My thoughts on being vegan

Being vegan never felt limiting to me.  Is it hard?  No, it’s not.  But what about eating out? It’s not hard. What about traveling and finding vegan food? Not hard.  The hardest part about being vegan doesn’t have to do with the food, the travel, or getting enough nutrients.  The hardest part about being vegan is wondering why everyone else hasn’t gone vegan.

I visited my sister this summer in Colorado.  My niece has an adorable one year old baby named Isaac.  I watched as they fed him scrambled eggs the color of sunflowers and lamented that he didn’t want seem to want to drink the three glasses of milk a day that his pediatrician recommended.  Yep, three glasses of milk a day.

I picked up my water glass and chose to say nothing.  I didn’t recommend my niece read Dr Neal Barnard’s new and amazing book about the addictive  nature of cheese and milk.  I didn’t recommend she get a new pediatrician.  I didn’t mention that milk is the perfect food for a baby cow, but not a human baby.  I didn’t freak out. Nonetheless, I wanted to.

You see, these situations are what makes being vegan hard.  It’s not the struggle of finding something to order off the menu at a steak house.  It’s not being asked why you’re vegan at a table of 15 at Thanksgiving.  It’s not that I have to worry about getting enough protein (no, not that one again) or calcium.  It’s that, for god’s sake people, why are vegans still such a small percentage of the population?

Don’t you people get it?  Haven’t we known for at least 30 years that a vegan diet has all the nutrients necessary for good health?  Wasn’t it even the American Dietetic Association that said it, way back in 1987?  It wasn’t some fringe group of vegan hippies.  It was the ADA.

Even if you don’t know seemingly endless benefits of a vegan diet, how in the hell don’t you know how bad for you the standard american diet is, with it’s focus on animal products high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and pus?

I forgive you for not knowing much about being vegan.  I get it. You’re busy. You have time constraints and don’t have the 90 minutes to watch the excellent What The Health documentary streaming for free on Netflix or read something life-changing like The China Study.  I get it.

But how do you not know that 3 glasses of milk a day is far more likely to make you obese than it ever is to provide nutrients you can get just as easily from plants? How do you not know that you greatly increase your risk of dying from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity when you eat meat and dairy at every single meal?

Listen, I know that being vegan makes me a bit of an outlier.  I get that not everyone thinks about or obsesses over health that way that I do.  But it’s still shocking how little the average person knows about the effect food has on their health and well-being.

That is what makes being vegan hard.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

But also…read a book, watch a documentary, study nutrition, question everything.

 

 

 

Self discipline is hard. Regret is harder.

We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons. – Jim Rohn

It’s true.  No one escapes having one pain or the other.  Which are you choosing? Discipline, or,  by default, regret?

Discipline is hard.  Self discipline is really hard.  It takes fortitude.  It takes  patience and dedication.  It’s also lonely.  Not a lot of people out there choose discipline.  Most choose regret.

Some people consider a vegan diet to require a lot of discipline.  I think a raw vegan diet requires a lot of discipline. But I would much rather suffer the pain of discipline than regret when it comes to both.  What about you?

The importance of that quote really lies in the last sentence, that the pain of regret weighs exponentially more than the pain of discipline.  I’ve found this to be true in nearly everything I’ve felt was important enough to change about myself.

When I first went vegan, I worried about giving up some of my favorite foods.  I worried (a lot) about what people would think.  I worried that making different choices than nearly every person on the planet would ostracize me.  I worried that vegan food wouldn’t taste good.

But I went vegan anyway.  I chose discipline over regret.  It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

Going raw vegan hasn’t been nearly as easy.  I’ve been on and off raw vegan for the last 6 years.  Yet I always seem to return to eating raw because I feel my best when eating primarily fruit and raw salads.

Making wholesale shifts in how you eat isn’t something most people will find easy.  This is why over 90% of people that lose weight dieting will inevitably gain it back. Less than 5% of people who lose a substantial amount of weight will succeed in keeping it off over 2 years.

Yet, it’s interesting that while weight loss and becoming vegan is hard, is it really that much harder than not making those changes?  This is where regret comes in and the notion that it weighs so heavily on us that it can feel that much heavier than discipline.

We’re all familiar with regret.  Most of the time, I’m super successful and consistent with my workouts. But I’m also human and I occasionally turn off my alarm and fall back to sleep, missing whatever workout was on my schedule, from CrossFit to trail running to mountain biking.

Whatever pain I avoided in not silencing that alarm and getting up, getting dressed and completing that workout is way less than the pain I’ll feel all day long when I remember that I failed.

If you’re living a life full of regrets, sit down and think about whether it wouldn’t be better to choose discipline instead. Make the changes that are important to you, the ones causing you the most pain.

Good luck!

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

 

 

 

Going Raw Until the 2017 Boston Marathon

In December of 2016 I decided to go raw vegan until the Boston Marathon on April 17th. I completed my goal last week and crossed the finish line at Boston having eaten only raw food (and vegan, or course) for the last 109 or so days.

