Several people have heard the story of how I "accidentally" became a vegetarian and I've talked with a few people about why I'm vegan. During the Loving-Kindness sesshin in April I had a lot of time to deeply look at how important my veganism is to my life. I commented on this during the sharing time at the end of the sesshin with my fellow retreatants, but it really seems like something worth sharing with a much larger audience. This is a part one of two posts that cover over 8 years of my changing my diet from the Standard American Diet to a very healthy, vegan diet.
How does one "accidentally" become a vegetarian?
Back in 2001 my cholesterol was 290. On top of that the "bad" cholesterol was really bad, the "good" wasn't anywhere close to good, and those pesky triglycerides were just as sad. Yep, those levels where the doctor starts to use words like "statins" at visits. My blood pressure and blood sugar levels were OK, but when you added those bad numbers to my weight and a family history of women having heart problems -- well, it wasn't good.
I'd lost some weight, about 30 pounds, but was still obese and those numbers weren't budging. Yes, "obese", I'm not going to say "large" or "heavy" or any other of the nice words that take the sting out of it. At not quite 5'5" I weighed about 260 pounds even having lost 30 pounds.
Facing all of this and the knowledge that statins can often have a side-effect of joint pain (since I already have chronic pain in my back I didn't want that added to the list) I decided to stop eating as much meat. Meat is loaded in cholesterol and the foodie in my just saw trying vegetarian options as sampling a type of new cuisine. I was still eating sushi. This was back in 2001.
In 2002 the sushi fell by the wayside one afternoon over a spicy tuna roll and some seared salmon. These were two of my favorite things and sushi was the only flesh I was still eating. I was happy when I was presented my little plate of fish, took a bite, and while chewing my mouth reacted strongly. Chew, chew, chew.... "Ick, what is this!? We don't want this in our mouth! EEEEW!"
A few weeks later friends were over for dinner. Some lovely smoked salmon ravioli had been picked out for the evening and I was looking forward to it. Great conversation, nice wine, yummy veggies... The ravioli? Same mouth reaction, only more insistent. Chew, chew, chew.... "Ick, what is this!? We don't want this in our mouth! EEEEW!"
I honestly thought the ravioli were rancid. Something seriously wrong with the meal. I looked around the table and realized everyone else was happily munching away. I was the only one fighting the urge to gag as I spit out my second bite into a napkin. At that point it seemed obvious that I'd become vegetarian without even trying. My body just found meat gross.
In 2003, while answering a craving for scrambled eggs, my body reacted the same way to eating eggs. I knew the signs immediately. Chew, chew, chew.... "Ick, what is this!? We don't want this in our mouth! EEEEW!"
By now I'd lost nearly 100 pounds. People were amazed. In a way it didn't really feel amazing to me at all, I was there just eating differently, exercising more. It wasn't until my shoes were too big that I really was able to acknowledge how dramatically my body had changed with the weight I'd gained. I certainly was feeling better, so I didn't feel inclined to return back to the way I had been eating.
Cheese was the last great hold out. Particularly Gorgonzola, brie, Stilton, and strong Cheddars. I loved cheese and would happily have entire meals of nothing but an assortment of cheese with some bread. Yep, still vegetarian. Made sure everything I got was not made with animal rennet.
The side effect of this cheese love? Well, my cholesterol had started to inch down a little when I first switched to a vegetarian diet, however, the increase in all that high dairy-fat cheese in my diet sent it right back up again! Once that had happened my doctor was really wanting me to see a nutritionist and go on drugs. I asked him for one more year.