Since December 25th, 10 days ago, I have not eaten a single piece of meat of any kind. During that same time frame, I also have had almost nothing to eat or drink that was processed in any significant way. (And yes, this includes chewing gum, a former staple of mine; have you ever looked at the ingredient list?)
And I can honestly say that I have never – never – felt better.
In this post, I will recap my first 10 days as a real food something-atarian (we’ll get to the name in a bit), including what spurred the change, how I’ve gone about implementing into my life, and the specific ways that I’ve been impacted positively by doing so.
Image source: A Word In Progress
So What Am I, Exactly?
Let’s get this out of the way first, because everyone I discuss this with asks. Are you a vegan now? Are you a vegetarian? A pescatarian? WHAT ARE YOU? (I’m a man!)
Frankly, I don’t really know. As of right now, these are the “parameters” of my new eating strategy:
- I don’t eat any beef, pork, chicken, or any other kind of meat.
- I do plan to eat fish from time to time, for the following reasons: as a way to navigate the tricky and mostly deleterious waters of eating out at restaurants; because I love sushi and won’t give it up; because it’s a good source of protein and healthy fats the body needs; and because fish, in general, seems to pose fewer health risks than meat (so long as you stay away from fish high in mercury).
- As for dairy, I have replaced cow’s milk, which I really only used in my morning coffee and in certain recipes, with rice milk. I use eggs only in cooking (for now). I continue to eat yogurt, but I have switched to the Greek Gods Non-Fat Yogurt that has zero preservatives or extra sugars, and then I mix it with fresh fruit and granola.
- I eat far more fresh veggies, nuts, and fruit as snacks.
- I only use fresh-baked loaves of bread from bakeries, or I bake my own. Non-fresh store bread is loaded with preservatives to keep it fresh and, if you’re not careful, a source of hydrogenated oils.
- I continue to drink beers and wines, like my beloved Sam Adams, that do not use preservatives or any type of corn syrups (like lite beers do). I have eliminated sugary, processed juices (because of this) as well as the lemonades and fruit drinks that come in powdered form and are naturally sweetened, like Crystal Light.
And that pretty much covers it. Mind you, I didn’t necessarily set out to make these rules, and they are not really rules, per se. This is just how my eating habits have developed during the 10 days of this experiment, with a huge assist from Michael Pollan’s terrific little tome called Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.
When you add it all up, I believe technically I am a pescatarian – a vegetarian who will eat fish – or to be even more accurate a flexitarian, which is a vegetarian who will occasionally eat meat, since I imagine at some point I’ll have a small steak along the way, or a hot dog at a baseball game (it’s tradition!) or something like that.
But while the meat aspect of this new eating regimen is important, I think the most important part is the focus on whole foods, especially plants, and the elimination of as many processed foods and artificial ingredients as possible. That’s why, no matter what kind of -itarian I am, I’ll always put the “real food” label in front of it.
A person can be a vegetarian and still eat all kinds of crappy foods filled with preservatives and hydrogenated oils and other nonsense, thus muting any potential health benefit. That doesn’t happen when you eat real, whole, unprocessed foods – at least not based on what I’ve been reading, and what I can surmise from my short experience so far doing it myself.
So, what am I? I’ll classify myself, as I did in the title of this post, as a Real Food Flexitarian. And now you and I both know exactly what that means.
Why Did I Decide To Do This?
The reason why I’ve been able to hit the ground running with this drastic eating change, and not look back, is due to a rather fortunate and serendipitous confluence of events.
First, I knew I wanted to change something in the new year to a) get healthier, b) lose weight, and c) just generally feel better. I figured that altering my declining eating habits would have to be a central part of this. I alluded to this in the first post about The Discipline Project.
Next, I started doing some research on being a vegetarian, just to find out more about it. Since discipline is my buzzword for 2012, I figured that adopting some kind of eating system might be a good idea and a way to eliminate some of the bad eating (like, say, ordering a pizza at night or foolishly indulging in fast food).
Then, on Christmas Eve, my brother and I decided to watch the documentary Food Inc. on a whim.