Going raw for me isn’t a huge adjustment from my regular vegan diet.  I typically always eat my first meal of the day as just fruit, and then dinner is a big salad. Mostly it means eliminating rice, potatoes, bread and other cooked items I may have on a somewhat regular basis.

At the same time, even though I don’t eat cooked foods very often, I do enjoy them and of course, you know how what happens when you tell yourself you can’t have a certain food…suddenly that’s all you can think about.  There is no doubt that cooked foods release more dopamine than raw foods and often cause me to overeat.  Thus the battle I fight to continue eating the food that I feel best eating (raw) and eliminating the food that doesn’t feel as good (cooked).

Why exactly do I want to eat raw? What were the benefits I experienced from eating only raw vegetables and fruit in preparation for the marathon? I get these questions a lot, and I love answering them.

However, since I don’t weigh myself and I didn’t test my body fat levels pre and post, so much of what I describe here will be subjective. Nonetheless, the benefits of eating raw are pretty substantial and I hope you’ll find some value in my experience, whether or not it’s easily quantifiable.

More Energy – it’s listed first because it’s the most significant change in switching to raw. My energy level was already pretty amazing since going vegan all those years ago, but the switch to raw exponentially increased it. Perhaps it’s all that energy that went into digesting cooked foods, and is now available, but whatever it is, I’m a big fan. This spike in energy is part of the reason I gave up drinking coffee over 3 years ago. Don’t need it. Don’t need the caffeine.

When I’m getting all my energy from the raw food I eat, it would seem strange to even need caffeine, right? I wake up in the morning feeling great, and at the end of the day I never feel as tired as I used to. Sure, I still feel tired, especially during a 20 week training build up to Boston, but it’s not an overwhelming exhaustion as it had been previously.

More Chill – eating raw food relaxes me. I’m not sure of any other way to describe it, but events that would’ve normally bothered me or caused a negative reaction simply don’t anymore. It’s as if I’ve already counted to ten and any annoyance has dissipated.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like eating raw magically erases anger and frustration from your life (wouldn’t that be great?), but I certainly deal with challenges in a much more relaxed and confident manner.

Part of being more chill comes from feeling so great eating raw that much less bothers me than normally would. When you don’t have to worry about your health, when your default setting is that you generally feel pretty damn good, it certainly overflows into all the other aspects of your life. Everything becomes that much easier when you live in a strong, healthy body.

Weight Loss – this is one I can’t quantify with a measurement of pounds simply because I don’t weigh myself. But I can tell my clothes fit looser and that I’m lighter. Eating raw food naturally results in less calories consumed, simply because the calories per pound of raw vegetables and fruit is much lower than cooked foods.

The interesting part is that even though I’m consuming less calories I feel like I’m eating plenty and that I’m never having to restrict calories or control my portions. I simply eat until I’m satisfied, and even occasionally past that point (oops), but I still don’t gain weight.

As a runner I’ve always been conscious of my weight, since it directly affects my running performance. Before I tried raw foods I would gain and lose depending on how strict I was with portion sizes and limiting the amount I ate, but it was always a battle to stay in my desired weight range. With eating raw, I find it liberating not to have to limit portion sizes or worry about how much I’m eating.

Fat Loss – there’s no doubt that eating cooked foods always means eating a higher percentage of fat than eating raw does. Even if you actively avoid fats like nuts, seeds avocados and oil, it’s nearly impossible to avoid oil if you’re eating out or eating any sort of processed cooked foods.

Foods like hummus, bread and most processed vegan “faux” meats have olive, corn or safflower oil. Any stir fry or cooked foods like veggie burritos or even pasta you order at a restaurant are liberally coated with oil during the cooking process. Reading ingredient labels on your favorite foods can be quite an eye opener as to how much fat you might be consuming without knowing.

At 4000 calories per pound and no nutritional value whatsoever, all oils are unhealthy. With a raw diet, it’s much less likely that you’re taking in oils, though you do have to be careful with the amount of raw nuts, nut butter and seeds you consume.

I tend towards a whole, unprocessed type of raw diet, so I can easily avoid these high fat foods. Other than half an avocado in my epic salads, I hardly ever take in high fat foods.

I try and keep my fat percentage to about 10-15%, of my calories, because I agree with Dr John McDougall (disclaimer: he is not a fan of eating all raw) that the “fat you eat is the fat you wear.”  However, I don’t actively count calories, fat grams or other macronutrients.  I just eat whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables.

Food Preparation is a Breeze – people often ask me if it’s hard to be raw. From a food preparation standpoint, eating raw is the opposite of hard. I spend very little time in food preparation. I may cut up some oranges, a cantaloupe or watermelon, which usually takes at most 5 minutes of my time. I have no pots and pans to clean, because I don’t cook anything. A snack is as easy as opening a banana or biting into an apple. What could be easier than that? I dirty one plate per meal, that generally involves only a quick rinse.

