Well I did it! 30 days and 30 nights of vegetarianism complete….well I guess 29 nights if you want to count the 1 night I had seafood while on vacation. It was interesting to say the least! When I set out 30 days ago to learn more about what it’s like to live life sans meat, I had many reasons for doing so. First and foremost, I was inspired to try it from reading The China Study and also by hearing from others dealing with cancer and using vegetarianism as a way to fight their disease with nutrition. Outside of that, as a personal trainer and someone who offers a lot of support to others looking to reach their health & fitness goals, I wanted to see if the things I would normally recommend to clients or friends would even still hold true or be “doable” without including meat in their diet. On a personal level, I was curious how it would make me feel. It seemed to me that every vegetarian I’ve met is just crazy about their lifestyle and they all seem very devoted to staying vegetarian. I wanted to see what it was all about, and I think to understand something better it’s good to experience it first-hand. I’ve always been a hands-on learner! Even though there is surely much more I could explore and learn about vegetarian living, I’d think to think that I’ve at least gotten a little taste by doing it for a full 30 days. I know that there are quite a few people who’ve been reading this who haven’t commented or become a “follower” and that’s ok:-D I appreciate everyone taking the time to pop in and read and hopefully a few people have learned a thing or two right along with me!
So to sum up this little journey, I thought I’d share some reflections on the past month…
Some take-away tidbits from this:
1) It IS absolutely possible to get enough protein to support even the most active lifestyles with vegetarian eating. For anyone doing or considering doing Body-for-LIFE, it IS absolutely possible to do it as a vegetarian too. It does take a bit of creativity and planning for anyone who’s trying to consistently get a certain required amount (ie. 110 g protein per day) into their diet successfully. It’s equally as necessary to be mindful of carbohydrate and fat intake for anyone trying to do BFL, but it is absolutely possible and become easy once you find staples that work for you.
2) There are no vegetarian sources of protein outside of cheese that do not also contain carbohydrates and fats. I never found one. If I’ve missed something feel free to drop me a comment, but I looked pretty hard and couldn’t find any. ALL vegetarian proteins also contain carbs and fats to my knowledge.
3) Dairy is not the devil. I think this little experiment helped me realize I had a pretty big fear of dairy before. Outside of fat free cottage cheese, I just never really ate cheese much. God forbid I allow anything with lactose into my body! No I’m not lactose intolerant, but I think being so involved within the fitness community has somehow unconsciously made me think that if I eat cheese, I will get fat. Well, I ate quite a bit of cheese during the past month and didn’t gain an ounce of fat as far as I know. However, I did pay VERY close attention to choosing cheeses that were fat free or reduced fat AND rBGH free, as well as close attention to serving sizes (taking the time to measure) anytime I ate cheese. Cheese was many times my saving grace to get to my magic # of 20-25 g of protein at each meal.
4) Most vegetarian high protein sources that are even close to reaching an equal protein content found in animal sources are all derived from soy. Things like tempeh, tofu and really any and ALL vegetarian “meatless” products are simply soy in a different form and flavored with different flavorings. Even though I was changing up the foods I was eating, I felt a little uneasy about ultimately having a fairly limited diet that wasn’t as varied as I would have liked. When it came down to it, I was just eating more of the same many times…soy. I also already knew that there were many soy products contained in many many foods on grocery store shelves and that we really don’t even think about (same with corn), but this made me pay even closer attention to nutrition labels and ingredient lists…man this world is made of soy. Too much soy in my opinion. I know the jury is still out on the whole soy controversy. I do think it has benefits, but I also think that too much of one thing is probably not the best approach to having a balanced diet, so I am on a soy hiatus for a while after this month. I’ll continue to eat edamame, but probably won’t be purchasing any Morningstar Farms for a while.
5) I did however, realize that meatless products are helpful in more ways than just getting more protein into one’s diet. For instance, meatless breakfast sausages and meat crumbles are absolutely a better choice in my opinion that the full fat, full cholesterol options. I’d rather have an overabundance of soy in my diet than to eat cow lips and pig parts any day. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that ALL of the meatless products I used such as those made by Light Life (Smart Dogs & Roast Turkey style lunchmeat slices), were free of carcinogenic nitrates and nitrites as well as a whole host of other harmful chemicals….things which ARE present in most processed deli meats. Again, I’d rather choose soy laden meatless dogs and lunchmeat over Oscar Meyer any day of the week no contest….yes, even over sliced turkey breast if it isn’t all natural and free from nitrates and nitrites.
