“You Are What You Eat” whoever said it was right (there is confusion as to who said it first but really it doesn’t matter, it is still true).
My question is why? Why wasn’t I enlightened earlier in my life? Well, there are many reasons why: the way I was raised, my lack of knowledge in the nutrition field, or maybe thinking that what I knew was sufficient since I wasn’t too much of a “fast food” or “junk food” eater, maybe the fact that I exercise regularly, or the fact that I didn’t really care to know until now because I was enjoying my favorite “bad” foods too much.
I remember raising my eyebrows (as to say “you’re weird”) when my brother announced many years ago that he became vegetarian. Who knows why I didn’t caught on earlier? The important thing is that now I know what I dind’t know before, I keep on learning more everyday and I am grateful for these treasures of knowledge which affect my life for the better.
I must say that watching the documentaries, “Forks Over Knives”, “Food Inc.”, “Food Matters”, “Fresh”, ” Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” plus listening to the book “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell REALLY opened my eyes to some nutritional facts unknown to me. I also read many testimonials of people who had changed their diet to a vegetarian or a vegan diet after they had been diagnosed with some kind of chronic disease, cancer, heart failure, etc. And their illenesses were reversed because of it. I learned how we can easily avoid many diseases, age more gracefully, be generally healthier, etc. by closely watching what enters our body. Yes some diseases are genetic and not much can be done about it but you’d be surprised (if you don’t already know) how much is in our power to do to avoid chronic diseases just by changing the way we eat.
In today’s mainstream Western food choice standard, I would say that I was above average healthy when it came to the kind of foods you would find in my kitchen. Fruits and vegetables have always been standard foods in my home. However, when it came to healthy grains, aside from whole grains bread (simply because I liked it better) everything else was white and refined (flour, pasta, rice, sugar, …). There was a bunch of grains full of great vitamins and nutrients that I had heard of but that you would have never found in my house until recently which have now become staples (i.e. quinoah, bulgur, sunflower seeds, pumkin seeds plus all sorts of other grains, nuts and beans).
Many people have asked me why I made this decision to become a vegetarian and a whole foods eater and not just for me but for our entire family as well (with the support of my husband who is gearing towards veganism). Some people find it quite “scarry” that I would keep my children from eating MEAT. You don’t eat NO MEAT?? (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) What about iron, protein and Vitamin B12? They ask: “Aren’t you afraid that your children aren’t going to grow properly?”
I am not going to enter into scientific details to show that iron and protein can easily be found in non-meat products such as spinach, baked beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, pumpkin seeds, etc. and vitamin B12 (which daily requirement is very small) can easily be found in whole grains fortified cereal, nutritional yeast, fortified soy milk, etc. You can do your own research and find out all these things.
Research has also shown that people from nations (or parts of the world within different nations) who tend to live the longest eat very little to no meat–that is as a group. I know there are centenarians who eat meat on a daily basis out there but they are not part of a “group” in a certain place (read article below).
What I would like to share with you is how becoming a vegetarian and a whole foods eater has changed the way I physically feel, the way I think about what enters my body, my eating and shopping habits for the better.
Major physical improvements
I started the experiment of being a vegetarian and a whole foods eater saying that I would do it for thirty days, see how I would feel and then make a decision to continue or not. The results were:
I felt good after every meal (I never felt overly full, bloated, tired in midday because of uneasy digestion, etc.)
Decreased mood swings/ depression feelings
No more (3 days) monthly migraines!!!
Better sleep at night
healthy steady weight loss
No guilt no matter what I ate
Being “regular” and feeling clean inside.
All of the above made me a happier person overall
These are just a few of the physical benefits I found but they were sufficient for me to decide to stick to this new lifestyle.
So how do I shop for food?
When I go grocery shopping now, I totally skip all meat sections including lunch meat (whatever “meat” that is). That alone is awesome, I don’t even have to think about what dead animal we are going to eat? I don’t solely think about what is reasonable in price, fast and easy to cook for our meals anymore. Instead I think: “What nutritional value and health benefits will this food bring to our family? It is amazing the changes that occur when you grocery shop that way–what gets in the basket and what stays out. It is also easier than it may sound: Just stick to a variety of fresh foods, whole grains and non-processed foods. It really narrows it down quite a bit. Rather than thinking what are we going to eat with the chicken, the beef, the salmon,… (the way I was raised), I think: “how can I make the spinach, the beans, the asperagus, the peppers, the lettuce, the corn, the brown rice, the quinoah, more interesting? What healthy ingredients can I add to make it healthy, tasty and diverse?”