At night I eat a giant salad, which involves cutting up some lettuce, half an avocado and chopping some mushrooms and peppers. It takes about 10 minutes at the most, and my clean up is rinsing my salad bowl and washing my knife and fork.

Simplicity – eating raw can be as simple or as complicated as you like, just as with anything. I know raw foodist that spend hours and hours preparing complicated meals that involve dehydrating things for 12 hours and sprouting beans and legumes for 10.

I have no interest in such endeavors, since one of the biggest advantages to eating raw is that it’s so simple. A meal can be five or six bananas and a couple of apples. It can be a medium size watermelon or a couple of small cantaloupes.

We’ve been taught that a variety of food is preferable to one food at a meal. But is eating so many different food items at one meal necessary, or even good for you? I would argue it is neither. When you combine so many different flavors and foods into one dish, it begins to taste like none of those flavors.

In going raw, I appreciate the flavor of foods so much more now. I don’t wish to combine things because I love the flavor of the food I’m eating.  When you limit ingredients to 5 or 6 at most you’ll actually taste the flavor in each individual food.

One of my favorite meals is watermelon, or ten or so organic navel oranges cut up and arranged beautifully on a plate. I don’t need to blend the oranges, or juice them and combine them with other things to make a smoothie. They are so good on their own, in their natural state. Of course that’s not to say I don’t combine items when I eat out, or occasionally when I’m entertaining. But for the most part, I enjoy simply eating fresh, ripe, in season, organic fruit.

Resist the temptation to complicate eating raw. Sure, you can go buy a book or find some great websites with raw food recipes when you’re first starting out if you feel compelled to do so. But find a handful of fruits that you love and that are in season and make that your first meal of the day. I think you might be surprised how deeply fulfilling it is to simplify your diet and how much you really don’t need variety.

So there you have it. Six benefits to eating raw that I’ve experienced over the last 100+ days. Though I didn’t nail a PR in Boston, I had a great race and an even better experience. After a couple of days eating cooked foods, I’m back to eating raw again for the remainder of 2017. I’m excited to see what I can elevate my fitness levels to with an even longer period of time eating only raw vegetables and fruit.

If you’re considering trying out a raw diet, don’t become overwhelmed by recipes, exotic ingredients and food preparation.

Go simple to start, with meals of fresh, ripe fruit or a giant salad with just a few ingredients.

Good Luck!

EatPlantsLiveWell!

Why it doesn’t matter that you only eat humane meat and dairy.

As soon as people hear I’m vegan, I often get some variation of these statements…

I only eat cage free eggs

I eat grass-fed beef

I eat organic chicken

I buy free range chickens

I choose wild caught salmon

The intention, I’m guessing, is that since I’m vegan I’m judging them for eating meat (I am) and they want to let me know their cage free omelet is so much more humane than a regular one (it’s not).  Or somehow their cheeseburger isn’t devastating the environment because it’s grass-fed (it is).

But let’s get something out of the way immediately.  No killing is humane, nor will it ever be. Whether it’s a cage free chicken, an antibiotic free cow or a pig raised under some slightly less than horrible conditions, killing is always violent and never, ever a pleasant situation for the one being killed.

I mean really, should humane and killing even go together?  I’m pretty sure no animal wants to be killed, any more than you or I want to be killed. But I suppose there’s a suicidal cow or chicken out there that isn’t right for this world.

While I will always vote for better treatment of animals being slaughtered and appreciate all that animals rights organizations like PETA, MFA and The Humane Society achieve in making it slightly less terrible, it’s still ridiculous to think there is any possible way to kill an animal in a humane way.  Sorry, I just can’t imagine losing that argument.

The labels Cage Free! Free Range! No Hormones! adoringly plastered on your egg carton or written across that package of raw whole chicken shouldn’t make you feel any better about eating animals. Those animals still suffered a horrible existence prior to arriving in your grocery cart or the restaurant kitchen.

No amount of labels can get around that.

The idea that grass-fed beef is better for the environment is also another fallacy that isn’t supported by the facts.  Check out the excellent Cowspiracy documentary for a distillation of the facts as well as a most entertaining movie.

If you eat out you support factory farming…

People that want me to believe they eat the most pristine meat and dairy all of the time forget that they, if they’re merely average, probably eat out a handful of times or more during the week. How likely is it that when they eat out they’re only frequenting places that have the highest standards in regards to their meat, eggs and dairy? Very unlikely.

Sure, some restaurants are starting to change, including Chipotle and perhaps some additional reputable restaurants, but for the most part, if you’re eating out, you’re eating the very worst of meat and dairy full of antibiotics, growth hormones and plenty of extreme animal suffering.

It’s all in the name of profits, of which many restaurants are, rightfully so, very focused on making.  Margins are notoriously thin. This equates to using the lowest priced product possible in order to generate the highest possible margins.

