I have some pretty big news to share. Mike and I have decided to ease our dietary restrictions a little and become more ‘flexitarian.’ I have been meat-free for six years and he has for 10+ years, so it is a big change for us. We were already eating fish and seafood occasionally, so we were not technically vegetarian. But not eating beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and of course, bacon, for that long did set us apart from most Americans. I’m glad I experienced that lifestyle. I think it had a huge impact on us physically and on the environment in general. But here’s why we decided to change.
A few months ago when I got into the cleanse, I started to realize that even though I thought of myself as someone who didn’t consume many processed foods, I was eating a lot of fake meat products and meat substitutes. Those were some of the first things to go off my grocery list and out of my cabinets when I cleaned house. What became more important than anything, above fat ratios and counting calories and everything else, was to eat real, whole foods. Foods that exist in nature. Foods with as few ingredients as possible. At that point I started thinking about adding some meat back into my diet. I can’t really explain it. It just felt right, like it was the missing piece.
I talked it over with Mike. He supported me fully. But after so long I was just used to eating and shopping vegetarian. I didn’t even remember how to cook meat. To be honest I was kind of afraid of it. So I didn’t really change anything.
But after some more conversations it seemed like Mike was coming to the same decision from a different angle. We’re here in the bay area where there are all these amazing foodie revolutions going on, and much of it we don’t participate in. One of our big reasons for not buying meat was that it used to be so hard to find local, sustainable, environmentally friendly options. But now you have local people raising organic grass-fed cows, curing their own bacon, using every part of the animal, really trying to go back to an artisan way of preparing meat. I can get on board with that. I even want to support it. So we talked about it some more and decided that what we wanted was to have a mostly vegetarian diet that occasionally included some meat that we could feel good about buying and eating.
All I can really say is that it’s a personal decision, and it’s our decision for now. I’m actually really excited to explore a whole new world of recipes I haven’t tried yet.
My first attempt at cooking meat was to roast a whole chicken. I used Ina Garten’s recipe, which was just spot-on. I saved the bones and made chicken stock. Then I made an enchilada casserole with the leftovers. I like seeing how a $10 chicken can go so far.
I am still getting used to the taste of meat. One of the reasons I stuck with vegetarianism so long is that there’s a lot of meat I just don’t like. I hate too-fatty pieces. I’m paranoid about e. coli on my countertops. So I probably won’t be going on the caveman diet anytime soon. But sometimes I just have to tell myself to relax a little bit. And if I don’t like something, I won’t eat it. I suspect 2/3 of my meals will still be vegetarian.
Anyway, back to my food philosophy. The main point was that, above all, my goal is to eat whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. I am trying to make more things from scratch — beans, salad dressings, trail mix and snack bars, etc. We’re buying more artisan breads that don’t have preservatives. I’m using my freezer a lot more than I used to. I really need to get into canning!
I really miss our huge garden. Sigh.
The second thing that has become really important is to cut out sugar as much as possible. That doesn’t mean eating no sugar or sugar substitutes. It just means I try to have only one dessert per week, and minimal sugar in anything else. I used to buy cookies and ice cream pretty regularly and bake a lot. The cleanse helped me realize that the sugar was keeping me in a cycle of being hungry and tired. I always felt ravenous in the afternoons with really strong cravings for sugary things and other carbs. I mean really strong. I had been adding probably 500 calories a day to my diet with them on way too many days. I know a lot of people, even nutritionists, say to have a treat every day to keep yourself satisfied. But for me, the only thing that ever kept me from wanting dessert was to stop having dessert. I can’t even tell you what a difference it’s made.
(One aside. I did bring back my butter dish. I realized that it wasn’t random pats of butter that were my problem. It was the whole sticks I had been using for baking. Plus, I am super picky about butter on bread being soft.)
Another change: I’m trying to eat more for breakfast and less for dinner. It really does seem to help my energy level, and to keep me from crashing mid-day. I’ve always eaten pretty bitty breakfasts, so it’s hard to get used to. Actually, let’s be real. It’s harder to eat less for dinner. What has helped me is using measuring cups to portion out dinner, especially for rice and other carbs. I usually find that once I’ve put something on my plate, that’s all I will eat. I don’t eat skimpy dinners by any means. But they are reasonable. And I don’t have dessert!
I love you, cake. But I just can’t have you in the house anymore.
I also try not to eat anything after about 8 p.m. That used to be pretty hard for me but it’s not anymore. I usually have a cup of green tea at night and that’s it.
So I have the three meals a day and then I always have a mid-afternoon snack. At first I was having something small like a piece of fruit or a fruit/nut ball. But now that I’m exercising I would say it’s more like 200 to 300 calories. It’s just logical. There are like 3 hours between breakfast and lunch and almost 7 between lunch and dinner. You’re going to be hungry. Just eat something.
The crazy thing is that even though I eat a lot more now than when I was on the cleanse, I am still losing weight. I have lost 15 pounds since I started the cleanse (8 during the actual month). Before that I had lost about 12 pounds from what I would call my average highest weight the past few years. I didn’t weigh myself that often so it’s kind of an estimate. But that’s 27 pounds! I had to put another notch in my new belt, and I only have one pair of jeans that fit. I can finally wear the jacket that I bought like 3 years ago thinking (like you should never, ever do) that if I just lost a few more pounds it would fit.
I had felt for so long that I couldn’t lose weight in a way that felt natural to me. I had been trying for about 10 years. The last time I felt good in my body, like my body matched up with how I felt inside, was my sophomore year in college. Since then I’ve been on an Oprah-style weight roller coaster that I’ve been desperate to get off of. I’ve been every size from a 4 to a 14. I felt like I was addicted to certain foods and could not stop eating at times. As you can see if you read this blog, I love to cook and love to eat. There’s no way I would be successful on a highly restrictive diet. So the whole foods philosophy has been a godsend for me. It’s changed everything. I feel like I can eat this way for the rest of my life, no problem.
I will say, though, that I needed to do something dramatic in the beginning to facilitate the change. It could have been any cleanse, but the one I chose was especially helpful. It just made me think a lot about my habits, and what I always thought I needed that I could live without. It was the breakthrough I really needed.
If you’ve never had a love affair with kale, you should start one.
It feels really important to me to share what I’ve been going through because I know there are so many people that feel kind of stuck in their diets. It’s not easy to give up all the processed foods that you’ve grown attached to over your lifetime, but you have to make new food attachments, positive ones. After a while it’s no big deal. The other thing is that you have to be willing to spend more money on less food, and more time in the kitchen. You have to get organized and make some time to meal plan, write a grocery list, and cook for the week. It’s kind of a putting-yourself-first thing. It’s your body, and you should want to take care of it. Since I am obsessed with organization, I’ve gotten to a point where I enjoy all of that. And by doing things like boiling your own beans, or growing your own veggies and herbs, you can shave off some of your food expenses. Make a bunch of things at once and freeze them if you know you’ll be short on time during the workweek. If you’re feeling really stressed about having time to cook, remember that a European-style bread/cheese/jam picnic can be just as good as something you spent two hours cooking.
Am I getting preachy? I don’t know. I just feel really passionate about this stuff since it’s made such an impact on me.
OK, I think this novel has gone on long enough. If you want to know anything else about what I’m eating nowadays, just ask. I’m a pretty open book.
By the way, my exercise grid is still working like a charm.