Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Hungry Vegan

I first became "vegan" back in middle school when my mom discovered (through her numerous amounts of research) that there were links between certain foods we eat and cancer. Back in 1997, when we made the switch, there were very few reliable "alternatives" to an animal-food-based culture. Most restaurants didn't even know what the word "vegan" meant. Lucky for us, we happened to live in Tucson, Arizona, which has always been somewhat progressive in the holistic approach to food and medicine. We were able to shop at a local health food store, which was quite small, and smelled much different than regular supermarkets, where aromas typically consisted of artificially-flavored cupcakes that presented themselves the moment you walked in the front door. Health food stores, on the other hand, were always dark and mysterious, like you were entering into a guru's pantry, not really knowing what any of the packaged goods were. We typically visited the health food store to stock up on soymilk, which, at the time, was the only place you could purchase such a thing. I have to admit, it tasted terrible back then. And even worse, combining it with the "original" Kashi cereal...Ack! I don't know how I survived those times. 

Being vegan was not fun, especially for a kid living in a world surrounded by junk-food eaters. Going to school everyday was incredibly challenging, and I have to admit, I cheated a LOT. I loved pizza and ice cream, and all of the other things you crave when you're 13, and stop including them in your everyday diet. My household was always healthy, though. I knew that if I ate crap during the day, I'd get to make up for it when I got home. But our culinary selections weren't that broad at first. Typically, when you start the vegan diet (and especially in the late 90's when it was all about "fat-free" carbohydrates), your consumption of fruits and veggies dwindles. You're so focused on the elimination of animal foods, that you replace those with processed soy and grains. Prior to this shift in our diet, I was a lean little fighting machine (although, most adolescent girls are that way before hitting puberty...), but after we started the elimination process, I started gaining weight. 

In addition to this new way of eating, I was also going through some pretty stressful and emotional times in my life, so not only was I not eating enough fruits and veggies, I was over-consuming. I eat when I'm stressed, and I, like most humans, choose foods that will make me feel "better". Anything salty or fried or sweet or crunchy (chips!) were my go-to's. Even though I wasn't consuming meat or dairy, I was still seeing an increase in weight and a decline in health. I'd exercise vigorously, too, but to no avail. At one point my emotional and physical health got so bad that I was nearing adrenal exhaustion. Something had to give. It had to be a complete mind and body transformation. I had to do my own research and really find what works and what doesn't for my body. It's been an ongoing process. I feel like I'm trying something new every day, but I'm ready to start applying what I've learned into an more long-term practice. 

After researching (and for short spurts, trying-out) the raw-food diet, the paleo diet, the specific-carbohydrate-diet, juice cleanses, whole-food plant-based diets, gluten-free, grain-free, and more, I've come to discover what my body likes and what it doesn't. 

Here's what I've learned from my body:

Doesn't like: grain-based sugars, i.e. cane sugar, grain-based alcohol and other processed sugars. 
Likes: Fruit sugars, maple syrup, honey and the occasional agave syrup.
*(I notice a much larger shift in my weight when I eliminate sugars)

Doesn't like: wheat/gluten, coffee, white rice, corn, dry oats, potatoes (I can sometimes tolerate sweet potatoes, but french fries don't love me as much as I love them...)
Likes: sprouted grains and legumes (tofu, lentils, beans), soaked oats (prior to cooking)

Doesn't like: brussel sprouts - no idea why, it just doesn't...
Likes: everything else

Doesn't like: dairy, chicken, or beef (I'm guessing on that because I haven't had it in so long)
Likes: Eggs (when eaten moderately) and fish (I do best with salmon)
*I'm more of a "pesco-ovo" vegan...

Doesn't like: un-sprouted nuts and seeds are extremely hard for me to digest
Likes: sprouted (or soaked) nuts and seeds

Now, I truly believe that our attitude toward life makes all the difference in how our bodies respond to different foods. If we treat eating with care and respect, stay present in how we are feeling when we eat (are you eating because you're sad? Lonely? Depressed? Anxious? Or truly hungry?), will reflect how our bodies digest food and manage weight. And the more attention we give our feelings and bodies, the more apt we'll be to make better food choices. Are we really craving a cheeseburger, or a hug from someone who has caused us pain? I know this is going down a different tangent, and would deserve an entire blog dedicated to it, but it's all stuff we have to take into consideration when embarking on a new health-seeking quest. 

I also realize that this "limited" diet will be hard to maintain over a long period of time. I know this because I have a tendency to give in to my cravings, especially at events and dinner parties, where the food is overflowing and enticing. But in order to really give my body the chance it needs to heal, I have to stay present, aware, and trust that it's worth it in the end. 

My plan is to share with you my progress, in the form of awesome new and discovered recipes (most of which I'll be pulling from my Pinterest Board "The Hungry Vegan"), healthy-living tips, and more. Not everything that works for me will work for someone else, so it's a matter of simply trusting your "gut". 

Are you with me?

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