To put it mildly, I haven’t always been this attentive to my health. I’ve always been active but I didn’t have much care for my nutrition. I always wanted more of a six-pack, but rather than clean up my diet, it only occurred to me to put in more time in the weight room, in the pool and on the tennis court.
I never had time or energy in the morning to prepare anything for breakfast or pack a lunch. The food I did manage to eat was mostly junk that no doubt perked me up for about half an hour and then induced an inevitable during the double period after lunch.
From Fast Food to Plant Fuel
I wonder sometimes how much better I could have been- how much stronger an athlete, and how much more dedicated and prolific a student- had I known what I know now!
My experience makes it crystal clear to me that exercise is important, but in no way is it all you need for health! I was pushing my body to it’s physical limit of exhaustion every day, and without putting quality fuel into my body, every day I was giving out before I should have.
As soon as my friends and I had access to our own cars, we were off to the drive thrus. Eating thousands of empty calories attempting to get energy out of it was a losing battle but I had no concept of how it could be different.
I started to dabble in vegetarianism in college because I was drawn to participate in a local Buddhist retreat at Deer Park Monastery. When I went there, my mind and heart changed, but in ways I didn’t even yet comprehend. All the meals made there are prepared by the monks, nuns, and visitors together; each vegetarian meal is enjoyed slowly and in silence so everyone can focus on the gratitude they have for the food, the sun that created it, the farmers that grew it, and the hands that prepared it. After the meal each person washes and dries his own dish. It was radically simple.
Eating in silence, chewing each bite, thinking about how no animals were harmed in the making of the meal, waking up at 5am to gentle gongs and the nuns’ beautiful chanting… ending the day with walking meditation by the light of the full moon… it was absolutely magical.
I’d worked at Barnes and Noble for years, so I had the fortunate opportunity to read any book I wanted to put my hands on, and I did. The first book I found that I wanted to read about veganism wasn’t a cookbook- I wasn’t even sure what the whole thing meant, what it was about. The voices in my head said things like: Why would I want to do that? I feel ok. I love every kind of cheese of ever made. I like fast food- it’s fun. My favorite meal in the world is my mom’s teriyaki chicken with baked potatoes with butter, sour cream and peas. Second favorite is tostadas with ground turkey, sour cream, cheese and all the other fixings- it’s healthy and no part of that needs to change!
Nevertheless I picked up the book Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating and started to flip through it. I saw quickly that it covered all the different reasons one might “go vegan,” including health and weight loss, animal rights, diseases and food borne illnesses, environmental impact, and world food supply. I read the first few pages… then within a few days of my hands being glued to the book, tears were occasionally streaming down my face, and my pencil was marking off sections and quotes.
Then I almost completely lost my appetite. For weeks. Reading about what happens to animals in detail, reading about how they end up on your plate- it is something no one wants to do. We don’t want to know. We don’t want to think about it- out of sight, out of mind. I don’t kill it, so it doesn’t count. If I don’t eat animals, I won’t get all the nutrients I need. These are the kinds of cursory yet stubborn ideas that end the conversation for most people. I couldn’t just say these things anymore, I started to feel it may not be true.
I spent a good while terrified of the prevalence of diseases associated with meat, especially Mad Cow Disease. I had no idea what to eat at that point, but I still spent the next three months as a 100% vegan. Then as the shock of the book began to wear off, and after living on basic salads for months, I started to get hungry for everything I used to eat. Being clueless about how to actually make healthy dishes that tasted good, I figured if I ate some cheese, and then a little fish and turkey, it would be ok- I was working out a lot, so I “needed it.” Then over time I even went back to eating practically anything as long as it wasn’t ground beef.
Several years of experimenting in the kitchen and stumbling onto new recipes got me closer and closer to vegan and had me starting to enjoy a wider variety of veggie dishes. Then I found a couple books on raw food… what an extreme way to eat, right? Never cooking anything? How would you even do that? Well, these books got me to the next level and I was able to be successfully vegan by eating mostly raw food. I felt my hunger and nutritional needs were met when I focused on a variety of simple, fresh fruits and vegetables. I still eat a lot of fresh, raw foods but I eat a lot of cooked foods too as I’ve found it works best for me that way.
Doing the work to become conscious about my eating, and leaning to see food as a way to fuel my body and love myself has been a journey that’s been well worth every step. Coming to understand my relationship with food ultimately saved me from a life of stress-eating and food addiction.
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I support you in making small steps every day to love yourself, and to be more yourself- the you that you envision, to create the you that you dream of being!