21 days, 100% Vegan

Eating homemade trail mix during our hike (banana chips, pretzels, raisins, walnuts, sunflower seeds, vegan chocolate chips, dried cranberries, dried peas)

Eating homemade trail mix during our hike (banana chips, pretzels, raisins, walnuts, sunflower seeds, vegan chocolate chips, dried cranberries, dried peas)

Or more like 98% because I am pretty sure that I made a few mistakes along the way.  I do know for sure that I had an egg roll with veggies and tofu before I realized that the roll was made out of egg.  Well, duh.  Thanks to my mother-in-law for leaving all of those in my freezer…

I was very surprised that my daughter managed to do about 97% vegan for the entire 21 days.  She is more disciplined than I ever imagined.  I was even more surprised when she had to turn down certain snacks during the two weeks of state testing at school.   She brought her own (healthier) snacks instead.  Not only that, but she prepared most of her lunches (the night before) and this usually consisted of prepping recipes from “Vegan Lunch Box” by Jennifer McCann.  Kailey made sushi rolls (sans sushi of course), “cheesy” roasted chickpeas, PB&J muffins, corn tires, melon balls, pumpkin muffins, frozen snack tubes, homemade pretzels and soups.  Fortunately, I have a child who likes to cook and bake healthy foods!

A few other things I learned during the 21-day Vegan Journey:

1.  It is very difficult to find fast food or restaurants that cater to vegans.  I learned that this is actually a good thing (saves money and added weight gain).  I did go out to a Thai restaurant one evening with friends and I was able to ask the server to make a vegan version of the basil fried rice.  They made the dish without eggs and fish sauce.  I also went to a fast food chain called “Tokyo Joe’s” where they actually have a vegan menu listed on their website.  I was able to create my own vegan noodle bowl.  Lastly, I recently visited our local Indian restaurant and it was pretty easy to find foods that did not contain any animal products.  It appears that Asian is the way to go if you are a vegan.  However, nobody says you can’t have french fries!

2.  It took me a few days to get adjusted.  During that initial week I was overwhelmed and considered veganism to be very difficult.  It actually seemed nearly impossible.  Then I realized something.  You still have all of your food groups: proteins (legumes, grains, vegetables, tofu, tempeh), dairy (almond milk, almond yogurt, soy cheese, etc.), vegetables, fruits, whole grains and good fats.  Tacos and burritos are pretty simple.  I haven’t used taco meat or chicken in over two years anyway, so it was pretty easy to just refrain from adding cheese.  Spaghetti is always a very easy dish to make.  I always add loads of veggies to my sauce.  Salads and veggie sandwiches with hummus make excellent lunch options.  Veggie burgers, tofu dishes, Asian entrees, homemade pizza, soups, chili, quinoa, bean dishes… the list is endless.  I can pretty much take any meal and make it vegan.  I have even made a “meatless” meatloaf!

3.  Friends aren’t quite sure what the heck you are doing and dinner invites might diminish over time.  I made it really simple when I invited my friends over for dinner: homemade pizza!  I put cow cheese on their pizza and veggie cheese on my pizza.  They were even willing to eat a pizza without any meat!  Just throw in a salad, some fruit and a vegan dessert and you are all set!  Other options would be an Italian theme (just include a no meat sauce), Mexican theme (include a few veggies and beans and the vegan guests don’t have to use the cheese or sour cream), Asian theme (stir fry is super easy and you can have the chicken or shrimp as an option on the side), Chili cook-off, etc.  It really doesn’t have to be difficult so don’t be afraid to invite your vegan friends over for dinner!  Ask them to bring the dessert!

4.  I make healthier choices when I eat vegan.  My guilty pleasure is baked goods.  I love cupcakes, muffins, scones, cookies and cake.  However, when I focus on eating only vegan foods, I have to take the time to make my own baked goods (and they are usually healthier).  Now, when I go into a coffee shop, I just get my coffee when I find out that there are no food options that are vegan.  My homemade pizzas are healthier.  My burritos are filled with more vegetables and no cheese.  Processed foods are rarely an option.  I have spent a lot of time in the past few weeks reading labels on every package in the store.  Most products have some form of dairy or egg product.  Even some of the fake meat products!  Now, I will admit that not all vegan items are healthy.  I still eat my chips, soy ice cream and whatever vegan chocolate I can get my hands on!

