Thursday, November 30, 2017

What Being Vegan Means to Me and What I Have Learned so Far

I am going on 2 months of a plant based diet, free of gluten, dairy and animal products (well except eggs). I am feeling amazing! I think this is really fascinating given the last time I went vegan for 3 weeks I was miserable. Several things factored into my misery last time, I believe, 1) I had no motivation other than my IIN Health Coaching curriculum suggesting we try different ways of eating throughout the year-long course 2) It was January in Maine (who doesn't crave meat and cheese and bread in the winter!? I know I certainly do.) 3) I didn't educate myself. I figured, I know about food. I know how to cook. I know how to eat vegan. But, actually I didn't. I needed to approach shopping, cooking and eating differently. And I needed to learn how to cook differently. 4) I removed a key macronutrient from my diet and didn't replace it with anything.

There are 3 macronutrients we all need to survive. Protein, fats and carbohydrates. Depending on the diet you follow and/or your dietary goals, you play around with the percentages of your macros. For a paleo or keto diet you would have protein and fats at really high percentages 60-80% and carbs super low. If you are on a plant based diet you will likely have a lower protein percentage of 10-20%. The key though is, we all need all macros. Remember in the 90s when carbs were vilified and people completely cut out all carbohydrates. Remember the bread rage? We all need some carbs, and just so we are all on the same page, vegetables are in that carbohydrate category. Actually, no one wants to completely cut out carbs, because vegetables are an essential part of any diet. Unfortunately, when most people think carbs, they think simple, refined carbs, like bread, bagels, crackers, pasta, etc. Vegetables are complex carbs and offer fiber, water and vitamins and minerals. Don't vilify carbs. Last time I tried a vegan diet, I just removed protein from my diet and upped my fat and vegetable carb intake. It worked for a while until I was ravenous and had dreams of dancing eggs multiple nights in a row. What I have learned is you can't just remove a macronutrient from your diet and not replace it. You can't just poof protein out of your diet and hope for the best, you will fail. Just like poofing all carbs or all fat, your body rejects this way of eating, and you turn into a hangry beast. 

I didn't, and still don't want to eat a ton of soy products. I know there is evidence, especially circulating in the vegan world, that soy products are in fact, good for you. I don't know, evidence is great, but I am going to trust my gut on this one. While I have introduced some soy products into my life, they are not every day and are in very small amounts. And I still consciously buy products that don't have too much soy in them. (I need to go on a little side bar here, I can't with crap-filled, chemicalized, highly processed vegan foods. They are not healthier just because they are lacking animal products. I still firmly believe that we need to eat as close to how the food comes from the Earth. All the hydrogenated oils and highly processed "healthy" vegan foods are not good for anyone. I don't care how clean-vegan you are. Your body does not assimilate processed foods. I can't. And I won't. And you should seriously reconsider. The end.) With that being said, now that I have introduced some soy products as a form of protein I am feeling much better than with no protein at all. Vegainase makes a soy-free blend, which is awesome. Loving the hell out of that! I have even found 2 vegan cheeses, both of which are limited ingredients and very clean. 1 with soy and coconut, called Chao (side note, this cheese is the best! It actually tastes like real cheese, minus a faint coconut after taste) and Myiokos cashew cheese. I wouldn't exactly eat it on it's own, but it melts perfectly. This weekend I will attempting to make my own vegan cheese, which I am SO excited about! I found this recipeI'll let you know how it turns out.

I had to learn how to cook vegan food. I know this sounds silly. I am a well versed cook. I feel very confident in the kitchen. I rarely follow recipes, I use them more for inspiration, always tweaking as I go. The thing is, that didn't work for me with vegan meals. I couldn't just omit the animal products and gluten, and try a substitute. I actually had to do research. I had to follow recipes. 2 years ago that undertaking felt daunting. This time, I am feeling inspired. I want to expand my ability to cook. I want to learn new recipes. I want to understand how to make something creamy without any diary (cashews people, cashews are the best!). I joined the 22 Day Vegan Challenge suggested my James Aspey, more for recipe inspiration than anything. I ignored a lot of what was going on in the group, because I didn't need that support in the way they offer it, but I did find the recipes that were shared by the mentors and fellow participants super helpful. Oh She Glows, It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken, Veggies Don't Bite, Simple Vegan Blog and the Food Monster app are all great resources I have found along the way. Trust me when I say you need resources if your are attempting a vegan lifestyle. I felt extremely confident that I knew what I was doing and realized that I didn't know as much as I needed too.

