My Vegan Romance - A Tale Of Heartburn, Heartache, And The Lessons One Learns When Trying New Things
So , I haven’t posted in a while, due to health issues. It happens - when you have a chronic illness, you’re not going to be able to function all of the time. But my time away was well-spent (aside from all the downtime resulting from not feeling well). I tried new recipes, attempted a major shift in my diet, and learned a lesson or two about the impact that these changes have wrought. My adventure began with a quest; stop eating dairy and switch to a plant based diet. Otherwise known as “going vegan”.
A lot of people hate vegans. A lot of people have vegans with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. Many people find vegans to be insufferably self-righteous, preachy, and a complete nightmare when invited to a dinner party or a bar-b-que. I recently saw a post online that said, “I hate vegans; I’d rather hang out with cannibals!” But I think that omnivores feel as though vegans are trying to make everyone else guilty about the consumption of animal products. And I’m not just talking about food - there are all sorts of vegan products available, including shoes, health and beauty products, and even vegan condoms and personal lube. I’m not kidding! So it’s a lifestyle, not just a diet, and I don’t think I could ever go full blown vegan; I wear leather, for a start, and I can’t see myself making sure that every single thing I eat or use is free of some kind of animal product.
But I’ve been obsessed with the idea of following a plant based diet. Not just because I believe in the ethical treatment of animals, and the commercial meat processing industry keep the animals in terrible conditions. And not just because I believe that we could significantly reduce the amount of oil consumption we use in the U.S. if we decreased the consumption of meat, thereby decreasing the amount of meat production. If you are not familiar with Barbara Kingsolver ( a damn fine novelist ), you might want to check out the non-fiction phenomenon, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle -A Year of Food Life.” She co-wrote it with her husband and two daughters and it is an account of the year all four of them moved to a family farm in Kentucky and embarked on a one year journey to consume only produce and meat that had been produced locally. The following quotes will enlightening you as to why anyone would subject themselves to what may seem like madness: “The average food item on a U.S. grocery store has traveled farther than most families go on their annual vacations. True fact. Fossil fuels Fossil fuels (are) consumed for the food’s transport, refrigeration, and processing, with the obvious environmental consequences,” and “If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.” What Kingsolver and her family did was amazing, something I could never do (mainly because I don’t have access to a family farm and don’t have a family that would be willing to go along for the ride ) but also because I wouldn’t have the energy for such a lifestyle and, quite frankly, I hate gardening. I’ve killed every houseplant I’ve ever owned.
But my main reason for wanting to switch to a plant based diet is due to the fact that I’ve read of a number of accounts where people with Fibromyalgia go vegan and get great results. Some people swear by it and I’ve been following a variety of food blogs (vegan, whole food, low carb, raw food,gluten free, etc.) and I’ve been inspired by the creativity and generosity of my fellow bloggers. I wanted to push myself (to the extent that such a thing is possible), to challenge myself, and to try new things. And I thought, why not try getting rid of dairy and see how it goes? Or better yet, find out if I can do it at all. I also have issues with regularity, in spite of getting plenty of fiber (including psyllium husk powder) and magnesium. One of the side effects of some of my medications is constipation. I figured the large amounts of dairy I consume on a daily basis may have also been a factor. So I started my journey with finding my way around the world of green smoothies.
If you have read any of my posts, it should come as no surprise that I love smoothies. And my smoothie recipes have been evolving; instead of relying solely on whey protein isolate, I introduced hemp and raw sprouted grain protein powders for a time. Then I played around with green smoothies; they involve throwing fruit and vegetables in a blender with almond milk and water and blending on high. Their allure, in my opinion, is that they go down pretty easily and can be pleasant alternative to choking down two salads a day to fulfill your daily green leafy vegetable quota. Some people put a lot of fruits and veggies in with a cup of liquid - doing low carb, I needed to take into account both the amount and the kinds of fruits and vegetables I use. So I stuck to berries (strawberry, blueberry raspberry, and blackberry) and a couple of other low carb fruits, like kiwis and cantaloupe. And green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, chard, and lettuce). Since they were low carb - a ratio of 2 oz green leafy vegetables to 2 oz fresh berries, I sometimes had to add a drop of stevia , particularly if I’m using something spicy like chard or kale. It’s better than juicing because you don’t lose any of the fiber and it enables you to have a few servings of raw vegetables per day. I don’t have anything against cooking vegetables, but summer is upon us and while I love to cook, I hate to do it when it’s hot. I also use a lot of butter or olive oil when cooking vegetables and I wanted to cut down on one and lower my use of the other.
