My Mid-Life Vegan Crisis

As soon as I started getting serious about running, I came across many different books, movies, and blogs that promoted better running via a plant-based diet. I read, watched, considered, even added one meatless day to my meal plan every week as I was convinced that giving up meat and dairy would be completely impossible! Plus, “I don’t want to.” was reason enough for me to keep up my guilt-free bacon-cheeseburger eating tendencies… until 2 weeks ago.

I watched the documentary Vegucated in absolute interest, shock and horror.  Then I watched Forks over Knives and was more than compelled to start living a vegan way of life. I’ve always known that veganism is healthier, better for the planet, and more humane yet these 2 films put my blissful ignorance to shame- if I truly consider myself a foodie and an athlete, how can I possibly continue to damage my body as well as the environment by taking my meat and dairy intake for granted? The more I read on the topic, the more I was convinced to finally change my eating habits.

And so far so good- just over 2 weeks into this new lifestyle and while it’s been a lot easier than I thought, it’s also been harder in ways I didn’t anticipate. 

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the ethical treatment of animals (and if you watch Vegucated, viewer beware- those completely horrific behind-the-slaughterhouse-scenes are forever burned into my brain) as compassion is subjective. Objectively, however, the science behind a vegan lifestyle is undeniable. Growing plants IS better for the environment and eating plant-based IS better for your health. The most compelling proof of the vegan health factor, to me, is the China Study that showed high consumption of animal-based foods is associated with more chronic disease, while those who ate primarily a plant-based diet were the healthiest.

Apply all that to running and, as ultra-marathoning vegans Matt Frazier and Scott Jurek will tell you, it works! So to start this journey of mine, I re-read Scott’s Eat & Run and Matt’s No Meat Athlete and found myself (despite their warnings of easing into the diet) going cold tofurkey and eliminating meat/chicken/fish immediately. Didn’t even give myself one last meat-filled supper, I just stopped.

And that has been, surprisingly, easy! I have not felt even one pang of temptation to eat meat even at my favorite burger place (I ate falafel), or at Thanksgiving dinner (I ate sides), or during our routine road trip fast food stops (I ate french fries and a side salad). The first week of going mostly-vegan I felt some definite withdrawal symptoms of mild headaches and digestive reactions (increase fiber, increase gas) but now all that’s gone, my body is adapting, and I find myself craving things like soy milk (which is a sentence I NEVER thought I would ever utter).

So I didn’t take Matt’s advice and wean myself off meat (and certainly felt the effects), I just stocked up on alternative proteins and went for it.  Yet, since I am just starting out I am allowing myself dairy now and then mainly because of ease. I want the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle but I don’t want to become some annoying food natzi that brings her own food everywhere and frowns on someone’s home cooking.  In certain social situations- especially during the holidays- it is so much easier to just shut up and eat the damned cheese since there won’t be much else for me to chose from if I don’t!  And I’m okay with that- reasonable, mostly vegan, that’s me!

Another surprising element of this change is the lack of support and knowledge from friends and family.  I was discussing Thanksgiving with a family member and said, “No turkey for me this year- I’m going vegetarian!” and was met with, “But where will you get your protein?” If you read about this topic at all, you know there are several alternative (and healthier) proteins out there. In fact, the human race does NOT need meat to survive. This is news to some people, even in 2015.

Other friends have even openly scoffed at the idea, rolling their eyes and saying, “The burger girl goes VEGAN?!  Yeah. Right.” while others have tried to foil my plan with, “Okay, vegan fine, but you have got to have a bite of my ravioli- it is SOOO good!”  Just one sniff and I knew it was lamb, “Nice try and no thank you!” Just something I (or they?) have to get used to.

In my 41 years of life, this is the first time ever I’ve taken my dinner plate out of the barn and into the garden, completely changing my eating habits. Of course I want to be a better runner, but more importantly, I want to live a long, healthy life and am convinced incorporating a plant-based diet is the path towards just that. I am still just getting used to this lifestyle and am eager to learn more about sustainable food sources, to cook more vegan recipes, and to share my new-found knowledge.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more about this topic in the months to come but I would also like to hear from you- have you tried a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle? Did you stick to it?  What are some challenges/perks you’ve found along the way?  What are your favorite vegan cookbooks and blogs?

17 thoughts on “My Mid-Life Vegan Crisis

  1. Amanda L

    Good for you my friend! I tried a few years ago and lasted about a month. It wasn’t so much about my desire to eat meat again (although I did really miss eggs), but I got really tired of making a dinner for me and a dinner for my kids. The husband was willing to eat whatever, but the boys would not touch the stuff I made even if I made a meal that I could just add meat to for them. I should try again now that they are older.

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    1. Laura Post author

      I’ve been explaining to the kids the issues around meat and now that they are 9 and 10, they totally understand and actually WANT to go vegetarian too! Can’t do the vegan thing with them totally either as it is just WAY too hard! I picked up the cookbook “Plant Powered Families” by Dreena Burton and those recipes are delish- for kids and parents alike!