Bottom line is you have very little control over the quality of ingredients anytime your outsource the preparation of your food. Obviously, you’re not shopping for the food or cooking it yourself. You’re relying on that restaurant to decide on the quality and to inform you.  But as it turns out, there are plenty of restaurants that aren’t exactly being truthful about the source and quality of their products.

The fallacy of farm to table…

Laurie Reiley, Tampa Bay Times food critic and professional take-down artist, just published an amazing article calling out several Florida restaurants for fibbing a little, er, a lot, when it comes to quality and sourcing of their food.  Restaurants menus and advertisements in Florida and everywhere are casually salted with terms like “sustainably raised, humane, natural, non-GMO, fair trade and organic. ”

The problem is, many of these terms are merely taken as fact and seldom questioned. Unless you’re Laurie Reiley.

The results of months of investigative work on restaurants, including reviewing hundreds of invoices, dozens of phone calls, interviews and meetings with farmers and purveyors produced one foreboding statement from her…

“If you eat food, you are being lied to every day.”

She found wild-caught Florida shrimp that is actually farm-raised in India.  Items listed on menus as organic and local were actually conventional and brought in from hundreds of miles away.  Fish advertised as Dover sole was very often not Dover sole at all.

No matter if the restaurant calls themselves farm to table or a new slick advertising phrase to come, the bottom line is you can’t claim to avoid the practices of factory farming and still eat out a lot. You’re eating food that you really know very little about not only where it came from but actually what it is.

What about the food at my local grocery store?

So let’s say you don’t eat at restaurants, because you care about your health, and you want to buy all your own high quality ingredients at your local organic grocer. Still, understand that buying, aside from the organic label, which has rigorous requirements, every other label has varying degrees of, well, requirements.  Or non-requirement.

Cage-free – uncaged, but no outdoor access
Free-range, free-roaming, pasture-raised and certified organic – all are cage free, and allowed outdoor access.

Many other labels abound that may or may not have anything to do with animal welfare, such as vegetarian-fed, natural, farm fresh, fertile, Omega 3 enriched and pasteurized, etc.  These labels require little, if any, proof from the food manufacturer that they’ve done anything different than simply pasting a meaningless colorful label on yet another package of misery.

Ok, so now what do I do?

The only way to truly know you’re causing the least amount of harm to animals and voting against factory farming is to go vegan.  Take all the misery off your plate, including meat, eggs and dairy.   Going vegan is casting a vote for more plants and less animal suffering.

It’s a vote against the giant CAFO’s that blight our landscape. It’s a vote against the insanely cruel dairy industry .  It’s a vote against the inconceivable idea that there is such a thing as humane killing.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

Why you should never count calories, carbs, protein or anything else for that matter.

You should never count calories. Yes, this statement runs counter to every single shred of weight loss advice ever given or received.

Of course we must count calories.   Right? Plus, we should make sure we get at least 30% protein.  But not more than 30% carbs. Not even 31%.  Then keep that fat content below 40% or we’ll balloon up like an Orca.

But what if all of this focus on macronutrients (fat, protein and carbs), counting calories and this ridiculous fear of not getting enough protein is just distracting us from something really important?

Truthfully, what’s really important, even if most people and every single diet program out there fail to realize it, is this:  If you eat whole, fresh, unprocessed foods, you don’t need to break food down into calories or nutrients.  It’s just not necessary.

So no, you don’t need that giant tub of protein powder from Costco, nor that box of Cheerios pronouncing Protein!, or those tortillas with Low Carb all over the package.  Indeed, you need food that isn’t packaged at all.  No nutritional information.  No percent of calories from fat, no serving size calculations.  Just eat an apple.  Mother nature has conveniently packaged fruit and vegetables into perfect serving sizes with just the right amount of calories, protein, fat and carbs.

A friend once called me from the grocery store.  Wanting to eat healthier, she was lamenting the fact that she “needed to get better at reading labels.”  Actually, I told her, you’re better off buying food that doesn’t have a label.

What???

Wait, so I’m just supposed to eat food as it grows in nature?  That sounds too difficult.  What about eating out? What about pizza?

The secret is, eating fresh, whole, unprocessed food is incredibly easy.  Sure, it’s not drive-thru easy.  It’s not order a pizza to be delivered easy.  But it is easy.  As in, if you’re hungry, eat some fruit.  Make a giant salad with fresh, organic vegetables and tender lettuce.  Make you own dressing with tahini and lemon.

Plan on eating a lot, probably more than you’re used to.  You’ll need to in order to get in enough calories.  Processed foods pack a ton of calories in a small package, while fresh produce is mostly water and a much smaller amount of calories.

Also plan on more trips to the grocery store. You won’t make it on a once a week trip to the store, in all likelihood.  You’ll need to go every few days if you’re buying perishable items.

But how does this work?

It has to do with caloric density.

It’s a hugely important concept and one central to a great book on the subject, The Pleasure Trap.  The idea is that food in it’s natural, unadulterated state is low in caloric density.  Therefore, you’re able to eat a volume of food that is probably much higher then you’re used to.  No calorie restriction or small portions.  You can eat until you feel satisfied.

