The food we eat has a tremendous impact on who we are and how we interact with the world. Our food choices also allow us to express our values or show support for a greater cause. Of course, those with food allergies often refrain from eating certain things to avoid an adverse reaction, but often it’s a dietary philosophy that allows individuals to properly align themselves with the food they eat. However, eliminating specific foods may have unintended consequences and we must stay mindful in assessing its ability to help or hinder our efforts towards total health and wellness.
I have recently begun to reincorporate animal foods into my diet after a two-year experiment as an ‘almost’ vegan. This post recounts the evolution of my diet to help illustrate how the food choices we make represent our priorities at any given time and how they can impact our health.
My childhood years saw the heavy consumption of everything. Seriously, the word moderation was nowhere to be found in my vocabulary. I would eat anything that was labeled ‘food’ in large quantities and often made my meal choices based on which item had the most sugar. With the benefit of hindsight, eating this way was the result of being completely unaware of the impact of my food choices and how they were affecting my body. In my mind, the fact that I was a little chubby and frequently experienced stomach distress was completely outside of my control.
My teenage years and into my early twenties, I continued to eat poorly out of indifference. I was more focused on having fun and based my food decisions on cost and convenience. As could be expected, I continued to carry a little excess weight, have gastrointestinal issues and was frequently ill. Throughout this time, my environment and a complete disregard for the food-body connection were the predominate influences on my diet.
Halfway through my twenties some major life changes started taking place and stumbled upon a talent for running long distances at a relatively quick pace. This discovery and reading several accounts of successful vegan athletes inspired me to place a greater emphasis on my diet and to eliminate animal foods for the next two years of my life. With this motivation, the transition to a meat free diet was relatively easy and I experienced a lot of early success in my performance and the way I felt. However, it is very likely that a lot of this success was the result of not only avoiding animal products, but also becoming more conscious of my diet and how certain foods made me feel.
Being vegetarian worked very well for a period of time, but as my activity level further increased I often became lethargic and was required to consume in excess of 4,000 calories each day to maintain my already low weight. Although the lethargy was quickly remedied by taking variety of supplements (omega fatty acids, multivitamin, B vitamin complex), taking a handful of pills was troublesome and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like Tic Tacs didn’t exactly align itself with what I was striving for in a mindful diet.
Discussing this with a trusted adviser, it was suggested that I start to reintegrate animal foods back into my diet and then reevaluate my new diet to see if they were providing the nourishment that was previously absent. And, with swimming and cycling now included in my athletic pursuits, I jumped at the suggestion and have had great success thus far. Eating a small serving of chicken or fish every two or three days provides exactly what my body needs in order to maintain the high level of activity I enjoy and allows me replace the nutrient supplementation on which I was previously dependent. An added bonus, my caffeine consumption has dropped dramatically and I am now able to provide my body with the appropriate amount of energy without eating copious amount of food or caffeine stimulants.
While the dietary path I have taken is unique to my circumstance and is definitely subject to change, staying open to new ways of eating and learning to identify my body’s signals has provided some very valuable insight into how food can help or hinder my well-being. The journey through life is an individual experience and staying mindful of the food-body connection is of paramount importance in helping us achieve our health and wellness goals.
It’s important to listen to your body, for sure. For me, nutritional yeast seems to cover any craving I have for the “meaty” flavor, and also has high levels of protein, B-vitamins, etc., which it sounds like you might have been lacking a bit with all those PB & J sandwiches. The vegan mega-athletes are certainly proving there may be no *actual* need for meat or animal products, no matter what level of performance people are at, though as you pointed out, everyone’s biology is different. Thanks for an insightful post!
Thanks! Animal foods are certainly not necessary, but they seem to be providing me some sort of nourishment at this moment (even though I couldn’t tell you exactly what kind or come close to quantifying it). Honestly, it may be all mental, but at this moment it seems to be working well. However, the journey is certainly not over and going meat free again is always a possibility. Thanks for your support and I appreciate your feedback.