“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Thomas Edison, captured from The Vegecution of Robin
I’ve been wanting to write about my diet for a while now, but it feels like such an enormous task. Back in October, after having had a few bad-eating months during my transition to a new city and beginning class full-time on top of a lot of turnover in positions at work… food became a last priority. Nobody on this earth, except perhaps your mother, is going to prioritize your health. Since the time you left home for college or whatever you did after high school, you have had to make choices for yourself; choices that effect your health. Do we eat out again tonight? Do we order in? Do we cook that frozen pizza? Do we cook that high-fat, high-sodium, but easy meal? These choices become even more difficult when you compile secondary issues like being busy or not having the right tools or money.
How it All Began
When Michael and I were first married, we were pretty broke. He was still finishing up undergrad full-time and I was making very little in my first full-time position with UK. Frequently, we had to buy our groceries with leftover Christmas Wal-Mart gift cards, or food sent home with us from my mom! We became quite creative, and would eat the same meals over and over again so as not to waste leftovers. Ramen became a staple, despite our understanding that it was full of sodium. We ate eggs, and bread, and ground beef on occasion and whatever else we could afford.
In healthcare, we talk about health disparities and one huge disparity is low-income patients. You see, it is difficult to maintain good health when you can’t afford your prescriptions or even the appointments that are required to keep your issues in check. Things like diabetes are prevalent in areas where people are working two jobs to survive, and don’t have time to work out or cook healthy meals. These areas are often saturated with fast food restaurants that offer “dollar menus”. Take it from someone who lived off of a dollar menu for a short-time, your hope is to get the most food for you buck… whether or not that is healthy food!
Now that we have become more steady in our incomes, though we are still quite frugal, we are no longer concerned about being able to afford the next meal. (Side note, we were surrounded by wonderful friends and family during this time that frequently bought or made us meals which helped more than they probably knew!) What happens though, is that you have trained yourself to eat in that way for years (or in our case just months) but it becomes the norm. We started out our marriage that way, so it was so easy to continue to wait until 7:30 pm on a Monday when my blood sugar started getting low and we had no choice but to run to chick-fil-a for a delicious, yet unhealthy meal! Over and over again we did this for a while. Fortunately, both Michael and I have always been into exercise in various ways and so we didn’t spiral too far out of control, but had we not had that base understanding of health (calories in must = calories out) I believe we would both be borderline obese.
Let me return now to October. I had been dealing with a large amount of stress from work and mid-terms and I began using the excuse that “I don’t have time to eat healthier!” At this point, I had not been running for some time and had lost the practice of exercising regularly. As most do, I didn’t notice the gradual change in my weight and my moods until I started looking back at pictures and thought “that’s not me!” Additionally, my younger sister had recently begun a new diet and exercise routine and she had been looking (and feeling) better than ever. I felt like a hypocrite as I had always pushed this important rule “it’s ok to eat cake, just run it off the next day!” So I realized I had to re-prioritize my health. For our anniversary, my husband and I decided to have a stay-cation where we lounged around and went to book-stores and sat and drank coffee and read books for hours. It was luxurious! On our first trip to the bookstore, I happened across a cookbook that intrigued me:
I pulled it off the shelf with several other books, and after about 2.5 hours I was hooked. I had almost finished the book when we left which began not as a cookbook but as a simple “how-to” on eating natural, plant-based foods. (Recommending getting our nutrition as close to the earth as possible to have maximum health. It also delved into the health benefits of various plants.)
I was intrigued by this idea that you could live off of plants alone. I had previously done a fast with my church inspired by the biblical Daniel’s Fast where Daniel lived for 21 days on nothing but fruits and vegetables and drank nothing but water. After doing this fast I felt amazing…. of course the moment I came off of it and ate “normally” again I was miserable…. I just kept eating that way until my body realized it was back to reality. You see, I truly believe my body was celebrating the break from the processing that it has had to do for 25 years. Robin Quivers talks about this a lot in her book “The Vegecution of Robin” which is another fantastic read. In that book, Robin discusses how she lived her life somewhat miserably full of body pain and depression, utilizing fad diet after fad diet until one day a medical professional almost tortured her into a vegan diet. After going Vegan she has never looked back.
I Can’t Go Back
So here’s the deal. When people ask me why I’m not eating meat, or why I’m cutting out the dairy products (that I’ve loved my whole life) I tell them that I’m trying something new. The truth is, I feel better than ever. I’ve only been doing this for a month and a half and already I can tell a difference. At restaurants I’m not pressured into eating an expensive steak, I know exactly where to look when I open that menu (and it’s not the salads…) I go straight to the sides. Restaurants often provide GREAT seasoned and steamed veggies! At Thanksgiving and other holiday gatherings, I didn’t feel guilty or gross after my usual overeating. I felt wonderful with the LARGE amount of veggies that I ate. (Not that I didn’t indulge, but I made sure to workout for it the next day!) Honestly, I was worried about starting this right before the holidays, fearing that it would be very difficult to do but it has proved easier than expected.
One important point to note, a theme that was underlined in most if not all of the books that I’ve read on this subject, is the understanding that you shouldn’t (or can’t) completely gut your entire diet overnight and expect it to be easy. In fact, what I was encouraged to do was to encorporate more and more veg-friendly meals into my normal diet until they became my go-to. I have eaten dairy on occasion since that day (mostly in things like cookies or a few things of yogurt) but for the most part, I’ve stuck to the plan well. There is an important note between this diet and the vegan diet (some of which I will touch on in a future post on the details of this diet) which is that I’m not “offended” by those who still eat an animal-based diet, but I choose not to. I choose not to because of the health-risks and effects associated with (based on research and proven evidence) these diets.
This image was posted to one of my favorite plant-based facebook groups, the Engine 2 Diet:
As a healthcare professional, I can support that this is true. The number one reason for death for both men AND women in America is heart-disease, and our diet and exercise is the LARGEST factor in a poor prognosis. I don’t want to be in that statistic. I want to be as healthy as possible so that I can hopefully bear healthy babies and be a healthy mom, grandma and great-grandma!
If you’re interested in learning more, here are my best recommendations. Read the two books listed above. Follow the Engine 2 Diet group on facebook, or find their blog here. (I am currently half-way through their book “My Beef with Meat”. Check out this website called Thrive Forward with lots of great tips and nutrition facts, plenty of how-to-videos (guides). Check out this website with great podcasts, helpful for tips on how to deal with the aftermath of switching diets (how to respond to nay-sayers, etc). I have listed to several of Colleen’s podcasts as I make this transition, some of them do not apply since I do not consider myself a vegan, but we do have a lot in common and her tips will definitely help anyone considering starting a plant-based diet.
The number one most important thing you can do is try. It won’t hurt anyone for you to try adding just ONE plant-based meal into your diet. Make small changes, but set plans. Decide on a date when you’d like to be FULLY plant-based and go from there. Keep a journal to record the changes you see in your health, both physical, mental and emotional. Keep track of what new foods you like and what foods you may not like yet. Keep a list of plant-based meals that you already use (spaghetti anyone?) Get creative and get support. I’d love to support anyone I can through this change, just let me know in the comment section!