Why I’m Going Plant-Based

Why I'm Going Plant-BasedA few months ago, I wrote a post about how I’ve been *slowly* transitioning towards a plant-based diet. (In that post I talk about the judgement I often feel in doing so—if you’re interested in reading it, click here.) In that post I didn’t dive into why I’m going plant-based, so that’s where we’re going today. It’s happening EXTREMELY gradually, with the process starting years ago and animal products slowly dropping from my diet as they stop being appetizing to me.

I suppose it’s a little odd to write this post now because as of last week, I was still eating eggs and occasionally fish. I never put any pressure on myself to eliminate things from my diet, and it’s just happened naturally. Last week, for whatever reason, I was ready to part with eggs and fish. I sat down to eat avocado toast with a runny fried egg on top and just thought, “You know what? Eating eggs no longer serves me.” Maybe this post is a bit premature, but I feel myself continually being drawn towards a 100% plant-based diet and know in my gut that whether it’s now, or I eat scrambled eggs tomorrow and it doesn’t happen for another month, I’ll eventually be there.

I’m not a dietitian or nutritionist and therefore not qualified to give specific dietary guidance. That being said, this is a health and fitness blog, and even if I’m just sharing my personal experience with these things, I know that many readers take it as advice. For this reason, it’s really important to me that I emphasize that I do NOT think a vegan diet is necessarily the healthiest diet for everyone. We are all different, and there is no one-size-fits-all way to eat. I think plants should make up the bulk of each meal, but I also believe high-quality animal products can be part of a healthy diet.

As with all things health and fitness, you need to find what works for your body. You need to tune into what makes you feel your best, notice what foods don’t agree with you, and get better at listening to your body and getting to know yourself.

For that reason, you’ll notice that “health” is missing from the list below of reasons why I’m going plant-based. Do I feel great eating this way? Yes! But would I also feel great eating mostly plants and occasionally eating animal products? Yeah, probably! I flat-out don’t like meat, but if it weren’t for the moral and environmental conflicts I have with it, I’d probably continue to eat fish and eggs.

Because this transition to a plant-based diet has been so gradual, I honestly can’t tell you I’ve noticed much of a difference in my overall health as I’ve eliminated animal products. I’ve been blessed in that I’ve never had any major chronic physical issues in my life. My skin is better without dairy and I don’t experience bloating as often as I used to, but other than that, I don’t have miraculous tales of physical improvement to share with you all.

What I can say is that eating plant-based just feels right for me. Emotionally, morally, physically—it works. I feel so good about it and the direction I’m moving in, and all signs point to this being the right fit for me. I see going plant-based as one component of a larger shift towards a more mindful lifestyle. How are my choices affecting the world around me?

Why I’m Going Plant-Based

When I started cooking for myself, meat became increasingly unappetizing.

When a steak comes cooked, beautifully prepared and served to you on a dish, you’re getting an end product that’s far removed from the state in which it started. Meat was never my favorite food growing up (I was a pasta kid), but I would regularly eat it. We had venison a lot, chicken dishes, the occasional pork tenderloin. But my mom did all the cooking and I just saw and ate the finished product.

When I stared to cook for myself in my 20s, meat became a lot less appetizing. The smell. The slime. The blood. The globs of fat hanging off the chicken like boogers. The texture of that raw chunk of meat as you cut it up. It all totally grossed me out! At first I just stopped cooking it but would eat it on occasion at restaurants, but eventually I couldn’t separate the raw, slimy cut of meat from the cooked dish. I don’t have this reaction to fish and shellfish—probably because I’m accustomed to eating them in their raw form anyway.

The older I get, the more I love animals and feel morally conflicted in eating them.

You guys. The whole “biological clock ticking” saying is TOO REAL. As I approach 30, I’ve found that I just fall apart at the seams with emotion when it comes to babies and animals. And oh man don’t even get me started on baby animals. My hobbies these days include watching @thedodo videos and sobbing—it’s getting out of control. BTW this is not me dropping hints that I’m going to have a human baby any time soon, but I should probably adopt a dog like yesterday (lollol). Anyway …

The morality of eating animals is a complicated topic to breach. There are a lot of layers to it, but I want to start out by emphasizing that I don’t see people who eat meat as morally corrupt animal-haters. I have a couple items in my closet made from leather, I have a cow hide rug in my apartment—I’m really not one to talk! I’m conscious about buying animal-friendly products now, but I don’t necessarily feel bad about wearing these products I’ve bought in the past.