So, what’s the plan from here on out?  Going 100% vegan (or 98%) is great and all, but I am not quite ready for that level of commitment.  I think I will focus on around 85-90% for now and see how that goes.  I will make the conscious effort to avoid dairy and eggs, but I won’t be upset if I have a little bit every now and then.  Additionally, I love my seafood and am not quite willing to give that up entirely.  However, I will make more of an effort to avoid baked goods that didn’t come out of my oven and focus more on creating new vegan dishes.  Also, I intend to rely more on plant-based products when it comes to fueling during runs and recovery.  I admire those ultramarathoners who follow a 100% plant-based diet so I will continue to learn more about how they do it.

As for my daughter, I asked her what she learned from the 21-day vegan challenge and she responded with “that you fart a lot on a vegan diet.”  Well, then she followed that with “you eat healthier when you eat vegan.”  I know that she isn’t ready for a 100% plant-based diet either, but I do know that she has learned a lot more about making healthier choices and I hope that she continues to do so.  I am also grateful that she is open to cooking and baking healthy alternatives.

The goal here is to find foods that make you feel great and give you the energy you need.  I think I can do that when I focus on more plant-based foods.  I just feel healthier, stronger and have the energy I need to run harder and farther.  I have also noticed that I recover faster after tough runs.  I will stay the course as best as I can and learn more about what works well and what doesn’t.

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Running Keeps Me Sane

Here I am finishing my first half marathon.  I just kept going after that...

Here I am finishing my first half marathon. I just kept going after that…

It happens every couple of years.  I have to pack boxes for the umpteenth time.  The last time we moved I hastily packed (well, the movers actually did most of the packing) and didn’t bother to sort through papers or donate unwanted items.   This time I decided to be more thorough.  There was no point moving that extra stuff (junk) that we would never use or need.

So, I poured a glass of wine and started poking through piles of papers, binders and books.  Lo and behold, I came across some old journals.  I prefer to call them journals, but I guess you could also call them diaries.  However, I don’t have any secrets to keep (you should know that by now if you read my blog) nor did I back then when I was on my own writing in these “journals.”  It was just me and my life roaming free.

As I read through them, I laughed at my former self, pitied my former self and felt anger towards my former self.  It was obvious that my journals were only meant to convey negative thoughts and emotions.  I never had anything nice to say about myself and I felt like the world was out to get me.   Then I got to the part about the “black hole.”  I had sunk so low that I felt like I was in a black hole.  It was the time in my life when I was so depressed that I lacked the ability to communicate with others, didn’t sleep and was barely able to eat.  I didn’t need the journal entries to remember that time in my life.  I had to visit therapists and take prescription medication.  I felt hopeless and lost.

Then something changed.  I began to claw my way out of the black hole.  Even though I was married (and still am) to the greatest man ever and had just given birth to the most beautiful baby girl, it took more than that to get me out of the hole.  Running threw me a lifeline and I was able to finally heave myself out of the darkness.   As I focused my negative energy on running, I was helped along with the support of my husband and my friends.  They encouraged me and I kept going.  It did take a few years, but I finally made peace with myself and was finally able to accept me for me.

In an effort to never go back into that black hole, I keep running.  I don’t need therapists or medication to stay mentally healthy.  Running keeps me sane.  I run because I am training for an event, I run to stay healthy or sometimes I run just for the heck of it.  I spend quality time with myself when I run.  I challenge myself to achieve greatness.  I find strength that I never thought I had.  I rise above and conquer.  I absorb the world around me.  I accept it all just the way it is.

As I read through the last journal entry, I felt the need to write a new entry.  I told my former self about how I have grown up and become self-disciplined, intrinsically motivated, independent, fearless, strong, determined, fit, healthy and beautiful… all the characteristics I thought I was lacking when I was at my lowest.  Running, along with my family, saved me from myself.

