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.

 

 

 

Why you shouldn’t be a junk food vegan.

I get it.  Even a junk food vegan saves animals and the planet and is probably still healthier than they were if they used to consume the SAD (standard american diet).  While that is all great, there’s a whole host of reasons why, if you are a junk food vegan, you should be transitioning to a healthy vegan diet of whole, unprocessed plants.

A junk food vegan is someone who consumes heavily processed foods, i.e. Tofurkey, Oreos, Ben and Jerry’s dairy-free ice cream and eats very little fresh fruits and vegetables, grains or legumes.  While these types of foods can be good for those new to a vegan diet and for the occasional treat, they aren’t healthy and won’t benefit you in the long term.

Here are my top reasons why you shouldn’t be a junk food vegan:

You won’t realize the health benefits of a vegan diet…of course, even if you went vegan for the animals or the environment, you probably still anticipate a higher level of health from leaving animal products off your plate.  Unfortunately, if you’re a junk food vegan, you might not experience the myriad of health benefits going vegan entails. You might not have increased energy, sleep better, lose weight, and lead a life of complete bliss (okay, I made that one up).  To realize the full health benefits of going vegan, you need to fill up your grocery cart with fruit, make giant salads and generally eschew highly processed foods.

Your palate won’t adjust to healthy foods…it’s a little known benefit, but completely true that as you begin eating healthier foods, your body begins craving those foods.  If you’re  stuck in faux meat land and wolfing down foods with copious amounts of added sugar, oil and salt, your palate will never adjust to just how good healthy food tastes.  Yes, that’s right.  At some point you may prefer a giant salad to a greasy vegan pizza or veggie burger and fries.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but you might be surprised that given enough time, you will start to prefer simple, whole, unprocessed foods.

You won’t be setting a good example…non-vegans (or soon-to-be-vegans, as I like to refer to them) won’t be impressed by your veganism if all you eat is heavily processed food-like substances.  Like it or not, if you tell people you’re vegan, they expect that you eat healthy…and look healthy.  In other words, if you’re significantly overweight they aren’t going to be super excited about adopting a vegan diet.  On the other hand, if you look trim, your skin glows and you exude good health, they’re going to be all that much more willing to jump on the vegan train.  Like it or not, our society places a premium on aesthetics, and as a vegan there is an expectation that you walk the talk, so to speak.

You won’t feel regret after every meal…sure, junk food tastes good, but regret not so much.  You might not regret your poor food choices right away, but eventually all the added salt, sugar and oil will take it’s toll on your health and regret will be a constant companion.  Realize that cravings can and do subside, and that sticking to an unprocessed, whole food vegan diet might be hard in the moment but will pay off in the long term.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

How to Eat More Fruit

So many people ask me about my diet. Most have a hard time believing that I just eat mostly fresh fruit.  Aside from wondering where I get my protein (which I get plenty of, thank you) they wonder how in the heck I can eat so much more fruit?

This question boggles my mind because I find after eating mostly fruit for the last few months that all I want to do is…eat more fruit. I don’t get bored eating the same fruit day after day for weeks on end.

For example, it’s the end of June now and it’s right in the middle of the season for melons like cantaloupe, honey dew and watermelon. I absolutely love, love, love melons…so this time of year is my fave.  Until they go out of season, I’ll enjoy eating these fruits every single day.

But wait, back to the questions…how can you eat that much fruit?  How can you eat just fruit as a meal? Most people like fruit all right, so they might eat a cup of blueberries, a banana or an apple a day.  If that’s all you’re currently eating, let’s up your game.

It’s easy to eat that much fruit or to eat a fruit-only meal if you know enough about fruit to avoid some common mistakes that can lead to less than optimal experiences:

Eat only ripe fruit – if you’ve ever eaten a banana that tastes more like bamboo than banana, then you’ve eaten fruit that isn’t ripe. If you’ve ever been disappointed by a tasteless cantaloupe or a firm avocado (which is a fruit), you’re probably eating unripe fruit.

Determining the ripeness of fruit depends on the fruit, of course. Bananas should have some brown spots. Avocados and papayas should have a fair amount of give when you press on them.  Cantaloupes that are ready to eat will have a strong sweet smell at the stem. Mangoes will have a strong smell and also feel soft to the touch.

