Monday, March 1, 2010

My Vegan Experiment - Lessons Learned

I completed My Vegan Experiment a couple days ago. In case you missed it, here's a quick recap. After 6 years as a vegetarian, I decided to try going vegan for a week to see how it went. The outcome was good, and I plan to continue adhering to this new diet. Much to my surprise, I hardly missed the eggs and dairy. Overall, I noticed a number of positive physical changes - decreased congestion, weight loss, improved digestion. I had some highs and lows with my energy level. However, the most unexpected outcome was the flood of epiphanies I had about food in general, irrespective of the vegan issue. Here are some of the lessons I learned:

Health drives frugality. Not the other way around. I admit that frugality was not at the top of my mind during my experiment. There were just too many other things to consider. I'm confident that once the dust has settled, I'll be able to refocus and start saving more money. Now more than ever, I will not let my desire to be frugal be the driving force behind my food decisions. Instead, I will be finding ways to save within the framework of the choices I've made based on health and the environment. An interesting side note.... I found that the extra money I spent on certain things was offset nicely by all the junk I was not buying.

The power of accountability. Keeping a food log each day and posting it on my blog had an enormous impact on my ability to stick with it through the hard times. Plus, the encouragement and support I received was priceless. It's scary putting myself out there, but it was worth it!

Eating consciously. Living consciously. The food log also increased my awareness of what I was eating and why I was eating it. I realized just how much I was eating when I wasn't even hungry. I feel like I've brought a new awareness and purpose to the way I eat and the way I live.

Food is meant to sustain. Not entertain. I'm an emotional eater. I've known that for a while. I eat when I'm board, stressed, sad, celebratory - you name it. However, this is the first time I've been ready to tackle this issue on a serious level. The act of keeping a food log naturally led me to follow this guiding principle: food is meant to sustain my physical body, not address my emotions. That's not to say that I haven't enjoyed my food. On the contrary! I have savored every bite of the flavorful, nutritious food that I ate, and felt immense gratitude for the sustenance it provided my body.

Sugar, sugar. Honey, honey. You are my candy girl, and you got me wanting you. I had a gigantic wake-up call that sugar has been like a drug for me. The more I eat it, the more I want it. Once I stop eating it, I stop wanting it. I feel kind of like a junkie in rehab. I'm happy to be clean, and I plan to take one day at a time. By the way, a nice side benefit to avoiding sugar is that it makes it easier to avoid the eggs and dairy that are usually in baked goods. They seem to all go hand and hand.

Treat redefined. I realized that sugary deserts weren't as much of a "treat" as I once thought. I'm trying to redefine what it means to reward myself and love myself (I mean love, the action verb). Instead of chocolates, cookies and ice cream, I'm treating myself with raspberries (even if they cost $5 for a tiny carton) or the most delicious organic salads I've ever eaten from Sweetwater Farm. There are also plenty of ways to reward yourself without food: a trip to the spa, a relaxing bath, music, new clothes, a chat with a good friend, a movie, book or TV show, and a million other things.

Moderation, shmoderation. One might ask, what harm are all these things in moderation? That's a good thought, but unfortunately it doesn't work well for me. Just this once turns into all the time way too easily. I'm better off just saying no. Plus, it helps to have the decision already made before a sticky situation presents itself. I don't plan on being super rigid about eggs, dairy and sugar. For example, I might eat something at a party if it contains a little butter or has an egg baked in it. However, I don't think I'll be eating an omelet or an ice-cream cone anytime soon.

It is about ethics and animal rights for me. When making decisions about my diet, I try to look at the big picture - health, the environment, frugality, and ethics. Animal rights issues have always been a piece of the puzzle for me, but not the single driving force. As much as wish that I could never hurt another living thing ever, it just doesn't seem realistic. Up to now, I felt like eggs and dairy were not a problem because the animal wasn't being killed. After thinking about it more, and reading about what cage-free and free-range really mean, I no longer feel okay about being a dairy and egg consumer. I know this is a sensitive topic, and I am not judging anyone if they don't agree with me. We all have to make these decisions on our own. Implementing them can be even more tricky - we all just have to do the best we can!

Vegan goes beyond food. It's all about small steps for me. Now that I've cut eggs and dairy, I'm thinking a bit more about what it really means to be a vegan. There are so many many ways that humans exploit animals (and people, and the environment) to suit their own purpose. I don't think I'll be getting rid of my leather jacket or my leather chair. However, I do intend to try to increase my awareness of these things and make more conscious decisions in the future.

What's good for the goose is good for the geasling. Or is it? In the midst of all these revelations about myself, I'm seeing how I'm creating the exact same patterns for my children. I reward them with food all the time! I'm not sure if that's something I can stop overnight, but it's something I must tackle. Plus, if I don't feel comfortable eating eggs and dairy, why should it be okay for my children? I don't think it's wise to experiment with their diet like I have with my own, but I do need to think about this.

The power of intention. Call it prayer. Call it meditation. Call it goal setting. Whatever you call it, I think that setting an intention and having a clear vision for what you want for yourself is an incredibly powerful thing. Especially when you take the time to write it down and communicate it to others. I've seen it work in my own life a number of times. My intention related to this experiment was to have a healthier lifestyle so that I will have more energy and be mentally and emotionally stronger. Once I set that intention and contemplated what that means, the path became increasingly clear. As I intended, this week has brought many of the changes I so passionately desired. And I'm ready for more!

If I can do this, I can do anything. The confidence and inspiration that comes from setting a goal and achieving it is priceless! The goals that seemed out of reach a week ago suddenly look more realistic, and I'm ready to continue moving forward.

You are who you want to be. This phrase was on a poster in the video production room at my high school. I saw it many times, and it has stayed with me all these years. What it means to me is this - the person that you want to be, the best version of yourself, the person you envision that you could be if you tried hard enough - that is who you really are. Not the person that you may be at this moment - flawed with lots of qualities that irritate you to no end. I have a vision of myself as I could be, as I want to be. I just need to work towards realizing that vision. That is who I believe I really am, and I love that person. I've always struggled with the concept of "loving yourself", but thinking of it in those terms, it only makes sense that you would love this ideal version of yourself because that person is pretty awesome!

If you have actually read this long post, I thank you with all my heart for indulging me. It was very cathartic for me to write this and send it out into cyberspace. I wish you all the best of luck on your journey to good health. ♥
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