  I can also assure you that i'm not preaching that eating meat is bad, or that vegetarians are superior, because they aren't by any means.  However, vegetarians are educated on nutrition and where their food comes from.  And that's what I hope to accomplish; to encourage people to educate themselves on nutrition and make more conscious choices.  :-)

Whether you eat meat or not, the fact is that you get the majority (and the most vital) of your nutrients from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.  Sure, you get protein and iron from meat.  However, from beans, whole grains like quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), and rich vegetables like spinach, you get protein, iron, calcium, vitamins D and K, and countless micronutrients that are vital in preventing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and diabetes.  So keep eating that meat you love, no problem!  But choose lean healthy versions, and include MANY more of these healthy veggies and grains in your diet!  Our nation is in an epidemic.  And I can promise you out of the many patients I have had contact with that were towards the end of their life, not ONE single person has said "I'm so glad I ate all the yummy crap I could!".  They ALL say "I wish I had taken better care of my health when I had the chance." 

Out of all the people that have made derogatory or negative assumptions about decision to no longer eat meat, not one of these people could say cutting meat out of your diet was the unhealthy way to go.  Why?  Because everyone knows it's not!  For some reason people get defensive and judgemental when you mention your diet choice, like it is something personal.  My favorite is "Good luck with your choice", which vegetarians interpret as "I think your a fucking idiot, even though I know absolutely nothing about nutrition, but I don't want to look like an ass so i'll just try to seem supportive".  Harsh, I know.  But so are some of the attitudes that are thrown at vegetarians and vegans.  Meat eaters and vegetarians alike can live in the same world and respect each other's choices, if they would just stop pointing fingers at the other.

So, about my week...Things got kind of turned around unexpectedly.  My BFF lost her mom in the beginning of the week.  She had been battling dementia for a long time and lost her battle this week.  We have been best friends for almost 20 years now.  Her family is like a second family to me, and vice versa, so it was heartbreaking to see her mom go and to see my friend have to go thru that.  This meant, of course, that my birthday cookout was cancelled.  So, my new meatless item of the week was changed from my planned meatless Italian sausage as planned.  For lunch Friday I tried Tofurky meatless deli slices.  I loaded it up with light mayo, colby jack cheese, and hummus.  Unfortunately I wasn't too crazy about it.  :-(  But, I didn't expect to fall in love with every meatless dish or meat substitute that I tried!  It wasn't horrible, but wasn't great either.  I also tried the Boca American style veggie burger, and I thought it was pretty darn good!  That's saying a lot since i'm quite picky when it comes to veggie burgers. :-)

Since my birthday cookout was cancelled/postponed, I headed to World Fest with my family that day.  I knew I would be able to find multiple things to eat there since most cultures aren't really meat based, and I was pretty excited to try some new things.  I had a roasted corn on the cob (always one of my favorites!), goat cheese and crabmeat spring rolls (yummy!), some grilled plantains, and gelato!  They also had a stand with gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches I would have loved to have tried with ingredients you don't normally find on a traditional grilled cheese, but my stomach is only so big! :-D

So i'm going in to week 3 of no meat, and still no regrets and no meat cravings.  It is exciting to come up with new and different meals instead of the same boring things I would typically eat before.  Before I would come home, grab something usual for dinner, and down the same, boring food as the week before.  Now I can actually look forward to something new every night.  I'm still reading books and blogs on vegetarian cooking and lifestyles.  I want to learn as much as possible, and get new ideas on how to keep my diet from getting boring and eat as healthy as possible.  So, so far so good!

Monday, August 29, 2011

My first meatless social weekend

So far my transition to a diet with no meat has gone much easier than I expected.  Considering I originally set out to gradually cut out meat and replace my food stock with meat free and unprocessed foods, the fact that I unexpectedly went cold turkey (no pun intended) has not been difficult for the most part.  This weekend was my first time eating socially since I made my vegetarian-ish decision.  Friday was my first "test" so to speak.  I played at a field hockey game with the pep band.  They started handing out free boxed meals from Penn Station Subs.  My initial reaction was "hell yeah i'll take a free meal!", until I remembered I was no longer eating meat and stopped myself.  I'm sure those initial reactions will gradually change.  It's funny how much we are creatures of habit.  I did however snatch a couple Doritos from someone.  That's the best part anyway. :-)

Saturday was the Brew at the Zoo.  It's a fund raising event where you taste various beer, wine, and food vendors, mostly local.  I was a bit concerned going into it.  Once you get a few drinks in you sometimes you forget your good intentions!  I was happy that I had no trouble sticking to my guns.  Although they had several items such as wings, barbecue, burgers, etc., I stuck to the meatless options and was very satisfied!  I even tried an appetizer with a small piece of ahi tuna, which i'm normally not a fan of, and it was actually pretty good!