Here’s a sample recipe:
Spinach Berry Green Smoothie
2 oz fresh spinach
1 oz fresh strawberries
1 oz fresh raspberries
1/2 C unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1/2 C water
Serves one and has 57.33 cal, 4.36 net carbs, 1.25 g fat, 2.83 g fiber and 2.16 g protein.
When I added up the nutritional values, I was confronted by the numbers - less calories, lots more carbs and much less protein. I concocted two green smoothies per day. I used a 1/2 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk and 1/2 cup water and 1 drop liquid stevia, threw everything in the blender, and turned the switch on high.
* Pro-tip - I recommend cutting or tearing every thing up into small pieces before tossing it in the blender. It will take less energy to grind it all up and it will go much quicker.
So that took care of morning and mid-day. I did the vegan hot cereal with 1 oz strawberries (see previous post), a strawberry spinach salad with balsamic vinaigrette, sprinkled with hemp seeds, some roasted asparagus with olive oil, decaf chai made with almond milk, chocolate coconut truffles for dessert (also see previous post) and the pied de resistance: vegan cafe creme. Instead of heavy cream I used a 1/4 C of canned coconut milk with the decaf espresso and it rocks! If I was still hungry (this only generates a little over a thousand calories) I just mixed almond milk, acai powder, hemp protein powder, and stevia and blended till smooth. It added another 235 cal and only raised the net carb count to a little over 40 net carbs. It also contained over 60 grams of plant based protein and over 30 grams of dietary fiber, so I thought that I was pretty much set for the day. I was trying to avoid nuts and seeds as well; especially my favorites: filberts, almonds, and pecans. For some reason, all of these give me cravings similar to ones that I get from eating refined complex carbohydrates and I end up devouring whatever happens to be in the pantry. It’s too bad, because they are a great source of protein, fiber, and omega fatty acids, but I was using chia and hemp seeds to make up for the loss. All in all, the daily menu was really quite filling and left me feeling energetic and much lighter. Right up until the moment when I began to experience gastric distress.
Since I have Fibromyalgia, I knew from the literature I’d already researched that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (aka IBS) often goes hand in hand with Fibromyalgia. So I wasn’t sure if I was experiencing symptoms due to the dietary changes I had made or if the IBS decided to rear it’s ugly head in my direction, just for fun. Well, it hasn’t been fun for me and I can expect a lengthy food elimination process to find out if it is due to too much raw vegetables and fiber. I’ve already eliminated the psyllium husks I was using for a fiber supplement and have been reducing the amount of raw vegetables I had been consuming. Lightly cooked veggies are easier to digest and I’ve gone back to eating dairy. If you go online, you will discover as I have, that there are a great many food items that can cause IBS symptoms. It may take some time to figure it all out. And through further research, I’ve learned that the only successful accounts of Fibromyalgia patients who can “cure” themselves with diet, meditation and exercise are those who have very mild symptoms. So while I have not completely given up hope that I may be able to improve the severity of my symptoms if I eat the right things and continue to lose weight (I’m at 165 LBs now, which makes it a total loss of 100 pounds over the past two years) I’m not expecting any miracles. But I will do whatever I can to increase the odds in my favor and I won’t stop until I can emphatically say that I have tried absolutely everything.
So my vegan romance went awry, as such romances do. Needless to say, I am disappointed that things did not go according to plan, but what ever does? The truth is that the more accounts of Fibromyalgia patients I come across, it seems that only those with mild symptoms are able to “cure” themselves through diet, acupuncture and meditation. Personally, I have never been able to meditate (my mind just will not be quiet) and I’m not certain that I’ll ever be able to achieve significant results in pain reduction from diet or acupuncture, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to give up. I need to able to say that I’ve tried everything possible to improve my health. So I begin my journey anew, hoping I won’t fall so hard next time and open to the lessons it will undoubtably bring.