I’ve been getting this question A LOT lately.
If you want the tldr:
No. I just enjoy eating in a way that makes me feel good in body, mind, and spirit.
If you want the real explanation:
I was on and off the Whole30/Paleo bandwagon for a couple of years, and then I found myself on the receiving end of a lab report with high cholesterol, which has never been a problem for me. Granted, I do have high cholesterol in my family medical history, so it could just be that in my late 30s, the switch has been flipped and it wouldn’t matter what I ate or did. But I’d rather argue than accept, so I decided to change my diet up. After reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, I had made the decision to cut a lot of meat out of my diet. I didn’t feel like I could trust modern labeling to direct me towards ethically raised animals, and it just doesn’t sit right with me to not agree with how those animals have to live their lives and not be willing to slaughter one myself and yet still get down on a steak dinner at the end of the day. My kids still eat meat, my husband still eats meat, we are still friends if you eat meat! This is just something I’m doing for my own peace of mind.
I had been eating a vegetarian diet for two or three months when I got the news about my cholesterol. I knew up front that cheese and butter had snuck back into my diet since the Whole 30 days, and I immediately made the decision to cut them back out. Around the same time, I learned more about Forks Over Knives, which is a plant based diet. I was intrigued that instead of just random people who decided to write a diet book, actual medical doctors were involved, medical research had been done, peer-reviewed research that I could look up independently of any author or spokesperson. The more I looked up, the more intrigued I was, and since I had decided to cut out butter and cheese, it seemed like a small step to try out eating plant based.
I talked to my friend Hallie, who has listened to me whimper my way through more than one dietary transition, and I talked to my sister, Andie, because she knows just a wee bit about medicine and health. Neither of them are doing this diet or giving up their meat, but I love that they are always there to say: “Why not?” when I get a crazy idea… or to talk me back to reality when it’s a little too crazy. This one got the green light as probably a little crazy, but not detrimentally so. My sister reminded me that I can get obsessive and pharisaical about certain things: “You know, the stress and anxiety you put yourself through trying to follow these diets is at LEAST as bad for your heart and your health as the food you’re avoiding.” Noted. I talked to Hallie and told her my battle plan was to “purposefully imperfectly” follow this eating plan. I want to remember now and always that the way I eat and exercise is supposed to IMPROVE the quality of my life, not worsen it. With that firmly in mind, I jumped right in with big support from my Bearded Chef, who is the co-facilitator of all of my culinary escapades.
So, yeah, I guess eating plant based is technically “vegan.” I’ve discovered a ton of “vegan” meals that I’ve enjoyed sharing over on Instagram. Hashtag: vegan, y’all! We’ve had delicious salads filled with leafy greens and a rotating cast of seeds, ancient grains, sweet potatoes, all kinds of veggies, and topped with oil-free dressings. We’ve eaten beans in a million different and delicious ways. Our pantry is filled to brimming with chick peas. I’ve discovered a deep and abiding love for Indian cuisine. I spiralize a ridiculous amount of zucchini. I eat hot rice cereal covered in fresh berries. I drink green smoothies with vegan protein powder after work outs. Unlike my experience on Whole 30, I haven’t felt deprived, I haven’t felt hungry, and (important to everyone around me) I haven’t felt angry enough to burn down the world and everything in it. I’ve been getting the whole plant carbs that I love and plenty of plant based protein to fuel my daily workouts. Because of this (and my own vanity), I worried a little about gaining weight, so two weeks in I stepped back on the scale and peeked through splayed fingers: I lost 5 pounds! It wasn’t a goal of mine when I started, but heck yes I’ll take it!
Eat plant based has been really enjoyable for me, but you know what? When we went on a road trip to see my friend Haley and she told me we had to go try the most amazing creamery, I had an (ermrgrd, so delicious) scoop of blueberry balsamic ice cream. (Though since then I’ve discovered a local place that dishes up an amazing vegan version of this frozen sweet treat too!) When my husband and I had the chance for an impromptu date night, and he suggested sushi (one of my favorite things on the edible earth), I said yes! I’ve caught a fish. I’ve scaled, gutted, and grilled a fish. I order fish that I know they’ve gotten from a life in the deep and wide ocean, and you know what? I feel okay savoring that fish and being thankful that I get to enjoy it. I tried to be that aware and thankful when I used to eat other animals, too.
So no. I’m not a vegan. I love vegan dishes. I choose to eat a mostly plant based diet. I’m okay with a special night of sushi here and there, but on the whole, I’m happiest eating veggies. I don’t miss meat. I don’t miss eggs. I’m excited to attempt some vegan baking!
I have an appointment set three months from my last blood draw to check back in and see how things look. Maybe this will help my cholesterol. Maybe it won’t. But for now I feel happier and healthier in body, mind, and spirit than I have for a very, very long time. And as long as that is still true, I’m going to continue to make the choices that got me here, and share the joy along the way!