My Vegan Experiment
Calling all vegan or vegan curious! If you are vegan, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me why a plant based diet works for you. If you are vegan curious, or over 50 like me, I think you’ll be interested in my vegan experiment. Before I share what I’m up to nutritionally I’ll give you some background on my starting place, experience as an omnivore, and why I’m currently checking out a vegan way of eating.
As a lifetime athlete and coach seeking to feel some big energy as much as possible in my waking hours (and support others in this as well), I’ve done a lot of research on nutrition, nutrition for life and nutrition for training and racing. The three things I’ve learned, amidst the mega-info available, are that 1) nutrition makes a difference, 2) what works best is individual, and 3) our body’s needs change when our hormones start freaking out at about 50. Our job is to figure out what works best for us on an ongoing basis.
With some exception, I would categorize myself as a very healthy eater, and have been accused of being a food snob (which I interpret as I just know what I like). Perhaps oddly in our live-at-all-cost society, I don’t eat healthy so I can live a really really long time, or to steer clear of disease. I don’t spend much time thinking about these things. I eat healthy because it tastes good and because it helps me feel good—now. So I gravitate toward the farmers’ market and mostly organic, and when venturing into a grocery store I spend most of my time on the periphery of the store—unless I need “staples” or an occasional splurge of Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk. I eat lots of veggies and fruits, whole or sprouted grain almost-everything, and usually avoid packaged items that have ingredients I can’t pronounce. That said, I will try anything once. If you invite me to dinner I’ll happily eat whatever you put in front of me and be stoked if it’s something I’ve never had. And when traveling to very foreign countries, I’m the one friends look to first to try the unfamiliar looking food items. New food is a happy and integral part of my life here and abroad.
I do enjoy coffee (or a latte) in the morning and stellar wine on the weekends, but besides an infrequent overindulgence I can’t really say I have any vices nor practice any extreme eating habits that are counterproductive to my goal of feeling great.
I have dabbled in various nutritional focuses over the years to experiment with how they affect my bottom line—how I feel. What I’ve stuck with mostly, and always gravitate back to, is a well balanced diet of fresh whole foods. And I’ve always eaten animal protein of some sort. Even as a possible vegan convert, I believe that as a species we are omnivores, and that as athletes one of our missions is to sort out how much and what types of protein works best in our bodies, because what that looks like for each of us is unique. Being someone who carries a lot of muscle, animal protein tends to sit well with me and I crave it. I frequent eggs, plain yogurt, chicken and fish, and I don’t eat red meat frequently, but there’s nothing like an occasional BBQ steak to hit the spot.
This all sounds pretty reasonable, right? So why the heck go vegan?! Being insatiably curious about all things unfamiliar, I have been interested in a vegan diet for quite some time. So I did a lot of research. Most has been on the internet, talking to people and watching documentaries, the latter being the most impactful. Then I started to eat vegan a few weeks ago (and yes, I have happily cheated a few times at dinner parties or with my coveted Fage Greek Yogurt).
During my perusing, several things jumped to the forefront for me to bring me to try the vegan diet: animal ‘issues,’ an extension of my living-simply philosophy, the feel of meat in my body, and nutrition as a further means to optimize how I feel in my unfamiliar post 50-year-old body.
Though I tend to like animals more than many people, mourn deeply when I hear of people’s pets passing, and cheer loudly for the underdog when the lion hunts down the antelope for dinner, I’ve never had an issue with eating animals—even after touring a chicken slaughter house after doing a speaking gig for Tyson Foods. Lots of animals eat animals to survive. We are one of them.
What I have grown to have issue with is how we humans grow, keep and treat most of the animals we eventually eat, and how this affects our planet. What I witnessed at the Tyson plant was as clean and humane as it gets when killing anything, and definitely easier-going on the chickens than stalking, chasing down, and pouncing on them in the wild. But I’ve researched our practice of food-animal-earth abuse pre-slaughter for many years, and it piqued my interest when I watched the documentary Vegucated (I won’t go into the gory details here, if you’re veg curious, check it out). So I’ve opted out—for now—and it feels—easeful.