I also grew up in a family of outdoorsmen and bow hunters. Great preparation, skill and patience would go into the scouting and hunting process. The entire deer would be utilized, nothing going to waste. These family members love nature, are way more in tune to it than I have ever been, and feel the most at home when they are living—to a certain extent—in sync with this natural world. I have a lot of respect for that.

The point I’m trying to make is that this isn’t about ranking morality based on what you eat. Depending on how you see the world and your place in it, your view on eating animals will vary.

For me, I look at a hamburger and see a cute cow in a field and feel sad. I see bacon and picture a momma pig surrounded by cute little piglets and lose my appetite. It’s harder and harder for me to separate the living being from what’s being served on my plate.

Again, I see my hypocrisy (i.e. leather shoes). But instead of calling out each other’s hypocrisy (we’re all hypocrites to some degree, let’s be real here), I choose to focus on progress. It’s not about perfection. It’s not about the route chosen, the speed or the number of roadblocks you hit—it’s about the forward movement. I can feel good about where I am now and want to get better at the same time.

That’s one of the reasons why I love the Rich Roll Podcast and find it so inspiring: He advocates for a plant-based lifestyle without judgement, shame or scare tactics. He honors where everyone is in his or her journey. Highly recommend listening if you’re interested in going plant-based or just overall wellness in general (he has non-vegan guests on, too!).

I want to reduce my negative environmental impact.

Like with my previous point, there’s some admitted hypocrisy on my part here. I’m sure if someone came to my apartment to assess my carbon footprint, there’d be a laundry list of things I could improve. While eating less (no) meat is just one of the many ways I can live a more environmentally-friendly life, I do think it makes a difference.

The livestock industry accounts for a big percentage of greenhouse gas emissions (yes, there is actually some substance behind all those cow fart jokes), and biodiversity has been affected by the changing landscape for food production. This is a great article from BBC.com on the subject. It discusses the environmental benefits of the world going vegetarian but also acknowledges the negative effects it would have on developing countries and certain climates which rely on livestock to survive. It concludes by saying a reduction of animal consumption (particularly red meat) rather than complete worldwide vegetarianism is the best solution, which I find encouraging.

When it comes to the environment, it’s easy to feel discouraged that your individual choices won’t make an impact. What’s the point of little ol’ me recycling when massive factories are continually spewing pollution?! But you can and do make a difference. And you don’t have to be perfect!

The way I see it, I’m privileged to live in a developed country, in a bustling city that offers lots of plant-based options, and I have the financial means to not stress about buying food. I can eliminate animal products from my diet without any great inconvenience to my life, and in turn will be doing my part (albeit small) to reduce both my carbon footprint and contribution to animal suffering. So why not?

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I think what it all comes down to for me is eating more mindfully. When I stop to really think about what I’m putting in my body, the process it underwent from its original form to my plate, and the impact of my food choices on the world around me, I no longer want to eat animal products.

I’ve heard stories of people going vegan for years and eventually going back to eating meat citing low energy or other health issues from it. I’ve been eating very little animal products for years without such negative effects, so I don’t foresee this last little step in the plant-based direction to change that. That being said, I’ll continue to listen to my body and if I ever feel that my diet is negatively affecting me, I’ll make some changes. I think people tend to overcomplicate going plant-based (OMG you’ll never get enough protein!!!!!! The horror!!!!) but I also acknowledge that, as with any way of eating, you can’t be lazy about it if you want to feel your best.

If you guys have any questions for me or thoughts on the topic (dissenting opinions always welcome, too!), leave a comment!

Getting Back on Track with Working Out and Eating Healthy (My Thoughts)

So the other day, I jokingly (but seriously) asked those who watch my Instagram stories if they ever wondered if bloggers and influencers make up their own questions when they do Q&As on Snapchat and Insta. I’ve always assumed that if I ever tried to do a Q&A no one would ask any questions and then I’d be super embarrassed and probably have to do just that (make up my own questions) to avoid committing total social suicide (LOL).

