Vegan Curious

By Carissa

Food is fuel for our body.  When we don’t eat well, we don’t feel well both physically and mentally.  I was already thinking about my desire to improve my food habits when I received a message from a friend.  She mentioned the book Eat and Run by ultrarunner Scott Jurek. In this book Scott shared that his running improved when he switched to a whole-foods, plant-based diet.  (For ease, I’ll refer to this as eating vegan.)  It’s not that I wanted to make a diet change in order to run faster, although it would be a nice side benefit, but I wanted to eat in a way that fueled my body to feel healthy and energized. 

I then read a Runner's World article called Eat Vegan and Run.  In the article, when speaking of the change in his diet, Scott Jurek says, “I had virtually no joint inflammation, even after miles of pounding trails and roads, and on the rare occasion I sprained my ankle or fell and whacked my elbow or knee, the soreness left faster than it ever had before.”
A lunchtime favorite

I developed a nagging leg injury while running the Eugene marathon. After the race I began physical therapy and started running on a reduced  schedule.  My recovery was slow. Two and a half months after the marathon I was feeling tired of having a leg that still needed to be babied.  To run gently just doesn’t work well with my personality.  My interest in eating vegan started as curiosity, but now I was motivated.  Could a change in my diet heal my leg?

Trying this diet wasn't a huge leap for a few reasons.  I already cook and eat healthy.  My husband also likes to eat healthy and was willing to try this diet with me.  However, I had a challenge, three of them in fact.  My children - all three of them - prefer meals of processed, animal-based foods.  I know lots of kids have a hard time eating vegetables, but mine also gave me grief about basic foods like beans and rice.  In spite of this problem, I wanted to take the dive and see if I could retrain their taste buds.
"But I don't want to eat this mom!"

Within a day or two I felt great.  I had more energy, the heaviness I felt after meals was gone, and the soreness in my leg went away.  My friends and family said things like, “Are you sure it’s not all in your head?” and  “How are you going to get enough protein?”  Jodi’s response was my favorite.  It went, “Am I supposed to know who Scott Jurek is?  And are you really noticing a difference or do you think you're mentally talking yourself into feeling a difference?  I always wonder about stuff like that.  I can't fathom completely changing our diet and having to think about food so much, but I know you like a challenge.  Have fun.”  Jodi is right, I do like a challenge.

My first challenge was to prove that the right vegan diet had enough protein for me.  I dusted off the app MyFitnessPal and started to crunch the numbers.  It was a little tedious because my meals were from scratch but I calculated a daily total of 68 grams.  As an endurance athlete (and for the sake of this blog post let’s call me one) I should have a minimum of 70 grams.  I’d say I’m close to that but I also acknowledge that I will need to educate myself more and be conscious of my intake. 
Once uncompromising about my morning cup of coffee with half and half,
I now drink it black or with a milk alternative

My next challenge was the kids.  The word vegan was added to their vocabulary and it tends to come out of their mouth with a grimace.  The Cheerios ran out and I offered them granola.  No more yogurt in the fridge?  How about a smoothie instead?  Mac and cheese has remained untouched in the pantry and they are learning to eat rice, quinoa, beans and vegetables.  They don't always like it but they are eating more and healthier foods than they did before.  I suspect that the complaining will continue to decrease over time.

The biggest challenge I have faced is keeping this diet with others.  When I'm traveling and a guest in someone else's home I don't expect to be prepared vegan meals by my host.  I am thankful that I can be flexitarian (a flexible vegetarian) in these instances.  I think another challenge will be eating out.  Thus far, I've only eaten places where I know I can get a vegan meal.  I imagine there are plenty of restaurants that have little to no vegan options.

Are you curious about a vegan diet but not sure where to start?  One friend recommended to start by making one meal vegan at a time.  For example, start by making breakfast vegan.  Once you are ready, add another.  One blog that consistently delivers delicious vegan recipes is (see the Kitchen tab.)  I have also used Pinterest as a way to store recipes that I’ve tried and liked.

In conclusion, I feel great.   I enjoy the food I eat, I feel good about my food choices, and I have learned to cook in a whole new way.  Best of all, those picky eaters of mine now try and tolerate more foods.  That’s a big win in my book.  I don’t know how long I’ll eat this way, but for now I’m very happy with it.
Dessert at my first vegan dining experience.  Delicious!

Have you tried a whole-foods, plant-based diet?  What do you think of it?

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