Are Vegan Diets Healthy?

2 Dec

The answer to this question is: it depends. It depends on what your health goals are, what health issues you struggle with, and how you implement the diet.

When I started my veg experiment, I laid out my two reasons for attempting to transition to a vegan diet: 1. the environment (following a vegan diet is the single biggest way for a person to reduce their carbon footprint and 2. the animals (factory farming is wrong on so many levels…’nuff said). The third reason people “go vegan” is for their health. As a result, many people equate a vegan diet with a healthy diet. But a vegan diet, like any diet, is only healthy is you want it to be. Check out this mock vegan menu:

Breakfast: Reese’s Puffs cereal with sweetened rice milk, white toast with peanut butter and jelly, and apple juice

Lunch: Processed veggie dog on white bun with mustard and ketchup, potato chips, and Oreos

Supper: Nachos (corn chips with melted vegan cheese), Skittles, and Diet Coke

Ethical vegans do not necessarily care to eat a healthy diet any more than omnivorous Americans do. I doubt most ethical vegans eat this atrociously, but the point is, “vegan” is not synonymous with healthy.

A minimally processed whole foods vegan diet can be healthy….IF you plan properly and take supplements or eat fortified foods to make sure you are meeting your nutrient needs on a consistent basis.

Vitamin B12 is the biggest nutrient of concern on a vegan diet. Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal foods, and a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause irreversible nerve damage. All vegans should supplement with vitamin B12 or make sure they are getting enough through fortified foods, such as nutritional yeast.

For more information on how to follow a healthy, nutritionally-adequate vegan diet, check out this vegan RD page: https://www.theveganrd.com/vegan-nutrition-101/food-guide-for-vegans/

Research suggests a vegan diet based on whole foods (also called plant-based) decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, some cancers, heart disease, and can slow the progression of existing heart disease. These are common health conditions, so the average American is likely to benefit from a healthy vegan diet.

However…

Many Americans (especially women) suffer from an autoimmune disease: https://www.aarda.org/diseaselist/ Because there is a connection between many (possibly all?) autoimmune diseases and intestinal permeability, a strict Paleo diet with a focus on optimizing nutrient density may be more appropriate for managing these type of diseases. Healthy vegan foods, such as legumes and grains, may contribute to an inflammatory response in people with autoimmune disease.

Several factors (genetic, environmental, etc.) contribute to a person’s response to a dietary approach and if optimum health is the goal, some self-experimentation and research may be in order. There is no one-size-fits-all diet, but at the end of the day, a diet centered around whole, unprocessed foods (whether that includes animal products or not), is going to be more health promoting than the standard American diet.

I didn’t go vegan for my health, but I would be willing to quit a vegan diet for my health.

First, let me clarify that I am not even vegan yet. I am following the schedule I created in this post: https://thehungryguineapig.wordpress.com/2018/06/19/im-back-baby-but-please-hold-the-baby-back-ribs/ Currently, I am following a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (includes dairy and eggs) with a fish allowance. In November, I ate fish four times over the course of the month. For December, I am allowing myself two servings of fish. I started limiting my meat consumption in July. Since that time, I’ve had terrible symptom flare-ups related to my fibromyalgia. My neck pain (especially during my period) has amplified and my immune system seems compromised (I’m getting sick more often, with worse symptoms and longer recovery times than I’m accustomed to). Recently, I had several lab values checked to rule out autoimmune thyroid disease among other things (mentioned in my previous post), but they all came back normal.

I can’t blame my (mostly) vegetarian diet for my worsening symptoms, because correlation does not equal causation, and there have been other changes since this time. For example, I had recently stopped breastfeeding, and my fibromyalgia seemed to benefit from the hormones that were flowing through my body when I was still nursing. Seasonal changes also have a history of making everything worse. Still, I can’t rule out the possibility that my diet is a factor. Mostly, because I know too much about the connection between diet and health to be so naïve.

I suspect that if my new diet is to blame, it has less to do with the meat I’ve removed and more to do with the foods I’ve been eating more of, such as soy and gluten and protein isolates derived from them.

For a person with fibromyalgia, food sensitivities are common. A 2016 study found that removing altered proteins, such as those found in all the fun mock meats I started regularly indulging in, resulted in significantly improved pain symptoms in fibromyalgia sufferers. Well, shit. I suspected the processed fake foods were making my body angry, so I stopped eating them a couple months ago. I’ve been eating a mostly healthy vegetarian diet centered around legumes, tofu, produce, nuts and seeds, calcium-fortified soy and almond milk, hard-boiled eggs, a small amount of cheese, and some grains (usually of the whole grain variety). But STILL, my body hates me more than usual.

In the course of my MANY diet experiments of the past, the diet I followed which offered the most relief excluded all the following: gluten, soy, peanuts, corn, dairy, eggs, caffeine, sugar, sugar substitutes, processed oils, and alcohol. For obvious reasons (who wants to eat like that all the time?!), I abandoned that diet but took solace in the fact that I could return to it if necessary.

Interestingly, a small 2001 study found that a mostly raw vegan diet provided dramatic improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms for 19 of the 30 participants. What were they forbidden from eating?: refined flour, corn syrup, dairy, eggs, caffeine, sugar, processed oils, alcohol, and all meat. Hmmm…

Disordered eating has continued to be a non-issue on my current diet, so I am entertaining the idea of trying out a vegan diet like that outlined above to see if it makes me feel better. I doubt a diet like that is sustainable over the long term, but I’d like to give it a go at some point. I don’t have any immediate plans to add additional restrictions to my current diet but perhaps sometime during the new year. If I discover that certain vegan staples, such as soy, are problematic, then it may be time to get creative.