You’ll use many of your senses, including sight, smell and feel to properly determine if your fruit is ready to eat.

Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries should have a nice smell but you’ll mostly use color to determine ripeness.  Oranges should smell sweet and have a tender texture with wrinkles on the skin.  It will also feel heavy for it’s size.

If  you’re unsure about whether a fruit is ripe, just experiment.  Buy one or two and do a taste test.  You can also check out  Your Produce Guy for great videos on when to tell if fruit is ripe.

Learning to identify when fruit is ripe is part science and part art.  Getting good at it will greatly increase your enjoyment of fruit.  I highly recommend it.  The time and effort you invest will pay off handsomely.

Eat fruit in season – duh, you might be thinking. But too many people make the mistake that if it’s at their local grocery store it must be in season. Not necessarily true. If consumer demand is there, supermarket chains will do what they can to provide it. Blueberries in February? Watermelon in December? How cool is that?

Actually, it’s not really cool at all.  To get your blueberries in February, they have to be shipped from far away, they will cost a fortune, and they’ll likely taste terrible.

Eating fruit far removed from it’s natural growing season doesn’t make sense economically, globally or from a taste perspective. It’s disappointing to open up a watermelon in December that you paid a lot of money for and discover it tastes more like water than melon, and that it had to be shipped from Mexico.

You can research which fruits are in season and when, but a good way to tell is just to buy the fruit that your local grocery store or farmer’s market has on sale or on display.

Right now my local Trader Joe’s has organic mini watermelon and my favorite (and my dogs) cantaloupe on display as soon as you walk into the store. This is a good sign that these fruits are in season, relatively inexpensive and sometimes even local.

Adjust your fruit consumption to the season and you’ll be eating the most ripe as well as the most nutrient dense fruit.

Properly store your fruit – not keeping your fruit and even vegetables at proper temperatures will not only affect the taste, but often the ripening process. Nothing drives me more crazy than seeing people store their tomatoes and avocados in the refrigerator. Argggghh! Cold tomatoes go mushy quickly and taste terrible! Ditto for avocado.

A good way to remember is to take note of your local Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Where are they storing their produce? You hopefully never see refrigerated avocados and tomatoes.

Same goes for bananas, apples and oranges. Room temperature is the perfect way to consume these foods. Though you can sometimes slow the ripening process, there really are no benefits to making your fruit colder than it needs to be.

I don’t even like my lettuce cold so I’ll often take it out of the fridge an hour or so before I plan to make a giant salad.  Weird, yes, but there is a taste difference.

Don’t give up on fruit – I’ve never been a fan of honeydew. What a tasteless waste of time. Next to it’s awesome melon cousins of watermelon and cantaloupe, honeydew felt like an uninvited guest showing up at the party.

A few weeks ago my local Trader Joe’s ran out of organic mini watermelons and instead stocked organic honeydew melons. What?? After much internal debate, I reluctantly placed a few in my cart, reasoning that I should probably act like an adult and give it another try.

Guess what?  I loved it! The same consistency and flavor as a cantaloupe, but with much lighter notes.  All these years I missed out on eating such a satisfying fruit because I most likely hadn’t eaten one ripe, or had a few bad ones, or eaten ones that weren’t in season.

Don’t be afraid to try fruits you haven’t had, or try those again you thought you didn’t like.  I didn’t really eat papaya until a few years ago.  Now it’s one of my favorite fruits.  Drizzled with a little lime juice, it has a unique flavor that I crave.

All these tips will assist with how to eat more fruit.  You might move up to eating fruit as a meal or maybe easily double what you already eat on a daily basis.  Either way, just start eating more fruit.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

How do you eat all that fruit?

So many people ask me about my diet. Most have a hard time believing that I eat exclusively fresh fruit and some raw vegetables and greens.

Aside from wondering where I get my protein (which I get plenty of, thank you) or calcium (ditto) they wonder how in the heck I can eat so much fruit.

This question boggles my mind the most, because I find after eating mostly fruit for the last 5 months that all I want to do is keep eating, well, more fruit. I don’t even get bored eating the same fruits day after day.

