Becoming vegetarian again and other lifestyle changes

When I became a vegetarian the first time, it was a long time ago – probably about 19 years or so.  When I first turned my back on consuming animal products, I was all-in from the start.  I went vegan – and I do mean vegan – first thing.  No meat of any kind, no fish, no eggs, no dairy and avoiding whenever possible anything made from animal by-products.  Oddly enough, the genesis of this transformation occurred when I heard Neil Bernard on the radio, which led me to reading John Robbins’ Diet for a New America and many more such books.  Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation probably had the single biggest impact on me.  Since then, I’ve never consumed mammal or fowl, but did return to lacto-ovo enhancements several years ago and began eating seafood again probably two years ago.

While I started by focusing on health, vegetarianism quickly became more of an ethical issue for me than one of health.  I became well informed on the ills of factory farming and large-scale animal husbandry, joined EarthSave Canada and even served on their Board of Directors for a time, handling some communication and web work for them many years ago.  I left the organization as planning for their inaugural Taste of Health was getting underway.  It still seems to be going strong and I might just have to attend this year.

Anyway, I digress.

How did I stray?

There have been good reasons (at least to me at the time) for re-introducing certain animal food sources to my diet over time.  When I added dairy back I found that the volume of running I was doing at the time was making it difficult to keep my weight up and I was craving more dense calories.  I always liked cheese and found this to be a simple solution all around.  Besides, I rationalized that dairy wasn’t as bad as beef, so it should be OK.

When my wife found that she needed a more readily absorbed form of iron and more protein after chemotherapy a while ago, I decided to support her and add a little seafood back into my diet.  I haven’t been philosophically at ease with these choices, but the physical effects are what is making me move back toward a purely mostly plant-based diet.  I’ve known I’ve had some level of lactose intolerance for some time and I recently tested positive for a shellfish allergy.  Coupling that with the growing ethical uneasiness I’ve had about consuming dairy and seafood and the solution has become apparent.

This time, it’s not about being philosophically ‘pure’ but about what I feel will be easier on my body, easier on my conscience and hopefully having the side effect of getting me down to the running weight I’ve been trying to get back to for a few years – under 150lbs.  Plus, there are more high quality plant-based athletic supplements and food choices than ever, not the least of which is Brendan Brazier’s Vega line.  I’m already a fan and expect to up my quotient considerably.  I’ll probably finally read his Thrive book, too boot.

My plan

I’ve been back off seafood now for about three weeks.  So far, so good.  I’m just in the first few days of reducing my dairy intake, starting with the heavy stuff like cheese and ice cream.  As I get those under control I’ll be removing milk and eggs.  Truth is, I don’t eat many eggs anyway, so it’s not such a big deal.  The harder issue, as always, is getting rid of the hidden animal products that you don’t want to consume.  Many vegan dairy replacement products contain a dairy protein derivative called casein and egg or egg derivatives are also in many products.  Many vegetarian processed meat replacements have very high sodium levels, too.  As I said before, I’m going to eat as consciously as I can, but I’m not striving for philosophical purety.  As a coffee snob who must have cream, that may be one indulgence that I allow.  Non-dairy creamers come in two varieties that I’ve found.  The ones that do a decent job are full of crap and the ones that are reasonably healthy make coffee the consistency of dishwater.  Let’s call that issue a work in progress.

In addition to the change in diet, I’m implementing a few other training and lifestyle changes and will track the happenings here just to keep myself focused.  In no particular order:

  • I am changing the way I choose races and athletic events, focusing more on the training journey than target races.
  • Events will likely have more of a community or fundraising angle than in the past. In fact, more of theme of community involvement in general.
  • I will seek balance between as many things I like doing as possible (not much swimming, more cycling, more ultimate, less fretting).
  • I will try to re-integrate cycle commuting to the highest degree possible (so all my rain riding gear doesn’t continue to gather dust).

With any luck, I’ll be able to look back at this point by Christmas and be happy with the progress.  Truth is I only have about 12-14 pounds to lose for this initial phase, but that’s not the only way I will be measuring success.  How I feel, how my fitness and training goes, and how well the other lifestyle changes are going will all be part of the way in which I evaluate things.  Since I’m just really thinking this through as I write, the entire process will be a bit experimental, but I’m looking forward to it.