Becoming Plant Based

By Doug of Rock Creek Runner

There are few things in life as important, and often as overlooked as one’s diet.

I have friends who, right in between lip smacks from a dozen deep fried, double sauced chicken wings they are stuffing in their face, will tell me about how totally insane their workouts were that morning.

Hell, when I was training for my first marathon, I thought it was a great idea to refuel with a large pepperoni pizza after every long run. I’d eat every single bite.

Those large pizzas and 25¢ chicken wings might stimulate the taste buds, but they aren’t replenishing the body.

We spend so much time exercising to fight off the effects of the food we eat, when really the food we eat should be enabling us to be stronger athletes and healthier beings.

But changing your diet isn’t always simple. And for good reasons:

  1. It can be damn hard. When 25¢ wing advertisements are the first thing you see after walking into a bar, or you need a quick bite and the standard fast food options are the only restaurants around, it is difficult to pass up something easy, and often delicious.
  2. It takes a lot of work. Most people eat the way they do because they don’t know how to properly eat otherwise. You have to commit to doing research, speaking with friends, and plenty of trial and error.
  3. We humans have a great way of living for instant pleasure. We don’t think about how our immediate actions will affect us 10 years from now. Or even 10 minutes from now, when that double bacon cheeseburger starts to settle in and all you want to do is curl up and take a nap.

I know that I paid no attention to diet most of my life.

It wasn’t until I started dating my now fiancée Katie, that she pushed me to reassess my conventional thoughts on food and food ethics. Around the same time, I found the desire to run longer distances, not for exercise but for challenging my limits, and I realized how much my diet was holding me back physically.

So I joined Katie as a vegetarian.

Don’t get me wrong, I still ate plenty of junk (I’ve always been a sucker from some crispy french fries), but I found the increase in veggies and cleaner foods in my diet led to quicker post-run recovery, less of that awful stuffed feeling, and higher energy levels.

It also gave me peace of mind about the ethical and environmental impact of the food I was eating.

But over time we both felt like that wasn’t enough. So we quit buying eggs. Then milk. Yet we’d still stuff our faces with cheesy pizza from time to time, and mac and cheese was always the go-to after a long day at work when we didn’t feel like cooking.

That leads us to a few weeks ago, when I got an email from Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete, with whom I co-host the No Meat Athlete Radio, that he was contributing to Leo Babauta’s 7 Day Vegan Challenge and wanted to bring him onto the podcast to talk about it.

I took a look at the challenge’s site and knew that Katie and I had to give it a shot. We were stuck in our eating habits and routines, and needed a swift kick in the butt to keep pushing ourselves.

We hit the store to pick up some fresh food, alerted a few family and friends like Leo suggests, and set out to begin the 7 next days as vegans.

Within the first 48 hours, many of the fears we had about going vegan dissolved away:

  • Even lunch and dinner spots that aren’t known to be vegan friendly had more than a few options if you dug deep in the menu. I even found food at the ballpark.
  • Friends I would have thought would give me a hard time couldn’t have cared less.
  • Turns out that as vegetarians, a lot of what we were eating was vegan anyway, we just hadn’t realized it or paid attention before.

But the 7 days weren’t free from challenges:

  • I never realized how much food surrounded me at all times in the office. Candy, cookies, and working lunches where food was provided. I could always eat the vegetarian options before, but it isn’t standard in my office to order vegan meals.
  • Our go-to quick meals and snacks at the house were tempting and hard to avoid. We had plenty of other vegan food to choose from, but we hadn’t cleaned out our kitchen beforehand. Thinking of new options meant work that we weren’t thrilled to do after a long day.

Thankfully we learned a few lessons during the week of the challenge. Lessons that are helping us now, after the official 7 days, and ones that could help anyone else looking to go vegan or just looking to change to healthier eating habits:

  1. Do it together. When making a big change in your diet like going plant based, it is important to have someone close to you that can celebrate your victories and hold you accountable when you screw up. Rely on a boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, or close friend, so you don’t feel like you are all alone in a meatless world.
  2. Read up. We are blessed to live in this incredible time where the internet puts more knowledge than could ever be good for us, right at our fingertips. Seek out blogs, books, and online communities that can give you both advice and support.
  3. Be easy on yourself. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Major changes in your diet take time, recipe disasters, and awkward potty breaks to really figure it out. It can be hard and frustrating. Allow yourself a treat from time to time, and remember, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing at first.

We are particularly following lesson number 3. Since the 7 days are now over, we’ve committed to living in a 100% vegan house, where we will no longer buy or cook non-plant based foods.

We haven’t committed to going 100% plant based outside of the house, but we are taking steps. Taking steps in our journey to have better and healthier lives for ourselves, each other, our friends and family, and the world we live in.

Taking steps to become plant based.

Read more from Doug at Rock Creek Runner.