Confessions of a Struggling Vegetarian

1 Feb

Over the last few years I have begun to realize that the way I approach food needed to be reconsidered. They say that there are two ways to consider our relationship with food: there are those that eat to live and those who live to eat. I have definitely been a member of the latter. However, I now notice a difference in how I feel, physically and emotionally, when I eat in a conscious, healthy manner as opposed to shoving whatever is convenient into my mouth regardless of whether or not I’m actually hungry or due for a meal.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about six and half years now and its been a journey I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I know that there are many different classifications of vegetarians and I would be the type that doesn’t eat any meat (including seafood/ fish) and avoids things like gelatin. I do still eat eggs if I know exactly where they’ve come from so I can confirm that they are free range and I enjoy yogurt. However, I am lactose intolerant, so that limits my intake of dairy. I know that too many this type of lifestyle may seem extreme and to others I’m not taking my dedication to the craft of vegetarianism far enough, but this is where I’m comfortable and this where I plan on remaining. And while abiding to such a reduced diet it may appear as though I eat nothing but lettuce and tofu…. I assure you, there are still many ways to be an unhealthy vegetarian.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

My years spent working in fast food at McDonald’s (where I was not vegetarian) and Starbucks (which is slightly more meat free but still filled with calories) I was constantly surrounded by less than ideal meal choices. Now I could have been disciplined and stuck to packing my lunch at home or only ordering salads and non-sweetened ice teas, but this would have required will power. So I indugled on a regular, and sometimes daily, basis. This combined with grocery stores full of convenient meal options and my lack of understanding as to what constituted a suitable and healthy meal lead me to an unhealthy relationship with food.

Luckily, I have been doing my homework over the last few years and here are a few ideas that I have begun to incorporate into my daily eating habits and weekly meal planning… even if its only occasionally instead of consistently.

1. Eating seasonally/ locally

At my request, my sister bought me a cookbook for Christmas lat year. Its called Clean Food by Terry Walters. This has been a wonderful guide to learning about what our bodies need from season to season and what to look for when shopping for fruits and vegetables. It makes sense that in the winter we crave hearty, filling vegetables while in the summer we prefer light and refreshing berries. This is what our body needs!! While I have not yet embraced all of Terry’s philosophies concerning cleaning eating (ie adjusting the alkalinity of all my foods…) and not being prepared to make an extra trip to another supermarket when I can’t find wakame or Bragg liquid aminos, I have enjoyed the idea of looking for foods that grow during a specific season and creating new recipes with them. The other component of this is eating locally. As much as I possibly can (because bananas don’t grow in BC and I do have a profound love for green grapes!!) I try to only buy produce that is grown and distributed within a reasonable distance of the lower mainland. To ensure that it is fresh, this means that growers can only distribute produce that is in season. BC grown strawberries in the summer beat out Californian strawberries in the winter every time! And while I try to buy locally when I can, the other challenge that comes along with this is…

2. Eating organically

Part of the reason I decided to become a vegetarian was because of the ethical and environmental concerns that are raised by the factory farming industry. Included in this is the impact that pesticides have had on us as consumers for numerous decades now. If I can put food in my body that is beneficial instead of harmful, why wouldn’t I? By a general rule, its best to buy organically, in terms of produce, when the fruit or vegetable will be eaten with the skin on or are leafy in nature. Think apples, grapes and peppers or lettuce and spinach. For more info… Again, this isn’t something I adhere to every single time I shop, but I’m aware of what I should be looking for and if its available and reasonably priced, I’m always going to choose organic over regular produce. Also, thoroughly washing your fruits and veggies once you get them home is a must!!

3. Frozen fruit/ veggies are our friends!!

I have learned to embrace the convenience of these tiny little powerhouses. Because they are frozen directly after harvesting, most frozen produce retains a good amount of their nutrients in comparison to their fresh counterparts. So steamed peas as a side dish? Yum!!

4. Processed food ARE the enemy

While this adjustment has only been recent, I do try to avoid heavily processed foods. Don’t get me wrong, I still indulge in the occasional fast food veggie burger with onion rings from time to time, but I DO NOT feel as good afterwards. The amount of preservatives and sodium in processed food are way too hard on our bodies and the long term effects just aren’t worth it for me. When I go to the grocery store, I do my best to only shop the perimeter. Avoiding the junk packed middle isles is helping me to resist the temptation of sugar and chemical laden foods.

5. Trying new alternatives while cooking/baking can be delicious!

Apple sauce instead of oil in muffins or spices instead of salt in chili? Totally better for you and tastes just as good, if not better! I love to cook and bake (this alone has probably help to fuel my interest in healthy foods) and trying out new recipes is a favourite past time. If there is a way to reduce calories or to add an extra fruit (hello Banana and Kiwi muffins!) then lets do it up!! Healthy eating can be fun.

As I have mentioned numerous times, these are not ideas that I have fully mastered. But knowing the difference between good food choices and better food choices are helping me to create a new relationship with food. Am I still tempted by a bag of Salt and Vinegar chips washed down with a Diet (full of Aspartame) Pepsi? You bet and I will indulge from time to time. But do I consistently choose an apple or a cup of tea on a regular basis now? Yep!! Even if its slowly incorporating a new healthy habit into your day from week to week (or month to month…sometimes it takes awhile and that’s ok!) a few healthy habits are better than none đŸ™‚

Happy eating dear friends!

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