I love beans and beans love me. Not everyone can eat beans. Don't know? Eat some and see how your body responds. Also certain blood types digest beans better (As and Bs). If you are an O blood type, being vegan may be really, really hard for you. With that being said I don't think veganism is for everyone. I certainly will never be "that" vegan who advocates that everyone should give up all animal products. Yes, I think we could all cut down considerably on our animal product consumption, for our own health, for the animals and for environmental well being. But everyone is different. Every body is different. I think if you are going to try going vegan you need to know your self and your body well. You also have to continually check in with your intention and motivation towards eating a vegan diet.

Eggs. Yup, I said eggs. Die hard vegans would yell at me for still eating eggs. Sure, some could say I am not techinically a vegan becasue I am still eating eggs. First of all, I am not eating eggs every day. Not even every other. I eat them when I want them, which is a few times a week, and not even every week. The eggs I get are from a beautiful farm down the road. The chickens are free range, happy chickens, fed a great soy-free diet. I feel good about my eggs and my consumption of them. So curse me if you must, call me not a real vegan, but for right now that is what is working for me. Which brings me to another thought; strict, cold tofurkey veganism is a major shift for some, especially if you are not replacing your animal protein with plant based protein. So, in my opinion, if you need to gradually work towards veganism, because it is important to you, then slowly get there. Cut out things as you go. Listen to your body.

I have never been one for layering my foods. Unless it is a lasagna, I would make what I make and eat it. I would never add dressing and seeds and nuts, EVOO, and tahini, or peanut butter, etc. What I have learned this time around is layering your foods is important to feel satisfied, and also to get complete proteins. So for example, if I had sautéed greens in the morning with a half an avocado, traditionally that would be it, with some eggs perhaps, but now it is the greens, with a whole avocado, drizzled with tahini, sprinkled on hemp seeds, sunflower seeds and drizzled with more olive oil. Think about when you make oatmeal, don't just make oatmeal, but add coconut oil and peanut butter, while you are cooking it, then add nuts, seeds, non-dairy milk, fruit, etc. Leaving out the essential fats and protein combination leaves you with a high carb meal, which your body digest quickly, leaving you hungry a couple hours later. Haven't you ever been hungry 2 hours later after eating oats? You are missing the layering of fats and protein. Try it out!

Something interesting has happened over the last two months. I cannot stand the smell of meat. It is disgusting! It actually makes me gag. It smells like burning flesh. A has not jumped on my vegan bandwagon, although he will happily enjoy a vegan meal with me. He is still eating meat, which he cooks. Ugh, I can't. I roasted a turkey for Thanksgiving, it was disgusting. Having to unwrap it and dress it, and smell it cooking. I was seriously grossed out. It smelled kind of ok when it was out of the oven all golden roasty. I even ate a small piece, but spit it out. The texture, the taste, ugh. I was actually grossed out. It is not like I planned for this to happen. It just happened. It actually happened with bacon, BACON, to start. A made bacon wrapped blue cheese stuffed dates. I had to go stand outside. I was so grossed out by the bacon and the blue cheese. OMG, what is happening to me!!? I can't speak for anyone else, but man, this was not a shift I saw coming. I have ZERO interest in eating any meat. The smell is so offensive to me, why would I want to put that in my mouth?

Cheese though, well it's cheese. Cheese is my weakness. Minus blue cheese, nope all set. That shit nasty. (Oh my god, who am I??!) Cheese is my crack. Actually they have done studies on cheese and it is actually addictive. It hits the same dopamine receptors in the brain as some drugs and sugar does. Who knew? Anyway, cheese has been harder for me. I had 1 piece of cheese the other day and man was it delicious, but I didn't need or want more, and I haven't had any since. Well except, we went out to a Mexican restaurant the other night and I really wanted a cheese enchilada, so I got one. Bad idea! I was so gassy and uncomfortable all night long. So totally wasn't worth it. That was the end of my cheese dreams. If you are lactose intolerant you know the cheese pain. It's never worth it.

While not even a factor on this journey of veganism, I feel like I have lost some weight. My pants are fitting better, not so pinchy. I don't own a scale, so I don't know exactly how much, nor, do I care. That is not the goal for me. The goal has always been to feel good. To feel better than where I was. And that has been the case. The nagging back/sciatica pain is entirely gone, meaning I'm less inflamed. And I can workout everyday, squats, weights and all, and I feel amazing. It is really nice to be back at a mobility and fitness level I have always been at, but has been lessened over the last year due to nagging inflammatory back pain. That is how I got started on this vegan journey this time. That has always been my motivation, to feel really good and to get rid of that damn sciatica. It has been gone since week 2 of this vegan thing, so why mess with a good thing?


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