Sunday Tim and I went out to dinner for his birthday.  I wasn't concerned about finding something meatless, as most restaurants have several dishes (although most people probably don't even realize that until you stop and think about it).  I decided to try a roasted mushroom and goat cheese panini, something I normally don't get because the mushrooms don't have a lot of flavor much of the time.  I figured worst case scenario I would just pull of most of the mushroom.  They actually knew how to prepare roasted mushrooms however, and it had a great char grilled flavor!  We also had some fried pickle spears as an appetizer, which is my favorite fried food of all time.  Thank goodness I don't have to give up that!  LOL

Today at work was the first time I actually had to tell someone that I was no longer eating meat.  I'm not making a big deal out of it since I don't believe in preaching my decisions and/or beliefs to others.  In my experience observing others who were vegetarians deal with this I know people can be really judgemental and/or weird about it.  I just casually mentioned it to a coworker as we were getting lunch, and to my surprise they weren't judgemental or weirded out at all.  We had a good conversation about what vegetarians eat (her daughter has not eaten meat for a while now), and what meat substitutes were good and not so good.  So far that's been the general attitude i've come across.  Although there are many people out there that are so anti vegetarian they'd eat an entire side of beef to prove their point, I think Americans have come a long way in the last couple of decades on alternative ways of eating.  I feel lucky to have made this decision after people have become more accepting and supportive about vegetarianism.

I am trying a meat free Italian sausage from Morningstar Farm as my new food item for the week.  This kind of happened out of default.  I picked up a package a couple weeks ago because I was intrigued (i've been a big fan of their vegetarian sausage patties for years).  After making the decision to go meatless I remembered that my BFF was having a cookout for my birthday this weekend, with hot dogs and all the trimmings.  Oops!  Although I like many of the veggie burgers on the market i've never  been a fan of the veggie dogs.  I have seen some good reviews on the Italian sausage so i'm hoping for the best!  Plus they will be cooked on the grill which makes a huge difference in even regular burgers and hot dogs.  We are also having a sundae bar for dessert, so worst case scenario i'll just pig out on ice cream.  That wouldn't hurt my feelings a bit! :-D

Sunday, August 28, 2011

How did I get here?

I am probably the last person that thought I would ever try eating a vegetarian diet.  Not that I ever felt that I HAD to have meat in order to feel satisfied.  I've always been super picky about any meat that I ate, and absolutely hated handling uncooked meat.  Watching me make hamburgers or trimming fat off a roast was entertaining i'm sure!  My big issue has always been how picky I am when it comes to vegetables.  Many vegetables I can't stand, some I like ok raw but despise them cooked (broccoli being number 1 on that list!).  I even stopped eating red meat my freshman year in college.  To this day I can't eat a cheaper piece of steak without my stomach feeling like it's digesting itself! So, how did I come to the decision to give this a try? 

My older sister became a full vegetarian around the time I started college.  Her main reason was the cruelty to animals that went along with many of the meat processing plants.  A close second was the health benefits to cutting meat out of your diet.  This was the first time I had known anyone who followed a vegetarian diet and I was intrigued.  I learned about what substitutions vegetarians made in their diet, and learned about new foods that I had never heard of.  I was a super picky eater growing up, and I think this was a turning point to get me to become open to new foods and ideas.  You also have to keep in mind that this was about 20 years ago, when there weren't a lot of choices when it came to meat alternatives and access to the dozens of grains other than the mainstream ones.  There were a couple of health food stores since we live in a larger city at least.  Now you can go to any mainstream supermarket and get these things with no problem.  And there are many more options as well.

Over the next several years I was always researching diets, exercise, foods, etc.  It was more of a passing curiosity.  I consider myself lucky to have this knowledge from an early age, as the majority of Americans have no idea where to even start when it comes to what a healthy diet is.  I started trying things like veggie burgers and veggie sausage, and sometimes even preferred them to their greasy meat counterparts.  My passion for animals also started growing as well.  Although I loved a good hamburger or chicken with my pasta, something about eating an animal that was once alive just never has felt right to me.  Not that I ever thought eating animals was wrong as it is part of the food chain, but it just felt off to me personally.  Plus the mistreatment of many of the animals that we eat now really disturbed me.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago.  I was still maintaining my weight and eating healthier than the majority of Americans, but I wouldn't say it was completely healthy by any means.  I had some routine blood work done and noticed my cholesterol levels were a small amount above normal.  Most of the physicians blew this off and said it wasn't that big of a deal.  Compared to many Americans they were right, but that didn't mean that it was healthy, especially in my early 30s!  After that I started having digestive issues.  I was nauseous almost all of the time, so much that I felt like I was going to get sick in the middle of eating on numerous occasions.  On top of that I had gained 5 or so pounds for no reason.  I was eating better and exercising very regularly.  My doctor put me on some medication and sent me off to a specialist.  They did several (very expensive) tests on my digestive tract and came up with the conclusion that they had no real explanation why I was always nauseous.  Wow, thanks for your help!  When I mentioned the weight gain they blew it off saying the meds were just helping me eat more.  Well no, because I was watching my diet!  On top of all this I found out that the medication they had me on was very controversial and could cause permanent issues if used regularly.  Thanks so much for your help!  Needless to say I went off them immediately.

