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?