August 24th, 2011
I have been a vegetarian since I was 12 years old, and I became a vegetarian for the noblest of reasons: to spite my mother. As any pre-adolescent is prone to do I rebelled from my mother’s insistence that I eat steak for dinner. She had made it and I was going to eat it, darn it! I loathed steak. The texture, the smell, the taste, the fact that it was usually pink inside and looked far too much like human flesh. It disgusted me. So I told her I wasn’t going to eat it, not thoroughly convinced I could follow through with this claim but boldly stating it anyway.
This is where my mother made her first mistake. She told me that I had to eat the steak unless I became a vegetarian. I saw an out. A free pass from ever having to eat steak again. I could just not eat any meat! It was brilliant. So I looked her in the eye, hands on my hips in defiance, and said “fine, I’m a vegetarian.” I’m not sure what she was expecting, but it wasn’t that. Once she recovered from the initial shock, she made her second mistake. “You’ll never last,” she said. So, of course, I had to.
Fast forward to 11 years later. At 23 I was still going strong on my lacto- ovo- vegetarian diet. Aside from some misunderstandings about what exactly was in Caesar dressing (anchovy paste? is that even food?) and the fact that crab rangoons contain crab (who would have thought, I know, though I was probably 13 when this happened, so some forgiveness, please?) I have not deviated from this lifestyle (suck it, Mom).
Being a vegetarian has never really been a challenge for me. I don’t think of meat as food anymore. I realize other people eat it, but I don’t always remember that they do. The idea just seems so foreign. I didn’t even miss much meat when I initially became vegetarian. Aside from bacon, liver sausage and liver dumplings (don’t ask, I’m Czech, this is what we eat) I didn’t miss meat at all.
One caveat my mother gave me when I became vegetarian was that I still had to make sure I got enough protein. Fortunately this has never been a major issue for me. I eat a variety of foods and got gobs of protein from plant, dairy and egg sources. I was “healthy” as far as my doctor could tell, good iron levels, a normal young woman (aside from the nearly constant constipation, which my mother claimed was genetic).
The Truth about My “Health”
When I started working in the corporate world post college, I received quite a shock. The physical I received before I started working included blood work. The tested my triglycerides, blood pressure and my cholesterol levels (HDL and LDL). The results showed that while my triglyceride levels were within in a healthy range, I had high normal blood pressure and borderline high cholesterol (though my TC:HDL ratio was less than 4). Knowing that my family has a history of high cholesterol and that I didn’t want these issues to get worse, I started taking actions to correct them.
I began by adding exercise to my routine. I had previously never been big on exercise. I had done yoga for a bit with my mother in high school and did belly dancing at college for one semester but I had never been terribly active. In my youth I was much more interested in a good book than going outside (my pale skin never helped the issue – who wants to put on sunscreen even on an overcast day?). And once I got to college, I was so overwhelmed with the amount of homework and reading assignments, that aside from making time to party and go out for drinks with friends (it was college after all) I hardly did much other than study.
I joined the local YMCA to ensure that I would actually stay active. I figured if I was going to pay for it I was going to use it. And it worked. I started working out at least twice a week, doing the circuit. I lost some weight and gained some muscle mass, but I still could not seem to remove that stubborn belly fat. It didn’t help that I was still drinking every weekend like I was in college and I was eating a ton of processed food and bingeing after stressful days at work. I actually gained weight after the initial weight loss from the work out (and it wasn’t muscle mass). The stress of starting a new job and moving to a new place was getting to me. My pants stopped fitting and the jeans I bought the first week I moved here didn’t fit anymore. I weighed 125 lbs which on my petite 5’ 2” frame was too much (I weighed more like 115 lbs before I moved).
There I was, 10 lbs heavier pigging out on pints of Ben and Jerry’s Cinnabon ice cream in one sitting (mmm, still appeals even now) and suffering from some horrible gastronomic issues, I decided that I really needed to make a change.