But wait, really, how can you eat that much fruit? It’s a common question. Most people like fruit all right, so they might eat one apple or a single banana in a day. But eating fruit as a meal is hard for most people to get their minds around.

It truly is easy and pleasurable to eat that much fruit…but the kicker is you have to avoid some common mistakes.  The produce section of your local store can be like walking into an Apple store, never having owned a Mac. It’s confusing and intimidating at the same time.  So here are some (hopefully) helpful tips for how to eat more fruit:

Eat only ripe fruit – if you’ve ever eaten a banana and struggled to get the peel off, then you’ve eaten fruit that isn’t ripe. If you’ve ever been disappointed by a tasteless dry cantaloupe or a pink instead of red watermelon, you’re probably eating unripe fruit.

Determining the ripeness of fruit depends on the fruit, or course. You’ll need to use all of your senses by smelling, touching, examining and even listening to the fruit.  Picking ripe fruit is part art form and part luck.

A ripe avocado will have some give when pressed and the Hass variety will be a darker green or black.  Cantaloupes and honeydews should have a strong smell and feel heavy for their size.  Berries should look and smell good.  Watermelon should be free of cuts or abrasions and have a nice solid sound when tapped with your thumb.

Fruit selection prowess will take time and patience. You’ll get to know which stores carry the best fruit, which brands are consistently good, and which fruits you prefer over others, regardless of ripeness.

There is nothing quite like eating fruit that is fresh, in season and fully ripe.

Eat fruit in season – duh, you might be thinking. Of course you only eat fruit that’s in season. But too many people make the mistake that if it’s at their local grocery store it must be in season. Not so true.

Supermarket chains try and appease their customers by making blueberries available in February. The problem with that is more than twofold, but we’ll talk about two. One, the fruit generally is generally transported from a distant location ( i.e. Chile, Mexico) when it’s not in season. You’re not exactly eating local.

Two, if you’re eating fruit that isn’t in season, it’s likely not going to taste great and it will usually cost you dearly. Which makes sense, really. You’re paying for it to be brought from a long way away and for growing a crop that isn’t in season.

However, eating fruit out of it’s natural growing season will generally result in fruit that doesn’t taste good. It’s double disappointing to open up a watermelon in December that you paid a lot of money for and discover it tastes more like water than melon.

You can research which fruits are in season and when, but a good way to tell is just to buy the fruit that your local grocery store or farmer’s market has on sale or on display. Right now my local Trader Joe’s has organic mini watermelon and the sweet smelling cantaloupe on display as soon as you walk in the store. This is a good sign that these fruits are in season.

Properly store your fruit – not keeping your fruit and even vegetables at proper temperatures will not only affect the taste, but often the ripening process. Nothing drives me more crazy than seeing people store their tomatoes and avocados in the refrigerator. Argggghh! Tomatoes that are too cold taste terrible! Ditto for avocado.

A good way to remember is to take note of your local Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Where are they storing their produce? You hopefully never see refrigerated avocados and tomatoes.

Same goes for bananas, apples and oranges. Room temperature is the perfect way to consume these foods. Though you can sometimes slow the ripening process, there are no benefits to making your fruit colder than it needs to be.

I don’t even like my lettuce super cold so I’ll often take it out of the fridge an hour or so before I plan to make a giant salad.

Don’t give up on fruit – I’ve never been a fan of honeydew. What a tasteless waste of time!  Cantaloupe and watermelon are far superior in taste and texture than that pathetic, boring excuse for a melon called honeydew.  Or so I thought.

I was forced to reluctantly try a honeydew recently when my local Trader Joe’s ran out of organic mini watermelons.  In their place were these unassuming white melons. I grudgingly placed a few in my cart.

I was shocked to discover it was really, really good! The same consistency and flavor as a cantaloupe, but with much lighter notes. All these years I missed out on eating such a satisfying fruit because I most likely hadn’t eaten one ripe, or had a few bad ones, or eaten ones that weren’t in season.

Don’t shy away from fruit or vegetables you haven’t liked in the past.  Your taste buds may have changed, or you may have just had an unripe one.

Just eat it! – now that you’ve selected some ripe fruit and stored it properly, it’s all ready to eat.  Wait, why are you slinking off to your neighborhood restaurant?  You have fruit to eat!  Get to it!