Compare that to food that is high in caloric density, which doesn’t make you feel full and is super high in calories.  Like an orange versus a bagel.  The orange is clearly unprocessed and natural, with a large amount of it’s contents comprised of water. The bagel (and all bread) is a highly processed food where the wheat has been ground into flour and the dough is cooked.  At 1600 calories per pound, it’s easy to overeat bread and still not feel full.

Despite being roughly the same size, an orange is 60 calories and a bagel is at least 250. You could eat 4 oranges to roughly equal the calories of one bagel.  The bagel will not fill your stomach, where 4 oranges will come much closer.

Replacing bread with oranges not only gets you lower and better quality calories, but of course there are all the nutrients in 4 oranges vs the very few nutrients that comprise one bagel.

Eat more, weigh less.

Trying to lose weight by counting calories and macronutrients doesn’t work in the long term.  It simply requires too much discipline and no one likes to feel hungry all the time.

The good news is you don’t have to eat less to lose weight.  It’s not the quantity of food that you’re eating that results in weight gain, but the quality of the food.

So stop reading labels and breaking food down in to it’s nutrient parts.  Start eating lots of unprocessed, whole foods.  You might just be surprised at how easy it is to choose natural foods over heavily processed “food-like” substances with copious amounts of added salt, sugar and fat.

Good luck!

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

 

How to order nothing and be okay.

Recently, I went out to dinner and did something I pretty much never, ever do.

I ordered nothing.

That’s right. Nothing. I drank water.

No, it wasn’t because there were no vegan options. There were plenty. It wasn’t that that food didn’t look or smell good. Indeed, the smell of sautéed onions and Thai curry could be enjoyed a full block before arriving. I ordered nothing because, well, actually for a couple of reasons.

The night before we had come to the same restaurant and I had ordered some vegan Thai fried rice and another yellow curry rice dish. Both were amazing. Delicious. Vegan.

Both were also not healthy by any stretch of my hungry imagination. No matter how bad I wanted to believe they weren’t, both dishes were full of sodium, oil and perhaps even MSG. All of which combined to make me feel pretty crappy when I woke up the next morning.

While I love supporting restaurants that offer vegan fare, I very seldom eat out. It’s just too difficult to make good choices. Assuming you even have good choices to make.

But sometimes real life gets in the way of even the best laid plans. In this instance, we were on vacation in Bend, OR. We were meeting friends for dinner. We had my in-laws staying with us. We all jumped on our bikes and rode down to check out the local food trucks and enjoy a cold beer.

So there I was, pedaling to the restaurant on a warm summer night, enjoying the company of friends and family. Though I would have preferred to prepare food at home, because, you know, I hate eating out,  I also understand the allure of dining out in some instances.

Then I had a decision to make.

The thing about restaurant food…

Spoiler alert: restaurant food isn’t healthy. I know, right? I bet you had no idea. It’s true though. You would never cook the way a restaurant does at home. You would never use that much salt or oil. Restaurants prepare food in such a way that it appeals to everyone (makes sense, right?). So additional sodium and fat are added to every dish in the form of oil, butter and/or salt to make a highly, even hyper palatable food.

Oh, and also…

There was also another issue with going out to dinner on this night that I forgot to mention…I wasn’t hungry. I ate a late lunch only a few hours before. It was a big lunch following a big ride. I was still very full.

Typically, I would eat anyway. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable. Because they do. When the server turns to you for your order and you say you don’t want anything, it makes people uncomfortable. I’m not sure exactly why this is, but it happens.

I don’t like to make people uncomfortable. I want everyone to have a good time. I’m a people-pleaser and also outstanding at avoiding conflict. So I would have typically ordered something rather than order nothing. Then I would have eaten it, simply because it’s in front of me, and I would have regretted it afterward. But this time I didn’t.

I declined to order and told everyone that asked the truth. At least the partial truth. I wasn’t hungry. Simple as that.

It wasn’t a big deal. Truthfully, no one really cared that much. Sure, there were questions. But then everyone kind of forgot about it. Then we talked and laughed as the sun set in Bend on another blissful day of riding bikes and hanging out with friends and family.

The lesson is this.

I learned something from this experience that I wanted to share. If you’re not hungry, order nothing. If you’re at a restaurant that doesn’t offer the food you want, don’t order anything. Going without for exactly one meal isn’t the end of the world. Believe me, we could all stand to skip a meal now and then. Truthfully, it felt kind of good to go without.

Of course, since we were there for a couple of hours, I did eventually end up with an appetite. I whipped up a quick but decadent meal at our rental house when we returned, complete with everything I wanted and nothing I didn’t. No added fat or salt. The next day I woke up feeling great, rather than puffy and bloated from overeating copious amounts of added oil, salt and who knows what else.

