Saturday, March 17, 2012

In which I become a vegetarian

In January, I just happened to sneak the fact I'd gone vegetarian into a post.

I wasn't trying to hide anything, the true point of the post was the recipe, not my lifestyle change. I intended to expand more on going veg, but never got fully around to it.

Until now.

If you asked me a year ago, "Would you ever go vegetarian?", I would have said, "No." ("Ha, ha!" replied the universe.)

At the time, such a move seemed restrictive, unappealing and unnecessary.

But as 2011 came to a close and I started thinking about what I eat (and reviewing my food journals, thank you, Weight Watchers), I realized I hardly ever ate meat, maybe once a week.

I was bored with my current food lineup and I needed a new challenge for the new year, something to get excited about.

The idea of no longer eating animal protein popped into my head and seemed like a good one. What once seemed restrictive, now seemed interesting and worth pursuing.

I could say I became a vegetarian because I am against animal cruelty and all that nasty jazz that goes on in slaughterhouses. Which I am. However, to be honest, I was a person who up until Jan. 1 would have no problem eating veal (it is yummy), so that'd be disingenuous.

I could say it's because of all the crap they put in/use to process meat, which is nasty and gross. And it is. But I fully believe just living in the 21st century we're exposed to so much horrible crap, we'd have to live in a bubble if we didn't want to be exposed to any of it, so one more carcinogen or whatever the hell they use in the processing/rendering process wouldn't kill me any quicker than I'm already going. I mean, I still drink Diet Coke and that has formaldehyde in it for God's sake.

No, the reason I went veg is three-fold:

1. I was bored.

2. I'm too lazy to cook meat in the winter (too lazy to grill in 30-degree weather).

3. I feel my body runs more efficiently without animal protein.

Seriously, isn't #1 the worst reason ever? But I was somewhat bored with my food choices, and I thought sticking to F&V only would be a good way to mix it up. I think it's pretty funny (and telling) that the numerous health benefits had zero to do with my decision.

This is all personal preference, surely. Your mileage may vary. Always feel free to order a burger when we're out to lunch, I would never tell you how or what to eat, that's not my style.

I knew embracing a vegetarian lifestyle would encourage me to try new fruits and vegetables and new recipes. One of the things I'm realizing about weight maintenance: You have to keep it exciting and fresh when it comes to eating and activity. Get bored and, all of a sudden, going back to the bad, old ways doesn't seem like such a terrible idea.

After making the decision to go veg, I happened to catch the documentary Forks Over Knives (on Netflix, if you have it), which was very thought-provoking.

What I liked about FOK (hee) is it didn't scream at you about switching your lifestyle. There were no scare tactics, horrid crime-scene slaughterhouse photos or guilt, etc. It simply stated, "The more (or all) plant-based you go, the better off you'll be." Then it backed its theory up with research. Nicely done.

Since going veg I realized that I don't eat any differently than I did 95% of the time. It wasn't a big adjustment because apparently I rarely ate meat as it was.

It has been an adjustment going dining out and remembering to check in, say, random products for meat. For example, once I was offered bacon ranch salad dressing as a choice. Dressing is one of those foods I don't enjoy low-fat. I'd rather fork-dip the real deal and have a little than more of something unleaded.

Anyway, I was going to go for the bacon ranch (love ranch), when one of my friends reminded me, "That's got bacon in it."

Oh, yeah. Thanks. At this point, I'm actually concerned if I ate meat. I'm worried I'd be in some, um, gastrointestinal distress if I do.

What I've Learned So Far

Vegetarian doesn't meant low-Point.

I knew this going in. Rice, grains and beans are staples of a vegetarian diet, and they are not Points bargains in the Weight Watchers world. However, they are healthy and promote greater satiety, so they are worth it. But don't go veg thinking you'll have all these leftover Points to spend. I still have an equally difficult time stretching my Points budget now as I did when I ate meat.

Vegetarian doesn't automatically mean healthy.

You can still eat poorly if you choose. I remember a person in my Weight Watchers meeting who called herself a "junk food vegetarian." She didn't eat meat, but was still overweight because she didn't make healthy choices. I could easily, completely eat like crap without eating meat.

Being a vegetarian doesn't make weight maintenance any easier.

It doesn't make it harder, either, but I could still go off the rails eating a host of non-meat foods in large amounts (hello pizza, ice cream, pasta, baked goods).

I'm still adjusting a bit to my new identity. I have a meeting coming up and the organizer asked if I had any special dietary concerns. I replied, "I'm a vegetarian." That was the first time I ever typed that. Seemed pretty real.

I've had people kindly question why, whether I was depriving myself, punishing myself or feeling I had to do this to maintain my loss.

No to all three. Do I miss meat? Truly, I don't. If I did, you can be sure I'd go back to eating it because depravation brings bad juju. I also don't see it as trying to do something I think I should do to maintain my weight. I know I could maintain if I chose to eat meat.

The truth is, basically, this seemed like a good idea at the time. It's still a good idea and I'm a pretty happy herbivore. And, bonus, I know the correct pronunciation of "quinoa." Hint, it's not: Kwee-no-ah.

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