I am approaching my vegan diet experiment with a cautious optimism. If it becomes apparent that my mental and/or physical health is suffering from its implementation, I will stop following it and see what I can do to support my health while reducing my impact. I believe in compassion for all living things, and this includes myself. But the animal welfare and environmental benefits of following a vegan diet is something I’ve become quite passionate about, and I’m not willing to give up without a proper try. Onward!

References:

https://www.consumerreports.org/diet-plans/plant-based-diet/

https://www.healthline.com/health/fibromyalgia-diet-to-ease-symptoms

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC57816/

 

 

 

 

 

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Phase One: Pescatarian – Success! I think…

29 Sep

The end of September marks the end of phase one of my veg experiment. Let’s recap my plans and goals and see how I did:

July: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian* diet with a meat allowance of 4 servings for the entire month.

*Pescatarian: a vegetarian who also eats fish.

August: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian diet with a meat allowance of 2 servings for the entire month.

September: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian diet with a meat allowance of 1 serving for the entire month.

Check. Check. And check! I followed this plan to a T, and this slow and steady approach seems to be working so far. I have only craved meat on a couple of occasions. In the beginning, I wished for regular chicken tenders instead of a vegan replacement. And more recently, I couldn’t stop thinking about beef roast. I solved this by making a roast to eat for my final meat allowance. Sadly, (or luckily?), when I finally ate it, the flavor was a disappointment. Not to mention, the heartburn.

From a mental standpoint, the experiment is going well. I’m not having any issues with disordered eating. Subject to change now that an entire food group (meat) is officially off the table. Having a meat allowance definitely helped make the transition less jarring.

Physically, however, I feel like hell lately. I have no idea if this is diet related. I’m inclined to think it’s not, because my diet hasn’t changed that drastically yet. I  doubt these few tweaks would make that big of a difference, especially when I am taking supplements, but who knows.

I had a doctor appointment yesterday. My doctor is running a slew of tests which will help rule out some of the more obvious dietary causes. I am a weirdo medical nerd and am super excited to see what my levels are. Here’s everything we are looking into:

  1. Magnesium levels – I have never had this looked at before. If anything, a vegetarian diet should help improve my magnesium status. Magnesium is found in healthy vegan staples, like legumes and leafy greens. It’s also found in dark chocolate, which serves as its own food group in my diet. I take magnesium supplements, because it may be beneficial for my fibromyalgia. Magnesium deficiency can mimic fibromyalgia pain, because magnesium plays a pivotal role in muscle relaxation.
  2. Vitamin B12 – I have never had this looked at before either. This is THE nutrient of concern when it comes to a vegan diet. Vegans must supplement or eat fortified foods to assure they get enough of this crucial nutrient. Vitamin B12 is only available in its natural form by eating animal products. However, even meat eaters, especially older adults, may struggle to obtain adequate vitamin B12 without supplementation. I started supplementing with vitamin B12 since I’m eating fewer animal products and plan to cut them all out eventually. And since my intestines have a hard time with absorption, I thought it would be smart to have my current vitamin B12 status looked at. The blood test for vitamin B12 is not as accurate as the urine test, but when I requested the latter, the lab tech looked at me as if I had two heads and replied, “We don’t do that here.” Oh well. Only the blood test for now I guess.
  3. Glucose – This is one of the values measured by doctors to diagnosis diabetes and pre-diabetes. Considering plant-based diets tend to be carb heavy, I have probably been eating more carbohydrates than I normally would. I am not one of those people who believes carbohydrates are inherently evil. Most of my carbs come from healthy sources, such as beans and fruit, so I’m not too worried. However, I have so many random symptoms and some of them seem to correlate with meals, so I figured this would be a good marker to look at. I requested a glucose screen, but my doctor recommended a full BMP (basic metabolic panel), because she said the way insurance billed for a glucose test, it would cost about the same to run a full panel. I am all for more information, so I agreed. In addition, to glucose, a BMP looks at potassium and sodium levels, as well as other fancy kidney function markers, such as BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and creatinine.
  4. Hgb (hemoglobin) and Ferritin – Hemoglobin looks at current iron status and ferritin shows the level of stored iron. Vegetarians can get plenty of iron in their diets, but they may need to make a bit more of an effort than some meat eaters. I don’t supplement iron, because this is one of those nutrients that can cause some pretty wicked tummy upset (just what I need!). Side effects of iron supplementation can be reduced by taking the pills with meals. Unfortunately, this also reduces the absorption by half. Bummer deal! I am open to taking an iron supplement if my levels are found to be low, but otherwise, I’ll just use the tricks I learned in my dietetics training: pair vitamin C rich foods with iron-rich plant sources to increase the absorption of iron, cook in cast iron cookware, and eat plenty of beans, dark chocolate, and leafy greens (Bonus: magnesium!) I’m also still eating eggs and fish on occasion, which are decent sources of iron as well.
  5. Thyroid Panel – Most practitioners will only look at your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) if they want to test your thyroid function. I had 2 TSH screens in the past: one came back normal and one was borderline high, indicating subclinical hypothyroidism. I have been fiending to see the results of a full thyroid panel for awhile now. Many fibromyalgia symptoms mimic thyroid disease, and I want to get a clearer picture of what that very important thyroid gland is up to. I also recently discovered thyroid dysfunction trends on my mom’s side of the family, so now I’m extra curious! Iodine deficiency and excess can lead to thyroid issues. I currently supplement with iodine. This is a nutrient vegans need to be cognizant of, particularly if they do not use iodized salt. Many Americans get their iodine in a second-hand fashion: the iodine used to disinfect cow udders and milk cans makes its way into dairy products. Um, gross.
  6. Vitamin D – I’ve had this looked at twice before, and it’s always in the correct range, but I’ve been supplementing with vitamin D for years, and it’s a good thing to keep tabs on. When you live in the tundra, and you’re in the nutritional know, you just gotta!