Truth be told, there are a gazillion roadblocks out there on the road to eating a healthy vegan diet. Our society isn’t exactly set up to cater to those that choose to eat as optimally as possible. Of course it’s the opposite. Companies want to sell the food they make the most amount of money on…and that, for the most part, is not whole, fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.

It likely won’t become easier any time soon. There will be no multi-million dollar marketing budgets for bananas or red leaf lettuce. There will be more, not less, restaurants opening with nothing but highly processed and unhealthy entrees on their menu.

The lesson here is this: listen to your body. Don’t eat when you’re not hungry. Don’t eat food that makes you feel bad that you don’t want. If it comes down to skipping an occasional meal, your world will not end.

Heck, it might even feel good.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

Why isn’t everyone vegan yet?

I admit, I’m not the most patient person in the world.  I went vegan over 12 years ago.  So what’s the hold up with all of you others out there that still eat animals?  Why the heck isn’t everyone vegan?

I mean, really.  I thought I was late to the party.  I know a number of people who’ve been vegan a whole lot longer than I have.  So here I am waiting for this giant tsunami of new vegans.  And waiting.  And waiting.

It seems like it’s taking forever.  Last Sunday I went to an afternoon wine event.  I watched people stand in line to eat pulled pork tacos.  They balanced chunks of Kobe beef on tiny white paper plates.  Crab stuffed mushrooms were pierced with sharp toothpicks and eaten with the fervor of a death row inmate’s last meal.

Picking my way though this minefield of unhealthy, unsustainable and cruel choices, I felt a bit like I was playing Scrabble with no vowels.  I found not one single option for vegans at the entire event.  Not one hummus dip with pita bread triangles in sight.  No obligatory fruit tray.  No neglected baby carrot, celery and tomato pairings.

Though I’m sure with the five hundred or so odd people that were there, chances are slim I wasn’t the only vegan, but it sure as heck felt like I was. I found myself getting really annoyed with the number of people holding tiny plates of pig carcass and waiting in line for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream full of cruel dairy products. What the heck, people?

Why is this still happening? I didn’t really care so much about that fact that the organizers failed to offer vegan options.  That’s not really the point.  The point is how can so many people still be eating in a way that causes such harm to their health, animals and the environment?

Statistics show that vegans make up only 2-4% of the population.  So I guess only 2-4% of the population can read?  It’s the same feeling I get when I see anyone smoking a cigarette.  This isn’t the 1950’s. We know how harmful cigarettes are to your health and anyone unfortunate enough to be taking in your second hand smoke.

Just like cigarettes, we also know the dangers of eating animal products.  We’ve had studies published for decades now showing vegans have less heart disease, cancer and lower rates of body fat than their meat-eating counterparts.  This includes the most comprehensive nutrition study ever conducted for long term health, the China Study. Not to mention several award-winning documentaries like Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives and Earthlings that provide clear and sometimes painful details about the negative consequences of eating meat.

So are these people living in a hole in the ground? How can people still eat the Standard American Diet?  The information is out there.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation  out there as well.  Every month it seems, a new article or “study” comes along and tells us saturated fat is ok!  Eat more, not less animal protein!  We were wrong, butter is sooooo good for you!

But here is where a little common sense comes in handy.  Even when I was eating butter and animal products all those many years ago, I never, not even for a moment, thought those foods were better for me than fruits and vegetables.

Nutrition and health isn’t confusing.  It’s actually painfully simple.

The confusing part is why isn’t everyone vegan?

EatPlantsLiveWell!

Make it easy to go vegan by getting your environment right.

Going vegan just got a heck of a lot easier.  Experts agree that getting your environment right, meaning free of animal products and any other unhealthy foods, is the biggest key to succeeding at making a dietary change.

Take a look around your environment.  Evaluate your pantry.  Open your refrigerator and take stock.  Peruse your freezer.  Those cupboards.  Open them and look at your dried and canned goods.

If you’re like most people, you might not want to disclose what’s really in your kitchen.  Are there Costco-sized potato chip bags in the pantry?  Tubs of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer?  Cold pizza in the refrigerator?

Having non vegan foods or even unhealthy vegan foods in the house might seem harmless.  You’ll just not eat them, right?  Well, perhaps if you’ve more willpower than most, but more than likely, if it’s in your house it’s going in your mouth.

Get rid of all the non vegan food and foods that don’t promote your health.  That’s right.  Donate them to a food bank.  Give them to your neighbor (preferably one you don’t like).   Take a stand against animal products or unhealthy food in your house.

Make a decision that any unhealthy eating goes on outside of your home.  If you must give in to cravings make sure that they are one time situations at a restaurant or somewhere besides your home.  This way, it’s (hopefully) an infrequent departure and not a full on giving up of your plan to go vegan.

Your home environment should be a sanctuary and only contain the healthiest food choices.  It’s a rare individual indeed that can continually reach past last night’s pizza leftovers and grab the lettuce instead.  Don’t rely on willpower to see you through those times.  Nobody has willpower that strong.  Make going vegan easy by removing those temptations entirely.