6) Although I realize there are many more recipes and dishes I could have tried, I wanted to try to maintain my normal 40/40/20 ratio of macronutrients as closely as possible. That meant I wasn’t going to be feasting on grains, beans, and fat sources without paying attention to the amounts. I know there are going to be people out there that disagree, but I still consider things like beans, legumes, and so-called high protein grains such as quinoa, to be carbohydrates first and foremost. I also consider peanut butter to be a fat first and foremost. Yes they have protein, but the amount of protein compared with the other macronutrients they contain is very small. Open up any vegetarian cookbook, and you will see that it is very rare to find a recipe that falls within the 40/40/20, which is why I made the choice to piece together my own meals, rather than just trying a bunch of recipes out of a cookbook that were filled with higher carbohydrate and higher fat recipes. (I didn’t do the math on every single meal I made, but I did pretty good at maintaining equal amounts of protein and carbs at each meal in my opinion.) Plus, I like things to be simple and don’t typically have an interest in making things that take 10 + ingredients for the most part. Just as I do in my normal everyday life as a meat eater, I found things that worked for me, and made them staples into my diet, because they were easy, convenient, healthy, and balanced according to my own dietary goals.
7) I never had a vegetarian epiphany. That is….I didn’t hate being vegetarian in the least, but I also never had a light bulb moment whereas I felt completely different or improved in any physical or mental aspect. Admittedly, I did feel better on days where I ate more vegetables, especially on those days where I ate upwards of about 5-10 servings of veggies per day. However, as an omnivore I already ate a ton of vegetables, rarely ever ate red meat, and consistently already getting roughly 30 g fiber usually daily before this. I think that is perhaps why I never experienced any drastic changes in energy levels or with digestion of the food. People would consistently ask me if I felt like I was doing a cleanse with all of this vegetarian eating, but really I didn’t.
8) Eating out healthfully at restaurants is challenging! If you think it’s hard to order healthy when you are out as a meat eater, you should try doing it as a vegetarian! This was perhaps the biggest eye opener for me. Vegetarian restaurants and options on menus are pretty limited, especially where I live in Texas, where beef is what’s for dinner. I am pretty well versed on ordering out healthy. Give me a menu….any menu, and I will figure out a way to order a perfectly balanced healthy meal (as an omnivore that is). During this experiment, I found myself for the first time in quite a long time extremely hungry and floundering at a sports bar trying to think of something healthy to order that was vegetarian and wasn’t just a lame iceberg lettuce salad. I ended up eating queso and chips! Ha ha! If I would have been eating meat, I could have at least had a grilled chicken salad or sandwich, but I’m telling you that I was STUCK for the first time in a long time, and finally gave up on even trying and decided to just order whatever would come to our table quickest…I was that hungry and at a loss of options. It showed me just how important it is for vegetarians to be able to research restaurant menus ahead of time to find good healthy options at restaurants. It made me even more passionate about my belief in the need for nutrition facts labeling on restaurant menus too. Fires me up just thinking about it! I was, however, also pleasantly surprised on occasion at having more vegetarian options than I even knew existed. For example, I got lucky on my layover in Dallas at Au Bon Pain where they had an entire section of their menu with really yummy healthy vegetarian options. As much as I’ve shopped at Whole Foods in the past, I never actually realized how many vegetarian options they really do have. Wow! That is the place to shop and grab some quick lunch or dinner if you are a vegetarian for sure! I love it even more now! Two thumbs up for Whole Foods!
9) Supplements are a big help to anyone trying to adhere to a high protein diet. Although I use EAS, which does contain milk and soy in many of their protein products, there are also Vegan protein powders out there which do not. Whole Foods carries some, as do other health food stores. I think it would be beneficial for any vegetarian looking to their build/maintain muscle mass and/or lose fat to include supplements as part of their daily diet. My whey protein and other supplements were a hug staple in my diet throughout this past month. I incorporated them even more than I did while eating meat, because I was looking for ways to get the magic 20-25 g of protein at every meal. I feel really strong right now and I feel like I have slightly more muscle definition than I did four weeks ago. I wouldn’t doubt that including supplements have had something to do with it.