That’s it! In addition to the supplements mentioned above, I also take an omega-3 (DHA+EPA) supplement. People tend to think of fish oils when they hear omega-3s, but fish are only good sources of omega-3s, because they eat algae. Vegans can go straight to the source and take algae supplements instead of fish oil to get their omega-3s. (This is the kind I currently take.) The standard American diet contains large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. For optimum health, a proper balance of omega-3 (anti-inflammatory) fatty acids to omega-6 (pro-inflammatory) fatty acids is important. An omega-3 supplement may be beneficial to help achieve this. I still eat vegan mock meats and junk foods, and these are full of processed seed and vegetable oils which provide omega-6s galore!

I found it annoying (though well-intentioned) when my doctor expressed concern about vegetarian* diets. She asked if I was eating a vegan diet, and I explained that no, I still eat eggs and dairy and fish on occasion. But even after explaining that, she said it was very difficult to get a healthy vegetarian diet right. Have you seen the standard American diet? Because that’s nothing to write home about either! I’m not saying a healthy vegan diet doesn’t require extra vigilance, but when a person only cuts out meat and continues to eat eggs and dairy, it’s hardly cause for alarm. Many cultures eat vegetarian diets for the entire duration of their lives. Also, I’m a dietitian. If I can’t figure out how to follow a balanced vegetarian diet, then I should never have received these credentials, because it’s NOT HARD. The secret to a healthy vegetarian diet is simple. You know all those foods you are supposed to eat? Yep, just do that and eat beans instead of lean meats. Impossible, I know.

*Vegetarian: typically refers to lacto-ovo vegetarian, as in a person who refrains from eating fish and meat but still eats eggs and dairy products.

Here’s what’s in store for the next 3 months:

October: I will follow a full Pescatarion diet (No more meat allowance)

November: I will follow a (mostly) vegetarian diet with a fish/bug* allowance of 4 servings for the entire month

(*Cricket protein powder! Excited to try it!)

December: I will follow a (mostly) vegetarian diet with a fish/bug allowance of 2 servings for the entire month

Alright, that’s enough rambling for one blog post. I’ll update when I know more about the ongoing mystery that is my body and the relevance of its flaring symptoms to my diet changes.

Veg Curious

17 Jul

I am two weeks into my (mostly) pescatarian diet, so I figured it was about time for an update. Thus far, the diet has been as uneventful as I anticipated. I am right on track with my meat allowance for the month. I have had meat on two occasions which leaves two more for the remainder of the month. The first time, I was traveling and went with what was being offered by Derek’s family: a ham sandwich. I am currently digesting my second serving of meat. I found some chicken tucked away in my deep freeze and decided to use that up by adding it to some homemade Greek pizza. It turned out pretty yummy if I do say so myself (even if the crust was undercooked – I swear to God, this happens every time I try to make homemade pizza dough).

One thing that has been a welcome change with this tweak in lifestyle is that I’ve started to make more exciting, complicated meals again. I don’t always enjoy the obligation of cooking, but it’s fun to branch out sometimes. Some vegan meals I’ve made and enjoyed: dilly dumpling stew, enchiladas, cauliflower curry made with coconut milk and Gardein beefless tips.

I’ve enjoyed experimenting with various store-bought vegan foods. I haven’t been disappointed by many of them. But I haven’t tried anything that’s knocked my socks off either. Some foods I’ve tried: Gardein brand crispy tenders, Ben and Jerry’s non-dairy peanut butter and cookies ice cream, Field Roast sausages, jackfruit carnitas, Follow Your Heart American “cheese”, Just Mayo, and Earth Balance vegan butter.

Even though I haven’t been wowed by any prepackaged vegan foods, I’m not letting myself get discouraged. In general, homemade foods tend to be better than store-bought, right? I imagine this to be as true for vegans as it is for omnivores. For example, store-bought soups of all varieties miss the mark for me.

A few days ago, I made a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough from scratch and veganized it, hoping it could bring my faith back into the possibilities of this diet. Years ago, I discovered an egg-free cookie dough recipe thanks to this cookbook: http://www.cookiedoughlovers.com/. Since the dough is designed to be eaten, not baked, the recipe excludes eggs to avoid the food safety risks of eating them raw. The only changes I had to make was using vegan chocolate chips (I used my favorite – Endangered Species brand 88% dark chocolate bar, chopped into “chips”) and swapping regular butter with a vegan version. I used the original flavor of Earth Balance. The good news is, the changes were easy and more importantly, delicious! The bad news is I ate all the dough way too fast. It was gone within three days…but this is nothing new for me.

Despite my cookie dough binge, I haven’t found my current diet to be problematic in terms of food obsession/disordered eating. Overeating sweets is something I do on occasion, and I don’t really care. The bulk of my diet is healthy, so who gives a damn? I’ve worked hard to achieve this peace with my dietary choices which is why I am using this blog to check in along the way to ensure my gradual diet changes don’t trigger any odd behaviors or fixations.

I joined a local Facebook group created by vegans for vegans (or veg curious peeps like me). It’s been a great resource so far. I discovered an extensive list of vegan options at local restaurants and love how welcoming and encouraging the members have been. I’ve even posted a few of my own questions, such as “How long have you been vegan? What struggles have you encountered along the way and what did you do to overcome them?”

