Even though I’ve moved on to 12for13 I couldn’t resist posting this. It graphically shows why vegans can eat so much while maintaining their ideal weight.
Last week one of the analysts at my firm (20 years younger than me) asked if I was doing the Pier to Peak half marathon 5 days later. Now I can’t explain why I respond in this way, but that isn’t the purpose of this post so it’s irrelevant right now. I answered by saying I didn’t realize it was this weekend, but sure, “why not?” So I immediately signed up (after checking “my” schedule with my wife). That was it. Five days later I would be participating in the 5th toughest half-marathon in the world.
Forget that my only exercise over the past several months had been barefoot hiking, so my cardio was even more limited than usual. Not to mention that I am still at the stage where my feet are breaking down so that they can toughen up. Every hike results in the soles of my feet getting a little bruised, the pads getting burned or scraped, and a toe or two getting beaten up. Ultimately, the goal of barefoot hiking is to slow my pace down, to allow me to be more mindful of where I am, not to get in shape. That is great, unless you decide to participate in a grueling endurance race.
The day before the race I was feeling antsy and needed to get out for a hike, so I did a 5 mile barefoot hike to the site of the yarn bomb. It was a nice cool day, so my soles didn’t burn, but I did manage to find lots of small, sharp pebbles to poke into the soft parts of my feet and create tiny polka dots of bruising. I would come to regret that hike less than 24 hours later.
Saturday morning at 6:30am, I lined up along side 371 other nut jobs to run 13.15 miles from the Santa Barbara pier to the lookout tower atop La Cumbre Peak, roughly 5,000 feet higher than the start. The course is rated a Cat 1 Climb, the steepest grade on a scale of 1 to 5, only to be outdone by what is called the “Hors Categorie”.
By mile 6, I was already questioning the intelligence of the decision to participate without any preparation. I hadn’t even thought through the right shoes to wear and the hot spots were beginning to develop.
By mile 8 my feet were in agony. Every step was pressing on the bruises and the thick padding that’s been developing across the balls of my feet felt like they were beginning to separate from my foot. I feared they would break away, leaving a very large, raw, open wound in a most crucial spot.
At mile 10.5, Gibraltar Road finally meets Camino Cielo, where I had expected the trail would turn left, leaving the majority of the remaining distance to be somewhat flat. I was wrong. They turned us right for a grueling half mile psych out that climbs up and around several blind corners. You know that every step you take will at some point need to be retraced, but you can’t see how far it is to the turnaround. Every runner coming back assures you “it’s just another 200 yards,” but only one of them is correct. My hamstrings are so tight, I can imagine just the slightest misstep will cause one or both to snap. My feet are on fire and I can no longer feel the three smallest toes on my left foot.
Finally, I reach the turnaround and head downhill for the first time since we started. I thought it would be a relief, but it made it even worse on my feet as they were mashed into the front of my shoe with ever step. The three little piggies on my right foot mentally disappeared as well. My mind was clear, I felt great cardio-wise, but my legs were shot and my feet, well, I don’t know how to describe the anguish they were causing me in those shoes. Uphill, downhill, it didn’t really matter. I just needed to get off of them and out of those shoes.
As I faced the final 1.65 miles, I recalled why I was there in the first place. It wasn’t a moment to escape, but a moment to revel in. This was the moment to become mindful of the anguish, to breath in the fresh air, to appreciate when my feet feel good and my legs are powerful. This was a highlight in my life, not a lowpoint. I wanted to experience every ounce of pain, for it was the extremity of the pain and anguish itself that made that moment stand out from all the mindless, petty stuff that takes up the majority of our lives. This, was a break from the mundane. This, was living and I wanted to wring every drop out of it. While I heard others complaining about the heat, I was mindful of even the slightest breeze and felt cool. I saw the steep climb that lie ahead and wished it were steeper. I knew that physically I was tapped out, but mentally I was gassed up and ready to go. In my head I was running at full speed, but to anyone witnessing my actions in the real world, I was barely giving the tortoise a run for his money.
At the finish, I just wanted to grab my shirt, get on the bus and take off my shoes. During the party bus ride back down, it dawned on me that this was my first endurance event since becoming a vegan. I felt better aerobically than ever before, probably a result of the 13 pounds I’ve lost and the reduction of body fat by 33%. What I found most interesting is that normally after completing an event like that I have a mad craving for steak, but this time I simply craved calories. I thought it odd, because cravings are not a conscious choice. The fact that I had absolutely no interest in ingesting meat after this race, tells me I have accomplished Learning Resolution 7: Eat Right (Vegan).