10) Trying something new is never a bad thing. It’s good to try new things to see what else is out there. I’m a pretty big creature of habit…probably one of the biggest I know! It’s good to think outside of the box and try something new just for the sake of trying it and learning something new. Not only did I learn a few things about what vegetarians might experience in some aspects of daily life with respect to diet, I also learned a few things about myself in the process. I learned what I can live without more (surprisingly chicken wasn’t missed much) as well as forming a deeper appreciation for the things I can’t wait to have back (seafood!!!).
So what will change now if anything?
I am definitely more familiar with different types of vegetarian meals that can work for me and which I rather liked. I still have quite a few vegetarian foods here, and I plan to continue to incorporate them into my diet. I will definitely be cutting back on eating so much chicken. I really did not miss it much, despite the fact that I probably ate more chicken than anything else before I started my vegetarian eating. I don’t hate chicken now, but I don’t anticipate that I will go back to eating it upwards of 2-3 times per day as I did before. If anything, I might use it in dinners from time to time, but I’m not going to feel the need to put it in anything and everything anymore. I do look forward to stocking up on some good quality wild caught seafood….salmon, mahi mahi, shrimp, and scallops are what I’ve missed most. I really feel like God put those things here on Earth for us to eat, and so I will be happy to have them back in my life!
More than anything, this experiment has taught me to just practice moderation. I no longer feel like it’s absolutely necessary to add a piece of meat to every single meal, and I’m much more aware now of ways to come up with balanced meals that don’t contain any meat or even any “meatless” products at all. I definitely plan to continue using some of the meals I used regularly as part of vegetarian eating. Protein oatmeal anyone?! I tried it only because of this experiment as a way to get protein, and now I’m completely hooked. There are a million and one ways to make it, and there are plenty I haven’t tried yet. Protein oatmeal isn’t going anywhere and neither are my yamcakes, veggie flatbread pizzas and huge salads with edamame. Tofu, that’s another story. I like tofu, but prefer ordering it when someone else is making it. I’ll probably be more adventurous when ordering out in the future if I have options to order vegetarian foods, but I don’t see tofu making it into my shopping cart each week as a regular staple going forward. I also won’t be getting nearly as much soy in my diet. Moderation is foremost on my mind and just trying to get as much variety into my diet as possible from here on out. Too much of any one thing, whether it be chicken or soy, isn’t a good thing.
Eating goals going forward…
- To eat mostly whole unprocessed foods
- To eat five servings of vegetables per day on most days
- To eat one serving of fruit per day (tomatoes count)
- To continue eating 40/40/20 for most meals on most days
- To continue eating a balanced meal every 2-3 hours
- To continue drinking at least 1 gallon of water each day
- To continue avoiding products containing hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, preservatives, nitrates & nitrites, and foods containing refined carbohydrates.
- To continue to use supplements as part of a healthy balanced diet for added support for training.
- To practice moderation and vary my protein sources to include those from plant sources more often in lieu of animal protein sources.
I’ve had several people ask me if I’ll still be posting my meals on this blog. Really this was intended to chronicle my vegetarian experiment, and now that it’s ended, I won’t be posting all of my meals every day as I have been. However, I do plan to leave the link active so that it can possibly be of use to anyone in the near future. I’ve had many nice compliments from people who’ve passed along this blog to someone else they thought could gain something from seeing it. I figure if anyone is interested in learning about how they can eat a high protein diet as a vegetarian, they might be able to look at this and see that it can in fact be done. There are also people in the Body-for-LIFE community that I think can benefit from seeing that you can definitely do BFL as a vegetarian. Hopefully I’ve shown that if I can do it, anyone can!
If you want to stay connected, feel free to check me “Emily Alvers” out on facebook as a way to stay connected if you’d like. I’m not going anywhere, just going to be continuing to focus my energy into helping others live a healthy lifestyle through a variety of other avenues.
This has been an enlightening experience that has taught me a great deal! Thanks again for taking the time to read The Chickpea Chronicles!
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