Thus far, I’ve encountered one stumbling block that made me second guess my dietary decisions: my gut. I have this tendency to pretend like I’m a normal person, conveniently forgetting my chronic illnesses until they refuse to be ignored. For some reason, I harbored a false sense of safety about what my digestive system was willing to accept and started eating FODMAPS in excessive amounts. (If you are like FOD who?!, check out this post: https://thehungryguineapig.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/fructose-fructans-just-2-elements-of-the-fodmaps-puzzle/ ). It didn’t go over well. I almost talked myself out of this whole vegan thing until I realized there were other things I could try to make it work. For starters, not eating a bunch of FODMAPS! Also, peppermint pills (which soothe intestinal spasms) and probiotics (which have been helpful in the past). I searched for vegan YouTubers with IBS for meal ideas and a sense of camaraderie. It renewed my resolve, and I now feel prepared to keep on keepin’ on.

I plan to switch over to as many vegan and cruelty-free products as possible. I’ve been buying predominantly cruelty-free soaps, deodorants, shampoos, sunscreen, and other toiletries for several years, but I’d like to step up my game. Not all cruelty-free products (meaning products that are not tested on animals) are vegan (meaning that they do not contain any animal products, such as beeswax or animal fats).  I am a minimalist with very little brand loyalty. While others might find this transition jarring, to me it feels like embarking on a fun challenge, one that benefits animals and my conscience.

What can YOU do today?: The next time you purchase a toiletry or cosmetic product, opt for a cruelty-free option. For example, instead of purchasing L’Oreal mascara, go with E.L.F. cosmetics or Wet N Wild (Bonus: They are cheap and easy to find!) Instead of using Herbal Essences shampoo, use Jason Natural Cosmetics brand. Try Every Man Jack shaving cream in lieu of Gillette.  The internet makes a cruelty-free life that much easier. Here are a couple of cruelty-free databases I found in a matter of seconds: https://mybeautybunny.com/cruelty-free-brands/#W  &  http://features.peta.org/cruelty-free-company-search/index.aspx

Now, go vote for compassion with your dollar!

 

 

 

I’m Back Baby! (But Please, Hold the Baby Back Ribs)

19 Jun

It’s been about 3 years since I last posted on this blog. Wow! Time flies. For the past 3 years, I have been eating any/everything that I want (well, sort of. There was a pregnancy in there somewhere, and I had to restrict certain things during that time.)

Anyway, I decided to revisit this online journal for a new dieting venture: veganism.

My desire to go vegan is two-fold:

1. Help the Environment: Knowledge is power – Eating a vegan diet is the best way for a person to reduce their carbon footprint. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/veganism-environmental-impact-planet-reduced-plant-based-diet-humans-study-a8378631.html The leader of my country doesn’t seem interested in supporting initiatives to help make a dent in this cluterfuck of a climate dilemma. So, I guess I have to pick up the slack. Thanks a lot, Trump! First you take away my faith in humanity and now you I have to give up cheese too? This is just great.

2. Reduce Animal Suffering: Ignorance is bliss – What goes on in factory farms has become more transparent over the past decade thanks to food documentaries like Food Inc and other films easily accessible through Netflix. However, like most people, I chose to turn my head the other way. I’d like to stop doing this.

When I first started this blog, I flirted with veganism in a non-direct way. I called myself a “factory farm vegan” which meant I was only eating animal products that I could verify the source of and felt comfortable with. Unfortunately, I decided to do that at the same time I was restricting other foods during my various diet experiments. This complicated things, to say the least.

Veganism seems more attainable for me now. I have calmed down a lot about food additives, preservatives, sugar, and other unnatural atrocities in my food.  I am lazy, and I refuse to make everything from scratch. These days, I welcome mock meats and other processed vegan goodies that I would have shunned back in the day in lieu of driving myself crazy for the sake of purity. I also recognize I may accidentally eat something that is not vegan, even while claiming to be one, and somehow this won’t cause me to spontaneously combust.

Is a vegan diet for everyone? I really don’t think so. People with certain health or eating disorder issues may find such an approach to be problematic. I’ll be curious to see if I can hack it. Here are the things that have derailed my vegan efforts in the past:

1. Disordered Eating: This is my biggest fear. For me, restrictive diets tend to coincide with perpetuating an unhealthy relationship with food. I am so lazy, that I will skip meals if nothing is available or looks good. Also, I’m not sure it’s possible to follow such a culturally incompatible diet without forming a ridiculous fixation on food. Is this inherently a bad thing? I guess we’ll find out!

2. Chronic Illnesses: I have two chronic pain conditions that wreak havoc on my body. I’ve talked about these at length in other posts, so I’ll keep this short.

-IBS: I have a finicky gut which may be aggravated by a predominantly plant-based diet. Following an IBS-friendly vegan diet is possible but not necessarily easy. On the plus side, my intestines seem less sensitive since pregnancy, so there’s hope.

-Fibromyalgia: I have a hypersensitive nervous system which doesn’t respond well to blood sugar swings. I have to be careful to emphasize plant-based proteins when consuming carb-heavy staples, such as grains, fruits, and starchy veggies, to avoid upsetting my altered equilibrium. Again, not impossible but will require conscious effort.

3. Social Convenience: I am a natural-born follower who SUCKS at being assertive. I am not the type of person who wants to be noticed or make a scene or have to explain myself. These personality characteristics create an unfortunate hurdle for me. “Is there butter in this?” “Are there eggs in that?” “Oh sorry, I can’t try your amazing cookies. I’m vegan.” Somehow, I would have to become the type of person who can whip out sentences like these without wanting to barf. But what are experiments good for, if not eliciting some personal growth?

4. Taste: This is the last, and also, the least of my concerns. My current diet is predominantly vegetarian, based on preference, laziness, and the high cost of higher quality meats. Of course if you make ribs for me, I’m going to be sad if I can’t eat them. And if I go to JL Beers, I will obsess over the fact that I’d prefer to get a chicken sandwich with bacon rather than another goddamn black bean burger. But so far, I’ve discovered some vegan “chicken” tenders (Gardein brand) and “bacon” (Upton’s Naturals) that I’ve enjoyed enough to trick myself into thinking this experiment won’t be a total disaster. My current favorite past time is watching vegan food taste tests on YouTube.