Even though I didn’t ask for questions, I was pleasantly surprised to receive some in response (maybe those influencers aren’t making up their own after all?!). And I have so many thoughts on one of the questions that I decided to dedicate a whole blog post to it. The question:

What is your go-to when you want to get back on track, both in the kitchen and with workouts?

In this post I’m going to give some actionable tips and advice for this, but I think it needs to be done in the context of a broader discussion of the topic of falling off track with healthy living. So let’s do just that!

Changing My Mindset: I’m Never “Off Track”

Over the years, my mindset has changed drastically. In college, days were either “good” (ate pristinely and minimally and worked out) or “bad” (binge ate ice cream, cookie dough, pizza and was completely inactive). In my mind, there was no middle ground, and as a result I would swing violently between the two extremes.

I was putting so much pressure on myself to be perfectly “healthy” that any slip-up, no matter how small, was seen as failure and I’d consider the whole day a loss, binging on junk food and telling myself I’d just start again fresh the next day. I was either 110% on track or 110% off the rails.

But over the years, I’ve found that the less pressure I put on myself to be perfectly “good” when it comes to eating healthy and exercising, the easier it is to be just that. The less I think about working out and eating my veggies as things I absolutely have to do, the more enjoyable they become. I now honestly look forward to working out and genuinely prefer to eat nutrient-dense foods. Because I don’t punish myself or feel guilty for skipping a workout or indulging in dessert, doing those things doesn’t send me into a tailspin of bad health decisions.

Some people thrive when given a specific training schedule and/or meal plan. I am not one of those people. As far as I’ve come with this whole moderation thing, I still have a bit of the all-or-nothing impulse, so for me, rigid structure doesn’t work. One misstep from the plan makes me feel like a failure, and there’s a sense of obligation that comes with it which totally zaps the joy out of the activity/meal for me.

I’ve found that for me, healthy living is a life without restrictions or fixed guidelines when it comes to food and exercise. I’m never off track. The track I’m on curves and loops at times, but stressing about those detours only makes them worse and longer. Enjoying the view and accepting the detour as a part of life makes it much more enjoyable (and easier to get back on course!).

As the negative chatter in my mind has quieted, I’ve become better able to listen to my body and give it what it wants and needs. I eat what my body craves and I do the workouts I feel like doing and enjoy. I switch things up all the time so I’m never getting bored, and if I do get bored, I just stop doing that type of workout. A big reason I don’t often feel “off track” anymore is because I don’t hold myself to a specific workout regiment or type of diet. Am I eating mostly nutrient-dense meals? Am I moving my body and challenging it physically? If so, I’m good.

There are SO MANY ways to move our bodies, there’s no reason to do something you dread. Plus, if you hate something, your chances of sticking to it regularly are slim. Find a workout you enjoy and then integrate others that support it. For example, if you love running, make that your focus. But mix in some yoga and strength training to help you run stronger and injury-free.

Now I realize if you’re an elite athlete or have specific physical performance goals this laid-back approach might not suffice, but if you’re just looking to be healthy and feel good, the formula is a lot simpler than you might think. Don’t overcomplicate it!

How I Get Back into a Healthy Routine

So all that being said, everyone goes through periods of time when our daily habits aren’t the healthiest and one day turns into two which turns into a week, and before you know it, you feel a bit stuck.

The first step to getting back into a healthy routine is to acknowledge why you got off it in the first place. While it may not seem like it all the time, our bodies want to be active (with adequate rest) and nourished with healthy foods. It’s all the other shit (stress, time management, social environment, poor emotional coping mechanisms, etc., etc.) getting in the way and telling us otherwise. Trust me, you’re not being inactive and eating sugary, processed foods because your body wants you to. Figure out what’s really going on.

In recent years, when I’ve been “off track,” it’s usually because I’ve overextended myself with work and taken on too much. As my schedule becomes jammed and the stress from trying to complete everything increases, I start prioritizing work over all else, including self-care. In my brain I know that I could make time for a quick workout and that I’d feel better for having done so, but the work stress sort of paralyzes me into a woe-is-me mindset, and I stay stuck in this vicious cycle of not working out because I’m stressed, yet being stressed because I’m not working out. So work stress is the culprit at the surface, and the deeper issue is probably that I need to learn to say “no” and recognize my work load limits.

