22 January 2012

Am I a real vegetarian yet?

This coming Monday is the three week mark, technically the end of my  21-day vegetarian experiment. The obvious question is: how did I do? Am I a real vegetarian yet?

New Food and the Birth of New Feelings: Week 1
By now you know about the Frittata Incident where this experiment started, but I'm happy to report that things improved from there. My morning and afternoon snacks for the first week consisted of two existing favorites from the South Beach Diet cookbook: Asian Tempeh Triangles and Edamame with Scallions and Sesame, so that was easy. For lunch I tried a Warm Spiced Lentil Bowl with Yogurt and Smoked Almonds, and for dinner I modified a South Beach Diet Stuffed Eggplant with Beef recipe by substituting soysage crumbles for the beef. I enjoyed all of these recipes, and would make them all again.

Did I cheat or successfully resist temptation? Yes. The most memorable resisting was probably my husband's huge crockpot of chili, which smelled up the whole house--but I knew he made it too spicy for me to really want any so I'm not sure that counts. The only time I faltered was the day after our post-holiday party, where I just had to try a leftover chicken wing (not worth it) and a small chicken, spinach, and cheese quesadilla (mildly worth it).

My ongoing struggles with food binges had me feeling mostly negative about my body when I started this, but during the first week there were more times where I felt good--actually grateful that I was strong enough to strength train, run, and do yoga. And almost every time I exercised, I surprised myself with increased endurance and stellar form. While I still succumbed to most cravings (I had a crazy busy week at work) there were more bright spots: moments where I knew I wasn't really hungry and was able to resist a craving; I drank a lot more water; I prevented myself from getting overwhelmed about everything I needed to do; and I started noticing when my breathing got shallow in time to employ some relaxation techniques. I can't say whether this is attributable to the vegetarian diet, but something definitely shifted in both my body and my mind. 

Heart Openings and Increased Self-Awareness: Week 2
During the second week, my workouts continued to amaze me. I felt even more balanced during yoga--my hips opened in a way they never have before, and twists (which are notoriously difficult for me) were a bit easier. One morning I even made up my own flow! The feeling of being grateful for my strong and healthy body reappeared throughout the week and even expanded, making me feel grateful for so many things in my life.

At times I noticed a heightened attention to the yama (yogic restraint) called Ahimsa, which is essentially non-violence in thought, word, and deed toward oneself and others. Instead of constantly complaining when I felt cold, I practiced just noticing the sensations of "cold" in my body and letting them pass. In the car one morning I felt myself getting impatient at my husband's driving, and breathed instead of criticizing. I began to notice when I felt tired or worn down, and when my husband and I might benefit from spending more quality time together instead of doing so much of our own things. At work, I was able to shelve some assumptions about how people might react to things I did, and had several nice interactions with colleagues. I honestly amazed myself when I was able to catch and even momentarily break these bad habits.

At this point I was drinking even more water, and often didn't feel hungry (but felt weird about not eating, especially around prescribed eating times). Instead of sticking with rigid recipes, I let myself get a little more creative: breakfast was either buckwheat cereal with my favorite trail mix or an egg with veggies and Kashi 7 Whole Grain pilaf; lunch was Hoisen-glazed Tempeh with Green Beans (and more Kashi); dinner was a tofu bowl I tried to replicate after having an amazing one at 29 Newbury over New Years weekend. I fried up some tofu and served it with a side of veggies that included onion, garlic, edamame, corn, and black beans (and more Kashi). I also bought kale, veggie burgers, some multi-grain bread, and Fage for random snackage. This week I was also experimenting with two "mini" breakfasts--I'd read that it was good to eat a little something before vigorous workouts, so before running at the gym I had some buckwheat cereal or a Larabar, and then eat the egg part afterwards.

Although I'd given up my meticulous health tracking, at the end of week two I gave into temptation and stepped back on the scale. I was disappointed to find that I was continuing to gain weight, especially given how relaxed and good I started to feel about my food and exercise. Again, I'm not saying this is the result of the vegetarian diet--I think it's much more likely related to my stress-induced binges.

Some Doubts, and Monumental Shifts: Week 3
Given how week two had ended, I was torn. I felt mostly good, but concerned about my continued cravings and weight gain. I considered that maybe I'd lightened up a bit too much, and started paying attention to my carb counts again. I was shocked to see just how much of them I'd eaten the previous week! In my mind I know my body doesn't handle carbs well, even the good ones. (And if I am reallyand a very active hypoglycemic.

While considering all these food-related questions, week three continued to build on week two, and brought what I'd even call significant shifts in my life. Some examples? Well, I had an hour-long, positive and connected conversation with my mother (who I haven't spoken to in years). And if that wasn't enough, I ran a solid five miles at the gym just yesterday.

And the Verdict Is: Bring on Week 4!
I ultimately decided that for week four, I'd aim for two meals a day that were vegetarian, and one with protein from fish. (Whole Foods' Friday sale on Sockeye Salmon helped seal the deal.) I also decided I'd fare better with no more than two servings of obvious carbs (e.g. bread, rice, etc.) per day (and preferably only one). I've already started paying more attention to the carb vs. protein count in things like veggie burgers, and found yummy, higher protein versions like Lightlife. I've also made sure to buy fruits like blackberries and strawberries, which are naturally lower in carbs and sugars than others.

Since I started implementing this strategy toward the end of week three and it's helped a lot already, I'm hopeful. Now that my carbs are more under control, I'm not binging, and even if I did, I don't think I'd be chastising myself for long. I'm learning to have more compassion for myself and others, and feel like I'm really evolving physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

If you've never explored modifying your diet to see how it can affect the rest of your life, I'd highly recommend it. It's truly amazing how powerful it can be.

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