Image source: Sustainability
To say it was eye-opening would be an understatement. While I am sure that it is a bit biased and tells mostly one side of a complicated story, it does tell it in a compelling way that makes salient points regardless. And you can’t fake video of cows going to slaughter, chickens housed without light on a floor comprised of their own feces, or what the meat production/packing/distribution process looks like. (Hint: it’s repulsive.)
Featured in Food Inc. is author Michael Pollan, who my good friend Aaron Bollinger told me about several years ago after reading Pollan’s well-known book The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. I woke up early on Christmas morning and had some time to kill before the present-opening extravaganza began, so I decided to download one of Pollan’s books onto my iPad to begin reading.
There were a number of choices, but I settled on In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. I cannot recommend this book enough.
I finished the book that day, so totally engrossed by what I was learning that I simply could not put it down. Immediately, for a number of reasons that Pollan lays out in the book, I realized that this whole foods approach to eating made total sense.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
That, those seven words, is the main idea of the book. It is basically Pollan’s entire thesis on food, and the more I researched the topic, the more it made sense to me.
Read In Defense of Food, then read Food Rules, and you’ll understand my new philosophy on eating, which I essentially adopted from these two sources (also using What to Eat by Marion Nestle as a guide for navigating the supermarket, a place you do not have to avoid but that you certainly should become more informed and savvy about).
The next day, I was off and running. I convinced the family to jaunt down to the Dallas Farmer’s Market with me, where I bought all kinds of fresh produce: tomatoes, avocados, peppers, apples, potatoes, and on and on. Fortunately, I’ve gotten into cooking over the past year, so the challenge of buying fresh ingredients and forming them into meals was one I looked forward to with great excitement and have thoroughly enjoyed.
Ten days later (it seems like more) I haven’t eaten one unnatural meal or snack. I even made it out of BW3s last Sunday with all of my good feelings still alive, avoiding the wings and buffalitos by opting instead for veggie boats and a salad. No, the later two didn’t taste as good as the former two would have; but I felt 100X better when I walked out of the restaurant. I felt energized and content as opposed to tired, bloated, and stuffed. The trade-off was well worth it.
The question now is, will I continue eating this way?
I’ve made dietary changes before, experienced huge early returns, and vowed never to return to eating crappy foods again…only to return to eating crappy foods again down the line.
Why do I think things will be different this time?
Simply put, because I think this style of eating is sustainable, and because I’ve never experienced such a drastic shift in my overall feeling of well-being as I have over the past 10 days.
What Have The Benefits Been?
Now that I’ve alluded to how much better I feel, it’s time to get specific. What exactly feels better?
Every day of eating real foods as opposed to processed foods is decreasing my risk for a number of different types of cancers and chronic diseases. Even if this was the only benefit, it would be worth it don’t you think?
This is the #1 benefit I’ve experienced. I have more energy throughout the day, and the energy is consistent – without any type of substance like coffee to keep it that way.
I always used to find myself having great energy and focus early in the day, but then it would tail off in the afternoon. Now that I’ve cut out eating a frozen Healthy Choice meal or ordering in for lunch, instead eating something like whole wheat pasta tossed with olive oil, tomatoes, and freshly grated parmesan cheese (my lunch the last two days), I have not once noticed a decline in energy, that classic “crash” everyone talks about and that I used to experience, in the afternoon.
And note: I have not yet re-incorporated working out into my daily routine. So the increase energy cannot have anything to do with exercise. (That’s coming next though.) And I haven’t been sleeping more either. The only change I’ve made is how and what I eat, in addition to drinking more water to make sure I’m properly hydrated. That’s it.
I touched on this above, but it bears repeating. I have found my focus to be many magnitudes sharper throughout the day. It doesn’t yo-yo, as I had found it starting to do more and more over the last 18-24 months. I’m thinking much of this has to do with being hydrated and keeping my blood sugar more stable throughout the day by a) eating right and b) not over-eating.
My body just, overall, feels better. I don’t get that bloated feeling after eating. My stiff, unflexible muscles (I know, I need to work on it) feel slightly less stiff and unflexible, with no exercise or stretching to account for it.
Heck, I even find myself sitting up straighter in my chair and having better posture. Is this due to the food? Probably not, though I think it’s a sign that the discipline being developed by my commitment to eating well is spilling over into other areas of my life that I’m just starting to notice.
