“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan
I love conducting experiments on myself, little challenges that add a bit of spark to the year. I know from studying nutrition, that we are our best experiments, so after examining my yearly goals, I elected to dive right into becoming a vegan. Vegan, according to the Vegan Society can be defined as, “A way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” Which is a noble pursuit indeed.
No longer rich, frothy milk in my morning coffee, no more Swiss cheese to top by bread with tomatoes. Nope, nothing that derived from an animal (meat, dairy, honey, and/or eggs) would touch these lips for one solid week. (Laugh all you want, a week felt long enough. A 30 day experiment would have provided better insight, however, I could not withstand 30 days.)
The first day I felt like hell, genuine, head aching, dizzy feeling hell wrapped in a blanket of much needed couch time. I quickly realized my lack of well-being stemmed from the fact that my sugar levels were far too high. I had a homemade vegan muffin for breakfast with a coffee and almond milk. For lunch I had a big bowl of mixed fruit topped with a vegan yogurt (not at all recommended) nuts, seeds and coconut flakes. I literally had to lie on the couch after lunch I felt so horrible. That night we enjoyed vegan rice bowls, couscous, beans, cilantro, tomatoes, peppers and avocado. I felt much better, though still quite wary of my experiment. Push on I told myself…this is only day 1; no time to wimp out now.
Day two was much, much better. I ate peanut butter with apple for breakfast, finding that the insertion of some protein was key. That night for dinner we enjoyed vegan pasta with homemade pesto, garbanzo beans, fresh tomatoes and olive oil. Delicious.
I won’t continue to bore you with our daily menus, but I will enlighten you with some nuggets of wisdom I gained while in experimentation mode. It goes a little something like this….
Lesson 1: Prepare yourself, as hard as this pill is to swallow, not all of us will thrive on a vegan diet. There. Said it. Done.
Lesson 2: Listen to Your Body – the reason for conducting my vegan week experiment was to determine if I would feel better by eliminating dairy products and the small amount of fish I normally consume from my diet.
I made note of how I felt, was sure to eat a whole foods based diet and after the week, I would determine if this way of eating was best for me. Truth be told, I could tell relatively early on that I was not thriving on this way of life.
Lesson 3: Equipment Fail – Our blender broke and not having that little gadget during vegan week wasn’t all that awesome. Our blender would have been remarkably handing for creating healthy shakes (avocado, bananas, berries, flax seed, almond milk and turmeric), sauces and other treats. Urgh…note to self, have the equipment necessary to make experimentation week a success.
Lesson 4: Processed Foods – Consuming processed vegan foods is NOT, and I repeat, NOT the way to go. It is not hard to become a junk food vegan and I opted not to take that route, but I can see how those little vegan packages can make their way into a grocery basket. Resist the temptation to purchase those overly processed, sugared, gross tasting, quasi food like substances and stick to real food. Trust me on this one.
Lesson 5: Preparation and Food Choice – Eating a vegan diet wasn’t necessarily hard, but it did require planning and lots of trips to the grocery store to restock our produce. By planning out my meals, I felt better equipped to handle the day and who doesn’t want to handle their day with gusto? On a positive note, I did enjoy breaking out of our dinner rut with some delicious new meals. Yum to that!
Choices… I did find my choices were very limited. I found I consumed far too much fruit and way too many nuts on my vegan week experiment, neither of which made me feel incredible and left me with a bulging gut by the end of the day. Thumbs down to that!
Lesson 6: My overall thoughts are as follows… my die-hard vegan friends are going to cringe, but at this point in my life, I don’t want to become a vegan. Sigh, cry, scream, whatever you must do, but I was not thriving physically or emotionally on this diet.
I consider myself a pescetarian (don’t you love the nutrition terms) and have been for years. I will eat fish on occasion, but mostly stick to a whole foods, and a vegetarian lifestyle that does not include meat. I enjoy milk, yogurt and cheese (I know the horror) and because life is short and those foods are delicious, I want to find balance in my own way and enjoy this journey.
Lesson 7: Energy Meltdown…As a vegan I just didn’t feel the energy I do when I eat small amounts of animal products. I missed my morning coffee, which, honestly, is a sacred part of my morning ritual.
There are plenty of athletes that consume a vegan diet and would outperform me any day, but for my body and my workouts, I simply didn’t feel the power. I felt as if I was walking around in a fog, listless and tired all the time. Perhaps something was missing? Was it calories? Not enough variety? Lack of protein? Psychological? Who knows, but I was listening to my body and she was not happy.
Lesson 8: Learn the Lesson, Your Lesson. As with all experiences in life, there are valuable lessons that come along with each new road we travel. I learned that I don’t need an excess amount of dairy, however, I do enjoy eating a variety of foods and of those, dairy is indeed included.
I also learned that by shaking things up a bit, I felt more alive, more engaged in my eating program and more aware of the way my body felt. Those were all helpful observations and bits of wisdom to carry into the future.
Lesson 9: Allergies and Food Adversities – while conducting the experiment I made note how I felt (not so great). As I slowly reincorporate some dairy and fish back into my diet, it will be important to note any side effects from those foods including: bloating (had plenty of that on the vegan diet), stomach discomfort, a decrease in energy, skin reactions, and other side-effects associated with consuming dairy products.
I love the notion of conducting experiments on ourselves and with our bodies because no diet book, no nutrition guru will know us better than we already know ourselves.
Throughout our lives, our lifestyles naturally change and therefore, we often need to re-examine the way we eat, the foods we consume and the quantity of those foods that make their way into our bodies. Our habits need to be examined and often times, re-written. So I am committed to experimenting, changing things up a bit and learning valuable lessons along the way.
I am aware that I may catch some serious flack for writing this piece, which may come across as anti-vegan, which it is not. I believe that as individuals we all must choose to eat in a way that nourishes our bodies, our minds and our souls. We all must make choices that resonate with us, knowing that food consumption and nutrition is a deeply personal matter.
I understand that consuming animals has become and continues to be a dirty, and often times, inhumane industry that must be rectified. We, as individuals can play a powerful role in demanding alternative methods besides factory farming when it comes to the choices we make. We vote each time we purchase our food, I was educated to vote with intention. We must also support those farmers that raise, and harvest animals with tender hands and respect.
“Food changes everything.” – Joshua Rosenthal
Whole Foods – Food that come from the earth including: fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nut and seeds. The less the food is processed (created in a factory) the better it will be for your health.
Organic – I define organic as those foods that have not been treated with chemicals – pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc. The foods have also not been treated with sewage sludge, and should not be treated with hormones of any kind.
Webster defines organic as following: “Food produced without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.”
If you are just starting on a journey of wanting to eat and live a healthier lifestyle, start small and celebrate little victories. Consume more water, eat from a smaller plate, consume more fruits and vegetables, and take responsibility for your own health. Start positive habits and stick to them. Be consistent when it comes to eating well and taking care of your body, it is never time wasted. Each day feed your mind, your body and your soul.
Looking for a quick to read, easy to digest nutrition book to get you started? I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s Food Rules.