The Vegan Experience

by on January 6th, 2011
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Sitting with friends during an impromptu get together at a local eatery can be quite stressful for the practicing vegan, with quite a bit of internal monologuing. “Why didn’t I look this place up on when she said it was Brazilian? I hope the pasta is egg free. I wonder if they have a vegan friendly menu. I hope my friends don’t think I’m high maintenance. Please, God, let them have plain fruit as a dessert option.”

I experienced the highs and lows of eating a vegan diet quickly after transitioning. From dealing with the lack of comparable restaurants that serve anything vegan friendly, and handling the derision one gets from others who see this diet choice as abnormal, unhealthy or just plain foolish; to the numerous healthy benefits I already see occurring. Transitioning into a fully vegan lifestyle (which includes limiting my clothing options to non-animal derived materials) was less a marathon type change for me than it was a quick sprint around the bend. Veganism, and the passion to no longer treat (or support an industry that treats) animals as commodities, were the surprising byproducts of my search to live a healthier life. I wanted to lose weight, minimize my body’s inflammatory response (the cause of many common diseases like Alzheimer, arthritis, and IBD) and lower my cholesterol.

These needed positive changes, I thought, would work in concert to help control an often unspoken about condition I have: Crohn’s Disease. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s about 5 years ago and though my intestinal inflammation was better than at its peak, it was by no means at stellar levels. I often experienced cramps and lethargy during the day from lack of proper nutrition absorption. I suffered from weekly weight fluctuations and my lower back ached with the steady throb of a spasmodic condition, making walking even moderate distances uncomfortable. The urgency for swift action came in the form of swelling feet, from water retention, which I began to notice one day as I sat at my desk, writing for my blog. Edema in the lower extremities is often a sign of being over weight but it can be a signal for burgeoning heart issues.

I’m a young man when one considers the advancing health conditions I am dealing with, so I began looking into eating healthier: no fried foods; cooking without salt; lowering my simple carbohydrates intake, and eliminating anything from my diet which contained high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. I began to feel better but I still experienced great discomfort from inflammation. I began juicing and found that helpful too. But still, it had limited effects. I then began watching documentaries on healthy eating and how the food culture in the west makes us sick. I ran through “Fat Head,” “Food Inc,” and numerous other documentaries on our food culture. All were informative but none gave me that ah ha moment until I came across “Folks Over Knives.” This is a documentary about “The China Study,” a groundbreaking research project which sought to better understand how types of foods and their nutritional compounds affect human health. The implication was that eating more than 5% of meat products in our diet may be the biggest factor in developing many chronic and debilitating diseases.

Remember, essentially, we’re apes; and no member of the ape family besides humans regularly gets more than 5% of its food intake from animal or insect derived sources. And some ape species like Gorillas are totally vegetarian. My mentioning that is not a judgement for those who do enjoy meat and eat lots of it, but it’s a hard scientific fact we never consider when making our food choices. Modern humans stand alone in the ape family when it comes to our excessive meat consumption; and even then, this culture of eating large quantities of meat is relatively new in our species’ history. This was all news to me, but it helped me understand the evolutionary incompatibilities the standard western diet has with our bodies and possibly (along with other issues of modern life and its processed foods) explains why my health, along with a growing number of Americans, was failing at such a higher rate than people born 50 years ago, before government subsidized the meat industry thereby making meat artificially cheaper.

My interests in eating healthy transformed into a full fledged cruelty free diet, however, when I came across a documentary called “Earthlings.” This brilliant and emotional expose quickly and dramatically dives into the cruel reality of factory farming, where the vast majority of the western world gets its meat, and how this industry is negatively affecting our environment, our health, and the lives of millions living in the third world by lumbering their land for cattle grazing. It showcased the world fishing industry, whaling and captures of dolphin in Japanese waters, and the effects these practices are having on our seas and oceans. It even focused on the fur industry and vivisection, which is the practice of performing operations on living animals for scientific and experimentation reasons. There is no description I can give here which can properly evoke the feelings one experiences when watching this film in all its raw reality. But suffice to say, I call this film the vegan maker.

After watching it, the lingering cravings I had for meat, cheese and eggs vanished; and I therefore, went from being a leery, occasional meat eater to a complete vegan in the time it took to watch the film. Amazingly enough, with that immediate change in diet, began an immediate positive response in my health. I began quickly losing weight, dropping two pants sizes in a month. Small blemishing on my face, some I had for years, began clearing up, and the feel of my skin overall has tightened yet feels more hydrated and smooth as though elasticity is coming back. All intestinal inflammation healed within a few weeks of the transition. I have more energy than I’ve had in years, and I’ve begun a daily exercise regimen. Even my mood has elevated.

These changes have been so severe, my son became interested in eating a plant based diet a week after I took the plunge. After a quick viewing of Earthlings to help temper his meat cravings, he is now vegan. In a month and three weeks, he’s lost 16 pounds, has more energy, and feels altruistic for giving up something he really enjoyed so to not be part of the problem. My elderly mother, two weeks after I turned vegan, became a vegetarian. She was unable to make the full switch. But even still, her health has dramatically begun to change for the better by cutting out meat. After decades of suffering chronic head aches, chest discomfort, sharp arthritic pains in her fingers, hips and feet to the point she could not walk more than a few yards without needing to sit, she now joins me on morning walks at the local track, free of most her pains, free of most her discomfort. No head aches. No chest pains. She’s only been a vegetarian for one month and a half yet she has seen more positive indicators her health is improving under a plant based diet than after 15 years of taking medications. For me, her achievements alone, even if I didn’t consider my own, are clear proof of the benefits of a plant based diet. I’m not a preachy person, and I believe a person’s choice of food is his my own to make. I made mine and I’m happy with it. But no one can convince me now, after this life changing experiment, that being vegan is not a healthier choice than its meat eating alternative.

Even with all these amazing benefits, and my strong belief that I’m on the right track toward a healthy life for the first time in a decade, I still can’t stop feeling nervous about sitting with friends at an impromptu get together, wondering what everyone thinks about the silly vegan and his silly vegetable plate.

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