Just before the Ironman I saw the documentary Forks Over Knives and Mike and I decided to adopt a “plant-based” diet after the Ironman (we didn’t want to change our diets before a big race). I wrote about our decision to go from a diet full of meat, eggs and dairy products to a diet composed of mostly plants in a July blog post.
Now it has been 2 months on this diet and I have a better idea of whether or not it’s sustainable for long-term. The easiest part for me has been giving up meat. Since we returned back from Coeur D’Alene and filled our cupboards and refrigerator with an obscene amount of fruits, vegetables, beans and spices, I have eaten meat two times. The first was about a week into our regime when I went to a bachelorette party and we went to a steak house. The second was forced – at my 10 year reunion they had literally no vegetarian option at the taco bar and I was starving. Going into this, I’ve said that I’m willing to make occasional exceptions, so I don’t beat myself up about it. However, for meat, I haven’t really even wanted it. I’ve been pretty content with avoiding it and it doesn’t seem to be an inconvenience since there are so many vegetarians out there.
As for dairy, that is a bit harder. We have never been the types to buy cheese and keep it in the house and we already drank Almond Milk, so that part wasn’t an issue (although I do love to buy goat cheese and make salads with it!). It’s mostly a factor when eating out or eating at parties or weddings. For example, a veggie burger at any restaurant most likely comes with a buttered bun. Since I’m new to all of this, I’m not as inclined to ordered my veggie burger “butter free.” I’m also not sure now that I care about a tiny amount of butter on my bun. Another issue is that some things like guacamole may or may not have dairy in them, but I’m not going to tap the hostess at a party on the shoulder and ask “does this have dairy!?” From the get go, I never wanted to proclaim myself as “vegan” for this reason – I don’t intend to be a complete stickler and at times, starve, just to follow this diet. I also can’t imagine a life without the occasional pizza.
Another reason I’m not saying I’m vegan is that a true vegan gives up all animal products – including the leather in their car – which I’m not really willing to do. My plant-based diet is based on health, not animal rights (although I am sympathetic to animals and enjoy that a plant-based diet helps me contribute toward the fair treatment of animals, that is not my primary motivation).
Eggs. This is my weakness. I actually crave eggs, unlike meat. Eating breakfast out as a “vegan” is really difficult. Options are very limited. You can eat oatmeal (be sure to ask if it is made with milk, in which case you can’t eat it), an Acai bowl (full of sugar) or toast with peanut butter and a side of fruit. Not very exciting, especially when your counterparts are noshing on huge breakfast burritos spilling over with meat and cheese. Well this is where I’ve made my biggest exception. When we go out to breakfast (probably every other weekend or once a weekend even), I have been ordering eggs, usually scrambled with veggies, but sometimes with cheese. I’ve also made the exception for cream cheese on my bagel on two occasions ( I LOVE bagels with cream cheese!).
And, we all know all good dessert has dairy and eggs in it. I could easily avoid the dessert, but I tend not to since I love it so much. I have discovered some wonderful dessert substitutes such as Almond Milk ice cream, Coconut Milk ice cream, dark chocolate bars, and vegan cookies from Trader Joes (so good and much better than the vegan cookies from Jimbo’s) so my sweet tooth is often satisfied. However, when I’m at a wedding at the cake is served, I’m not gonna skip it for the sake of my diet.
Personally, I haven’t been hungry on this diet. Mike has been struggling with it since he is much bigger than me and required a lot more calories. It’s hard for me to feed him enough plant-based food for him to be satisfied. He hasn’t been following the diet as strictly as me (mostly he has eaten meat more but he also has eaten less dessert than me so it evens out!) but since I make his lunch and dinner most days, overall he is doing well. We are still working out the kinks in how to feed both of us and give ourselves all the protein we need (see my blog post on how to get enough protein from a plant-based diet) as well as essential vitamins. We are both experiencing some fatigue and a lack on energy in our workouts, but we’re not sure if this is due to recovery from the Ironman (and also lost fitness since we haven’t been working out hard for months now) or not. We are still working through it all and trying to be patient with the process.
I’d give myself an A in the vegetarian department and a B+ in the vegan department. And I’m totally happy with that. Eliminating eggs and meat from my daily diet for two full months has already reduced my intake drastically. I usually ate meat with every single lunch and every dinner, meaning at the very least I’ve passed on meat 60 times since starting. That’s a pretty big difference!
