Deviant Eater

Musings on becoming vegan and the changing perspectives it brings.

Friday, August 04, 2006

How I gave up meat and lost 40 pounds in a year

This is the first of three articles discussing how I changed my lifestyle and will cover a lot of the background and environment from before I stopped eating animal products. The next article will discuss the actual changes made to my lifestyle, and the last article will talk about how I continue to live this lifestyle from day-to-day.

It has been almost a year since I discovered my belief that animal products are more poison than food, and the changes that discovery has wrought on my body, mental well-being, and general health have been astonishing. I'm not a doctor, nutritionist, or any other type of authority on food - nor can I promise that anyone would have the results that I have had this year. But I still want to share the changes that I made and the results that I've seen so that others might consider alternatives to their current lifestyle.

Before I made these changes, I knew that I wasn't eating well - my body was telling me, my growing weight problem was telling me, and my father and his father were telling me (albeit indirectly). But I like food, I like big portions, and no serious attempt at dieting had ever lasted for long. It took a serious look at my lifestyle to discover that other options existed, and the discovery of some books and articles that opened my eyes to the problems with what I chose to eat.

My body and diet

First, let me describe where I started from. In September of 2005 I weighed around 237 pounds. I had been adding between two to five pounds a year for six years, with the better years coming during a period of increased physical activity. I had a fondness for steak, cheese, wine and beer, and was typically inactive. Steak and potatoes were a common meal, and eating out for most lunches and many dinners was the usual state of affairs. From the age of twenty-two to thirty-six, outside of one eighteen month stretch where I worked out on an almost daily basis, I was sedentary.

From there, almost anything I did could be an improvement. Changing my diet, getting more active, cutting back on the worst of the foods I typically ate - even just reducing portion sizes. Any of those changes could have helped. But therein lies the rub - any one of them had little significant impact by itself, and every one of them carried a cost that I seemed unwilling to bear. Trying to "cut back" or "get active" were changes to lifestyle that I seemed incapable of making stick. As much as I could consider the benefits of any change, and desire the results of the change, I would quickly regress to my normal habits, and would continue to observe the same results - increasing weight, decreasing energy, and a growing frustration with myself.

And this is where I was the day I decided to give up meat, eggs, cheese, milk, etc. It seems like a drastic change on the face of it, but it turned out to be easier than I ever would have thought possible, with the hard parts being much different than what I expected going in.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The challenge of vacation and travel

My wife and I went to Cancun for a week recently, and while it was a wonderful trip, it was marred by difficulties in finding things we wanted to eat.

This trip was the first real vacation we've taken since I choose to pursue a vegan diet, and hence was the first time we were both exposed to the lack of choices away from home. I've travelled some with work over the past year, and it was generally difficult, but this was the first time traveling for pleasure, and we were both surprised at how significant an impact the lack of good choices was on our daily activity.

I know that we've cooked a lot more at home since this change, and when we eat out, we tend to go to a couple particular restaurants we know well and enjoy, but this trip really brought home the differences of this new diet on how we will travel in the future.

Instead of hotels, we will be seeking a place to stay that has a kitchen, and will be spending part of our prep time for the trip investigating grocery options. I realized that I really don't mind cooking, and the benefits of having that control so far outweigh the minor inconvenience of having to cook for ourselves while traveling, that the choice is pretty clear.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

First big holiday dinner with the family

This weekend was my parents 30th anniversary, and Easter Sunday as well. It was also the first time that I was together with the family since I've started my new diet, and it was more difficult in some ways than I had expected. It is still funny to me that people struggle to understand what I can and can't eat on a vegan diet - although I had many similar discoveries starting this myself, it's easy to forget those. I found myself having to explain what I could and couldn't eat, mainly based on the misconception that I'm trying to lose weight - many people have trouble separating "diet" from "weight loss" and a vegan diet is much more of a lifestyle change than anything. That I've lost weight probably serves to complicate things somewhat.

After the visit, I've found that I feel fortunate that I'm in Atlanta, and have access to many wonderful markets and restaurants. My parents live in the low country in South Carolina, just outside Beaufort. The selections there for "health foods" are somewhat restrictive (non-existant really), and the restaurant choices seem limited as well. I know that it would be more difficult for me to pursue a vegan diet there than it is here, but I still feel that it would be possible - I might just have to do a bit more shopping on the internet.

One thing that I noticed is that I don't do lunch on my own very well. I tend to eat most lunches out at restaurants here, or have leftovers. I had brought the makings for a wonderful African sweet potato and peanut stew that I made on the first day I was there. I ended up eating it for lunch most days, just because there wasn't a lot else around that appealed to me.