What about my not on board with the whole vegan/health thing family members? Of course, this means you’ll need the cooperation of those your live with.  Spouses and kids need to eat too.  Apparently.  Give them the same guidelines.  Outside the house is the only place unhealthy eating can occur, in the house is for healthy vegan eating.  If you’re doing the grocery shopping, even better!  You get to decide what’s brought into the house. Use your power wisely!

Your environment determines your success in a number of different ways.  Why not create the one that makes going vegan easy?

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

 

 

 

What eating mindfully means and why you should.

When we can slow down and really enjoy our food, our life takes on a much deeper quality. -Thich Nhat Hanh in How To Eat

Eating mindfully.  What, is that some kind of weird meditation thing that those crazy Buddhists do up in the Himalayas?  Well, no.  Wait, maybe.

Eating mindfully does have some similarities to meditation.

Okay, let’s start again.  Here’s what you need to know about eating mindfully – it’s an extremely beneficial practice and has virtually no downside.

Eating mindfully, for those adventurous enough to try it, will do everything from improve your digestion to help you shed some pounds faster than a high school wrestler in a sweat suit.

Eating mindfully is simple but not necessarily easy.  Depending on how you eat now, it could be incredibly difficult to make that transition. However, if you’re willing to devote some time and energy to it, you will reap surprisingly significant changes. Not unlike meditation.

Eating mindfully means you give some time and energy to eating.  Time, for sure.  You cannot inhale a smoothie while parallel parking, applying black eyeliner and listening to the Beastie Boys and call it good.  That is the opposite of eating mindfully.

Eating mindfully is sitting in a comfortable position, with no television, radio or even reading material.  Complete silence is ideal, though of course light conversation with friends and family that you’re sharing food with is good too.

Once comfortably seated and all media is silent, you can begin to eat.  Take the time to chew your food and savor the flavors.  If you’re eating watermelon, enjoy the crunch and sweetness.  Eat as slow as you need to in order to fully chew and appreciate your food.

Think about the origin of your food and what it took to get that food to your store and then to you.  Appreciate the labor inherent in all foods.  Be grateful that you have the means to purchase and enjoy an amazing abundance of different types of food.  In a nutshell, you’re meditating on your food.

This is impossible! Now, if you’re like me, this will be slow torture at first.  I am used to watching videos, typing emails, listening to podcasts, scrolling through Twitter and/or reading while eating.  Basically, I do the exact opposite of eating mindfully.  I eat mindlessly.

Several times during my meal I would go to grab my phone, my laptop or some other electronics in order to quell that voice in my head that became so annoyed with the fact that I WAS JUST SITTING THERE. DOING NOTHING.  LIKE A PSYCHOPATH.  As meditators know, it’s extremely challenging, but also hugely beneficial, to just do nothing.

Okay, technically I wasn’t doing nothing.  I was eating.  But for me, eating most meals is a simple task that invites all manner of other things I can do or think about besides what I’m actually doing.

As it turns out, that’s not how eating is supposed to work.  According to Thich Nhat Hanh, author of  How To Eat (yes, I bought a book called How To Eat – don’t judge.):

 Sometimes we eat and we’re not aware that we’re eating. Our mind isn’t there.  When our mind isn’t present we look but we don’t see, we listen but we don’t hear, we eat but we don’t know the flavor of the food. This is a state of forgetfulness, the lack of mindfulness.  To be truly present we have to stop our thinking. This is the secret of success.

For me, the “sometimes” part of the above quote could really be changed to most of the time. I tend to eat the same way I do practically everything. Fast.  Distracted.  Preferably while doing and thinking about a million tiny little things.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy eating, because in fact I do, and very much.  Unfortunately, I’m clearly guilty of not being present when eating, and missing the flavor of my food.  My mind is always busy elsewhere, even if I’m not reading or listening to something.  Removing distractions is one thing, but actually making my mind present is a huge struggle so far.

Eating mindfully is a work in progress.  In truth, I’ve only been doing it for a few days.  Some days and meals have been easier than others and I’m still battling that tendency to have something going on in the background, even if it’s just the voice in my head.

Sitting and looking at your food the entire time is an exercise in patience.  Taking the time to enjoy the taste, smell and texture is something I’ll have to continually remind myself to do.

So far though, I’ve notice some significant changes in how I eat:

Satiety kicks in…it goes without saying that eating quickly and mindlessly doesn’t allow your natural stomach receptors to alert you that you’ve eaten enough.  For vegans, this is likely because vegan food tastes so good.  Dang you vegan food, for being so tasty that I’m constantly eating like I’m in a vegan hot dog eating contest with Paula Deen.

I have a lot of company, though.  Most people eat too quickly.   Judging from how long it takes me to eat now, that I’m eating mindfully, I would say everyone eats too quickly.

Letting your natural satiety signals kick in rather than eating so quickly that you’re uncomfortably full before finally realizing it has a number of benefits, including better digestion and weight loss.