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  2. Angela

    Ugh. That really sucks that people have not been supportive. I am definitely the type of person who does not want to be lectured about what I do and don’t eat, but I really don’t get why people can’t just say, “Cool, your choice, good luck”? In the past I was pretty close to vegetarian due mostly to money. These days I doubt I will ever give up meat or dairy, but I know there’s a lot of terribleness involved, so I do make a serious effort to still eat a plant-based diet by & large & be very picky about the meat I do eat.

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    1. Laura Post author

      Yes, I realized very quickly to stop discussing the topic with people since that is what my blog is for! 😉 I also started getting more picky about my meat and fish, only purchasing from local CSAs, but since learning animal fat is truly the culprit behind disease so minimizing intake even if you don’t go all the way veg, as you state, I agree is key.

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    1. Laura Post author

      What, may I ask, is keeping you from trying vegetarianism/veganism? Transitioning to a full-time vegan is certainly a work in progress and a very fun and different way to think about food than I ever have before!

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  3. Erica@ Everyday Erica

    Those haters can suck it! You go girl! Do whatever makes you happy and makes your body feel good is what I’m thinking 🙂 I’m wondering how you’re balancing vegan life with your kids? I struggle with trying to add a veg night in here and there and often had to cook the hubs some meat to go on the side, or he cooks it himself – which is better! But I tend to get a lot of push back!

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      1. Laura Post author

        The kids are actually doing better than I expected, just gave them a vegan blueberry cinnamon bread with Tofutti non-dairy cream cheese and they ate it up! Last night, I made vegan fettucini alfredo (alfredo sauce is nuts and non-dairy milk) and they LOVED it! Although if they want a chicken nugget I give it to them- baby steps! 🙂 Honestly, these vegan cookbooks I picked up are so great, SO much flavor, hubby isn’t missing meat at all (although he did have turkey on Thanksgiving)!

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  4. Heather Duchemin

    Hey Laura,
    I’m so proud of you! I think what you’re doing is awesome and you are so right, the science behind veganism is very clear cut. I watched Forks Over Knives 2 1/2 years ago and the next day, went cold turkey vegan and haven’t looked back since. It also helped that my dad had a quintuple bypass surgery about nine months before that, so we were already trying to eat healthier. My kids have adjusted very well. The “animals are our friends” argument convinced them the most. We drink almond milk and cashew milk and eat a lot of legumes and whole foods. I try to stay away from processed vegan foods like fake meats and cheeses but they are great when transitioning and John and the kids love them. There are tons of great vegan food blogs and cookbooks. If you ever need suggestions, let me know!

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    1. Laura Post author

      Thank YOU for introducing me to Mark Bittman’s VB6- after our visit, I bought the book and started *trying* to follow the rule but I just got lazy and didn’t. So now, I keep thinking about you and what a great inspiration you’ve been with using alternative sugars and flours with the kids over the years- and I am sorry I didn’t listen then! I wish you were closer so we could discuss live!!! Kids are adapting and I haven’t really introduced too many “fake” alternatives other than Earth Balance butter, Tofutti Cutie cream cheese, and Tofurkey “cold cuts”- so far they’re fooled, eating like champs, and asking CONSTANTLY, “Is this vegan? We’re vegan now, right? Is there meat in this? Then I don’t want it.” YES!!! 😀

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  5. Jen okonsky

    Excellent post. Love it. Well vegan.com is s great site., menus – trader joe shopping list. Some alternatives to soy – which I have become sensitive to. A friend of mine is the author. Also, I just picked up “the vegan table ” cookbook ( luckily found it in a free library around the corner). My hardest bit to keeping vegan is eggs. But, happy to be mostly vegan!

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    1. Laura Post author

      Yes, I have been enjoying learning so much more on vegan.com including not to replace ALL my protein with soy (as you warn) and it’s fun to try alternatives- first time I’ve ever eaten hemp seeds, for instance! I’ll def check out that cook book too- thank you for the rec! So, have you noticed any difference in your running being fueled by plants, Jen? How long have you been mostly vegan?

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  6. Alison King (@run4yourlifenz)

    I don’t think I could go vegan – I love bacon and dairy too much. But I’ve a friend who is vegan and says he’s become a better runner because of it (though he has been streaking too).

    Good on you for trying something different. Hope it works out well.

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    1. Laura Post author

      I thought I loved bacon too much to give it up too but as soon as I really saw what goes on to make bacon, as well as what it does to your body, I haven’t even been tempted! It’s been a month of mostly vegan for me- giving up dairy (just cheese) is the last thing to go but avoiding straight milk and eggs has also been a lot easier than I thought. For the health benefits alone, it sure has been easy to make this transition! Thank you for reading, for the kudos and the luck- please let me know if you *do* give it a try sometime! 🙂

      Reply

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