Depending on what your “why” is, the solution will vary. For me, the broader fix is that I need to learn to say “no”. On a more immediate scale, however, there’s something I like to do in these funks that I think most of us could benefit from doing once in a while: To get out of an unhealthy routine, I take a “me” day.

Now when you hear the term “me day,” images of indulgence might come to mind. But the type of “me day” that I’m talking about is one in which you give yourself what you need, which is not necessarily the same thing as what you want (but hopefully they’re not too far off).

I’m not suggesting you completely blow off all your responsibilities and pull a Ferris Bueller—I’m suggesting realistic self-care. When I read articles on the topic of self care that suggest you meditate for two hours a day, practice yoga all morning and take a six hour bath each evening, I always think, Gurrrrrl, who’s paying your damn bills?! Because clearly it’s not you. LOL.

If you have a corporate job, maybe you plan your “me day” for a Sunday. If you’re a mom, maybe it’s a “me afternoon” where you treat yourself to a babysitter. The point is to make time to give yourself what you need.

It’s honestly been a while since I’ve felt the need to do this, but I’d schedule my “me day” for a day I don’t teach or a weekend day. I’d go to bed early the night before—even if that meant leaving some work unfinished—and would workout first thing in the morning (my favorite time of day). I’d do a fitness class at one of my go-to studios and eat a healthy breakfast afterwards. I’d go grocery shopping and fill the kitchen with healthy foods and do some cooking while listening to one of my favorite podcasts. I’d probably still do some blog work because I genuinely love what I do, but I’d do the fun parts—writing, photography, picture editing. I’d end the day with some yoga and meditation.

It’s a day of prioritizing what I’ve been neglecting. Some work might be left undone, but that’s ok because I’m investing in myself and am ultimately way more productive when I do. That one day leaves me feeling invigorated, refreshed, and ready to get back to work *without* sacrificing my healthy routine. It serves as a little reminder to my body how amazing it feels to eat quality food and exercise.

Motivated and moving forward from there, I’ll get my workout in first thing in the morning before work and excuses come into play and I’ll be sure to eat a healthy breakfast. If I start my day on that note, there’s usually a ripple effect of good choices throughout the rest of it.

I love this idea of a “me day” involving exercising and eating well. We tend to associate things like spending a lot of money, indulging in sugary foods, and drinking that extra cocktail with “treating ourselves” (#TREATYOSELF). Those things aren’t bad—I’d even encourage them from time to time!—but to a certain degree I think we need to switch the narrative in our minds. Working out and choosing quality foods is something we get to do, not have to do. Exercising and eating healthily are not a punishment, they’re a treat. I think when we make this mindset shift, that’s when health becomes a lifestyle and not just a track from which we fall off and on.

And in my experience, the longer health is a lifestyle, the easier it is to maintain. If I haven’t worked out in five days because I’ve been on vacation, I’m genuinely excited for that first workout back. It’s not something I need to force myself to do, I want to workout. And because I’ve been consistent with eating reasonably healthy for years, after a weekend of eating sweets and not-so-great foods, I actually crave a salad or green juice.

Ok, longest post ever, but one more thought before I wrap it up:

The number one thing we need to understand about fitness and eating healthy is that it’s going to look different for everyone. Ultimately you need to find what works for you and in giving tips on these topics, I’m just sharing what’s worked for me. Really the best advice I can give is to get to know yourself. And when you think you know what makes you tick and why you do the things you do, prod a little deeper.

 

Thoughts on Going Vegan and Feeling Judged

Thoughts on going vegan and feeling judged.I had big plans to shoot a bunch of workout videos for the blog this week but my body had another idea. If you follow me on Instagram you’re already painfully aware from my stories that I’ve completely lost my voice (sorry for scarring your eardrums these past couple days!). My throat has been a bit scratchy for a couple weeks now due to springtime allergies and teaching without a mic Tuesday morning just put me over the edge—it’s been all downhill since then. Luckily I don’t teach again until Tuesday so I have plenty of time to rest the ol’ vocal chords.

