The Reluctant Vegan

Tomato

I have a confession to make: about two weeks ago, I became vegan.

I no longer eat animals, things made from animals, or things animals make. So: no beef. No chicken. No pork. No fish. No shrimp. No eggs. No milk. No cheese.

No one is more surprised by this than I am.

Having just lost forty pounds on a diet consisting mainly of beef, chicken, eggs, and cheese, I would seem to be an unlikely candidate for veganism. After all, based solely on the ease and speed of my recent weight loss, it would seem that a high-protein, low carb diet aligns well with my metabolism and my lifestyle. And, indeed, having learned a whole new way of eating, I was reluctant to “mess with my success.”

And then we saw the movie Forks over Knives, which does a very good job of summarizing the scientific evidence of the benefits of a diet low in animal protein:

– In China, a comprehensive, long-term effort to map cancer types and rates reveals an important pattern. In regions where people eat very little animal protein, cancer is virtually unknown. Once animal protein is introduced into their diets, cancer rates rise dramatically.

– In Norway, when the Nazis commandeered all meat, eggs, and cheese for their soldiers, the population was forced to live on vegetables and breads. During those years, deaths from cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes plummeted. When the Nazis left and the meat came back, deaths from cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes returned to pre-war levels.

– In contemporary America, the number of citizens suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and cancer continues to climb. But, as many people have discovered, simply avoiding eating animals and animal products can be very effective arresting or reversing these conditions.

In short: a survey of the best scientific evidence available to us today indicates that “most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed,” by eating a whole-foods, plant-centered diet.

After seeing the movie, I started wondering if the diet that had helped me loose so much weight might actually, in the long term, be working against me. So I’ve decided to launch a second phase of dietary self-experimentation: ninety days on a diet as low as possible in animal protein.

This will not be easy for me. Frankly? I like a good burger. I loves me some fried chicken. Meat lover’s pizza is my hands-down favorite.

But I love life more than any of these foods. If going vegan helps me avoid illness and buys me ten to fifteen more healthy, productive years with Clyde … then, yeah, that means more to me than the occasional chili dog or slice of pizza pie.

Two weeks in, some observations:

– Going vegan is easier than you’d think. Especially in Atlanta, where we have many good sources for local vegetables and vegetarian dishes, I can almost always find something to eat. (And you can make some great quick meals at home. Last night we had vegan hot dogs on whole-wheat buns, with a side of home-made baked potato crisps. Yum!)

– Going vegan does require some planning. When we travel, I don’t expect my hosts to bear the burden of catering to my dietary experimentation, so we often carry our own food with us. (Just took some vegan breakfast burritos to Mom’s house, for example, over the holiday weekend.)

– Sometimes, you just have to eat what God provides. When eating at other people’s homes or in their favorite restaurants, sometimes you don’t have a vegan option. And during food-based celebrations, it’s almost anti-social not to partake of, say, the July 4th fried chicken or grandma’s chocolate cake or your family’s Thanksgiving bird. So, in situations like these, you may see me choosing to eat some chicken or turkey or salmon or cheese or egg or treat … but when I do, it will be rare, and it will always be the result of a conscious, mindful choice.

– Indulgence Day is important for me. When I first started losing weight, an indulgence day — a day off from the diet, with permission to eat as much as I liked of anything I wanted — was an important component of my plan. Indulgence days keep me from feeling deprived and help me defer less healthy choices to one day a week. I’m going to maintain this approach, at least at first, scheduling small amounts of meat and cheese for Saturday meals.

– I’m still losing weight. Now that I’m (mostly) vegan, I’m beginning to add some carbs (whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat wraps) back into my diet. So far, no weight gain — but I’m still very, very careful about the carbs I take in, and I’m watching the scales obsessively. I do not ever want to be fat again.

My question for you, dear reader: if you had good evidence that eating no animal protein could extend your life by 10-15 years and virtually eliminate the chance that you would ever suffer from cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease … would *you* be willing to let meat and eggs and dairy go?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

5 comments

  • Doctors recommend diet and exercise until we are blue in the face.

    Try getting the average American to seriously diet and exercise, even after a heart attack.

    And where do I sign up for money for prescribing certain drugs? I want a piece of that (illegal) action……not.

  • Doctors recommend diet and exercise until we are blue in the face.

    Try getting the average American to seriously diet and exercise, even after a heart attack.

    And where do I sign up for money for prescribing certain drugs? I want a piece of that (illegal) action……not.

  • Doctors recommend diet and exercise until we are blue in the face.

    Try getting the average American to seriously diet and exercise, even after a heart attack.