What about my husband? – He will continue to eat whatever he wants, but by default, he will be eating about 2/3 veg, since I make his breakfast and supper. We aren’t big meat eaters, so it shouldn’t be (too) jarring of a change for him. We already eat a vegan smoothie every morning. Now, suppers will be more plant-based as well.

What about my daughter? – Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dietetic Association insist that well-planned vegan diets are appropriate for all stages of life, I’m hesitant. Maybe Big Dairy has brainwashed me, or maybe I just shudder to think of how socially ostracized she would become. (P.S. Do NOT google “Big Meat”. Trust me on this one.) In any case, I have no plans to offer a vegan diet to my child at this time. However, I may eventually raise her as a vegetarian since I don’t plan to cook meat at home. Of course, she’ll be free to go off and eat burgers and pepperoni pizza and whatever else she wants when she’s with friends. I know what it looks like when something is 100% off limits to someone, and I don’t want to have to pay to send her to rehab for a McDonald’s addiction in the future.

What about my kitty friend? – Cats are carnivores. As a general rule, they need meat in their diet to thrive. She will continue to receive fancy Paleo cat food with plenty of meat and very little carbs to help keep her feline diabetes in remission.

What about Bob? Ha! I love Bill Murray. But seriously though…

What about me?!

Here’s the Plan:

As evidenced by all of my ramblings above and even more so by my previous ramblings on this blog, it is clear to me that the only chance in hell I have at being successful at this is by taking things very, very slow. Baby Steps!

July: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian diet with a meat allowance of 4 servings for the entire month. (I currently eat meat about twice per week, so that’s a 50% reduction for me.)

*Pescatarian: a vegetarian who also eats fish.

The “meat allowance” is my own invention. I don’t expect to buy meat to prepare at home, but I want to keep my options open for restaurants and social outings, so I can better mentally prepare for the eventual loss of this option.

August: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian diet with a meat allowance of 2 servings for the entire month.

September: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian diet with a meat allowance of 1 serving for the entire month.

October: I will follow a full Pescatarion diet (No more meat allowance)

November: I will follow a (mostly) vegetarian diet with a fish/bug allowance of 4 servings for the entire month

Yes, you read that right. I said “fish/bug” allowance. I’ve been curious to experiment with cricket flour for awhile now, and this experiment gives me a great excuse to do so.

*Vegetarian: generally, this term is used to refer to a person who does not eat the flesh of animals (meat or fish) but still eats dairy, eggs, and honey. The technical term is “lacto-ovo” vegetarian, but if people went around calling themselves by this ridiculous name, the veg movement would get mocked even more than it already does.

December: I will follow a (mostly) vegetarian diet with a fish/bug allowance of 2 servings for the entire month

January: I will follow a (mostly) vegetarian diet with a fish/bug allowance of 1 serving for the entire month

February: I will follow a full (lacto-ovo) vegetarian diet. No fish or bug allowance. I’m sure some of you are relived to hear this. Ha!

March: I will follow a (mostly) vegan diet with a lacto/ovo allowance of 4 servings for the entire month

*Vegan: a person who refrains from eating any/all animal products including: dairy, eggs, bugs, fish, meat, honey, and toenails (I assume?) Can a vegan eat their own fingernails and still be vegan? These are important details I’ll have to iron out later.

April: I will follow a (mostly) vegan diet with a lacto/ovo allowance of 2 servings for the entire month

May: I will follow a (mostly) vegan diet with a lacto/ovo allowance of 1 serving for the entire month

June: I will follow a full vegan diet

July: ??? We’ll see how I’m feeling physically and mentally and proceed from there!

What can YOU do today?: This project may look ambitious, and I’m inclined to agree with you. If you have an interest in reducing your meat intake, but you don’t know where to begin, try committing to meatless Mondays! https://www.meatlessmonday.com/about-us/

Wish me luck, friends!

 

 

It’s Not You, It’s Me

23 Aug

This is my 101st post!

You may have noticed that it’s been pretty quiet on here lately. The last time I posted was at the end of May! At the time, I was still trying to keep sugar off my plate. Shortly after I wrote that post, I realized that I was tired of trying so hard for minimal benefit and it was time to go back to life as usual.

Only, for whatever reason, this time was different without much pomp and circumstance. I gradually reintroduced sugar and didn’t find myself craving it like a crazy person during periods of abstinence. Research suggests that new habits take approximately 66 days to stick. In my case, I was eating sugar-free for 5 months. Perhaps, because I had dampened my reliance on it, its reintroduction was less satisfying than my prior sugar-addicted brain and taste buds had anticipated.

I had toyed with the idea of charting my sugar intake in July. I thought it would be interesting to compare how much sugar I actually consumed vs my estimated intake charted in my “Coulda Woulda” post. However, that plan fell through. I reached a point where I was getting really sick of “diets” and everything that went with them. I didn’t want to record anything or have to pay such close attention to everything that I ate. Luckily, I have internalized the low-FODMAP diet, so my shopping and meal planning are automatically centered around the foods that I know will give me the least grief even when “anything” goes.

I really feel as if I have the healthiest relationship with food that I ever have. It’s been a long road to get here, but I am happy to have finally arrived! This isn’t to suggest that I have a “perfect” relationship with food. That does not exist. I still eat for comfort or celebration at times when I am not hungry. The important distinction between my days of self-loathing and now is that I allow it and move on without feeling guilty. I am able to stop eating when full, because eating beyond that no longer fills me up the way it once did. I acknowledge why I am eating the way that I am (stressed out, tired, social circumstances, etc.), analyze whether or not I would do the same thing next time, and adjust my habits accordingly. Mindfulness is key to this transformation.

