It was January 2005. I had just watched Supersize Me, the well known movie by Morgan Spurlock in which he eats nothing but foods McDonalds for 30 days straight…and appears to get quite unwell. The movie wasn’t that eye opening to me. You eat a lot of food with little nutrition and lots of chemicals, you won’t be healthy. Well, yeah of course.
Diet and nutrition were already familiar topics to me. As a child, I ate well and my parents taught me about the importance of natural foods, vegetables and avoiding processed foods (much to my chagrin at the time as I wanted to eat Joe Louis like any other adolescent). Then in my early twenties I began doing triathlons and learned a lot about different types of foods and their impact on health and sports performance.
So I already knew about junk food, but what got me about the movie were the extras that came with the DVD. In particular, the interview with the author of Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (also a hilarious scary an experiment in which they put various McDonald’s foods in jars and checked back on them weeks and months later…the fries did not deteriorate at all!).
In the interview Schlosser talked about the power of marketing in the food industry. How food companies market to kids at an early age, convincing them of the need for certain foods and the desirability of others.
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I grew up thinking that meat was an essential part of a healthy diet. We are taught this in school, but I realize the marketing programs of corporations reach into schools, so the movie got me thinking about my own diet and beliefs about food.
I had heard that vegetarians live longer, or that they have lower instances of cancer or heart disease. What if the whole “man-needs-meat” is just well executed mass marketing from meat producers. What if man is actually a grass eater? I mean, we don’t have sharp fangs or powerful jaws to tear apart meat. That inconvenient truth is that pro-meat and pro-vegetable lobby groups are plenty powerful enough to obfuscate all the science and facts for those of us who aren’t scientists.
All I had at the time was my own common sense. What I did know, was that dropping meat would mean less cholesterol and it would mean less anti-biotics, growth hormones, steroids, chemical fertilizers, and toxins from the food farm animals consume (organic meat wasn’t widely stocked at the time).
So I decided to go without meat. Actually it wasn’t the first time. I experiment a lot with my diet, mostly out of curiosity, and in the late 90’s I was a vegetarian for about 6 months. At the time I was doing a lot of distance running, so dropping meat, or perhaps the loss of protein, caused my weight to drop to to about 140 lbs (I am 5′ 10″ and my normal weight is about 165 lbs). It seemed this wasn’t right weight for me, so I went back to eating meat after about 6 months and my weight came back.
Being a vegetarian is not a new concept, nor that uncommon, but many people react like it is an extreme diet. For me diet changes are like personal challenges, which as I said before, are often borne out of curiosity more than anything. I have periodically played around with quitting coffee, cutting sugar, and eating all raw foods. Cutting meat out of my diet didn’t seem like that big a deal as I was never a big meat eater anyway. I ate meat as a kid, but I hadn’t eaten a lot of meat after I left home, since it was less convenient to keep and cook (beans on toast was my staple in University).
Changing habits took a bit of effort. Shortly after going vegetarian, my wife and I went on an ocean cruise, and a couple of times, I found myself staring at the buffets thinking, can’t eat that or that, and thinking hmmm, maybe I should have waited until after this cruise. Another time, I was having beers with a group of guys after a hockey game and I ate a chicken wing by accident and didn’t realize what I had done until someone pointed out I was eating chicken. Ok, so 35+ years of eating one way, was a hard habit to break.
Once I started the change, I stuck with it. I can’t say I really noticed much change at first. My weight didn’t drop this time around – perhaps because I was older or perhaps because I had a different exercise routine. As I reflect back, here are the benefits I experienced from becoming a vegetarian:
- I was processing meals much faster. I ate about 3 regular meals a day plus 3 mini meals in between and I never had that heavy tired feeling after finishing a full meal.
- I was more “regular” (a much higher proportion of fiber in the diet will do that)
- I had more energy which I attribute to my body not having to work as hard to process food
- I was sick less often
- My weight decreased over time (slowly)
You can get all the essential nutrients you need from vegetables, but out of convenience, I tend not to eat an overly wide variety of foods, so I made sure to augment with supplements here and there. At the time, I was getting protein from dairy.
I know there is a ton of debate about whether a vegetarian diet is better or not. Go onto Google and you won’t have to go far before you see articles and sites arguing that not eating meat leads to poor health and it is a pretty commonly held notion that vegetarians will not be able to get sufficient protein. Early on, my friends would regularly try to debate this with me, but after a while they noticed I was living strong and they simply gave up.
I don’t preach. If others want to eat meat and it works for them, that is totally fine with me. I am currently not doing this for reasons of the environment (although there are many), religion nor ethics – I wear leather shoes and sit on leather chairs – so I have no reason to convert the world.
I chose this path because it works for me and I can say this was a great choice.