I have been meat-free for about five years now. I chose this because I considered it a healthier alternative to an omnivorous diet with higher fat and groggy post-meal emotions. In recent months I have been trying to listen to my body more and discovered I do not respond well to dairy products. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the taste of them, I just blow up like a house and feel bloated and uncomfortable. I remember going out with friends and feeling like the alienated one for not responding the same as everyone else. Worse yet, when I find that others would stuff themselves (whether it be with dairy products or not) they would respond by crawling into bed and “sleeping it off.” This never made any sense to me because whenever I would do this (and I have many times) I feel just as bad the morning after. That and my stomach feels confused and mad at me for making such a choice.
I’ve slowly taken dairy out my diet and have actively focused on ways to replace the nutritional benefits it has, along with healthier alternative to post meal activities. I tend to go for walks after meals now if I am not hooked on a book (which I am.) Anything other than sleeping after a meal feels good to me. Sure you’re body needs time to rest & digest, but that doesn’t mean you should turn into a sloth or an ox as a result.
Once I began cutting back on dairy products the thought of taking the final step and going vegan began to creep in my mind. I have athletic vegan friends and unhealthy vegan friends so I know that I have the possibility to drift to either end of the spectrum. With the upcoming race season and my recent fitness routine, I see myself as being the active athlete who compliments their hard efforts with a lean and balanced diet. Just last week I made my first successful vegan grocery shopping trip and ended up buying more than bananas and cliff bars. It was slightly more expensive than my usual trips, but this extra spending has been justified in my brain. Part of this is due to recent cooking escapades involving simple ingredients prepared in simple methods that taste good and are satisfying without the bloating full feeling that seems to be the norm in our culture.
At first I have to admit that the above mentioned post-meal bloat was my way of gauging whether or not I was full and should stop eating. When I would go out for trips to get frozen yogurt, I would feel very full afterwards and end up not eating for an extended amount of time. Based on the nutritional value of said yogurt, I didn’t agree with the way this was making me feel. Now when I cook, I try and incorporate a balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients without overwhelming my inflammatory response as when I have a meal that is heavily weighed on the dairy group. Now that I no longer have that feeling to gauge my hunger levels, I find that I kept eating smaller meals more frequently to get back to that same level which later I discovered wasn’t the right way to go about things. We don’t need to feel overwhelmingly full after every meal. This should not be the standard for whether we should eat or not. Part of practicing the plant-based diet is not having to eat as often as I used to. As long as the meals are balanced and simple (less processed and calorie heavy) we do not need to consume as much as we think. To me it’s just one less thing to worry about.
A challenge I am starting to get comfortable with is planning meals in advance. I can be difficult finding places to go out to eat that cater to the plant based diet that isn’t just iceberg lettuce and a few other veggies here and there. I have had to put more time into preparing meals, but I’m starting to get the hang of things now. I could always just grab some fruit or a carrot if I feel famished. Another difference I have noticed is the increased amount of energy I have throughout the day. Now the word “energy” is thrown around a lot and has different varieties of meanings:
- There is the sugar-rush/ energy drink buzz that we are most familiar with
- The caffeinated, twitchy, can’t see straight or keep still form of energy others associate with (I for one surprisingly do not given my background of interests)
- And there is the steady feeling of just not feeling tired
I’ve experienced all three of these forms of energy and have to admit that the last one is the most foreign, but the most rewarding psychologically and physically. The first two forms usually have a moment where we all “peak” then “crash.” Like any other mind-altering substance, (and our own psychological history) we may or may not see this as a bad thing. I for one would much rather not peak and have a sustained feeling of not feeling the need to sleep more than eight hours because I just threw back my third Red Bull and I can’t see straight. This helps control the bloating along with the removal of the dairy food group.
To recap, I am eating more nourishing meals with less guilt afterwards and not needing to rest as much during the day due to a healthy medium of sustained energy.
I took the metro into downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday and used this as an opportunity to see just how long I could go until my body would tell me that I needed to eat again. I made it a full day to explore their giant library, and walk around reading and sightseeing. I brought a Cliff bar with me in case a hunger emergency came about. Once I made my usual oatmeal, coffee, and milk (in two separate glasses) breakfast and ran a few errands, I was on my way. Just to give you an idea of how long this took. I ate my breakfast around six-thirty in the morning (I am a morning person & I had just finished my weekly Tuesday/ Thursday workout before breakfast.) I must have walked over five miles taking intermittent reading breaks and exploring the surroundings. Ate my Cliff bar around noon not because I was hungry, but because I wanted something small/ light and I knew I should have something before my dinner so I wouldn’t overeat. Since this was an experiment, I saw myself not being able to survive the day and end up pigging out at some hole-in-the-wall comfort food place (no offense to the hole-in-the-wall eateries. Your food is very tasty and usually reasonably priced.) Based on what everyone else makes the vegetarian diet out to be (feelings of dizziness, hunger, and fatigue) I had a completely different experience. I had my balanced dinner around five thirty that evening, did some more walking, went to a home brewing class in the arts district, and made it home with no cramps in my legs or growling in my stomach.
The best part is this was not a day fueled by caffeine outside of normal limits for me (usually two 8-12oz cups are my average coffee volumes; black.) Better yet, I woke up the next morning at four am and rode really strong in the hills Wednesday morning, feeling minimal fatigue on about four to five hours of sleep. This was enough evidence for me to see a slight shift in diet can have substantial benefits. Had I had my usual frozen yogurt and dairy-filled diet, the bloating and guilt would have come around, and I probably would have skipped out on the early morning ride.
It has not been very easy, but I know my head is in the right place. With the benefits I have seen, I am logically convinced that this is not only possible but better for me. Sure I might not be able to go out to eat or drink with friends as much, but with the way I perceive the way the universe works, others I am bound to come across others who share similar views whether they’re local or further away. I still have a few food items with dairy in them, and hope to consume or donate them by the end of the year. This new year, I will make the complete switch and begin my new dietary journey. I know I have said this multiple times, but things are coming together for me. Between fitness, dietary changes, and a recent discovery for books, I am exploring my own personal interests and find pleasure in them. Whether it be with others or not is another story, but the point of all this is that I feel well and balanced. The things that are in our foods can leave us feeling addicted to consuming and lethargic as a result. It is a self destructive quality I am glad I am drifting away from.
Time to go about my day and make the best of my free time; but first…. coffee.