Depression is painful.  You feel lost and alone.  No one can understand what it is like unless they have actually been there themselves.  It is not just about feeling bad for a day.  It can last weeks, months, years.  Running might be helpful for some.  It is worth a try.

The Vegan Challenge

I am lucky to have a daughter who is interested in cooking, let alone cooking vegetarian and vegan meals!

I am lucky to have a daughter who is interested in cooking, let alone cooking vegetarian and vegan meals!

I have been contemplating veganism for a while.  I have been on a semi-vegetarian diet for 2 years now (fish is the only meat I consume) and I cook a lot of vegan meals and baked goods since my husband is lactose-intolerant.  So, just the other day I decided that I would try a vegan challenge.  I did a dairy-free challenge last August and found that to be pretty tough.  The vegan thing would only be more challenging.  But I love challenges… so bring it on!

I did a search online and found the 21 day vegan kickstart program: http://pcrm.org/kickstartHome/. 21 days definitely sounded better than a whole month (and that is about how long it takes to make something a habit).  If anything, I figured that I would learn how to eat healthier even if I decided not to become 100% vegan.  I don’t see anything wrong with being 90% vegan.  It is better than being 100% carnivore.  Anyway, I told my oldest daughter what I was planning to do.  She decided to jump onboard (on her own accord).  I warned her that it would be tough, but she didn’t budge.  I guess she likes challenges too.  Not sure where she gets that from…

However, in order to keep her onboard, I knew that she needed to be involved in the process.  I let her choose a few meals out of a vegan cookbook and she is also planning her lunches (which she will be in charge of making the night before).  She even helped me prepare dinner and dessert tonight.  It is funny to watch us learn about what is vegan and what is not.  I have to show her labels and explain certain ingredients.  We are impressed by the products that are actually labeled “vegan.”  It took me a bit longer to get my grocery shopping done, but I was surprised that I was able to find all of the necessary ingredients at our local grocery store (they even had vegan cream cheese!).  I didn’t have to make a trip to Whole Foods.

Day 1 went pretty well, but it was hard to avoid the cookies or chocolate that I tend to grab more often than not.  This will be a good thing (at least that is what I keep telling myself).  If we want something sweet, then we have to go through the effort of making it ourselves.

Today’s menu:

Breakfast: Homemade whole grain waffles with strawberries, blackberries and real maple syrup.

Lunch: Roasted pepper and basil panini with veggie pepperjack cheese.  A bowl of lentil soup and a few blue corn chips.  My daughter consumed a V-8 and I have to give her many kudos for that because I couldn’t down one sip without gagging.

Snack:  Banana with almonds.

Dinner: “Ricotta” and spinach stuffed shells with marinara sauce (the “ricotta” is actually tofu blended with lemon, basil, garlic, salt & pepper).  Red bell pepper and zucchini.

Dessert:  Oatmeal Banana Bites (made with oats, oat flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, pureed banana, vanilla & a few vegan chocolate chips)

The problem is that I might still be a little hungry since I also ran 5 miles today and probably didn’t eat enough.  It is kind of hard to balance it all out, but I only just started so maybe I will figure it out.  There are ultra runners out there who are vegan.  If they can do it, then I sure can.

Why am I doing this?  I don’t believe in “diets” as I know I have already mentioned.  I would consider this part of my plan to focus on whole foods for consumption.  That is how we should be eating.  Not all of the processed crap.  And yes, I do know that a lot of those meatless products pretending to be meat are processed.  I found out that most of them aren’t even vegan.  Good thing I never really fancied a meatless product that is supposed to look like a rack of ribs (because I never liked ribs to begin with).  I just want to learn how to center my eating around healthy foods.  I am not a member of PETA… though I must admit that I do feel better knowing that animals weren’t harmed in the making of my meal.

And as with most “diets,” I don’t have a goal of losing weight.  The big test is how I feel from eating certain foods.  My goal is to have more energy.  We shall see what happens over the next 3 weeks.  I am really interested to find out what my daughter thinks.  If she can do this, then she is more disciplined than I ever imagined.