After several failed attempts, I successfully became a pescatarian and *mostly* dairy-free (props to everyone who can permanently ditch cheese) almost six months ago. Sounds cliché, but through the process I have truly gained a new appreciation for my own willpower and the ability to say no to certain foods that I would have scarfed down no prob before. The pork carnitas in San Antonio looked so f*cking good. In other words, I’m proud of myself, because it’s not always easy. It’s interesting, the importance of clean eating was instilled in me from a very early age, but wasn’t applied to my adult life until recently.
Growing up, my mom was vegan for the majority of my childhood. She was a single parent and full-time student, but always managed to cook healthy meals for us and shop organically as much as she could. No matter where we were financially, she made clean eating a priority in our household and taught me the many benefits of consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables. Wonder Woman, right? As thankful as I am now for the knowledge that she passed along to me, I was not always as appreciative. I remember being embarrassed as a kid by the wheat bread sandwiches and carrot sticks that my mom packed me for lunch. HA! I wanted to bring Lunchables and Gushers like the cool kids. In the third grade my friends were allowed to drink soda and I wasn’t, so I started sneaking change every morning from our coin jar so that I could buy a Coke at lunch from the school’s vending machine. That didn’t last long, of course. Mom quickly found out.
When I got older and could make food for myself, I ate like complete shit. I honestly think that I was just rebelling from what my mom had taught me, because that’s what know-it-all young adults do…or at least, that’s what I did. Turns out, she was right. I was miserable. I had acne, was constantly bloated, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to throw up three nights a week because I have an incredibly sensitive stomach and was eating so poorly. Instead of finding the root of the problem, I continued to indulge in processed, fatty foods because they tasted good. I did not drink near enough water, hardly ate vegetables, and could usually be found going through the Steak ‘n Shake drive-through. Ugh.
When Sam and I moved to St. Louis, something changed. I was determined to make grocery shopping and cooking at home a priority. I think leaving my job at Regis, which was located in the mall with an abundance of extremely accessible fast food, played a large role in my diet switch. I quickly discovered Trader Joe’s, fell in love, and without even fully realizing it, started my journey of clean eating. I tried the Whole 30 diet for a month (basically a diet full of veggies, fruit, and meat), I felt pretty good, but didn’t feel that it was the best fit for ME. I was still bloated and had frequent stomach aches. I know that some people have had tremendous success with the paleo diet, which is why I always say that as individuals, no two people are the same. What works for me, may not work for you. Finding the right combination that meshes well with your body takes time. ANWAY, one night Sam and I turned on the popular documentary What The Health and I was immediately sucked in. While watching, everything that my mom had taught me about the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, avoiding meat/dairy, and limiting processed foods came streaming back and hit me like a ton of bricks. I paid close attention and was reminded of the health, ethical and environmental purposes that my mom did not eat meat for. When the documentary ended, I turned to Sam and said “I’m doing it. I’m going vegan.” I laid out my concerns to him about fearing that people would constantly feel the need to make special accommodations for me, or they would think it was weird. He was so supportive and reassured me that if it was something that I wanted to do, I had to go for it. After that night, I was strictly vegan for three months. I wasn’t bloated, I had no stomach aches, and my acne completely went away.
It was almost like a reset for my body. So many positive things came from those three months, things that I didn’t even expect to happen…I had more energy, my hair was shiny, and I lost ten pounds. As time went on, I adapted a new approach to eating where I listened to my body. If I was craving a salad, I had a huge salad packed with leafy greens. If I was craving a brownie, I had a brownie, substituting as many ingredients as I could for healthier ones. One day, I was desperately craving a piece of salmon. It went against my ‘diet’, but I knew that if I didn’t allow myself to have it, I would binge three days later on a hamburger and fries from Five Guys. So I made a bowl with wild caught salmon, quinoa, and roasted broccolini. I paid close attention to how I felt after eating, and realized that I wasn’t bloated, I didn’t get sick, and I didn’t feel AS guilty for ethical reasons (I know, I know, fish have feelings too). After this, I incorporated more seafood into my diet, which led me to bring other things back, still listening to my body and being mindful of how the foods made me feel.
I have found a very successful balance for ME. I eat seafood, tons of vegetables, and occasionally, cheese. I try to know where my food is coming from, and have learned to CHECK INGREDIENTS. Sugar sneaks in EVERYWHERE. I listen to the signals that my body sends me, and try to accommodate as best I can. This approach has made me feel the best, and has been the most maintainable with my current lifestyle. We are all unique, so our diets should also be unique. I don’t believe that there’s strictly one formula for everyone, and that it’s okay to pick aspects from different diets, as long as you FEEL good. That’s what life’s all about, right? Also, listen to your mom. She’s usually right.
Lizzy In The Lou