Actively thinking about healthy eating automatically makes you walk away from processed, too fat and too sweet unhealthy foods. It is almost like two oposite forces resisting each other. Before I would buy real butter every week for eating, baking, etc. Now my butter has lasted a whole month because it is very seldom used. I still have left over “white” foods in my pantry so, whenever possible, I mix it up with the whole grain or whole food version and have slowly transitioned that way.
I did not want the change to be too drastic for the children so it has been a gradual transition (changing from white rice to brown rice, from white flour to whole grain, from white sugar to cane and Agave, etc.). However, meat and 95% of the processed food I used to buy were a “cold turkey” quit.
Don’t I crave the old food?
It is very easy to be vegetarian and still eat unhealthy (patato chips, lots of cheese, dairy, white and processed foods, etc.) that is why I added whole foods as well in the title.
There is an adjustment period but It won’t be long after you begin this healthy eating lifestyle that you will crave only fresh foods. Something happens inside your mind when you decide to consciensciously eat only what is good for the body (and not just for weight loss reasons–It has to be more than that). For one, you feel good because you know that what enters your body is good for you. You will crave fresh and healthy foods that makes your body healthy. You will see it and you will feel it. One way of staying strong in the new decision is to continually inform yourself about healthy eating and the nutritional benefits different foods have on your body.
Personally, I have not missed meat at all. I was not a big meat eater before so it is no problem for me. My children don’t ask to eat meat at home but occasionally when we are eating out they will ask to eat something with chicken (they don’t care for red meat) and it is okay!! I don’t forbid them to eat meat. I just don’t cook it at home anymore they will make their own decision when they grow up as what they do or do not want to eat.
Keeping only healthy snacks around also helps on not wanting to revert back to old “bad” foods habit.
Now once the habit is established, it is okay to occasionally have an “old” treat. I am Belgian (and I live in Switzerland) therefore I will not entirely deny an occasional piece of good cheese, some French fries or a piece of good creamy chocolate… It is all in high moderation though and most likely out of the house.
What’s happening in the kitchen?
My cooking is much more interesting and exciting, I discover new foods and new recipes every day. I love to see the dozens of colorful fruits and vegetables in our kitchen and on our plates at all times. I actively research power foods such as spirulina, Goji berries,… to add to our diet.
I love having to worry less about salmonella, no blood on the counters, not having to cook meat anymore, It’s great!
Have I lost any weight?
Yes I have lost about 15 lbs in two and a half months and kept it off (I am just a few pounds away from my target weight). Keep in mind that I am not doing this primarily for weight loss reasons but eating healthy does keep the pounds off once you’ve lost them. Eating right and exercising, as you well know, work hand in hand.
Some challenges with becoming a vegetarian and a whole foods eater
You may need to get acustomed to more grainy texture, to food in its real taste and form. Doing a sugar fast( for a week or two) and trying to add just the necessary amount of salt helps to re-adjust your taste buds to a more natural flavor.
Sometimes it does require more time to prepare the meals, lots of chopping veggies, longer cooking time (beans, brown rice,…) but not all vegetarian dishes require long preparation time.
Planning meals in advance is important at the beginning because it is a new way of eating and cooking.
Not all creations are good but that is no different from non-vegetarian cooking
We all take vitamins supplement regularly to ensure that we get enough of all the necessary vitamins in our system (that is no different than prior to becoming a vegetarian family). These vitamins do not replace the vitamins found in the fresh foods we eat.
I am very excited about the “healthy new world” our family has chosen to live in. There is no going back to the old ways of eating. I can’t tell you how much better I feel since I made these changes and my husband would testify in the same way. My children are young and somewhat oblivious, they’ll just eat what is in front of them so I am glad we are showing them a great way to eat.
I feel like we are truly living a higher law. For Mormons it would simply be called living “The Word of Wisdom“.
Eating healthy not only nourishes your body, it nourishes your soul. If you feel good about what you eat, you will feel good about yourself and that is why “You Are What You Eat.”
Coming up next, a follow up article on: “Vegetarian Meals my Kids Like”