Are you thinking about changing your diet to plant based for the new year?
Although I call myself vegan, I really prefer “plant based” as a title. I think there are a lot of negative feelings that come with that “vegan” title. Yet every time I go out to eat, I tell our server that I’m vegan to simplify the menu options for me. I’m sure my family is tired of hearing it! And I try not to preach too much, but I am quick to brag about my low cholesterol and even how much it dropped from vegetarian to vegan diet when my friends complain about their battle with high cholesterol. (For the record, my cholesterol is 142, down from 160 as a vegetarian.)
This is the version of my story I will tell you on a long run if you ask me why I’m vegan.
My journey began in college, actually. I’d barely turned 18, and a combination of dating someone who was vegetarian, listening to music from a vegan artist (I’m a Morrissey fan!), and getting tired of late night runs to McDonald’s for cheeseburgers made me curious about going vegetarian. I also read a book called Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe. Originally published in 1971, it was one of the first books about how shifting your diet to plant based can help the environment. So I went pescutarian. That was 1993. It was tougher back then to avoid meat than it is now, especially going to school in small town Farmville, Virginia.
Fast forward to 1996. I graduated from college a semester early, and I was working full time at Hecht’s, waiting to get into graduate school. I worked in the mall, and I had a weakness for Chick-fil-A. If you remember the 90’s, Chick-fil-A was a staple in the food court. So I added poultry back to my diet. It took a while for my body to adjust to eating those proteins again. I was surprised. But within a month, I was OK. This was my diet until several years ago.
In my 30’s, I developed an allergy to shellfish. The first time I had a reaction, I really thought I was hungover. We had gone to my husband’s high school class reunion, and, along with drinking 3 beers, I ate an astonishing number of cocktail shrimp. The next day, I was super dizzy with a severe headache, and I couldn’t get out of bed! I was so embarrassed. But later that year on vacation on the Outer Banks, I ate an entire pound of crab legs by myself. I consumed no alcohol whatsoever that night, but I woke up the next day feeling exactly how I did after the class reunion party. So no more shellfish for me.
By the time I turned 40, I was seriously into running, and my husband was seriously into CrossFit. He was eating paleo, which meant we were eating a TON of chicken. We also had chickens as pets for their eggs. Not only was I tired of eating chicken all the time, but I also felt morally conflicted by eating the same creatures I cared for in our backyard, creatures with names and personalities. We also live pretty close to a chicken processing plant. So I decided to give up chicken again. I’d already given up shellfish, and I don’t really love fish unless it’s deep fried (and then, honestly, what’s the point?) So I went lactose-ovose vegetarian.
Eating vegetarian is surprisingly easy in this day and age. And morally, I didn’t really see how eating dairy or eggs was cruel to animals. I’ve since been enlightened, but ignorance was bliss…
I continued to have problems with asthma and depression as an adult. In an effort to manage these issues, I sought the help of a functional medicine chiropractor. His mission was to reduce inflammation in my body. I added to my regimen of supplements and began having regular adjustments. And then one visit, he did this seemingly voodoo test on me, placing various vials of extracts on my abdomen, and then performing a manual muscle test. I was shocked when dairy was like kryptonite. I basically told him he was full of shit. But he convinced me to give up dairy for a few weeks, then add it back in to see what happens. I was so close to being vegan already that I also gave up eggs. This was April of 2017.
My first weekend as a vegan coincided with my first (and only!) Ragnar trail relay event. That was challenging! No hot chocolate by the fire. No creamer in my coffee. No cheese. But I survived.
5 weeks later, my husband and I went to a wedding. There was nothing vegan there, but plenty vegetarian. So I ate all the things… mac and cheese, mashed potatoes with butter, cake… and my body protested. My belly ached and blew up like a balloon. That convinced me that eating vegan was now my life.
Admittedly, I embraced the junk food vegan aspects at first. Oreos. French fries. Lots of prepared vegan foods. But there were plenty of good choices, too. And in addition to lowering my cholesterol, I haven’t had bronchitis since going vegan. I used to get sick at least twice a year! My goal this year is to clean up my diet even further, reducing oils and sugars.
Thinking about going whole foods, plant based? Here are some resources:
- Forks over Knives
- The Game Changers
- What the Health
- Fast Food Nation (not a documentary, but insightful)
- The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Thomas Campbell (you must look past the author’s praise for himself…)
- Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe (including this one because it’s a classic!)
- How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Gregor
- Eat and Run by Scott Jurek (a vegan ultra-runner! He includes some recipes in this inspiring memoir)
- Finding Ultra by Rich Roll (another inspiring memoir by yet another vegan ultra-runner!)
- Forks over Knives
- The High Protein Vegetarian Cookbook (not entirely vegan, but most recipes already are or can be adapted. I use many of these recipes on a regular basis, including the black bean soup and the curried red lentils.)
- Minimalist Baker
- The Simple Veganista (I love her baked goods recipes!)
- Vegan Richa
- Forks over Knives (wonderful resources!)
- Healthline (link to an article about vegan supplement needs)
In a nutshell, I went vegetarian for the animals. I went vegan for my health. The longer I’m vegan, the more I realize how much my choice affects the world around me. As if I didn’t love animals enough, I’m even more empathetic toward them.
I hope you enjoyed my story! And if you are beginning or enhancing your journey into the plant based life, I hope you find these resources helpful! Happy new year!