A year or so later this started happening again.  This time I decided to see our Physician's Assistant at the doctor's office.  She did more blood work and all of my cholesterol levels were in the normal range since I was eating healthier.  But this didn't explain what was going on with having nausea all the time.  Something had to be going on.  The only thing I could think of was what I was eating.  Sure, to the naked eye I was eating healthy 80% of the time like everyone says to do.  I was exercising on a regular basis (not strenuous by any means), but I still had some extra "padding" around the middle making my clothes tight.  It just didn't make any sense. 

So I decided to read a couple of books that I had heard about.  The first one was Boost Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels.  This book is about eating organic, unprocessed foods, watching what you store/heat your food in because of toxins that can leak in your food, etc.  It was a very informative book, but there was just something missing.  It got the wheels in motion however to start really looking at what I was eating.  Out of convenience I was eating a lot of processed foods, instead of whole, healthy foods.  I started gradually looking into how I could change this around.  Maybe this was why I was having so many stomach issues...

The next book I read was Veganism by Kathy Freston.  Although I wasn't expecting it, this book really made an impact on how I saw my diet.  The book is about eating consciously.  In other words, know exactly what you're eating and exactly where it came from.  Most processed foods have so many additives you really don't know what you're getting into.  The book encourages you to look into meatless dishes and open your mind to new, healthier foods.  I decided to start making a few changes in my diet to see how it affected how I felt and my overall health.  First, I was going to start cutting out processed foods, and start looking into more natural versions of the processed foods I ate.  Second, I was going to start cutting out meat from my diet.   Third, I was going to try a new meatless food a week (a new grain, a meat substitute, etc.)

The week I finished the book I went to the grocery and purchased items to make a meatless, vegan meal.  The day before I was going to make this meal I decided to cut out meat for the day just to see how it went.  No big deal really.  We had Qdoba Mexican, and I just substituted the chicken with beans and more salsa.  I had pasta for dinner, which I rarely cook meat for anyway due to the preparation and cooking time of it.  The next day I made my Vegan meal, using quinoa (a healthy grain you prepare similar to rice) and a steak kabob meat substitute.  It was surprisingly very good!  So my meatless meal turned into a meatless weekend, which turned into a meatless week.  I found myself browsing the natural foods section of the supermarket more than usual to see what was out there. 

After a few days I noticed that my stomach was flatter.  I weighed myself curious to see how much weight I had lost, and to my surprise I was the exact same weight!  All these years I had been carrying extra water weight in my middle, which I had always contributed to the extra fat you gain in your middle as you get older.  Then I suddenly realized I hadn't been nauseous in several days.  I couldn't tell you the last time that had happened!  The best surprise of all was that I was completely full and satisfied after every meal.  I ate what I was in the mood for, making substitutions any time there was meat involved.  I also started noticing my eating habits and cravings change.  I never have that overfull, bloated feeling after a big meal anymore.  And all of this in just a week!  This was motivation to keep going.

I am now at 8 days without meat, and I plan to keep going.  I don't really want to call myself a vegetarian though.  I consider myself vegetarianish (coming from the term "veganish" in the Kathy Preston book I read).  I still eat seafood on occasion (I had sushi the other day for example).  I will probably enjoy some gravy with Thanksgiving dinner, as mashed potatoes with gravy are my favorite part of the meal!  I plan on dabbling in dairy substitutes as well.  I don't think I could ever go fully vegan due to my great love of cheese, milk, and ice cream, but I will probably reduce the amount I consume.  Then again who knows.  It's amazing how much your tastes change as you slowly adapt your diet to healthier eating.  You no longer crave the fatty hamburgers and start craving healthier meals.  Really, as long as you are enjoying your meals fully what does it matter what you're craving??

So, this blog is to share my experiences of my journey.  I don't know where it will lead me exactly, but i'm excited to find out!  In the last week i've felt a lift both in my health and my spirit, something I wasn't expecting.  I am excited to explore new foods every day as well as a new way of life.  I'm sure there will be some amusing antecdotes as well, because my life experiences are never complete without them!  And I hope that I can inspire at least 1 person to look at their diet and experiment on healthier eating. :-)