Some 40% of food produced in this country is thrown away.  Food waste is a tremendous drain on our resources and silly, if you think about it, as John Oliver did recently on his not-to-be-missed show.

Food in general, and fruit specifically, is too precious to waste.  Eat your fruit and save the restaurants for special occasions.

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!

10 things that are totally worth the money – even for a vegan minimalist.

10 things that are worth itMost of the time I’m thrifty, and in some ways I aspire to be a vegan minimalist.  I bought my Prius used on Craigslist a few years back and I gave up coffee in part, because of the expense.  I also hate eating out and would always rather prepare my own meals at home.

Despite my aspiration to consume less and live way below my means, there are a number of items I highly recommend:

  1. Vitamix Blender  I was in sticker shock the first time I considered buying one of these blenders too.  But after spending what seemed like twice as much as I would consider reasonable, the Vitamix has delivered on it’s promise of being the best. Blender. Ever.  It makes short work of frozen bananas for banana ice cream, and can even blend and slightly heat ingredients for amazing vegan soups.  It pulverizes almonds that you can turn into almond milk, and will make short work of any nut you want to turn into a nut butter. You can buy this blender and have it forever, or you can buy cheaper ones and buy a new one every few years.  It comes with a 7 year warranty.   It’s essential in any kitchen, but definitely in someone aspiring to eat healthy.
  2. Amazon Prime. 2 day shipping is the bomb. Being able to order trash bags, cat litter and the like instead of traipsing out to my local Target is priceless.  I have just started using Amazon Music as well, which is free for Prime members and has a gazillion songs to choose from.  I know there are other advantages of Prime I haven’t checked out as well, like Prime Video service and Prime Pantry.  This service will save you time and money, not to mention a trip to the store.
  3. Books  I buy a lot of books.  I also download ebooks from my local library when they’re available, but there’s something about buying a book that excites me.  I use an iPad to read my selections, and many times I re-read past purchases, which can’t be done with a library ebook that I’ve returned.  Don’t skimp on books. Buy them.  Read them.  Like Dr Neal Barnard’s new book, The Cheese Trap:  How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help you Lose Weight, Gain Energy and Get Healthy.  Audio books are another great option from your library (for free) or with a membership to Audible (not free).  There is a free trial offer, which you should take advantage of to try it out.  Read (or listen) to some classics while you workout or in the middle of the day.  I listened to all 17 hrs and 36 mins of Autobiography of a Yogi  one winter while riding my road bike on a trainer.  Okay, no, I wasn’t on my bike for 17 hrs at once, but over a couple of weeks I completed the book.  Books will always, always be worth buying for your own enrichment but also to support the many authors out there that put their heart and soul into creating what is really a piece of art.
  4. Gym membership  I belong to a great Crossfit gym (don’t judge)
    and I pay a premium to belong there.  vegan minimalistEvery morning when I wake up and don’t feel like going I remember how much I’m paying.  I also remember that I have friends that go, and it pains me to think they’re there, getting stronger and fitter and I’m still in bed.  So I willingly get up a little after 4am to get ready for the 5am class.  I have yet to finish a workout and regret having gone.  If you don’t need a gym membership to motivate you, more power to you.  Most often though, the people I meet that are successful with regular physical exercise have a gym they love to go to or at the very least a group of friends they exercise with regularly.  Being part of a community that inspires you is worth paying up for.
  5. Organic produce  there’s a secret to eating organic – it’s easier if you buy in season.  For example, it’s citrus season right now.  Organic mandarins and navel oranges are available and inexpensive.  If I wanted organic blueberries right now, they would cost a fortune.  They’re not in season and may not even be available.  So I adjust what I’m eating to the seasons.  In July, I can buy organic blueberries for a reasonable price, while in March, I cannot.  So adjust what you’re eating and preparing to what’s available and on sale.  Eat simply, with fewer ingredients at a higher quality and you’ll find it much easier to afford organic produce.  Certainly, it’s not always possible to find organic, but at the very least make sure you’re buying the dirty dozen organic, and for some inspiration on why organic is worth it, watch this.  I also highly recommend buying organic coffee beans as well as rice, pasta and beans.  Okay, pretty much whatever you buy that you can buy organic should be.  Organic means your food will not contain genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).
