A couple of months ago I took a look at the foods I was eating and decided I could do a bit better, so I challenged myself to reduce the sugar and artificial sweetener I was eating. I really enjoyed the “challenge” and the quotes around that word really emphasize how it turned into regular eating habits that made me feel good rather than something I was forcing myself into. In doing this food shift and reducing the few processed foods I was consuming, I ate a lot more whole foods. Like plain greek yogurt instead of protein powder and chickpeas instead of frozen black bean burgers. I have since come to love the simplicity and deliciousness of eating real food.
As with any shift in foods, you tend to have unexpected consequences and it’s so amazing how your body reacts to your diet. I noticed that by removing processed foods and added sugars, it took away some of the foods I was eating as vegetarian protein sources. Real food doesn’t tend to include cookies and cream flavoured protein powder. It’s great that I was feeling really good but I can always tell when I’m not getting enough protein and it usually means I crave carbs and don’t feel satiated after most meals as they don’t have enough staying power.
I’ve been vegetarian for over three years now. Over the past three years I consumed dairy and eggs, but didn’t have chicken, beef, pork, or fish. I decided to be a vegetarian for a variety of reasons, including environmental, ethical, and the simple fact that I’ve never really been overly enthusiastic about meat. I have always been an advocate of not eating “replacement fake meats” like soy-chicken, and instead consuming less processed foods like nuts, beans, and tofu for protein. It has worked out well, but I think the no-sugar challenge really helped me see how many protein-packed foods I was eating that were processed, soy-based, or contained added sugar. After a while of working out hard and feeling like I couldn’t possibly consume another bit of smoked tofu for dinner, I realized I needed to reevaluate my protein. A few weeks ago, I inputted a few days worth of meals into MyFitnessPal out of curiosity and was shocked at how low my protein intake was.
So, I had a choice to make.
Either, I work extremely hard to incorporate more plant-based protein into my diet (though I’m not quite certain it has the satiety of animal-based protein based on my personal experience) and reignite my once-passionate love for tofu OR I consume animal protein. I’m embarrassed to admit, it took me months to ponder this. It wasn’t really about the guilt, though I knew I’d feel some, it was really about assessing the personal health and global environmental impact of my decision. I honestly think we all have a responsibility to a) make conscious choices about the foods we consume and how they will affect our personal health, and b) an effort to make environmentally conscious decisions that takes into account the global eco-impact and not just short-term satisfaction and convenience. I’m trying to strike a balance. I have decided to eat fish… with the help of resources and information from OceanWise.
I hate how these posts sound like confessionals. It’s easy to get caught up in labeling your diet – anything from pescetarian to vegan to paleo – and I think social media has done a great job of encouraging that, but it’s just food. If you feel good about the food you’re consuming, both in terms of what it is and how it makes you feel, eat it. I really just want to be as honest as possible and talk openly about struggles with the vegetarian diet. I don’t think there is a right or a wrong because there are really so many conscious and subconscious factors that go into the foods we eat (emotions, environment, taste, familiarity, geographic location, etc.) and I think it’s always important to find a balance. So yeah, apparently I eat fish now, and I feel pretty happy about it.