    And where do I sign up for money for prescribing certain drugs? I want a piece of that (illegal) action……not.

  • It's a dilemma, for sure. I too lose weight much more easily on the high-protein low-carb diet and stayed healthy – but it was a big stretch starting that because I had gotten into more of the veggie/fruit/whole grains low-fat eating mode over the years. Couldn't argue with success – but weight loss and even heart health (which I still have a hard time believing goes with the high-protein diet) are not the same issue as cancer. You're the second person I know to go vegan after watching that movie, so I'll have to at least watch it and see what I can learn.

    After being on the low-carb diet for a while, I got tired of eating meat and missed my veggies and fruit. It's summer, so I'm doing a "CSA diet" – getting a farm share and eating mostly that. I do think the trick with any of these diets or lifestyles is staying away from processed carbs – being careful as you say not to get back into the habit. So still no sweets, white bread, potatoes, etc. It is nice to be able to eat a bit of whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, or oatmeal though.

    Basically, my main problem with totally vegan would be getting enough protein. I hate beans, so that's a problem. Dairy pretty much has to be in there somewhere for this to work. Also, I really have gotten involved in eating locally and sustainably. That can be at odds with a totally vegan lifestyle in the winter in the pacific northwest, as there just isn't enough produce to choose from. I usually choose locally sourced seafood to supplement the protein. I can't help thinking that's better than red meat.

    Back to the dilemma 🙂 Maybe CSA in the spring-fall, and more protein in the winter. I do agree with being flexible for celebrations etc. – I do run a cooking club for foodies!! By the way – that pizza may just have to come off your header 😀

  • Hi, Doctor Bill.

    You're absolutely right: it' s unfair and inaccurate of me to paint all doctors with the same broad brush. Based on your comment, I've amended the text of the post. Thank you.

    I can, though, speak from my own experience. In 47 years, only one doctor has ever suggested trying to control my obesity, high blood pressure, and triglycerides with diet. "You need to lose some weight," he said. When I asked how, he said, "Diet." When I asked what diet, he said, "Lots of them … pick one." It quickly became clear to me that, while he knew I needed to lose weight, he didn't have the slightest idea how it should or could be done.

    None of my other doctors have ever suggested diet or exercise, but all have been very quick to write prescriptions. Apart from that one comment more than two decades ago, none of my doctors has ever addressed my weight directly, or positioned it as a root cause of my high blood pressure and fatigue. (In fact, weight control is so far from my current doctor's mindset, he didn't even notice that I had lost 40 pounds (!) in the six months since my last visit.)

    When Clyde was diagnosed with high cholesterol, his doctor made no effort to use diet as a control; instead, he very eagerly wrote a prescription for statins. He was unprepared to discuss any dietary or nutritional approaches.

    To be honest, I cannot say whether my doctor receives direct financial compensation for writing a specific prescription. I can say I've overheard drug reps scheduling pricy perks (lavish dinners at top restaurants, for example) for the doctor and his staff. I can also say I've heard one doctor describing with relish the practice of attending "conferences" in exotic locations. In exchange for sitting through an hour-long sales pitch, this doctor was gifted with airfare, hotel accommodations, food, and entertainment for four days on the drug company's dime.

    That does not equate to getting money for prescribing certain drugs, I know. I do know, though, that the same doctor, after this conference, was very eager to know whether I'd ever needed a specific brand of asthma-related inhaler, even though I've never been asthmatic or even hinted that I needed them. Despite this, I left with a huge bag of product samples and was told to "give them a try."

    Of course, all doctors are not like this, and I should not assume or imply from my own limited experience that "doctors are this way." So: I retract that, and apologize for having said it. I will say, though, based on my limited experience, that too many of my own doctors have been uneducated about dietary and nutritional treatment options … and that the doctors I've seen are more likely to prescribe medication than suggest weight loss through specific dietary and exercise programs.

  • Hi, Teresa! It's really good to hear from you.

    Yes, I think the processed foods — particularly processed carbs — work against weight loss and good health in general. I still avoid sugar, white rice, white bread, and potatoes during the week. (And I find myself eating less of them, even when I include them in Indulgence Day eating.)

    I'm lucky: I do like beans (didn't used to, but my tastes changed after changing my diet), so protein is not a problem for me. When I'm unable to find a good vegan option on a menu, I do as you do and default to seafood (usually salmon), mostly for the Omega 3's.

    Ha! I've been thinking about that pizza in the header, which is a big 'ole trigger food for me. I'll see if I can find an equally-appealing photo of some broccoli. 🙂

    Thanks for the comment!

Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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