I never gave food much thought prior to my junior year of college when I started to restrict and binge. I started to label foods “good” and “bad” and could only resist my favorites for so long before an inevitable binge would ensue. It was an ongoing battle complicated by malabsorption issues, perfectionism, and depression. As a child and teenager, I ate like an average American. I’d snack on Dorito’s after school and eat plain white bagels with cream cheese for lunch. I had a healthy relationship with food in the sense that I didn’t stress out over my meal options or worry about my weight, but I often made unhealthy choices.

These days I have the best of both worlds. My standard eating pattern is full of healthy foods that I enjoy eating, but when I stray for a meal or an entire weekend, I appreciate my junky indulgences and go back to my usual pattern of eating without beating myself up over my fall from grace. I finally know which foods I can digest which allows me to make informed decisions about my food choices. By paying attention, giving myself permission, and having the knowledge of how various foods affect me, everything falls into place.

I have finally come to terms with the fact that my fibromyalgia doesn’t care as much about my dietary manipulations as I do. Being absolute didn’t lead to absolution. Tweak as I may, wish as I might…it’s still there whether or not I am virtuous enough to eat dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, etc. However, it’s nice to know that eating a very clean diet does make my symptoms rear their head less often and with less vigor. It’s a tool I can use when I’ve deemed the benefits outweigh the costs. There may be times when eating a boring diet is superior to the convenience of a quick meal at Jimmy John’s. There will be other times where eating onions in a veggie tart with friends is worth the tummy chaos for the pleasure of flavor and company. I’ve gotten much better at striking a balance in the gray zone without getting trapped in my black and white tendencies. For the past couple of months, I haven’t followed any specific diet beyond my standard low-FODMAPs template. This is naturally lower in dairy, sugar, and gluten thanks to the necessity of limiting lactose, fructose, and fructans respectively, so it kind of works out.

I had been wanting to lose a few pounds but was really struggling with how to go about it. With fibromyalgia, it’s hard to plan a workout regime with any confidence. You never know when a flare will leave you down and out of commission. For me, I get broken more often than not where exercise is concerned. As a result, I was left with the traditional option of calorie counting. I decided that that option was not healthy for me either now that I’d just gotten used to my newfound healthy relationship with food. A surefire way to fuck up a healthy relationship with food is to start obsessing over every calorie that goes into your mouth. With a natural tendency towards perfectionism, calorie counting is a slippery slope to disordered eating. The calculator on the computer says you’ve already met your calorie quota for the day, so you go to bed with a growling stomach. It’s no way to live.

After bitching about my conundrum with several understanding girlfriends, I finally talked myself into just eating smaller portions and trying to sit on my butt less. That was the best I could offer the process. I made a silent pact with myself that if nothing were to come of it, so be it. Health o’er everythang.

To my surprise, it worked. I’ve lost 4 pounds in 1 month which is exactly the amount I could hope to lose if I were to follow a program based on standard weight loss protocols. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s working all the same. I’m not letting myself get too attached to my new weight, because I know how easy it is to regain such a small amount of weight. Not to mention that winter and all of the comfort eating that goes along with it is hiding just round the corner…

In any case, I’m pretty happy with my current situation. As a result, I think it may be time to break up with this blog. It’s not you! It’s Me! I’m tired of the diet roller coaster and of over analyzing every symptom, wondering if it was the cheese on my burger. I’ve exhausted my dietary trials. Since this blog is essentially dedicated to that purpose, it seems logical to retire.

I may still write occasional posts for shits and giggles, but I have no idea what I’d write about. No promises there. All I know is that I’m sick of talking about my health problems. I’ve hit a dead end. I accept this and have no further comment where my diet is concerned. It could be fun to write general pieces on nutrition research or something in that vein. We shall see where the wind shall blow me. Haha, I said “blow me”. 😀

Mixed messages aside, you guys are da best. Thanks for reading my blabs over the past 3+ years. I shall miss this place where diet and swear words collide. I’ve learned a lot, but it’s time to move on.

Coulda Woulda

28 May

I have been keeping a tally of all of the sugar indulgences I would have partook in, if only. Anytime I had a craving serious enough to notice or free sweets were available and I had to turn them down, I took note. Some of the days have dates, others don’t. Here’s what I’ve recorded so far…

January:

1 tsp sugar (coffee)

1 caramel + 4 Fruit Punch “Frooties” (leftover party candy at my house)

January 10th:

Brownie

January 15th:

Brownie

1 tsp sugar (coffee)

Large bucket of free M&Ms at work – would have eaten the equivalent of 1 regular bag of M&Ms each day they were available = 3 bags total

January 19th:

Free birthday dessert at a local restaurant (Doolittle’s): Slice of Mudslide Pie or something equally awful

Piece of chocolate cake from mom for birthday

Hard Cider at a friend’s birthday party (The bar only had sweetened, not dry, hard cider available)

Milk chocolate truffle at another friend’s birthday party + one piece of liquor infused chocolate candy

Cake at work for employee appreciation (Coulda but not sure if woulda. Cake isn’t my favorite, so even if I had been eating sugar at the time, I’m not sure I would have had any.)