Imagine how appreciative your body will be if you’re not taxing your poor, overworked digestive system by dumping tons of food down the pipe at once?

Then imagine you eat slow enough to avoid that bloated-whale-washed-up-on-the-beach feeling that we all get after overdoing it.

My experiment with eating mindfully is intriguing.  So far, I’ve really enjoyed learning How To Eat  after 46 years of getting it wrong.

Consider the practice of eating mindfully.  You might be surprised at how your body and mind respond to focusing on this important and pleasurable task.

Thanks for reading!

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

 

 

When being vegan got real.

 

Like many vegans, my motivation to stop eating meat and dairy initially stemmed from a concern for my own health.  I was attracted by the prospect of losing weight.

Then I read Diet for a New America.  Up until that moment, I had shied away from thinking about the animals.  I convinced myself that the pink flesh wrapped tightly on those styrofoam rectangles and that chicken wing I ate at my favorite restaurant somehow, miraculously, didn’t come from an actual cow or chicken.

Delusional, I admit.

Reading DFNA forced me to consider what became for me the real reason I would go vegan and then stay vegan: the animals.

Now I know as I mentions words like slaughter and animal cruelty and factory farms, that many of you are getting that same look in your eyes that I see when I tell people the truth about why I decided to go vegan and ultimately, what made me stay vegan.

It’s always the same.  You start to lose interest in what I’m saying.  You shift from one foot to the other or rearrange yourself on your chair.  You look away and nod.  I see from your expression that you’re terribly uncomfortable with this discussion and you want it to stop.  I get it.

You don’t want to think about animals being tortured for your food.  I didn’t either.  Heck, I spent a good 30 years of my life not wanting to think about it. I continued to eat animals even though I couldn’t even fathom for one second thinking about the lives they led up until the point they arrived on my plate or the other end of my fork.

Like most people, I’m sensitive to suffering.  Witnessing an animal in any sort of pain sends me into a tailspin of sadness. But if I didn’t think about it too deeply, I could go ahead and eat fish and cheese and sometimes even have a bit of turkey.  After all, it’s what virtually everybody I knew did.

Before I read DFNA, I met a real life vegan. Up until that point, I didn’t know anyone that didn’t eat meat.  Richard worked with my husband Brian at a restaurant when we lived in Seattle.  They bonded over a shared love of music.  “Oh, also, he’s vegan.  No meat, dairy or eggs.  He doesn’t eat anything that comes from an animal.”

Wow, I thought.  How could anyone not eat anything from an animal? No cheese, no milk.  Wasn’t dairy in everything?  It seemed virtually impossible to me.  Impossible to go out to eat, impossible to socialize, impossible to get enough to eat.  What do you say when someone hands you food that isn’t vegan?

I guess you tell them you’re vegan and you don’t eat that.  Duh.

Richard intrigued me.  I met him and then maybe saw him only a handful of times after that before we moved away. I’m not even sure we discussed being vegan.  But he had a huge influence on me.  He seemed so down to earth.  So grounded.  So comfortable in his beliefs and his choices.  I even found out he frequently joined animals rights groups in picketing circuses and other companies that mistreated and abused animals.

Eventually, I had to be honest and admit the reason I hadn’t given up eating animals came down to one really, really silly reason: I was worried about what people would think.  What would my family, friends and even my husband think?  That I was judgmental? That I was annoying?  What about Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners? Would I be ridiculed for not eating turkey?

I realized at some point that when you refuse to eat animal products of any kind it becomes much more than stating a simple dietary preference.  It’s not like stating you’re gluten-free or allergic to peanuts.   You’re really aligning yourself with an entire lifestyle that includes much more than just food.

Of course, making important life decisions based on what other people think isn’t exactly a recipe for success.

Fortunately, finally listening to that voice in my head and carefully considering what impact my food choices have on animals felt so much better than ignoring it.  I now live a life much more in line with my values.

I don’t support cruelty to animals.  I don’t care if it’s a chicken a cow or my beloved chocolate lab Frisco.  Because there really is no difference.

Before I went vegan, I did support and pay for cruelty to animals.  If you aren’t vegan, you do too.  No matter how many cage-free eggs or grass-fed burgers you choose over conventional, factory farmed versions, you still support the slaughter of animals that feel pain and want to live as much as your beloved cat or dog.

If that doesn’t feel right to you, if reading that you’re supporting cruelty to animals upsets you, consider that you may not be living a life in line with your values.  Then consider the reasons you justify eating meat.  If it’s as silly as mine was, that I worried about what people would think, consider for a moment how crazy that is.

If, on the other hand, you really believe you need meat and dairy to be healthy, consider reading Diet for a New America.  It was published in 1987.  It’s still relevant.

Whatever other silly reason you’re still consuming any animal products, even if it’s “just cheese” or “only wild-caught fish,” can also be answered by reading that same book.  Published in 1987.  Still relevant.

EatPlantsLiveWell!