I have to remark on some things I find odd about the whole vegan thing. The first is how few people actually know what is included in a vegan diet. Everyone, without exclusion, attempts to define it by what a vegan “can’t” eat. As they begin to ask questions like, “so no fish either,” I try to simplify it for them. It is a plant based diet. I only eat things that come from plants. Inevitably, every adult asks, “what about alcohol”? It’s funny, they seem to think they could be a vegan, but cutting out alcohol would be a deal breaker. When I tell them that alcohol is from plants, they relax a bit.
One question I am asked repeatedly is, “how long are you going to do this vegan thing?” I used to answer with, “who knows”, but then I really thought it through. I became a vegan because it’s a healthier choice, not unlike quitting smoking. So in reality, their question is not dissimilar to asking a former smoker how long he plans on staying away from cigarettes.
“Do you take any supplements?” This is one of the funniest questions of all. The implication is that my diet must be deficient in supplying me with some essential vitamins, minerals or, most likely, protein. Here’s why the question is so funny to me. Almost every single supplement in the world is derived from plants.
Think about this. Only 2% of the American public is vegan and 5% is vegetarian. That means 93% are not. It’s hard for me to believe that the supplement and pharmaceutical businesses have grown so large, by supplying all the vegans that are nutritionally deficient.
Finally, I am often asked if I am a “strict” vegan and someone recently remarked that their daughter is “not as strict as I am.” I must admit, this word “strict” totally confuses me. A vegan only ingests things derived from plants. If you eat chicken, fish, or anything else from an animal, then you are simply someone who eats more vegetables than most or someone who eats meat only occasionally. Oh, and it doesn’t matter if the meat is organic. That has absolutely nothing to do with defining your diet as vegan. So either you are a vegan, or you’re not. There is no more granularity in the definition than that.
The goal for LR10: Mindfulness is to learn to live more in the moment, to strip life down to its essence. To get rid of the nonsense, and truly experience what I normally take for granted.
Becoming a vegan is perhaps the purest, most consistent way for me to be more mindful for it forces me to think about everything I take in. There is no drive thru for a vegan. When you’re at a party you can’t just grab a handful of whatever is put in front of you. You have conversations with the creators of your food, the chef. I think through the menu before making a reservation. I call days in advance to chat with the chef about possible dishes. It has made me more mindful of the chef’s part in my meal. Every meal has become more intimate for me.
Last year, I broke with my long held tradition of not running unless someone was chasing me. After reading Born to Run (my favorite book from a previous resolution to read 50 books in a year), I developed an interest in running. It started with weekly 5k’s, then a half marathon, a sprint triathlon and finally an ultramarathon. I bought a GPS watch, started tracking my trail runs and competing against my best times. Instead of enjoying my time in the mountains, just Stella and me, taking in the scenery, breathing in the air and sorting through my thoughts, I was focused and concentrated. It took all the joy out of hiking.
I wanted to return to my old ways, but it’s hard to break a habit. In fact, it requires extreme measures at times to break a habit, even one as simple as not running when you go for a hike. My solution? Go barefoot.
You see, running barefoot hurts. These aren’t asphalt surfaces, they are trails of spiked oak leaves, lined with poison oak, populated by rattlesnakes, with lots of sticks, sharp rocks, hot sand and tons of sandstone, which is like walking on sandpaper, not to mention the occasional dog poop. When you hike in big hiking boots or even trail runners, nothing fazes you. Water, rocks, poison oak, even snakes are of little concern. Hiking barefoot, on the other hand, requires you to be aware of every hazard including the threat of a stubbed toe. Essentially, it forces you to be mindful of your environment, to be aware of everything directly in front of you. Everything else is a distraction.
Convenience drives our consumption patterns, which is why, as a society, we are getting fatter and for the first time in human history, our kids have a life expectancy that is shorter than their parents. If I want to successfully alter my consumption pattern and that of my family, I must respect the power of convenience and make the necessary adjustments.
The key is to have healthy, vegan options readily available when my willpower will be at its lowest, ie when I’m hungry or bored. Here is one step in that direction. I cut up a bunch of different color bell peppers, red onion, squash, and russet potatoes, pour a little olive oil on and add some thyme and rosemary from my front yard. Let it roast for 45 minutes in the oven at 325 degrees. I dump it in tupperware and stick it in the fridge right next to some quinoa I also prepared. It’s the perfect snack or lunch, either cold or reheated.
I also leave bowls of grapes, cherries, and blueberries and mini-containers of cut up canteloupe, watermelon and/or honeydew in the fridge, right out front. Bananas and apples are conveniently located right on the counter and kitchen table.
This strategy makes healthy options even more convenient, thus more susceptible to mindless noshing than a package that needs opening or frozen food that requires cooking.
I may go on about how easy it has been to convert to veganism, but the truth is, I’ve got a secret weapon in my war on poor eating habits, and her name is Barbara.