Estimated imaginary sugar total: 1 + 2/3 cups

February:

Piece of chocolate cake at sister’s house

Cupcake at work

Cake at work for coworker’s birthday (Coulda but not sure if woulda)

Doughnut at work

Estimated imaginary sugar total: 1/4 cup

March:

Wild Berry Popsicle

Dessert bar of some sort from Co-op (My mom wanted to buy me a “treat”, so I got a La Croix soda instead)

Jam on local wheat bread during brunch at in-laws’

Dark chocolate “Mega Chunks” at cousin’s house

Cake at work for coworkers birthday (Coulda but not sure if woulda)

Chocolate chip cookie (store-bought) at friend’s BBQ

March 21st – I introduced dark chocolate back into my vice-less life

Estimated imaginary sugar total (including actual dark chocolate intake): 3/4 cups

April:

Homemade Easter brownies courtesy of my cousin (although they looked very/possibly too sweet)

Marshmallow eggs in a basket at my grandma’s house

Hollow Easter bunnies (Last year, I bought one of these everyday for a week or two after Easter when all of the candy was on sale.  I probably would have done the same thing this year if given the option.  I LOVE hollow Easter bun buns.  They are delicious and really satisfying to eat.  Russell Stover knows how to make some damn fine milk chocolate.  Ok, I’m done talking about it. I swear. But I’m clearly not over it…

Chippers at work (3-5 at least, because I am an asshole and would take more than my fair share)

Big ass carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting from a local doughnut shop (Sandy’s)

Estimated imaginary sugar total (including actual dark chocolate intake): 1 + 3/4 cups

May:

Cheesecake bar at work

Store-bought chocolate chip cookie at BBQ

Brownies with frosting (at least 2) – made for Derek’s birthday

Derek’s shared birthday dessert at Doolittle’s: Chocolate molten cake with coffee ice cream

Estimated imaginary sugar total (including actual dark chocolate intake): 1 cup

Grand estimated total of lost sugar opportunities (+ actual dark chocolate consumption) = 5.4 cups

I have spared myself from almost 5 + 1/2 cups of sugar over the past 5 months.  Sounds more menacing when put into absolute terms like that.  However, when you average it out, that’s less than 2 tsp per day.  Interesting.  I have to admit I was expecting way more drama. Two tsp per day is less than the most strict recommended daily amount: http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/06/health/who-sugar-guidelines/index.html.

On the other hand, these amounts were mostly calculated from sweet dreams.  In reality, I probably would have eaten more sugar than that, especially considering the cumulative craving effects of multiple indulgences. In other words… eat sugar, crave sugar. Not to mention that eating too much fructose in one sitting causes health issues regardless of total sugar consumed over a longer time frame.

Still, it’s interesting.

I came very close to throwing in the towel on this sugar-free challenge this past weekend. While at a friend’s lake cabin, I came face to face with a dish so near and dear to my heart, I was ready to trade in my Methadone (dark chocolate) for the real thing…

Rhubarb Crisp

Add to list: Giant Slice of Rhubarb Crisp (x2)

I have a thing with rhubarb desserts. They scream summer like iced tea and Rainier cherries.  They turn a sour garden staple into an endorphin rush.

I decided that I must at least try it or I might lose my mind.  And so I did.  I challenged myself to 3 (reasonable) bites. I rationalized that I’ve gone almost half a year eating less than a tsp of added sugar per day and that now would be a great time to see how my taste buds would respond. You know, whatever I had to tell myself to get that rhubarb crisp in my face STAT & guilt-free  reduced.

It was overly sweet, but still something I would have gladly kept eating. As per tradition, the emotional connection obsession proved to be the biggest motivator. After those 3 small but potent bites, I saw how easy it would be to fall back into the “Fuck it, let’s do this” scenario.  That situation where I would shove several more pieces into my mouth until I had a proper sugar buzz. I’m an addict for life I guess.

I also drank 3 1/2 cans of Diet Coke over the holiday weekend. I had planned to cut out all natural and artificial sweeteners for the year but decided that “What happens at the lake, stays at the lake”…within reason. Sugar and sugar substitutes both have their downfalls.  I rarely drink Diet Coke, so I’m not worried about long-term adverse health effects. I am mostly concerned with keeping the sugar demons at bay, and sweet tastes tempt the beast.

Yesterday, after my oh so crazy weekend of 3 bites of rhubarb crisp and 3 1/2 Diet Cokes, I was craving a brownie in the worst way.  In general, after getting over the initial withdrawal, my cravings for sweets since the beginning of the experiment have largely been environmentally/emotionally based.  But that brownie craving was a biochemical demand that took every last shred of willpower for me to ignore.  Just as I suspected, I am very sensitive to sugar.

Essentially, sugar is an abusive ex-boyfriend whose manipulative powers seduce me into a state of nostalgia, allowing me to forget the damage that’s been done in the interest of momentary bliss. Distance is the safest course. Once I give an inch, he’s everywhere…calling my name…reminding me of the good times…promising things will be different this time around.

I sure do miss you, my beloved

Dammit sugar! If you liked it, then you should of put a ring on it! Oh, never mind. I was getting a little carried away with my analogy. I guess Beyonce doesn’t really apply here. Sorry, bae.

My So Called Diet: Dealing with the Ibbs and the Fibbs

6 May

Here’s what’s going on with me these days:

First, a quick rant.  I recently tried a personal training session at the gym that I go to.  The trainer was informed ahead of time that I have fibromyalgia and that I struggle with lifting weights because of chronic neck pain. He studied up a little before my session and told me that he had great news!  Exercise had the potential to eliminate all of my pain (bullshit). He speculated that my pain probably got worse after starting my desk job (the opposite, actually). The trainer informed me that coffee is bad for you (while drinking a Monster energy drink).  So many red flags and still I wanted to trust an expert in a field in which I am completely unfamiliar. I let him lead me through a short (yet brutal) routine that seemed suspiciously intense given the pep talk about taking things slow he had just spouted at me minutes prior. I felt good afterwords thanks to the immediate endorphin rush that exercise is known for.  I almost let him trick me into signing up for more sessions (my God, they’re relentless salesmen). Luckily, before making any rash decision to spend lots of money on a trainer who is not formally trained in rheumatic conditions, the session caught up with me by the next day.  I had terrible post-exertional malaise for OVER A WEEK afterwards. My insomnia spiked, my pain reared its ugly head after hibernation, and my energy took a serious nose-dive.  I had been feeling really good up until that point.  The diet changes I’ve been implementing had brought me to a good place. I felt betrayed but also validated.  I really am broken.  Moments like these remind me of just how vulnerable I am to unexpected set-backs and how necessary it is for me to be my own health advocate. They also make me more determined to figure out ways to regain what chronic illness has taken from me.