  6. A bike  not just any bike, but a good quality bike that is fitted for you and that you maintain regularly.  Regular tune ups are expensive but essential, as you want your bike functioning properly so that you actually enjoy riding it.  Don’t be “that” person with a dirty, greasy chain, under inflated tires and a seat positioned too low. Use your bike for errands, commuting to work as well as getting in a great workout.  Replace as much of your car habit as you can by jumping on your bike instead of in your car.  Not only are you saving money and benefitting the environment, but you’re also working your muscles and cardiovascular system.
  7. A dog  Yes, they’re expensive.  Between vet bills, food, medication and boarding when you leave town, no fiscally responsible person would ever actually get a dog if they crunched the numbers.  But of course, that’s leaving out the benefits of dog ownership.  I have two labrador retrievers, and I take them for a hike pretty much every morning at 8am.  If I don’t take them for a walk, I feel guilty and I suffer their wrath.  They give me the sad dog eyes and stare at their red leashes until I finally give in and take them.  Watching them scamper down the trails, chasing a tennis ball with their ears flapping and tails wagging makes me nearly as happy as it makes them.  You can’t help but get outside when you have a dog.  It’s practically required.  It’s like a built in alarm clock that tells you not to get up but to get out.  Ignore at your own risk.  Of course, don’t get a dog if you don’t have the time or desire to raise one properly.  But if you’re looking for some motivation to stay active and you have the time and desire, adopt a shelter dog.
  8. Regular charity donations I support several groups working for animal rights.  Instead of large yearly donations, I give on a monthly basis, automatically charged to my credit card.  It means I don’t forget to donate, and every month I get a thank you email that makes me feel good about supporting these worthwhile causes.  Donations to charity, whether it’s your time or cash, should be viewed as a regular expenditure and not something you do once in awhile.  Make some room in your budget and give generously and regularly.  Need some ideas?  I suggest PETA , Mercy for Animals and Farm Sanctuary, of course, where you can not only donate, but adopt a farm animal!
  9. Groceries – there is no better advice I can offer people who want to go vegan or raw vegan or just eat healthier than to prepare your own meals at home.  This way, you have control over how your food is prepared and the quality of the ingredients.  Give up the restaurant habit.  If you don’t know how to cook or what to cook, take classes, solicit help from friends or family that cook or buy a few good quality cookbooks and work your way through them.  Having the skill set to prepare some basic healthy meals is invaluable.  Not only will you be saving money, but cooking for yourself and others can be a very satisfying endeavor.  Shop at the highest quality grocery store you can afford, like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  Buy produce in season and limit the amount of packaged or processed products in your cart.  You’ll be amazed at how inexpensive quality food can be, such as a giant bag of organic basmati rice, an organic avocado and beans.  These items are easy to cook and provide a great base for other items to be added to, such as grilled asparagus, roasted potatoes or coconut milk and curry.  After buying your own groceries and preparing meals at home, you’ll become so good that restaurant fare will pale in comparison to your culinary creations.  Did I mention I hate eating at restaurants?
  10. Hot yoga  classes usually range anywhere from $10 – $20 for hot yoga.  If you’ve never tried yoga, or specifically, hot yoga, you can usually find a Groupon or most places run specials for your first month at a discounted rate.  Find a local place and try out some classes.  I’ve been doing hot yoga for 6 years or so and it has really improved not only my flexibility but also my strength.  A word of warning though –  hot yoga is freaking hard! I remember the first few times I took a 90 minute class and thought I might actually die in that heated room.  Which is really odd considering I don’t mind the heat and it doesn’t get to me like it does most people. Places vary, but the heat is typically in the range of 105 degrees and you’re doing movements that get your heart rate up near where it would be if you were running sprints or riding your bike up a good incline.  Don’t be discouraged though…even though it’s hot and you’re extremely sweaty, the benefits of hot yoga far outweigh the suffering you’ll experience.  It’s extremely relaxing and rejuvenating to sweat a great deal and stretch your body into positions you normally wouldn’t get into.  So try it out and see if you like it.  As a runner and cyclist, I think hot yoga is the best investment I’ve ever made in my physical health, not to mention the additional benefits to my mental health.  It’s amazing how relaxed one can be following a good hot yoga session.

