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. :-)