Coffee: I have mostly eliminated coffee (even decaf). It has made a tremendous difference in how I feel. When I drink it, it feels like my brain short-circuits and starts going haywire (similar to when I eat raw onions and get “onion brained”). My vision gets kind of wonky, my muscles ache and feel more vulnerable, my stomach gets gross, and my nose stuffs up. A few weeks ago, I decided to retest coffee as it had been several weeks since I had a cup. I felt like crap after a few sips, so I ended up dumping it out. On the plus side, I ordered it black and like it that way now, proving you can recalibrate your taste buds in a matter of months with sugar-free eating.  Luckily with the change in seasons, I do not feel too deprived without my beloved coffee.  I tend to steer clear of coffee in the summer and switch over to iced tea.

My saving grace? La Croix! For now, I have replaced my morning beverage indulgence to flavored carbonated water.  I like the Grapefruit flavored La Croix. Or more accurately, since my cousin/health ally introduced me to this product, I have become psychologically addicted, and generally drink about 1-2 per day. 🙂

Chocolate: I reintroduced dark chocolate at the end of March.  I have been eating some dark chocolate on a daily basis. I decided that if I was planning a strict gluten/dairy free diet in addition to all of my other dietary limitations (low FODMAP, no processed oils, etc.), I would need something fun to look forward to!  I choose 85% or 88% versions and eat anywhere from 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce per day.  That means that I eat 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of added sugar per day. I am fine with this. For perspective, the average American adult eats about 22 tsp of added sugar per day while the average American child eats about 32 tsp of added sugar per day. Yikes!

How could I introduce dark chocolate when I vowed to be 100% sugar free for 1 year? Easy. I feel no need to be a diet zealot on this go-around. I wanted to eliminate sugar for the challenge, the mindfulness, and to regain control of my taste buds and cravings. Eating dark chocolate does not seem to make me crave more sugar which means that it is not a threat to my experiment. Unfortunately, I suspect that the stimulant properties in chocolate are causing me to sleep less soundly lately.  As a result, I’m working up to phasing chocolate back out. If you love something let it go, right? Le sigh.

My saving grace? Summer = lots of delicious fruit in season. 

Being (mostly) sugar-free?: It’s been amazing.  I rarely crave sweets, and when I do, I get over it quickly. I have the healthiest relationship with food than I’ve ever had before thanks to forcing added sugar out of my life. I am afraid of losing sight of the progress I’ve made.  It’s nice to know I don’t have to worry about it for another 8 months though. 🙂

Mostly gluten-free: I was going to do one month on a very strict gluten and dairy free diet, but I changed course along the way.  I can’t afford to switch out my entire pantry on a hunch that gluten may not be my friend. If I had an official celiac disease diagnosis, it would be easy to go all in, but without it, it’s hard to take it too seriously.  Instead, I’ve decided to be as strict as possible at home.  When I buy new staples, I will do research beforehand to seek out certified gluten free products.  At some point, I’m going to have a very clean home diet.  If I am exposed to gluten at a restaurant or while eating at a friend’s house, the reaction should be pretty obvious if I turn out to have a very high sensitivity. I’m at the point where I have no reason not to aim for gluten free eating as much as possible anyway.  As mentioned before, I don’t digest wheat well. I also have celiac disease in my family, a chronic pain disorder, and genetic susceptibility for autoimmune disease, so my health can only go up by cutting it out.

Testing Dairy in Doses: I am testing different dairy products here and there.  For whatever weird reason that I can’t pinpoint, certain things are definitely problematic and other things are more illusive. For example, time and again when I eat greek yogurt, I get the most disgusting post-nasal drip, a sore throat, and fluid build-up in my ears.  I’ve never noticed such symptoms with hard cheeses, however.  I don’t really get it? The only theories I can come up with are that I have an allergy to one of the cultures used in the making of the yogurt or a strong sensitivity to lactose/whey.  Since hard cheeses are essentially all casein, the reaction is different.  Or maybe the reaction is just delayed, and I’m in denial…In any case, I shall continue to try things every once in awhile to see what I can learn from it.  Overall, however, my diet is dairy-free.

Going without gluten and dairy is less sad to me than going without chocolate and coffee.  I mostly like gluten for its baking properties and cheese for it’s ability to make a quick, tasty meal.  The worst part is that the more things I cut out, the less variety of foods I am able to work with.  For the most part, it’s not the end of the world not having these foods on my plate.

Low-moderate FODMAPs: for obvious reasons listed in numerous other posts.

Processed oil free: Cutting these out has been easier than expected.  Of course that’s because I make most meals from scratch. When I eat at restaurants, I let this rule go, mostly because I have no choice.  Even if the menu says “olive oil”, there’s a good chance you are getting diluted canola oil in your dish. I only eat at restaurants once or twice a month, so this minimal exposure is not much of a concern for me.

Let the record show that when I eat the cleanest diet possible, I feel like my best self.  This is no surprise really.  If sugar, dairy, gluten, alcohol, caffeine, and processed oils are able to create inflammation and/or rev up the nervous system in a healthy person, it’s little surprise that my fibromyalgia symptoms would diminish while following a diet that excludes or greatly limits such components.

Am I cured? Sadly, no.  But I’ve come a long way, baby.

The quest for health continues…

Sources

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/08/30/how-much-sugar-are-americans-eating-infographic/