Since videos are out of the picture, I figured it’d be a good time to update you all a bit on how my food choices have been gradually changing and some thoughts I have about it.

Going vegan without the label

I’ve mentioned it in passing and you can probably tell from the types of recipes I’ve been posting lately: I’m slowly, and in a very imperfect, unforced way, going vegan. Emphasis on “going” (work in progress). I currently eat eggs and very occasionally fish so I’m not there yet, but that’s the direction in which I’m moving. I’ll do a blog post going into the “why” behind it soon, but today I want to talk about the reason I’m actually a little uncomfortable associating myself with the word “vegan”. I get defensive. I don’t eat animal products but I’m not a veganI’m not like that.

For me, this distaste stems from the association of vegans with judgement. Holier-than-thou attitudes. Throwing buckets of paint on people wearing fur. Bashing meat eaters on YouTube. Trying to force their diet on others through shame tactics. This association for me probably has to do with the fact that my first introduction to the word “vegan” as a kid was in watching PETA protest red carpets and yell/act aggressively at people wearing fur.

The vast majority of vegans are far from this extreme. I know this, yet the negative connotations stay deeply ingrained and I can’t help but want to disassociate myself from them. I’m much more comfortable with the term “plant-based”. Crazy how powerful words can be, right? Yet we are the ones who give them meaning in the first place. In this lies the issue with labeling people, but that’s a tangent for another day. 😉

Ultimately, I just hate the thought that anyone would feel as if I were judging them for what they choose to eat. And I think some people do feel that way when they hear the word “vegan” (ironically myself included!). There have been times when I’ve sensed an immediate switch to defense-mode with people justifying why they eat meat upon finding out that I don’t anymore.

Feeling judged because of food choices

Have you guys ever felt this way? Ever had an experience where you felt judged or shamed because of what you were eating? It’s the worst! I was actually at an event with a group of bloggers a year or so ago and still remember this seemingly small incident clearly because it rubbed me the wrong way hard. You know how at some sushi restaurants the seaweed salad is a dark green/brown color and then at others it’s the neon green color of the slime Nickelodeon dumps on people at the Kids’ Choice Awards? Both equally delicious, but the radioactive green color probably means there are artificial dyes in the seaweed. So is the natural color variety better for you? Yeah. But will it kill you to eat the bright green stuff once in a while? No.

So at this event I order seaweed salad with my sushi and when it’s brought to the table it’s neon green. I honestly didn’t think twice about it. But this other blogger scowls at my dish and through her disgusted grimace says to the person next to her, “I just would never feel OK putting that in my body. Look at it.”

My response:

I’m kidding. I didn’t suggest we go fight in the parking lot. But I was so put off by her comment! I thought it was just the rudest, snobbiest thing. And then I felt all self-conscious eating my seaweed salad. I was surprised at how upset it made me. How one little comment could make me feel so bad about myself and what I’d chosen to eat. Who was she to pass judgement on me? Gwyneth Paltrow?! My blood was boiling through the rest of dinner. When I got back to my hotel room I just kept thinking about how I NEVER want to be the reason someone feels this way. And it’s something I often stress about when I post food-related stuff to the blog and my social media accounts.

***For the record, I wish I had pulled her aside and let her know how her words made me feel. I’m sure she’s a lovely person and we would have had a great conversation from which we both would have walked away understanding the other a little better. But I didn’t. Maturity takes time, OK?! 😉

Sharing my experience, not telling you what to do

I’m really happy about this gradual shift in my food choices (again, I’m not fully plant-based yet!). I feel downright incredible actually. And I’m excited to share more on the blog about why, how, the challenges, etc., etc.

Food choices can be a heated topic because there’s so much that goes into why we eat the way we do beyond taste and survival. Emotions, religion/spirituality, health, society, environment—the list goes on. We should be mindful of what we eat and how our bodies feel because food can be our greatest medicine or truly our worst poison. For that reason, we should learn from others but ultimately always do what’s best for our own body. Know that when I share the occasional blog post on my (evolving) plant-based diet, I am never implying that it’s better than however you’re eating. I want to encourage you on a journey to find what makes you feel your best, not my journey.