I've not been repulsed by meat since I've stopped eating it, I just don't want to have it. But old habits do die hard. When the big easter dinner was served, I did feel the urge to serve myself something, and when everyone talked about their meal from the anniversary dinner, I did have some pangs for when I could have partaken myself. But I really didn't want the meat, I just wanted some of the tastes and sensations, without having to eat of animals flesh to enjoy it. This may have been the first time since I gave up meat that I was at all aware of the lack of it in my daily life, while not having any desire to add it back in.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Motivations for the switch

The decision to change my diet came about rather abruptly. While I had my doubts about my ability to make the switch (which made the actual transition take a bit longer) , when I look back at it now, the change didn't take very long at all.

I had been thinking about the need to lose weight for a couple of years - as I watched my waistline slowly grow. What I've found about myself is that I have very poor portion control, and not great impulse control. These add up to a weight problem when it's easy to surround myself with quick, but bad, choices for food.

The funny thing is, I decided to try a vegan diet for reasons that had nothing to do with weight. And maybe that's why it worked for me.

The most significant motivating factor that led me to change my diet was when I came to believe that the consumption of meat and dairy products just wasn't natural to the human physiology. This was motivated by one of Steve Pavlina's blog entries. It rang so true for me, that I was able to carefully consider what I felt was right and wrong about my diet, and choose to make a change.

For a long while, my weight had been increasing, and the reaction of my body to the food that I was putting into it was getting worse. I had begun to wonder whether I suffered from irritable bowel syndrome. There were many meals that I liked, but that my body seemed to reject. As mentioned above, I have poor portion control and poor impulse control. I don't like denying myself much. So a change that would work for me would have to be based on principles, rather than on limiting my choices.

So the decision to pursue a vegan diet felt right to me. I knew that it would be difficult, but I didn't realize that the only real difficulty would come in finding easy choices when I eat out. The switch to choosing only plant-based food items has been an easy one, and it has helped me rediscover an interest in cooking and cuisine. It's helped me with my health, and has helped me feel a lot better about myself and my weight.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Book review - The Vegan Planet

This cookbook was one of the first I purchased when switching to a Vegan diet. It was simultaneously recommended by a friend, and selected from many choices at the bookstore by my wife. It was a happy coincidence to see it recommended after we had purchased it - and I have to second the recommendation given to me, that this is a cookbook for anyone, not just vegans.

For the first few months of cooking as a vegan, this cookbook provided almost every recipe that I made. While I had a few failures along the way, they were few and far between, and by and large, those that failed are something that I will try again (except for one recipe for sauerkraut and tempeh that was just not for me).

If you want to try an interesting variety of food, from many different cultural influences, then I would recommend trying this book. The recipes are easy to follow, have accompanying commentary, and often have a sidebar that goes into more detail about some of the more esoteric ingredients. For example, there is a seitan roast that requires wrapping in yuba. I wasn't familiar with yuba, and there was an explanation that it is the skin that forms on top of cooked soybeans, and is available in a variety of forms in most asian supermarkets (I wasn't familiar with seitan either, and there is a good recipe for that provided as well).

It's hard to go wrong with this one.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Book review - Eat to Live

One of the first books I read when I started thinking about changing my diet was Eat to Live. I'm not sure where I read about it first, but it may have been on Steve Pavlina's personal development blog (he has a series of posts there about being vegan, which was another major influence on getting me started).

While reading that book, I realized how bad the choices I was making really were. The books focus is on increasing the ratio or nutrients to calories in your diet, and where that ratio gets off kilter in the typical diet. Needless to say, the diet I followed previously was very unhealthy.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking to find more justification to change the balance of their meals to something more healthy. While I have not tried to apply the strict diet detailed in that book, I believe that it can still be an interesting guide on better choices. This book is not vegan - but many of the principles in this book can be accomplished through healthy vegan choices.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

An introduction to this new blog

Back in September 2005, I found myself deciding to become a strict vegetarian. A number of factors lead to my considering this lifestyle change. My family's health history isn't a great one (including obesity, heart disease, cancer and adult onset diabetes), I'm getting on towards full adulthood (or whatever you call the mid-thirties), and I was conscious of my own growing weight problem. I felt like I had to make a change if I wanted to be able to enjoy my later years in life, and starting now became a pressing concern for me.

This blog will be a place for me to share my observations about making a radical change from meat eater to plant eater, both physically as well as ethically (something I never expected going in).