Sunday, November 18, 2012

What I Learned from Going Pseudo-Vegetarian for a Month


At least once a year, I decide to revamp my life to be 'healthier.' I'm usually inspired by my own health, or seemingly, lack of control over it. If I take care of my body by feeding it the right foods, sleeping enough, and working out a few times a week, then I should be relatively free of pains and ills. But sometimes, this isn't enough, or I get wrapped around the axel about the "right" foods. Even unprocessed tomatoes have a cycle of being good or bad depending on the growing source, preparation, storage, etc.

So this past July, we purchased half a cow, which was raised on a farm somewhere in the county on grass and grain. For three months, I ate beef every other day. Who could deny that steaks and hamburger from a local cow taste 10 times better than what's at Walmart?

As it turns out, there is a health cost to eating that much meat. See, I wasn't just eating red meat 4-5 times a week, but all other sources of protein (and some veggies) in my diet were replaced with delicious sirloin or short ribs drizzled in a smoky BBQ sauce. My muscles after a workout had the most amazing rippling effect, which doesn't sound that attractive, but the novelty was cool. The problem was how I felt after eating red meat. Gradually my complete satisfaction with a porterhouse turned into being so zonked after a meal, I wanted a nap (or a good cry - low energy is my kryptonite).

I also noticed that my pee had a weird soap-foam look to it, which can mean too much protein being excreted.* I thought of all the health sites I read where too much protein can wreak havoc on your kidneys. I tend to panic in these situations, and I realized I wanted to do an immediate diet makeover.

So I'm giving myself until Thanksgiving to be a psuedo-vegetarian, getting protein from eggs, fish, and maybe chicken once a week.

A psychological bit about 'vegetarianism.' When I was growing up, all the vegetarians I knew were fat, probably because they ate french fries and cake every day (lots of it). Not pointing any fingers, mind you… When you're a kid, the only food you really can eat is whatever your parents buy. I'm sure they ate healthier foods at the dinner table. I certainly have found that eating unprocessed foods gives me a mental edge (and it helps the abs), so my plan was to substitute animal protein sources with vegetables, soups, nuts, yogurt (ugh), and non-tropical fruits like apples and avocados.

Vegan is extreme. It deviates too much from what I grew up with (and what my ancestors typically ate, which involved a lot of gravy and potatoes). Red meat was a staple in our house, so I don't know if I could ever go whole-hog into vegetarianism for more than a month. Also, soy just doesn't taste good, although I've eaten it off and on for at least a decade. I know people who go vegan for a bit, but it's a temporary switch. Eventually, their bodies need some vitamin or mineral that only can be obtained from eggs or something. Also, vegan, like any other strict diet, can be isolating. I'm still not aware of too many restaurants that cater to vegans.

In the last few weeks, I've learned quite a bit that is worth mentioning:
  • My ripply muscles have become even more vascular (move over Madonna), and I enjoy the way I look just the same as when I was on my SuperProtein diet. I know vanity shouldn't be the first thing on the list, but I work hard to fight office-ass.
  • My energy level was immensely higher, which I attribute to the extra vitamins and fewer calories. More food = sluggish in most cases. 
  • Despite avoiding beans because I hate them, my insides have been rather musical.
  • Supplementation becomes super important if you cut out meat. I freaked out about the bubble bath I saw in the toilet, so I went cold turkey on my vitamins. Three weeks in, I started waking up in the middle of the night because I had jerked myself awake. My hand would cramp for a second, I'd wake up for twenty minutes, only to wake up again to my leg twitchme out of my doze. After four or five episodes of this, I Googled "insomnia caused by twitching" and came up with magnesium deficiency being a possible cause.** After resuming a daily dose, the twitching subsided.
  • I hate yogurt too. It's basically a novelty food with sucky commercials.
  • Finally, I don't crave sweets as badly as I did a few months ago. This could be a placebo effect, or the fact that I changed jobs, not necessarily something I can attribute to less red meat. But it's an interesting observation, nonetheless.

Maybe this psuedo-vegetarian theme can continue for the next six months. I can't tell if my experience is temporary relief or if there are more diet changes I can make to feel amazing.
We'll see after the holiday season!

*I was diagnosed with acute interstitial cystitis about this time, which has no known cause.
**I'm not a doctor, and I don't necessarily recommend looking health issues up on Google. However, my mind is hungry, and if I don't figure out some potential leads for fixing an issue, I'll incessantly worry myself into a state. The power of observation has served me way better than any Google site, and sometimes, even doctor's advice.