To Meat or Not to Meat

plantbaseddietThe other day I had a sulky day of depression where I literally just stayed on the couch all day eating cupcakes, french fries, wieners, canned peas & carrots, and microwaved popcorn smothered in Ketchup flavoured seasoning; drinking a ton of coffee, a couple of glasses of wine and one cup of hot chocolate with an ounce of brandy added for zip; and watching documentaries on Netflix.

I had once again let my boyfriend’s flighty attitude toward life get under my skin. After this many years together you might think I would be acclimated to it by now, I would expect it and never be surprised by anything, but you would be wrong. My recovery might be quicker when I’m blindsided, but I still get blindsided.

Anyway, I don’t want to write about why I had taken to the couch for the day because the more important thing is that while I was sulking and stuffing my face with crap, I wasn’t watching mindless sitcoms or cartoons, I was watching documentary films about things that matter, things that get me thinking, things that give me insight and energy and ideas. I watched 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama, GMO OMG, Happy, and finally Forks Over Knives Presents: The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue.

By the time I got to the last film I was in a more open frame of mind. I was thinking about the world and my place in it and how I was living my life and whether I was happy or did I need to make changes, and if so, what sort of changes. I had watched Forks Over Knives awhile ago, back when I was vegetarian. It was a good film but I was already eating a plant based diet so I don’t think I fully absorbed their philosophy of “whole food plant based”.

A year ago I was vegetarian and had been for a couple of years. It was my second journey into a plant based diet. The first time lasted a few (maybe six) months about a decade ago when I lived in Sackville. I found it really difficult to know what to eat and how to cook and to find things to buy, so I gave it up pretty quickly. I learned a lot though. The second time I did it, I lasted much longer and really could have been quite content to never eat meat again in my life. But I gained a lot of weight because I wasn’t necessarily eating the most healthy version of a plant based diet. You can call yourself vegetarian and eat nothing but pasta all day long. Still, I learned way more through that journey, including how to cook tofu so I actually enjoyed eating it. I hadn’t been able to master that one at all the first time.

So last fall I started hearing about Dr. Phil’s new diet plan and I bought the book and it seemed easy, like something I could do. The only catch was that it would bring some meat back into my life, cod fish, chicken, supposedly lean healthier choices. But I was blowing up, my clothes getting snugger, my joints starting to ache again from arthritis, so I decided to take the plunge. In my mind I told myself that I would follow his way of eating until I was back down to a much healthier body and then I would go back into a veg diet, but this time it would be a very healthy vegan diet, not the junk food vegetarian I had become. I felt certain that for the third excursion I would have all the knowledge and tools to achieve and maintain the healthy lifestyle I had always wanted.

I started Dr. Phil’s plan before Christmas and I immediately got results. I had more energy. I lost weight. I felt fabulous. My mind was clear and focused. The fog had lifted! It was super simple to follow, easy recipes … sometimes too easy actually, I like to cook, I like to experiment and be creative in the kitchen. But for the most part it was a really great plan and a wonderful lifestyle change. I could see where people could adopt this way of eating for the rest of their lives and be really healthy and happy.

The holidays came and I had turkey for the first time in years. Still not a big fan. I didn’t really over-indulge. I still felt pretty good and was optimistic about the future. But then my finances went to crap (as they often do around the holidays). I literally was only bringing in enough money to pay my bills. There wasn’t a penny left over to come and go on. I had no grocery dollars. So, I had to abandon Dr Phil because I couldn’t afford to do it. Not that it is an expensive diet, but I quite literally had no food budget.

Instead I took to my cupboards. Like most people I know I had food stockpiled, so I started eating it. Weeks and weeks went by and I bought nothing new. I ate pasta and rice and beans and crackers and frozen fruit and whatever I could find. I asked my family for food from their pantries that they might not be eating. I watched sales like a hawk and invested in things like a huge bag of flour and a 50 pound bag of potatoes so I could eat. The weight I lost came back and it brought about 25 more pounds with it. I became depressed. My boyfriend would buy me treats of ice cream and wine to make me happy. We would go out to all you can eat wing night at a local restaurant as a special treat.

It was a full return to the kinds of terrible eating habits that I had already figured out would kill me a good 15 years ago. And what we all should know for sure by now is that the more processed sugar you eat, the more your body wants. When I did start getting a bit more money to come and go on, I spent it on take out pizza, smothered in sausage, onions, green peppers, sauce and cheese, thick white crusts stuffed with melted mozzarella. More wine! Let’s get some beer! It’s steak night at the restaurant! It’s toonie Tuesday for chicken fingers! Load those suckers up with Sweet ‘n Sour sauce! Ice cream is on sale! Who wants cake?! Pop is on sale, let’s stock up! At this very moment I have WHITE pasta in my cupboard and WHITE bread in my freezer. WHITE flour in my cupboard! What the hell?! How did it all go to crap so quick?!