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 going to extremes might just work.

All things in moderation.  Balance. Small changes over time add up to big improvements.  These are all commonly accepted bits wisdom. But do incremental changes really work?

I recently read Penn Jillette’s book Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear.  He’s the Vegas magician that is half the duo known as Penn and Teller.  Well he was really more than half the duo…more like three quarters.

Penn was packing around some spare lbs in 2014. He estimated his weight at 330 at his highest, which was when he found himself in the hospital while his doctor told him one of the arteries surrounding his heart was 80% blocked.

He needed to lose weight yesterday.  Not a cosmetic amount, more like 50lbs.  100 would be better. Heck, if you can lose 100 you won’t even need any of the medication you’re currently taking, he was shocked to hear his doctor say.

That was when Penn realized he wasn’t taking 5 different medications, as he thought, because he was a big loser in the genetic lottery, but because he was a self-described “fat fuck.” The realization that he was where he was because he ate whatever the hell he wanted didn’t sit well with him.  He was disgusted with himself.

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried to lose weight in the past.  Just as many of  us do, he tried limiting portions, cutting back on carbs, fats and sugar.  He tried exercising.  But any weight lost always came back, and brought friends that led to his continued and consistent weight gain throughout the years.

So Penn tried something different.  He tried something drastic that most people would never even entertain.  He consciously chose to lose weight not as an adult would, as he put it, but as someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.  More like as a crazy person would.

So he ate only potatoes for 2 entire weeks.

“It’s much easier for me to make a major change than a minor change.” he hypothesized at a recent Google Talks.

What makes a major change easier?  Progress.  It is often immediate when you make a major change.  For example, in Penn’s situation, eating only potatoes for 2 weeks made him lose weight like a crack addict.  Going from eating a standard American diet of cheeseburgers and chocolate cake to plain potatoes tends to do that.

Stepping on the scale to a new lower number every day certainly makes whatever method you choose easier to stick to.  Positive reinforcement is a lot more encouraging on a daily basis with extreme change than it would be on a weekly or monthly basis with moderation.

While we don’t know if Penn’s weight loss is a permanent one at this point, we do know extreme measures worked much better for him than all his previous attempts at moderation.

Should you go cold turkey?  Extreme or gradual change, which is for you?  While I don’t exactly endorse eating potatoes for 2 weeks, I do understand and have experienced the benefits of extreme changes.  I became vegetarian overnight and then vegan, and also gave up coffee cold.  I had been drinking coffee for 30 years every single day, multiple cups.  I decided back in 2013 that I wanted to part ways with coffee, an amicable divorce if you will.  So I left coffee, walked right out on it.

Sure, I could have weaned myself off, slowly decreasing the amount I drank and then switching to decaf.  My thought at the time was this – I knew leaving coffee was going to be a horrible, terrible, no-good experience.  I might as well just walk out and be done with it.

So I did.  I won’t lie.  Giving up coffee (and caffeine) meant that I suffered tremendously for 3 weeks straight. Head-splitting migraines were my constant companion and sloth like energy levels plagued my every day.

As soon as I began to think it would never get better, everything changed. Headaches vanished, energy level came roaring back, and my life returned as if nothing had ever happened.  It’s been over 3 years now and I have never once wanted for a cup of coffee or a jolt of caffeine.  I wouldn’t change anything about what I did, though it remains one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.

The point is…and there is a point.  Extreme measures can work.  They’re not popular because, well,  they’re pretty damn hard.  Moderation is a much easier sell.  Most people simply cannot get their heads around the idea that they suddenly can’t have something.

The upside though, is that if you can handle extreme measures, you’re that much more likely to succeed.  Giving up caffeine completely or eating only potatoes for two weeks means most of the hard work is over and done quickly.

Change happens quickly with extreme measures. You body is forced to adapt because it doesn’t really have a choice.

Whatever it is you’re looking to do, whether its becoming vegan, raw vegan, or losing weight, consider making an extreme change rather than moderation.  It will be hard, you will suffer, but you’ll also see some immediate progress that might make the changes that much easier to stick to.

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!