Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This Vegan Thing, is Totally Happening

It can be so frustrating, but it is paying-off big time!

Let me start at the beginning. In December of 2007, with lots of encouragement from my long-time-vegetarian-for-health-reasons Mother-in-Law, I took the plunge into vegetarianism not sure how long it would last. I had been meat averse for a long time but never taken a firm commitment to the diet. A vegetarian co-worker of mine was excited for me & very encouraging. She mentioned that the first 6 months was the hardest, so I figured I'd stick with it that long & see how I felt about it in June. I stayed vegetarian for three and a half years.

This summer as I was preparing for my first trip to Europe (many more blog posts on that trip to come soon) I decided that I wanted the ability to experience new cultures through their traditional cuisines. So, I slowly began adding meat back into my diet. I had heard horror stories of vegetarians accidentally being fed meat & becoming rather ill. As I was not raised vegetarian & I still consumed the occasional preferably white only egg & home-cooked salmon, I figured my digestions system still contained the proper enzymes & what have you, in order to prevent that from happening. With the exception of a week long rash after consuming who knows how many different kinds of seafood at a sushi bar, I was fine. I actually did not eat as much meat on the trip as I thought I would & was able to maintain a mostly vegetarian diet, while enjoying some traditional foods. More importantly due to my earlier experiments I was able to travel worry free about consuming, say a soup with hard to translate ingredients & becoming sick.

When I came back to the states I was not sure how my diet would proceed. Although I am not sure why it surprised me to learn this, I discovered I simply found the taste of most meats disgusting. I decided I would stay mostly vegetarian but enjoy the occasional meat I enjoyed such as bacon, or a slice of pizza that also happened to be topped with say pepperoni. One thing I would do while vegetarian, based on a fear of food illness, was refuse a taste of something my omnivore husband offered, simply because it had touched a piece of cooked meat. No more. I felt free to sample things that I wanted to taste without fear of digestive retribution. My decision was bolstered by reading "The Omnivores Dilemma" by Michael Pollan which confirmed that semi-vegetarians could live just as healthily as strict ones. (Although I feel the need to make the statement here that Mr. Pollan's book was not my only source for coming to the conclusion that this could be a healthy lifestyle for myself. While I HIGHLY recommend the book to everyone, it is not the end all be all on the subject of diet.) Then, the incident occurred. I was eating a seemingly innocuous slice of Hawaiian pizza, when what should I sink my teeth into? A bone chip. That was it. My ass is now much more firmly placed on the vegetarian wagon. Yes I will, occasionally try a morsel of something new, but I will no longer be ordering non-vegetarian meals at restaurants.

Now we come around to the vegan part of this tale. I have had a milk allergy for most of my life, my sister, and if memory serves, brother have it as well. In the past several years it has been growing steadily worse & I have done the bare minimum to avoid its consequences. You see I have always had a massive fondness of cheese. This grew when I met my husband & he introduced me to that fact that there are WAY more than 5 types of this particular nectar of the gods. Finally I had to say enough is enough, and I decided to give semi-veganism a try for 30 days. I would not cut out dairy completely, but cut back large quantities at one time. No more cheese or cream heavy dishes, no more meals consisting of wine & cheese, no more cheese & crackers for a between meals snack. I thought that this massive reduction of cheese would allow me to enjoy our pizza & movies 1 night a week with friends. It made it worse. So, I had to cut out pizza all together. I didn't realize how much cheese & dairy I had been consuming until I wasn't anymore. I think that the vegetarian diet especially, is heavy on cheese. When you go to a nice restaurant the vegetarian option is usually something rich & creamy like risotto. or vegetable lasagna. I think that many vegetarians consciously or unconsciously think that because they aren't eating meat they are eating healthier & therefore are allowed to consume more dairy & still be healthier than the average American.

So what was my conclusion after the 30 days? I didn't even notice that the 30 days was up. I just kept finding ways to reduced the dairy in my diet. How do I feel? I feel much more energetic, as if my body isn't wasting energy trying to consume something that is making it sick. Kinda obvious I know, but sometimes I can be so stubborn it takes doing it to see I can. How do I look? So fine! I had been at weight loss plateau for about six months. I am now within three and a half pounds of my end of year goal! In the foreseeable future, I will not be a strict vegan looking for animal byproducts in everything I eat & use but just eliminating the big sources of milk products like cheese, cream or butter based sauces, soups, and desserts; that sort of thing. Now that I am a semi-vegetarian, semi-vegan, weight loosing, high energy machine, I'm looking forward to how this new commitment will affect me.

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