March 12, 2012

Just call me the Involuntary Vegetarian

It's been so long since my last post, I hardly know where to start! In short, life happens. Old habits get broken, new ones form. I felt a little lost at times as my lifestyle and life patterns changed pretty dramatically over these last few months. Now that I'm feeling settled, back in control (mostly) and with a new outlook & focus on my overall health, this blogger is ready for a reboot!

Let's see....

First - Hubby and I bought our first house together! After the first short sale fell through in the first half of 2011, we had to move into a small apartment temporarily. It was not a particularly terrible apartment, but living in a temporary environment, with half the square footage you lived in for years is a VERY difficult adjustment. We had to store half of our furniture and some other belongings - items we hoped we'd have back within just a few months, not six-and-a-half. After this looooooong 6.5 months, including a very stressful final 45 days before close of escrow, I simply lost my blogging mojo. We entered this short sale late last summer, prior to the new laws that kicked at the beginning of this year, so the bank was able to take their sweet time in approving offers and addendums. It was so crazy, I can't even put myself back in that mindset to recap that last 45 days.  When all was said and done - it was worth the wait. We have everything we wanted and more.

Second - I finally made the switch. Shortly after Thanksgiving, my willingness to eat meat completely escaped me. Just call me the Involuntary Vegetarian.  In fact, it was an email reply I sent to the No Meat Athlete(TM) in response to an article he wrote titled "The Most Laid Back Guide to Going Vegetarian You'll Ever Read" that motivated me to start writing again. I've included much of what I wrote here, but in short, I was really at a loss when my brain and my body started rejecting the idea of eating meat completely. When fish fell out of my acceptable options, my willingness to eat dwindled. How did I get here? Why is this happening? How the hell do I feed myself to survive? Of course, more importantly, how do I fuel my body for all this running without keeling over from low blood glucose after 90 minutes? Other than salads and a few staple veggies with dinner a few times a week, my diet, well, sucked. I was living on protein shakes, tofu, Power bars, Gatorade, bread, pasta, cheese, eggs and rice for a good part of those initial couple of months. It took quite a bit of research and time to accept and adjust to this big lifestyle change.  I didn't know how to write about it so I avoided writing about it all together.  I'm still not sure I can articulate it well, but for now, this is the best I can offer. My email to the No Meat Athlete, Matt Frazier:

Hi Matt,

I think this is the first time I’ve ever replied directly to a blog/article in this fashion. I’ve been a follower of your blog/website for a little less than a year I think. I was originally intrigued by your site after searching for a resource to make my own natural energy bars and alternative long-distance fueling options. I started having major GI distress on long runs and I knew it was from the sugary gels and sports beans. Since then, I have received your posts/articles via email, browsing through sections I thought may be relevant and interesting to me, and visited your site occasionally as a reference only….. until recently.

I’ve been an athlete my entire life, starting with softball at the age of 5. My mom was somewhat of a health food nut in my earlier childhood years. It was the 70’s – health food stores were popping up and she even took up running for a short time. I didn’t like these non-processed foods she wanted us to eat. The local health food store always smelled funny to me and as a pre-teen, I was embarrassed we weren’t shopping for ‘normal food’ like all my friends. I can still hear her reply to my pleas for pre-meal snacks: “If you’re so hungry, eat a carrot". Ewwww. I'm only 8! ;-)

Like so many others, I struggled with my weight through puberty and into college. I made terrible food choices at the cafeteria (everyone eats Chocolate Malts for lunch don’t they?), worked at a couple of fast food restaurants in high school, and just got used to the convenience of packaged, processed food. While “working out” in general was, for the most part, always a part of my life, it wasn’t until college that I started running. During this time (early 90’s), high protein diets (the Zone Diet and Atkins’s Diet) were gaining huge popularity, as was the infamous Cabbage Soup Diet. Having lost a significant amount of body fat after following the Zone diet as part of a research study (versus losing fat and lean muscle mass after following a high carb/low protein diet for the same period of time), I held strong opinions around the importance of higher protein/lower carbohydrate diets for athletes for a decade.