The truth is that it’s been six months. I flip calendar months and see my optimistic goal weights pencilled in. I am likely about 75 pounds heavier than the very realistic goal weight I had written in for June 25th. Wow! I haven’t weighed myself, but I know my body. I have a pretty good idea where it’s at, and it isn’t good.

This winter/ spring I was sick for six weeks. I hadn’t been sick like that in years, since I can’t even remember when. I had some sort of cold/ flu virus or infection that I just couldn’t shake until I took some antibiotics. And even still, I have a lingering cough that crops up from time to time. I have trouble sleeping now because I have difficulty breathing. I snore like I’ve never snored before. I think my weight is causing Sleep Apnea. The other day I felt my blood sugar drop and I got really shaky. I frequently get super tired after I eat a meal. I haven’t checked my sugar, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I was pre-diabetic. I have frequent heartburn, like I used to when I smoked.

I feel swollen and constipated all the time. I can’t comfortably sit lotus-style anymore. I can’t comfortably sit on the floor like I used to do. My legs ache. I don’t have much energy or motivation to do much. I love my work and I am motivated to do it, but it’s a sitting at a desk on a computer position. And now when I sit at the desk for long periods my ankles and legs swell up and hurt. When I stand at the sink to wash dishes or if I’m walking around sweeping or doing laundry, one of my legs will sometimes go numb. I know I have poor circulation. Health-wise things are deteriorating for me, not getting better.

My boyfriend already has Type 2 diabetes and now it has progressed to the stage where they are putting him on insulin needles. He says this is the last straw for him, that now he is going to make lifestyle changes. I believe that he believes that’s true, but we’ve had the conversation many times before and so far nothing has stuck more than a day or two. I sometimes think if he could just get through one week of doing it the right way, he would likely see a result and maybe that would be motivation enough to get him through a second week, and then a third and a fourth until it became habit. He is big on habits. I suppose we all are. I believe that a plant based diet can help Type 2 diabetics get off medication, kill cancer, and make our bodies strong disease fighting beasts. This is the reason why it’s always appealed to me, the health benefits; reducing my carbon footprint and not contributing to the cruelty of animals are just a bonus.

So back to Netflix and my documentary marathon that ended with me revisiting the Engine 2 whole food plant based diet. In this kitchen rescue video Rip heads into two families kitchens and throws out all the food they shouldn’t be eating, goes shopping with them to buy the food they should be eating, then goes back into their kitchens to prepare a sample breakfast, lunch and dinner meal. One family is an older couple who have health problems. The other is a younger couple with several children ranging from teens to pre-schoolers. The mother in the second family is already a vegetarian.

I had seen Forks Over Knives but an absolutely essential part of the diet didn’t sink in and register with me at all. Both of these families had Earth Balance butter spread in their fridge. Both had extra virgin olive oil in their pantries. One had coconut oil. And all of it went into the garbage. I was a bit gob-smacked. Well, maybe not about the Earth Balance, although I had thought it was a healthier choice than margarine. But olive oil! Coconut oil! Like those families I had thought those were healthy choices. I thought they had health benefits to bring to the table. And he didn’t say they were unhealthy choices, this was key for me. He said, “You can do better.” KAPOW! Olive oil and coconut oil are healthier choices, but you can do even better.

I can do better! How have I lost sight of that?! How have I stopped learning new things about how to live a healthy lifestyle?! I can ALWAYS do better! And when I do better, I feel better. And when I feel better, I do better. It is a cycle.

I know plant based diets seem extreme to a lot of people, but I read a blog post that asked, “Many would say that cutting out alcohol 100% is extreme, but it is it extreme for the alcoholic?” And the answer is of course not. The truth is most of us are addicted to sugar, fat and salt. I am. You likely are too. The North American diet is set up to get us addicted. So I don’t think it’s so extreme to quit these things. They aren’t healthy.

I feel like it’s time to get back to my healthy lifestyle quest. To get back to my pursuit of a healthy plant based diet. I took a break. I tried other things. It’s not working for me. It’s making me sick. Even when I was eating junk food veg, I wasn’t getting sick. That speaks volumes to me. We are getting into the fresh season, when fruits and vegetables don’t have to come from so far away and they taste so good. My body is craving greens and reds and oranges and yellows and purples and all the healthy colours on my plate.


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