Wednesday, December 4, 2013

True Diary of a Part Time Vegan

What's that?  How can you be a part time vegan?  Let me tell you a little story about my journey to being a part-time, nearly full-time vegan.

I started getting more interested in healthy eating about 2 years ago.  I tried off and on over the years to go to the gym, which I thought was the number one thing about being healthy.  I was in my late thirties, had just run a half marathon and realized that I actually wasn't in that good of shape and I was overweight.  Like, oh, so many other people, I joined Weight Watchers.

Weight Watchers was amazing at first and with it I lost 33 pounds.  It helped me come to terms with portion sizes, something I never payed much attention to.  I have always been tall (5' 11'') and able to eat like a garbage can without gaining weight.  Until my mid 30's, that is.  But I plateaued with Weight Watchers and noticed that while I was eating less, I still didn't really know much more about nutrition.  Sure, the little program said eat a lot of veggies and such, but you had big marks against you if you were eating nuts and olive oil which many studies have now shown to be pretty beneficial.

I needed more help.  I found a free online nutrition class taught by Jamie Pope of Vanderbilt University on Coursera. (If you have never heard of Coursera, trust me, it will change your life.)  Over the course of 6 weeks the 70,000 of us (yes, 70,000) enrolled in the class learned about what constitutes a healthy diet, what amounts of nutrients you should be getting per day, and what is considered a right amount of exercise.  It was an eye opener.   The most interesting part for me was the week that we studied a vegetarian/vegan diet.  The benefits seem to pile on the less animal products you eat.  Many people all over the world eat a ton of whole grains and veggies for the main part of their diet and they are healthy and not overweight.  Our obsession with carbs has really screwed up this country.  I watched the movie Forks Over Knives and then was pretty much convinced a vegan diet was the way to go.

Let's stop for a moment and talk about how much I love meat.  I am not doing this because of the animals.  While, yes, animals will live better lives if we are not eating them, I don't focus on that.  I am focusing on my health and the environment.  Less meat=less pollution=less food going to animals instead of humans=less antibiotics and on and on.  If I end up at someone's house for dinner and they serve meat, I don't freak out and start lecturing; I graciously accept their food and eat it.  But 90% of the time, I am eating vegan. 

Back to starting to eat vegan.  I was baffled.  How do I get a main entree out of veggies?  White sugar is vegan, right?  How can I live without putting cheese on everything?  And then I came to grips that maybe how we have been eating our whole lives might be habit, but doesn't mean it is the best way to eat.

I needed cookbooks and I needed them fast.  I've done research on books and I've also bought several vegan books on a whim, because they were pretty or hip, but I have narrowed it down to a list I think helpful to start a part time or full time vegan eating plan.

1. Forks Over Knives by Del Sroufe: Even if you don't watch the movie, which you don't have to, this book is full of delicious alternatives to meat and dairy.  Added health kicker: the recipes don't use added oils at all so everything is extra healthy.  The "no-cheese" sauce is made weekly at my house and we gobble it right up every time.

2. The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman: This has a lot of meat recipes in it but this book came after his How to Cook Everything series and is much more health oriented, using lots of whole grains, lean meats, and gives lots and lots of vegetarian and vegan variations.  A good gateway book to healthier cooking.  The best carrot cake recipe, ever.

3.Vegan With A Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz: This was my first vegan cookbook.  She wrote it a while ago and while it is super user friendly, it has a lot of junk food ingredients.  She uses white sugar and white flour in everything.  But again, it's a good starter book with a great seitan (meat replacement) recipe and thinks about food in that main entree sort of way that is helpful if that is how you are used to eating.

4. Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi: This is food as art. This is vegetarian, not vegan and so there is plenty of cheese and butter.  But this book shows how amazing and diverse and beautiful vegetables can be.  So many delicious recipes as well as gorgeous to look at. You will want to cook vegetables all day long.  Also, look for the other books of the Ottolenghi cooking empire: I own them all and love them.

There you go.  I am not claiming to be any sort of expert in a vegan diet.  I know everyone is different.  But it has helped me keep the weight off and I feel great when I am eating more vegan than not and sleep better and run better with that weight off and my acne is cleared up quite a bit which I think was from all the dairy I used to eat.  Anyways, once you start eating more whole foods, it all starts to taste better too and then you crave more whole foods, and well, it starts a great cycle of being a healthier and happier person.  Cheers!

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