Why I am mostly Vegetarian

I was asked to write an article about my food choices for the office newsletter. I usually don’t speak much about my mostly vegetarian lifestyle because for some people “meat” can be a touchy subject. For example, many have asked me why I don’t eat meat only to interrupt my answer with an argument after just a few words. I am not confrontational and therefore keep my choices mostly to myself. However, I was pleased to write this article with a full explanation and no interruptions 🙂 Enjoy.

Two years ago I took control of my health. I was 15 pounds overweight, sedentary, dealing with career related stress and anxiety, and eating a mostly fast food diet. A friend approached me about getting healthy with her and after some initial resistance I knew it was time for me to improve.

During the first week of my program I set the goal of eating meals made at home and eliminating fast food and restaurant meals to only once per week. Believe me, it was a BIG deal to buy groceries and prepare my own meals for 6 days in a row. I committed to eating at home, even if the meals weren’t technically healthy meals. The goal was more of a lifestyle goal than a health goal: learn to shop, cook, and store my own foods.

After that first successful week (combined with exercise) I was already feeling more energetic. During the second week I started seeking healthy alternatives for junk foods that tempted me. For instance, I started buying nuts instead of chips and switched to tea and juices instead of soda. Success again.

My progress continued over the next 5 months as I tackled one nutritional obstacle at a time. I started watching food documentaries such as Food Inc and reading books on nutrition, (I highly recommend Eat to Live by Dr. Fuhrman).

It wasn’t until after watching multiple food documentaries and reading books and articles on nutrition that I started finding ways to prepare my favorite meals without meat. I knew about poor animal treatment and the negative effects of factory farms on the environment, but those weren’t personal enough to affect my choices. I was still eating typical meats: beef tacos, sausage, chicken, and pork as well as large amounts of ground turkey and turkey substitutes (like turkey pepperonis) as I prepared healthier meals. The motivation to finally remove meat from my eating plan occured when I learned about the nutritional content of meat versus all of the superfoods I was consuming.

Here is an example. I was fine tuning my nutrition and targeting those last few pounds, and I asked my brother for advice. He is a hard core cross-fitter and the cross fit industry is well known for it’s paleo tendencies. He broke down his ideal meal plan of protein supplements, protein packed meals, and carb cycling. The suggested foods were mostly meats and greens. I noticed the plan was deficient in fruit, complex carbs, as well as many of the superfood vegetables I was consuming. One of my favorite new foods was tomatoes. I asked, “ what about tomatoes bro?” His response was “tomatoes are actually a carb so they aren’t recommended.”

At that moment I knew the high protein plan would never be for me. Now I should admit that as a kid I was grossed out by the greasy, boney, bloody deer steaks at the dinner table and the chicken legs full of bones and tendons. I could only eat the meat that had no resemblance to the animals it came from (burgers, pepperonis, ground beef, chicken nuggets.)

But leading up to that conversation with my brother my nutritional knowledge had guided me to eating tons of superfoods such as nuts, natural peanut butter, avocados, blueberries, quinoa (a grain packed with protein), greens, olive oil, spinach, beans, salmon, greek yogurt, etc.

I was not just studying calories but also the nutritional content of foods, and I was learning that even leafy greens contained protein. I also noticed that most fruit and vegetables contained carbs and proteins alongside vitamins, antioxidants, and nutrients.

I thought about a steak versus a tomato: the steak has only protein. The tomato had everything (one tomato contains protein, carbs, fiber, fat, 5 vitamins, and 3 nutrients. You can google the nutritional facts) Then after reading Eat to Live, I finally had the last piece of the puzzle that showed me how our bodies struggle to digest protein packed meals. And I thought about our typical meals in American society: we focus on meat, cheese, and bread. Burgers, pizza, steak and potatoes, etc. The fruits and veggies are mostly forgotten, turning brown in the bottom drawer of the fridge.

So, I embarked on a mission to eat primarily superfood fruits and vegetables. I make portabella pizzas, quinoa mexican bake, black bean lettuce tacos, greek yogurt and berry desserts, homemade veggie burgers and sweet potato fries, etc. Every time I find a way to switch out a meat or processed food for a superfood, I feel a little more superhuman.

I feel great and have no doubts that I am choosing the healthiest foods on our planet. I also entered the fitness industry and began coaching others through the at home workouts I do in 30 day weight loss groups. Most of the time I simply suggest adding as many fruits and vegetables as possible and offer up the recipes I use that have meatless options. Many of my clients will still use grass fed beef or white meats and it’s a non issue. They lose weight because they are still improving their lifestyle, exercising, and using portion control. I also still consume eggs, yogurt, cheese, and fish (which I consider superfoods) and that helps me find something yummy on the menu no matter where I go.

With the focus on superfoods, I was able to theme my coached group appropriately “Superteam” and pass on the healthy life to others. You can read my blog posts and see more of my story, as well as some of my clients, at www.jennyragland.com

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