Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Change of Lifestyle...Something I Never Ever Thought About Before!

Something I never, ever, like in a gazillion years, ever thought I'd hear coming out of my mouth are words that I verbalized just a few weeks ago for the first time. I was at a restaurant and a server asked me if I'd like cheese overtop what I'd ordered. My response: "No thanks...I'm vegan."

Yes, it's true. I don't know for how long it will be true, but it is for this period of my life. I am eating vegan. It's still strange to say that out loud. Never in a million years...

The journey started about 10 weeks ago, when the kids and I were on our six week road trip west (something else I need to write about at some point!). Geoff joined the kids and me for a week of our road trip, and the five of us spent that week on Vancouver Island, in the Ucluelet/Tofino area. On our second night there, Geoff said that he'd had a doctor's appointment while we were away, and that the doctor had told him that he had somewhat high cholesterol. About ten or fifteen years ago, Geoff had received the same diagnosis from our family doctor and he'd gone on meds for about 18 months until it was at normal levels. This time, though, rather than jumping onto the medication band wagon, Geoff asked the doctor if he could investigate dietary options first. Because his cholesterol wasn't terribly high, the doctor suggested he try the dietary approach first for a few months.

That night in Ucluelet, Geoff said that he'd heard of a documentary on Netflix that he'd begun to watch already, and he asked if I wanted to watch it with him. We did. And that changed something for us.

The documentary is called Forks Over Knives and it's about a doctor/researcher/scientist who has done extensive research into the impact of a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet on people with long term illnesses or very specific medical issues (such as high cholesterol). They involved people in their studies who had been on medications for many, many years for heart issues, diabetes, and so on. And in their studies, most of those people were able to eliminate their medications after only weeks of being on a plant based diet. There were many other things discussed on the documentary, but those real-life stories had a big impact on us/me.

Geoff began eating vegan immediately after returning home from spending that week with us. I began to do more research during the remaining three weeks that the kids and I were on our road trip, and whenever possible, I began making food choices that were more in line with a plant based lifestyle (a hard thing to do when traveling!). Then, within a few days of the kids and I arriving home on May 22, I decided to give a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle a wholehearted try.

No meat. No dairy. No eggs.

Why? you might ask.
  • Well, there's the obvious answer of Geoff's cholesterol and my wish to support his efforts to reduce those numbers naturally. But it's about more than that. 
  • There's a little diabetes running in my family, and I've always been careful to ask for blood work that shows my blood sugars for that reason; about three or four years ago, the blood work showed that my blood sugar was near the top of normal. I haven't had the same results in the years since then, but I'm always aware of that prospect and would rather avoid any kind of diabetes diagnosis in my future if possible. 
  • Third, I definitely have a family history of high blood pressure - my mom and grandparents, and some cousins all began on high blood pressure meds in their mid forties, and my dad when he was a little older. I also started on blood pressure meds in my late forties...three years ago. There's a lot of research suggesting that eliminating animal products from our diet can positively impact blood pressure. 
  • Fourth, deep down, I'm not convinced that we need to put animal fats and animal proteins into our bodies in order to be healthy - in fact, it may just be the opposite of that. There are so many ways to get protein into our bodies that have nothing to do with animals. And I definitely believe that, in general throughout North America, we consume far too much animal and far too few vegetables and fruit. Can anyone disagree with that one?? 
  • Finally, although I didn't start this journey specifically because of animal-cruelty issues, I very much like the idea that I am currently not contributing to the problem, either from an environmental standpoint or from the standpoint of not killing animals for human consumption. 
So that's the why of it. :)

As I write this, it's the end of July, and I'm still on the same course. It hasn't been a perfect journey, but it's been a good start. In the first days of making the change back in late May, I ate two bites of chicken. In the eight or so weeks since then I twice grated a little parmesan overtop my pasta and I once ate three chocolates with milk-based caramel on the inside; and I suspect that, once or twice, the bread I've eaten has had egg/butter in it. Also, when Matthew catches a fish in the lake and fries it up, I always have a bite or two of that - even though it doesn't particularly interest me to do so at the moment, I support his love of fishing and it's important to him/me that I try it. And I still occasionally drink my tea with a little honey in it (strict vegans don't eat honey because it is sourced from animals), and I'm of the opinion that I'm ok with a bit of honey. And that's been it...otherwise, I think I've been completely vegan for the past nine or ten weeks.

I'm not really one for half-hearted attempts at things; rather than start at a gradual pace, which most vegan gurus seem to recommend, I launched into things overnight change. That made things rather difficult at first, because I frankly didn't know what to feed anyone any more. After about a week, I began to feel very gloomy and hopeless, and I basically left Geoff and the kids to forage for food on their own for the next 2-3 weeks. I just wanted to give up on everything. We've been pretty dang healthy eaters for almost fifteen years already (pasture-raised meats, lots of veggies and fruits, organic everything whenever possible), and I'm a pretty good cook. But this felt like a whole new world for me. I just couldn't bring myself to do anything - I just kept eating whole grain toast with guacamole or hummus, and lots of veggies and fruits while I tried to mind and heart more than anything. Even though it was 100% my choice to try out this change, I was resentful of it and really, really did not want to be engaging with it.

But I managed to stick to it through the worst of it. My body was clearly adapting and my heart had to catch up a little. I've been coming out of my state of gloom with some new understandings about myself and a new willingness to get back into the kitchen to do what I love: cook...just in a new way.

There was one meal in particular that changed my outlook on things in a good way. I'd been researching recipes online like crazy, and one stew that I prepared for a dinner changed everything - it was so unbelievably good that I said to Geoff that if I could find 30 or more recipes that I loved as much as that meal, I could be vegan for the rest of my life. It was that good - full of veggies (onions, garlic, sweet potato, lots of cauliflower, etc), coconut milk, and peanut butter. We downed the entire pot of it that first time...and most times since then!

I fully expected to crave meat and have been shocked that I haven't had more of an urge to eat a little here and there. But, other than the exceptions noted, I just haven't! Only once did I really struggle big-time with saying no to meat (when my parents served up traditional German meat buns...a favourite treat of my past). I have struggled with the loss of cheese...that's been the hardest thing for sure. And sometimes I just miss scrambling an egg in the mornings. Who knows? I may eventually morph into more of a vegetarian - where I still have a moratorium on meat, but consume cheese and eggs once in a while.

But for now, I'm mostly good with this choice and getting a little better at making the needed changes.

More to come...

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