I’m still making my way through the book The China Study and the more I read it, the more I am affirmed by this diet. The years of research supporting the direct link between animal protein and cancer, heart disease and a long list of other diseases is incredibly convincing. Although I have become very frustrated while dining out on more than one occasion (it takes time to figure out which vegan options actually taste good and which are a waste of money), I plan to continue this diet. I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I will consider myself a vegetarian and completely eliminate meat, but for now, this “mostly vegan” diet is working just fine. I’m not going to completely deprive myself of the foods that I love; rather live by the principle of moderation.
Have you ever struggled with a change in your diet? How did you handle it?
i’ve been a vegetarian for about 7 years now and, like you, find it easy to avoid meat. i’ve never been able to do a vegan diet, however, because i am unwilling to give up eggs and cheese (i just love both so much!). it sounds like you guys have been doing a great job of trying new recipes and eating plenty of fruits and veggies. a veg or mostly veg diet is not automatically healthy, and often people simply exclude the meat and replace it with carbs or other less nutritious stuff. i know a lot of people focus on the labels, but there’s nothing wrong with making your diet your own and not putting strict rules on yourself.
as far as working out, it’s hard to say as i haven’t eaten meat in years. but i do make sure to monitor what i eat more during training to make sure i’m getting what i need (iron, protein, etc). but honestly, if you’re following a balanced, whole foods-based diet, you’re usually getting everything you need! looking forward to seeing how things progress for you : )
I’ve eaten vegetarian for many years on and off, and currently I try to eat gluten-free (which is a huge challenge since my favorite food in the whole world is real Japanese ramen). I’ve never tried going vegan because of the eggs — I could probably stop eating butter and cheese, but eggs? No way! I crave them way too much, and since I don’t eat much meat, they’re a major source of protein for me.
I like your approach here. Don’t go crazy, be realistic, aim for a goal but then life happens and don’t beat yourself up. Random question: but have you seen your skin change? I’ve read studies say that dairy has an effect of skin (i.e. acne)?
Hmm no I haven’t noticed any skin changes – I didn’t eat a TON of dairy before so I’m not sure I’d see a big change. Although during Ironman training we were eating lasagna and pizza like mad…so maybe that’s not true.
I really love your moderate approach. It sounds like you have mostly nailed down how to live meat-free without being THAT person in social situations. I’d keep eating eggs, too, if that’s what makes you happy. No harm in that!
Good for you, and good post! I have been vegetarian for 10 years: no meat, no fish. I have gone vegan in the past, but it wasn’t satisfying because of cheese (delicious, tasty, cheese) specifically since I always hated milk. I mostly just eat eggs as a vital ingredient in my favorite cookies.
I live in Iowa (urban area) and there are some incredibly delicious and creative vegetarian options in most of the great restaurants downtown. I never feel like I’m missing out. For some good recipes, you might check out La Dolce Vegan and Veganomicon (if you’re a hard core cook-Veganomicon is a bit involved, but really has great ideas) I am also thankful for Epicurious’ huge amount of vegetarian recipes. 🙂
Change of Pace
Thanks for posting this! I really like your approach and don’t think you should limit yourself to certain foods if you really like them.
My husband has been vegan for over a year now, and on holidays he goes vegetarian. It’s just too hard in most places to be vegan, and it’s a nice treat for him, too. (Chocolate, ice cream, etc)
If we go to someone’s house for dinner, we usually make a delicious vegan dish with enough for everyone to have some. It’s funny how shocked people are when it tastes good!
Do you take any supplements?
Yeah when I go to people’s houses I have definitely brought a vegan dish to share! The hard part has been things like weddings and bridal showers where I really have no choice!
No I’m not taking any supplements. I have a multi-vitamin that I take every few days and I try to eat a wide variety of foods. We bought spirulina and we’ve used that in smoothies but it’s not a regular part of my diet. Does your husband use any supplements? So far I’ve been feeling pretty good on it but mike sometimes struggles and I wonder if he’s missing some essential vitamin or what not. I am also not sure if I’m getting enough Iron!
Change of Pace
I completely agree. I have a stagette coming up and the dinner is at a steakhouse with a set menu 🙁
My husband takes multivitamins every few days along with B100 Complex or B12 every few days, too.
It’s tough to know if we’re getting the proper vitamins, but we both think we eat more balanced now than we did before he went vegan, as we’re a lot more conscious of protein intake, etc. Before when we ate meat, we didn’t eat it often but didn’t think to supplement protein in another way.