So why the heck am I replying to this post in particular?  You really struck a chord with me and my husband here. For the past couple of years, eating meat started feeling weird. I didn’t know why, but the thought and sight of striated muscle being ripped off the bone and shoving it in my mouth was gross. I noticed in late 2011 that I was throwing out a lot of meat, and what I wasn’t throwing out sat in the freezer for weeks, even months. But I kept buying it every time I went grocery shopping. There were nights when I’d pick up pre-cooked chicken from the local supermarket and later regret eating it when I saw the carcass that was left over. Ugh. Just after Thanksgiving in 2011, I saw “Forks Over Knives”. Watching that documentary was my tipping point. I told my husband I just couldn’t eat, cook or even handle meat anymore. I was still okay with fish, eggs and some dairy, but if he wanted meat, he was going to have to buy and cook it himself. I couldn’t (and still can’t) walk through a meat or butcher section of a store without feeling disgusted and sick. None of these feelings felt like choices I was making. The changes seemed to be happening naturally on their own. While I wasn’t resisting it, I was feeling like an Involuntary Vegetarian.

I started buying more tofu, beans, nuts and protein drinks. I worried about how this would affect my running performance and my overall health. The assumption of course was that without meat, my performance would suffer. My diet (and subsequently my husband’s diet) really started to suffer. He was slowly turning against meat too. We talked often about what the heck was happening to us. There was something morally wrong with eating animals and we were both feeling it. After only a month of not eating meat, I realized we hadn’t been going to sushi as we often did in the past. I used to crave it. Hubby and I used to go out for sushi once or twice or month for years.  Again, the thought of sinking my teeth into the flesh and muscle of a living animal overtook me and I knew right then that fish was out too.

With our meals getting more boring and less nutritious by the week, I finally “gave in” and started experimenting more in the kitchen with vegetarian dishes. We started easy with things like Tofurkey sausages and lentil stew. Veggies (many I’d never tried cooking before or even knew were edible!) are taking up more room on our plates than pasta, bread and cheese. We recently watched “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” and we are now embracing a new element into this big lifestyle change – Juicing! 

I do spend more prep time in the kitchen now and that’s been a tough adjustment. I’m spending LESS money at the grocery store weekly, not to mention eating out less. I never realized what a meat-driven society America is and I find myself questioning the incessant beef, chicken, pork and dairy commercials on television. Of course I want to go on to rant about the lack of support for local veggie and fruit farming and the realization that I’ve been contributing to the depletion of our planet’s resources due to the breeding and slaughtering of animals: water, land, fuel to transport it all…..

One of the biggest things I struggle with is trying to explain to friends and family WHY this changed happened without feeling like their perception is that I have a “holier than thou” attitude (is this normal?). I really don’t have that attitude and I definitely don’t judge anyone for eating meat. I’ll admit the smell of bacon in the morning still smells good (for now). I just have absolutely no desire to eat it. And maybe what’s more than that: I don’t think I have the RIGHT to eat living animals on this planet. I’ve been meat-free for about 4 months and fish-free for about 3 months. My body loves the change. As for my performance – I set a new Half Marathon PR in mid-February by almost 4 minutes – 1:51:10 at the age of 39; just 2.5 months after becoming a meat-free athlete. I completely agree with having a laid-back approach to becoming a vegetarian. Without letting this natural progression happen, I don’t think it would have “stuck”.

 Thank you for all you do for us newbie vegetarians – especially as this lifestyle relates to endurance and performance. I can now say I’m as passionate about what I’m putting in my body as I am about training and racing!

Vera L.

I really am proud of what I've accomplished these last few months. It just took me a while to process and accept it all. And for a shiny new Half Marathon PR.... well, I'd do it all over again!

In other fun news, I got my 3-seconds of fame during an airing of the Dr Phil show recently. And I have evidence to prove it! :-)  As you can see from the expression on my face, it was a pretty intense segment. I think this is my 4th time being in the audience.

Finally, our very first full Marathon training group from our Ventura County Galloway Training Programs club is running the LA Marathon this coming Sunday and I couldn't be more proud and excited! To watch the transformations over these last 29 weeks has been an amazing and rewarding experience. I can't WAIT to share the race recap. There will never be another first like this!


Gaby H. said...

Wow! So many great things happening!! I'm very happy for you and welcome to veggie-land LOL. Oh and BTW, you look awesome on TV! ;)

Allison said...

Hi, Vera! I miss seeing you regularly! Welcome to vegland! I'm a long time vegetarian and have been vegan for about 2 years (the Greek yoghurt and eggs were the last to go). Here are some websites that I find really helpful: - This is the blog that made me go vegan...although I eat more avocado and nuts than she does. - Good recipes and snappy writing. - more good recipes

Also, check out Dr. Joel Fuhrman and, of course, Brendan Brazier.

Allison Brightman