Time for a Dietary Change

This is the third time I've gotten sick this fall/winter. I allot myself one cold per year because it's hard to avoid them in NYC. But three? This is ridiculous. I can't handle getting sick over and over. Granted, this time it doesn't feel so bad. It might be one of those things that blows over in a few days. Still, it bothers me that my body can't fight things off effectively. It reminds me of when I was in my mid-twenties and my tonsils were making me get sick at the drop of a hat. Bye bye tonsils!

To make it worse, last year I didn't get sick once. I felt impenetrable. At this point last year I was still on my high from India and was not eating any meat. Actually, there were quite a few dietary differences from last year:

  • I wasn't eating meat. Not even fish, most of the time. If I was out to eat and really couldn't find any good vegetarian food on the menu, I'd order fish.

  • As a result of eating vegetarian, most of my meals were home-cooked. It's easier to make it yourself.

  • Since I was making meals at home and was a vegetarian, I became a lot more experimental about the food I was cooking. There was a lot of variety in my produce.

  • I wasn't drinking coffee. Tea, yes. Coffee, no.

So why did I quit being a full-time vegetarian? While it was often inconvenient, that's not the real reason. The real reason is that I put on 10 pounds.

I thought being a vegetarian was some sort of free license to eat whatever I wanted. It's not. In order to feel full, I was eating a lot of pasta. I was putting cheese in whatever. I let my sweet tooth wander almost wherever it wanted. I know it's silly to blame the 10 pounds on vegetarianism, because the vegetables weren't the trouble. The trouble was thinking I had free range to eat whatever I wanted as long as it didn't have meat.

There were some great benefits however. My body felt like it was spring loaded. All my movement had an ease and lightness to it. I would swear that I was more flexible. It was like someone took the weights off of my ankles. And I was more emotionally present. If someone told me a story about themselves, I was much more attune to their experience and emotions - not in an out-of-control way, more like a heightened sens of empathy. And massages felt great. I know that seems weird, but it felt like all my nerve endings had their sensitivity turned up (in a good way).

In the midst of all these benefits, I had one glaring irritation. I had put on weight. Granted, I could have scaled back the pasta and bread, but I was afraid that I would fall into constant hunger. Meat is filling. And part of the reason I went vegetarian was to not have to watch my intake so much. I wanted a little room to splurge – especially when it comes to sweets. So I felt (at the time) that if I wasn't getting those benefits, what's the point?

And one thing to note, I know that when you go vegetarian, you have to do some substituting. For instance, you have to get beans and lentils into your diet. I never really figured out how to make a giant vat of bean stew that I could munch on throughout the week when I was hungry.

So instead of taking a middle path, I started looking online at diets. And every single diet nowadays says to add protein. Protein, protein, protein. Chicken breasts and steamed veggies. Turkey this and fish that. And that's when I buckled. I started adding fish back into the diet. And I have to admit that having salmon every now and then felt great. My body definitely enjoyed it. And little by little, compromises were made. Especially when travelling. It's exhausting to try to maintain even a pescetarian diet when travelling.

So now I've been eating meat pretty regularly (though I still don't make it at home). My food variety is way down. And I'm drinking coffee more than just a cup a day (Coffee is so great when travelling to get over jet lag. After a trip to Indochina, I haven't gone through the process of quitting caffeine again.) And I can feel that my body is not happy. I miss both the heightened sensitivity of vegetarianism and that bullet-proof feeling when it comes to health.

In general, when I think about changing a diet, I think it's best to focus on what I'm adding and not worry about subtracting. So here's what I'm adding:

  • Oolong tea in the morning and chai in the afternoon. It's a totally enjoyable habit and gets me away from coffee. I know that it's not caffeine-free, but it's certainly less caffeine. I've been having coffee black lately, and I notice how acidic it is. It doesn't feel healthy. Oolong tea is considered a green tea and feels great in my system.

  • Once a week, make a bean stew. I've always wanted to make this and never gotten around to it: "Azuki Beans and Kabocha Squash":http://www.thekindlife.com/post/azuki-beans-with-kabocha-squash. In fact, I might make a double recipe so there's always some leftovers in the fridge. Winter squash is one of those foods that my body will occasionally say "Psst. I need some roasted squash soon." I think having a bean and squash stew once a week will be one of the major missing pieces in my dietary puzzle.

  • Get back to my habit of plain yogurt and fruit for a late afternoon snack. It's easy. It's nutritious. It's just the amount of nourishment I need to tide me over until dinner. And it gives me a that bit of sweetness I crave. Slice up an apple and put some cinnamon in the yogurt. Yum. And I allows myself a bit of maple syrup or honey in the mix (in moderation).

  • And there's one final thing that I realized I never solved when I was a vegetarian. Lunches. I don't really want to think about lunch all that much. I certainly don't want to start cooking all my lunches. I tried buying things like "Amy's Organic Chili" or some health food ramen noodles so I could have something easy to heat and eat, but when I saw how much sodium was in them I lost interest. Besides the problem of finding easy lunches, I missed going out for lunch. Since I work from home, lunch is one of my chances to get away from "the office" and relax. Maybe I just need to find better places to go for lunch.

Whew. I think all of this will help me get back on track to a healthy Keith. Because at this point, I think I'd rather have the ten extra pounds that feel like I was susceptible to every cold that blows through town.

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My trainer has given me a new diet and it's pretty strict. Given that my diet has always been my Achilles heel, I'm actually looking forward to going on a relatively restrictive diet to see what will happen.
David is now traveling every weekend until February. Since I've been on a weight-loss kick, I've decided to take his absence to try a month of weekend crash diets. Every weekend, I'll pick a new theme. I should say that some of these are not crash diets but legitimate lifestyle choices. However, they are choices that I never thought I'd make, so I'm trying them out for a weekend since you can stick just about any diet for a weekend.