The last couple of years, and with a significant influence from my several months in Bhutan, I have significantly downsized my stuff. I am on a mission to be as ‘stuff-less’ as possible and it feels perfect. A low-impact plant based diet just seems to take my downsizing into a broader arena and that feels correct to me for now.
Since the new year, I’d gone for a week at a time without meat, but kept eating dairy. I started to notice the difference in how I feel in my body on the meatless vs. meat days. I felt lighter. This was not an epiphany. I’ve noted this prior, but what I started entertaining is what I could feel like if I just eliminated animal products all together for a while. What would it feel like to go all in? It feels—less encumbered.
At almost 52, I am either peri-menopausal or my hormones are intermittently having a really ugly freak show of a party (same thing?). Though regular and consistent exercise plays a significant role in positively smoothing out this process, and that I do, I still had noticed regular night sweats, metabolism changes and mood changes—all unusual experiences for me. Since going vegan I’ve (thus far) eliminated the night sweats and overall feel less inflamed, mentally and physically, and my pre-cycle mental freak show has calmed down.
I’d say things are looking good thus far, though the big questions still loom. Will I stick to it, and do I miss animal protein? In short, I’ll say that for now it’s very likely I’ll cheat occasionally. Mainly because I never like to feel I can’t have something I want. I enjoy an unencumbered life as much as possible, with no restrictions. So if I have deep cravings that are true (not just a desire), I most likely will listen. For now, I don’t have any cravings and overall I feel better and more satisfied after meals, so I’m hanging with it.
Tell me your experiences with a vegan diet and/or your hesitations. I’d love to hear your first account vegan stories—let’s bond over our kale salads! In the meantime I’ll share a couple of vegan recipes that you’ll love.
Send me your recipes!
I found this cookie recipe on the Hell Yeah It’s Vegan website, which has become one of my favorite sites for recipes. The yummy Cowboy Cookies come with the perfect moniker: For those times that you need a cookie as big as your face. I’m a chocolate chip cookie fan and these blow away any non-vegan I’ve made.
I like making big quantities of something so I can have a delicious ready-made meal for lunch during the week. I took a Black Bean and Ham recipe and veganized it. I’ve made these beans prior with the ham and I actually like them better with out. I eat these over wild or brown rice with slices of avocado and cilantro on top or, as here, with a dollop of salsa and slices of red onion to add some zing.
Black Bean Soup Recipe
Notes: I usually double the recipe and make a huge pot so I can freeze some. I don’t often measure ingredients and I often put more of what they ask for, so the spices in particular are estimated.
- 1 pound dried black beans (about 2 cups), rinsed, soaked in 4 quarts of water overnight or at least 6 hours, drained
- A bunch of dried bay leaves
- 8 cups water (add more for or less per your preference in thickness)
- 6 tablespoons Chicken flavored bullion powder (that isn’t made from chickens). You can add more later for a stronger taste. Get this at your local health food store or Whole Foods so it doesn’t have preservatives in it.
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped fine
- 1 medium sweet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 large carrots chopped
- 3 celery ribs, chopped
- salt to taste
- 8 medium garlic cloves, chopped (I will often put more garlic)
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon chile powder
- 3 tablespoons molasses
- 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
- 3 to 4 tablespoon lime juice (can substitute lemon juice)
Condiments for serving:
- Fresh cilantro, chopped
- Avocado, peeled and chopped
- Red onion, sliced
- Place beans, water, and ‘chicken’ powder in a large pot. Add bay leaves, salt and baking soda. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and let cook 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes, until beans are tender. Remove bay leaves.
- Heat olive oil in a large 8-quart thick-bottomed pot on medium high until the oil is hot. Add the onions, celery, garlic, sweet potato, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and softened, about 10-15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add the cumin and chili powder, and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring.
- Add this mixture to the beans, their cooking liquid, chicken stock, molasses, and bell pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Add 3 Tbsp of lime juice. Adjust seasonings. If on the sweet side, add a bit more lime juice. Salt to taste.
- Serve with garnishes, wild rice, corn or flower tortillas or tortilla chips.
Note that the soup may continue to thicken. If you would like it thinner, just add some water to desired consistency.