So I started P90X, diet and all. As a vegetarian, I knew it was going to be a challenge to get 50% of my calories from protein and the first phase requires (along with 30% from carbs and 20% from fat). To supplement my diet I purchased GNC’s Pro Performance AMP Amplified Wheybolic Extreme 60 protein in both the vanilla and strawberry flavors (I don’t like chocolate–I know, am I even human? That’s un-American!). I also bought a ton of organic, unsweetened Silk soy milk. I would have one protein shake in the morning with silk, a high protein sandwich for lunch (with Smart Deli Ham or Bologna) and have another protein shake post work out (along with Silk) and finish it off with one of Amy’s frozen dinners carefully microwaved to perfection.
Yes, I lost weight (down to 118 lbs); yes, my gastrointestinal issues decreased and nearly disappeared all together. But I couldn’t lose that last bit of belly fat. It was pissing me off. I’m doing ab work every other day, and doing cardio, why can’t I lose that damn fat?
I got the flu about half way through P90X and didn’t complete the full 90 days (I got to 50 though!). After that I went back into my more normal eating schedule but continued to include the protein shakes on work out days. I was doing Body Pump at the YMCA the entire time I was doing P90X (on top of doing P90X, I was working out for 9 hours a week) and I continued Body Pump even after I gave up on P90X.
Adventures in Macrobiotics
So once again I was seeing my old habits creep back up. I started smoking again and I was drinking about 48 oz of diet soda a day and going out drinking every weekend (usually to excess). It was an unhealthy lifestyle. I was also noticing that every time I ate a good deal of cheese I would have major stomach cramps. They had gone away while I was on the P90X diet as I was eating very little cheese, but they seemed to have come back once I discontinued the diet. So I decided that it made sense for me to practice a vegan macrobiotic diet.
The plan was to try a vegan macrobiotic diet for a month, eliminating all processed foods, sugar, dairy, caffeine, eggs, smoking, and drinking from my diet to see how I feel. I also wanted to try brown rice fasting to see if that would make me feel better.
It has almost been a month (I began on August 1st), and I have noticed marked improvement in my digestion. I’m still supplementing with protein shakes post-work out (now using SunWarrior protein — a raw, vegan protein source including all essential amino acids). I am of course taking the same GNC vegetarian multi vitamin that I took before I entered this experiment and have added an extra B12 supplement. And, of course, I am still doing Body Pump twice a week at the YMCA.
I have done two mini brown rice fasts during this month. One for three days and another for four days. During those times I consumed only short or long grain brown rice and drank Kukicha tea and water. The experience was less enlightening than I had expected based on Jessica Porter’s Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotics, but it was still beneficial. I had absolutely no stomach pain while doing the fast, and was able to defecate after every meal. However, I did become nauseated a few times when the rice felt like it was going to come up, but I never vomited.
I currently weigh 114.4 lbs (on last weigh-in). However, I still cannot seem to get that flat belly I’ve been working toward and my abs are hardly visible.
Also, lately, with the added consumption of beans and lentils into my diet, I’ve noticed a recurrence of gastrointestinal issues. I am still not experiencing constipation but I have noticed more cramping and bloating.
Despite my conscious efforts to apply objectivist principles to my everyday life, until recently, I had not applied those values and principles to my eating habits. I tended to emotionally eat (which, in truth, I still struggle with) rather than eat to satiate and nourish my body. Or I eat because it’s “lunch time”.
Lately, however, I have been trying to be more conscious about the food I put into my body as well as how it makes me feel. This blog will act as a log of that self-exploration. I am not sure where I am going with my dietary decisions next, but I know it will involve research and experimentation (with data logging of course).
My goal is to be as healthy as I can be, for me. I will not subscribe to a certain diet (be it macrobiotics, paleo, raw vegan or any other diet) unless it makes me feel my best. This will require some intense experimentation, and perhaps a deviation from my current non-carnivorous state (which is a rather frightening prospect–the unknown). I cannot let the desire to prevent my mother (and most of my omnivorous friends) from feeling the satisfaction of saying “I told you so” allow me to deviate from determining what the best diet is for me. Optimal health is the goal. The rest is irrelevant.
Breakfast: An Apple
Lunch: Organic Quinoa with Organic Pinto Beans (canned from Meijer) seasoned with curry powder and cumin
Snack: Salad with organic spinach, organic white mushrooms, and homegrown salad cucumbers with Meijer Organic Garlic Salsa as the dressing
Dinner: Amy’s Indian Matar Tofu (baked in my oven not microwaved)