As I said before, I haven’t incorporated working out in the daily mix yet. I also haven’t restricted myself too much from a portion perspective, though I have naturally found myself eating less than I used to because I get both full and satiated with less food. So I haven’t been explicitly trying to lose weight over these first 10 days while I get used to my new daily eating habits. Yet I’ve still dropped four pounds already as of this morning.
That’s pretty encouraging and leads me to believe that once I do target specific weight loss goals, I will have a much, much easier time reaching them than if I was exercising more and eating less but still ingesting tons of preservatives and edible food-like substances that are not really food.
Just skip this section if discussions of the bowels and their movements are displeasing to you.
More than likely, however, it is the non-movement of the bowels that is truly displeasing, as irregularity can be one uncomfortable, chronic byproduct of a diet filled with junky non-food food that your body doesn’t know how to process efficiently.
Since I switched to eating all whole foods and no meat, I’ve had a satisfying, cleansing bowel movement every day, sometimes more than one. I cannot tell you when the last time that happened three days in a row was, let alone ten. Regardless, it’s a huge reason why I feel better, lighter, and less filled with nasty toxins.
And now you know more about me than you ever wanted to know.
My skin looks better, and I haven’t spent any additional time in the sun. This is one benefit I didn’t really expect, nor care about, but I’ll take it seeing as how I’ve been mocked on the Interwebs before for my ghastly complexion.
I tend to be a pretty happy, positive dude, but I had started to notice myself getting a bit more chippy, a bit less patient, and a bit more moody than in the past. Like the energy and focus that I started this list off with, my mood tended to be inconsistent. Not anymore — at least not from my perspective, but hopefully from others’ too!
That’s a pretty substantial list already, and I could probably go on. But you get the idea: I feel a lot better and in a lot of different ways, and these changes have to mostly be attributed to my shift in eating habits since nothing else has changed.
I was further emboldened to believe that these improvements were food-related during our interview with ‘Coach Carla’ Ferrer last night on the first episode of Healthy Habits. This is a woman who lost 130 pounds some 18 years ago and has been able to keep it off without going on specific “diets” other than focusing on eating whole foods.
What’s next is more of the same.
And I plan to keep my motivation strong by continuously finding fun new recipes to cook, making trips to the Farmer’s Market a regular occurrence, and writing/blogging/talking about my experience to constantly remind myself of just how good I feel and how beneficial these changes have been and will continue to be.
I also plan to get back in the gym and start working out again. It’s funny: now that I feel so good, I can’t wait to get back in the gym. I’ve held off just to make sure I wasn’t doing too much, too fast, plus I was worried that my energy and/or strength level might drop because of the shift in eating habits. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised that the opposite has actually happened.
The key now is to maintain these new habits.
Six months, a year, five years down the road, I don’t want to be viewing this new way of eating as some kind of strategy that I’m trying to maintain. I just want it to be a part of my life, a part of who I am and how I live, so that it becomes second nature and unquestioned.
I’m only 10 days in right now, with a past littered with good intentions and good plans that fell by the wayside; so I still have to remain vigilant with my daily focus, which is part of why I wanted to take the time to write this post and remind myself of the myriad benefits I’ve gained in such a short period of time.
And yes, I know that some of the benefits I’m claiming to see can perhaps be explained as self-fulfilling prophecies. Perchance some of these benefits can even be attributed to a kind of placebo effect, mind over matter, as I look to justify the time and effort I’ve put into reshaping the way I eat. Maybe this is true. To which I say: who cares?
The benefits, both tangible and intangible, are improving my life on a daily basis, and they only started when I started to make these changes. I’m no scientist. I’m no nutritionist. I’ve read a couple of books, but I don’t know what all is going on inside of my body that eating better is facilitating. I just know I feel 100X better than I did 10 days ago, and that’s enough proof for me to believe that what I’m doing is right, that I should continue doing it, and that my personal experience is worth sharing.
So I will, quite happily, and with boundless motivation.
Change is never easy, even change that we know will be positive, but one thing I’ve come to realize is that believing in what you’re changing and having people to share the experience with sure can make success more likely.