We are creatures of habit. For most of us, that means we have fairly limited menus. Whether you’re eating a burger from McDonald’s, Chili’s or your own bbq, it’s still fundamentally just a burger. Add chicken with (add staple side dish here), maybe grandma’s famous pasta recipe and a few other typical dishes, and you have your biweekly rotation of meals served at dinner. Now, what if I said you can’t eat any dish that contains the key ingredients found in every one of those recipes? You would be forced to find new recipes, go to different aisles in the food store, read the full list of ingredients and likely have to find new grocery stores to do your shopping. Well, all of those tasks fall squarely on the shoulders of my better half.
Barbara has searched the internet and cookbooks for vegan recipes. She visited numerous new grocery stores to find which have the best selections for vegans. She’s become an expert on how to read ingredient lists and developed a whole new meal rotation for the entire family. I’m no writer so I’m sure I’m not doing a fantastic job of painting a picture of just what a mammoth disruption this has been to her life. Keep in mind, I haven’t become a “substitute vegan”, where I will simply swap out a burger for a veggie burger. I believe the only way to do this long term is to completely change your palate and that requires that the composition of your plate must look and feel as different as the new textures and flavors of your meals. That’s what makes it all the more incredible that she has managed to take it on without so much as a loud sigh. For this I am thankful to have such a fantastic partner in this and all of my endeavors.
Add to the mix, Javier, our breakfast chef at the office who makes the greatest veggie burrito with sides of fresh fruit and his secret Guatemalan beans, and you have a pretty sweet setup for conversion to veganism.
I can’t leave out the contribution of my kids. Masie, who has been a vegetarian for over 10 years, has actually benefitted from me becoming a vegan because it has expanded her range of options. Jackson, on the other hand, is an unabashed carnivore, but he’s also a gamer. Up for any challenge (see unicycling, slack lining, jumping stilts, and even yarn bombing), Jackson has been a supporter of the adjustment. Anyone with kids knows how important their contribution has been to a smooth transition.
Recall I decided to become a vegan not because I want to live forever, but because I want to enjoy every minute that I am here. To do that requires as much energy as I can muster. Therefore, what I was hoping to gain from becoming a vegan was more energy. It’s inevitable, whenever I say that to someone who knows me, they always ask incredulously, “YOU need more energy?” Yes, I need and want more energy. I want to learn, try, discover and fail at many more things in my life. I want to hike further and faster, read more books, launch more charities and generally be a more interesting person. To do that, I need more energy for many years to come.
After 3 weeks of following a vegan diet, I can emphatically pronounce I have substantially more energy now than when I started. I haven’t suffered from a single headache and I get a better nights rest as well.
If you are contemplating improving your life by becoming a vegan listen to just one piece of advice. Do not try to replicate your current diet. Don’t buy soy meatballs, veggie burgers, or fake cheese. Make a clean break from your old habits regarding flavors and textures. The longer you do this, the less likely you will experience cravings or resort back to old habits if they are close at hand while vegan options are not. Think of it like this. If you didn’t have any food immediately accessible to you right now would you substitute dirt or a light bulb for your usual burger? No, you would simply wait until you had access to actual food.
This means you must be all-in in order for you to succeed. (I underlined succeed because if you can become a true vegan you will have succeeded at freeing yourself from weight problems, so many health issues and given yourself the gift of energy.) Try every vegetable put in front of you, even the ones you “know” you hate. Go to a restaurant and say, “I noticed you don’t have any vegan options on the menu. Could you have your chef make me a plate of vegetables, quinoa, grains and whatever else he sees fit to include, prepared however he/she likes so long as it doesn’t have any meat or dairy in it?” A good chef is an artist and will love the challenge to create something on the fly. You win by having a great new experience.
Try doing the same for yourself. Here’s a lunch I threw together at home. It’s simply peas, corn, garbanzo beans and grape tomatos. I’m not sure how many calories it has or how much protein, but to be honest I’ll bet it’s far better for me than the Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza I would normally have resorted to in the past, and it tasted far better too.
Finally, I need to share two great sources of information and inspiration that I have discovered so far on my journey. I’m thankful that people who know so much are so willing to share with the those of us who don’t.
Vegan Sparkles – I love this blog for the density of information Rebecca delivers in a witty, fun way. Her blog’s title intrigued me and the content didn’t disappoint. It’s also chock full of great links that have been extremely helpful as well.
My Plant Based Family – Holly’s recipes and guidance for a vegan newbie is incredibly valuable and her enthusiasm is infectious. Her blog is incredibly organized, solving one of my pet peeves about blogs in general and making her wealth of knowledge readily available.
