Friday, February 22, 2013

A Four Year Veggieversary!

First, I just want to share a photo of the delicious breakfast I ate the last two days. A bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter, strawberries, almond slivers, and WHAT ARE THOSE? Chocolate chips. The chocolate chips were an amazing addition and I might just eat this breakfast for the rest of my life. It's so so yummy.

I'll be celebrating four years as a vegetarian on Monday, February 25th, but since that's the day after the half marathon, I plan on devoting my blog post of that day to my weekend at Disney and my experience with the Disney Princess Half Marathon. I get a lot of questions and comments about my diet, so I felt it would be appropriate to publish a post about my experience as a vegetarian on/near my Veggieversary! I have also created a board on Pinterest that has all of my recipes (so far) in one place so please check that out! The most common statements that I hear are "So and so was a vegetarian, but they didn't do it right and they got really sick" or "I knew this person who was a vegetarian but would only eat Doritos or cheese pizza and they got fat." Here are some FAQs and some of my tips for transitioning to vegetarianism (if you're interested in going that route).

FAQs About My Experience as a Vegetarian

1.) Why did you become a vegetarian? I was raised Catholic, so one year I decided to give up meat for Lent just to see if I could do it. Well, it turns out that I can, and I'm still going strong, 4 years later!
2.) I really like chicken/steak/pork, and I could never give that up. How do you do it? I used to LOVE chicken and I craved/missed it in the beginning, but now I find that I don't miss it at all and I am actually turned off at the sight of certain foods. It's incredibly hard at first, but you'll find out that you don't miss it after a while. Just like what I said about running, it's more of a mental thing than it is a physical limitation. 
3.) Are you a vegetarian for moral reasons? As I said in number 1, I first became a vegetarian just to see if I could do it. It has since evolved into a combination of personal preference, environmentalism, and moral reasons. I'm turned off by the thought of eating meat again because of its texture and look. I'm attracted to the vegetarian lifestyle because I am a hippie and an environmentalist and vegetarianism has a lower carbon footprint than meat (the majority of the time). If produce is farmed and bought locally (i.e. farmer's markets), less gas is needed to transport the produce from the field to the store to the table. Meat has such a high carbon footprint because the animals are transported from the farm to the slaughterhouse to the packaging company to the grocery store and then finally to the kitchen table. Now, some of the produce that we purchase has a high carbon footprint so I'm not saying it's 100% perfect, but it does appeal to me from an environmental standpoint. Finally, factory farming is a total turn-off to me. The animals raised in factory farms are not treated humanely, are fed items that are not a part of their natural diet, are loaded up with antibiotics to combat the diseases they are exposed to in the close quarters, and are subjected to a high amount of suffering. I do not want to support that kind of business. There are other options out there for purchasing meat, so I would suggest doing research on the options that are out there if this is something you are concerned with as well.
4.) Do you eat cheese/dairy? Do you eat eggs? Do you eat fish? Vegetarianism is a spectrum. In my opinion, it's not the black and white issue that some people (including strict vegetarians) seem to think it is. Yes, I eat cheese and ice cream, but I don't drink milk. That's just a personal preference; I don't like the taste of milk (unless it's ice cream) and I don't like the way milk makes me feel. I really only eat dairy in small amounts and try to choose other options if possible. I have been LOVING coconut milk lately (my favorite brand is So Delicious). I do not normally eat eggs by themselves, nor do I like them mixed into any of my food. I will eat them if they are baked into a cake or some other baked good (obviously), but if I'm baking on my own, I will bake without eggs. This is a personal preference as well; eggs weird me out. I don't like their texture or smell and they make my stomach hurt like crazy. If I have to eat any part of an egg, I will eat the egg whites. Fish.. this is a complicated subject. I used to eat fish a lot because my mom made me leave one source of meat in my diet and I chose fish because even though it's healthy, it's not something we can eat every day. I stray away from fish now because of the environmentalist in me; if a fish is not sustainably caught (I use Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Guide to make the decision), then I won't eat it. I typically only eat seafood now if I'm at home and my mom forces me to eat it. So long story short, I don't eat fish (that's just easier to tell people).  
5.) Is eating out difficult? It can be difficult to find something to eat at a steakhouse or some other "meat-oriented" restaurant, but almost all restaurants have options for vegetarians now. If not, it's really easy to make salads or sandwiches meat-free. I usually find something on the menu where I like all of the ingredients and ask for it without the meat. In terms of fast food, Five Guys has a veggie sandwich that comes with all of the hamburger fixings (lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, etc.) except for the patty. I've done this at multiple sit down restaurants and have had no issues either. 
6.) Did you notice any changes in your body after you switched to vegetarianism? Yes! I lost about 10-15 pounds relatively quickly. I was eating a lot more vegetables (obviously) and my body dropped some of the extra weight I was carrying around because I was eating meat. I also have a lot more energy, am rarely bloated (I used to be bloated often because meat is hard on the digestive system), and I just felt healthier. My skin also cleared up and I stopped craving fried foods/greasy foods. I noticed that I eat more often now, however. I'm sure it's a combination of my workouts and the fact that I eat a mainly plant based diet, but I snack every 2 hours and have a meal every 4 hours. I've found that this prevents me from overeating at meal times though, so I'm not complaining. 
7.) Are you a vegan? What's the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan? I am not a vegan. I eat eggs, dairy, honey, and do not own an entire wardrobe that is animal friendly. A vegetarian is typically described as someone who abstains from meat (but may still consume other animal products), while a vegan abstains from all animal products, including clothing (fur, leather, etc.). That's just a simplistic overview of the differences and I know that there's more to it (sorry if I offend anyone). It's incredibly important to do research on the lifestyle that you're interested in transitioning to in order to make sure that you get everything you need (vitamins and minerals wise) from your new diet.
8.) Do you have any tips on becoming a vegetarian? First and foremost, I would suggest doing your research. As I mentioned before, I have a lot of people telling me that they knew people who were vegetarians and got really sick or got fat because they were not getting the proper nutrition or eating the correct foods. I am healthy, but I think it's because I did and continue to do a lot of research on vegetarianism. I eat a number of vegetables of different colors, a high amount of leafy greens (full of calcium and iron), quinoa, oatmeal, nuts, etc. There are a large number of resources available (and amazing cookbooks for vegetarians), so if you're interested, let me know and I'll send you some information! Another suggestion I have is to start slowly. It's tough to quit "cold turkey" (haha) so if you think you might have difficulties transitioning to a vegetarian diet, I would recommend beginning by slowly eliminating certain meats from your diet. I would also recommend making sure that you have a strong support group. My mom was really turned off by the idea of me being a vegetarian, but she slowly began reading labels and now enjoys cooking vegetarian meals because it breaks up the monotony of dinners at home and allows her to try new recipes.

If you have any more questions about my experience with vegetarianism, are curious about becoming a vegetarian, or are a vegetarian and have something to add to this list, please let me know!

I'm off to Disney World soon! Wish me luck! If you want to follow some of my antics over the weekend, follow me on Twitter for some updates!