Fact: Truth is, most people have very limited diets with very little variety. It’s not until you cut out the staples of your diet that you open yourself up to the thousands of far more interesting flavors and textures offered in vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and nuts, that you’ve yet to experience. As they say, “necessity is the mother of all invention.” Well, you need to eat and if you remove the fatty and processed staples of your current diet, you will be forced to find alternatives or you will die. You will be forced to be creative and discover meals that are far healthier for you. There are thousands of them to choose from.
Fiction: You can’t get the protein your body needs without eating meat.
Fact: Vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds can easily supply your body with the amino acids (that’s what your body really needs, not protein) it requires. It’s much harder to get them from sugars, fats and alcohol. I’d be much more concerned about meat eaters getting enough of the essential vitamins and minerals their bodies need than a vegan getting enough protein.
Fiction: My kids would never eat if I only made vegan dishes.
Fact: This has to be the worst cop out a parent could use. There are a lot of things your kids would never do if you didn’t step in as their responsible parent and make sure they did. It’s your job as a parent to help your kids grow into happy, healthy adults. How many adults struggle with weight and health issues because their parents didn’t instill healthy eating habits in them when they were children. Just because they don’t like bland, poorly cooked broccoli thrown on the plate alongside a hamburger and creamy mashed potatoes, doesn’t mean there doesn’t exist a well prepared vegetable option your kids would like. It’s your job to find just a few of the thousands that exist.
Becoming a vegan is not unlike joining a cult, or at least it evokes a very similar reaction from the people around you.
Fellow vegans welcome you, but it’s not a simple, “good for you”, it’s more about indoctrinating you and lecturing you on things that go way being simply switching to a plant-based diet. It brings diatribes about “cleansing” and “detox”. They seem to feel the need to bestow all of their wisdom and hokey science upon you and most will attempt to sell you on the benefits of higher energy levels.
Meat-eaters, or shall we say, the majority of people in this world, seem to be repulsed by the thought of living solely on plants. “You can’t even eat eggs?” They want to impart their wisdom, which by the way is almost exclusively based on the question, “where will you get your protein?” They all seem to have the same advice too. “Make sure you eat lots of beans and nuts.” They all attempt to sell you on the “fact” that all the vegans they know are always sick and are the unhealthiest people they know.
I have not joined a cult. I believe the prevalence of huge waistlines, double chins, cancers, heart problems, high cholesterol levels and diabetes among Americans is evidence enough that our eating habits need improvement. It’s amazing to me how many people select the high octane fuels for their cars, yet shovel low octane fuel into themselves, and even worse, their kids. When I eat a thick, juicy steak, it’s good, but the sluggish, bloated feeling that lingers long after is not good. It’s a fact, red meat does more harm than good. The same goes for refined foods and dairy products. And that is the essence of my argument for becoming a vegan. The cost / benefit analysis when it comes to food is simply nonexistent for most of us, yet there is no more important issue for our health.
Why did we switch from a healthy diet to such obviously poor eating habits? The answer is convenience. Question you have to answer is, “Is my health and the health of my family worth taking a little more time for food gathering and preparation?”
As for cravings, I haven’t experienced any yet. In fact, I am repulsed by the idea of meat and even for things that come in a box. I don’t eat much tofu because I’m not trying to replicate the texture of meat. I am reveling in the incredible flavors and textures I had been missing out on all my life. I’m not looking to convert anyone, but I hope I can inspire you to think about your choices.
Finally, I don’t anticipate posting recipes and nutritional advice in my blog, but I am thankful for those who do. Fruits and vegetables come in an extraordinary number of varieties and it can be overwhelming to a newbie. If you have any great blogs, websites or books you can recommend to those of us trying navigate these unchartered waters, please do share them here.
It is so unlike me to jump on a bandwagon and I have avoided going down this path until now, solely on that basis. However, it’s also unlike me to do things that are counterintuitive and it has just dawned on me that by continuing to maintain the diet I’ve been following my entire life, my actions are in direct opposition to what I know intuitively to be right. If it took a documentary to give me the swift kick in the ass I needed to see what should have been obvious to me for a very long time, well so be it. In this case, that documentary is “Forks Over Knives” and it’s the trigger for choosing “Learn How to Eat Right” as LR7.
Since birth I have been an unabashed junk food junkie. I lived Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” for decades. When we moved out to Santa Barbara that changed a lot, but mostly because there aren’t many fast food chains here. Anyway, I don’t want to be one of those long winded bloggers so I’ll keep this simple. My goal is to convert to a plant based diet, otherwise known as a vegan, but here is the trick. LR7 will only be deemed a success if I figure out how to do it sustainably. By that I mean it won’t require willpower to adhere to it. If I have to fight cravings, if it is a hassle, or unsatisfying, I will have failed.
Now you know my goal, please help by sharing tasty, simple recipes, ideas, and thoughts.