My Eating Philosophy
About four years ago I started slowly cutting meat out of my meals. For about
two years I have been eating 95% vegetarian. Why? Well, its complicated.
I originally started cutting meat out of my diet as an experiment. I have a
chronic illness called Ulcerative Colitis. I don’t talk about it much on this
blog or anywhere because I don’t really like to dwell on it and because its not
the most glamorous disease. (I do mention it HERE and HERE) However, I
am not shy about it and I will talk to anyone about it. UC is an auto immune
disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the large intestine and it
gets all inflamed and bloody. Its kind of like swallowing a cheese grater. I
have had it for 8 years and unless I get my large intestine removed, I will have
it forever. But, I’m not always sick. I go through periods of remission and
relapse and when I am in remission I feel completely normal. When I was first
diagnosed, I couldn’t stay in remission for longer than a few months and I was
really sick most of the time. For about four years I really really struggled. I was going to the bathroom between 20 and 30 times a day and I dropped 30 pounds in one month. Thats not healthy. Then finally I figured out what medications I needed to be on and slowly started
making changes in my diet. I stopped cooking with as much meat and started
trying to eat more vegetables.
When my husband started medical school, I found one of his text books on
nutrition and looked up the section on Ulcerative Colitis. It said this:
Among patients with ulcerative colitis, meat intake per se more than triples
the rate of relapse. Consumption of the highest, compared with the lowest,
intake of red meat and processed meat increases the rate of relapse more than
5-fold. Conversely, a pilot study restricting animal protein and other dietary
sources of sulfur resulted in a complete absence of IBD (which is Chrohn’s and
Ulcerative Colitis) relapse, compared with an expected relapse rate of 22% to
26% with medication alone.
As soon as I read that, I never made a meal with meat again. For awhile I
still would order meat at restaurants, but after a bad experience with frog legs
at a Chinese restaurant that totally grossed me out, I don’t even order it at
restaurants (except the occasional shrimp or fish or sushi). Not only did I feel
a lot better once I stopped eating meat, I found that I loved not having to deal
with raw meat and my cooking got more creative and nutritious. Simply not having
meat as an option in meal planning and cooking, has opened my eyes to a whole
new world of flavors, textures, and combinations and I absolutely love it. It has unleashed my creativity in cooking. I
don’t miss meat at all.
But here’s the thing. I don’t really like to call myself a vegetarian. Its
just not the best word for me. I try to eat meatless most of the time and I
really prefer it that way, but there are times where I’m just not going to force
it and its really not a big deal. I eat turkey on Thanksgiving and I eat meat
when someone else is cooking. The other reason why “vegetarian” is not the best
word to describe how I eat is because there is so much more to it than just
cutting out meat. A person can cut out meat and still eat very unhealthy.
eating philosophy is similar with Michael Pollan’s (I highly recommend his book
In Defense of Food): “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly
plants”. I try to cook with food. Real food. Whole foods in
their simplest form. I truly believe that cutting out highly processed foods and
making as much as I can from scratch has really improved my digestive health.
I’m not perfect at this yet. I don’t make my own bread or tortilla’s on a
regular basis and I still use store bought ketchup and ranch and all that. I still use canned beans and corn and tomatoes here and there. But I have stopped buying mixes and packets and boxes for things.
I also have stopped buying food with added sugar. No more cold cereal or
flavored yogurt. I use whole wheat about 75% of the time and and I always use
brown rice over white rice. I try really hard to get a wide variety of
vegetables, grains, and plant based protein. I see plants as the main part of
the meal, not just a side. And in the midst of all this healthy mumbo jumbo, I
still believe in occasional indulgences. I don’t make dessert too often, but
when I do, I go all out. Which is why you see a mix of healthy main meals and
super unhealthy desserts on this blog. I LOVE making desserts!
Ever since I have made these changes, I have only had two short flare ups in
four years (both of which were at times of major stressors in life and periods
of straying from my normal way of eating.) I am still on a lot of medication. My
UC is severe and diet alone is not enough to control it. However, medication
alone is not enough either. When I am not eating right for too long or very
stressed for too long, I flare up.
When I tell people that I don’t eat meat, I almost always get the question
“So…what do you eat?” I never quite know how to answer that in a short
conversation. Ask anyone that question, whether they eat meat or not, and its
tricky to answer. I always end up feeling a little bit tongue tied and say
something lame like “Well, I eat lots of beans….” because I feel like I have to
reassure that I still get protein. And I do eat beans, but not in every meal.
And not every day. I honestly don’t worry about protein intake on a meal by meal
basis. I look at my overall menu plan for a week and try to work it in. Between
the nuts, nut butters, cashew based sauces, seeds, edamame, beans, lentils,
chickpeas, eggs, dairy, whole grains, tofu, and vegetables (which are all
staples in my kitchen), I am confident I get enough protein. If I was filling up
on only bread and pasta every day, I might be concerned.
I truly believe that if I am eating enough calories and I am getting a wide variety of plant based foods and trying to work in plant based proteins frequently, that I will get the nutrients that I need.
I also think that I eat really well, too. I don’t eat meat, but that doesn’t mean I eat like a bird. I don’t just eat salad all the time. I actually very rarely have salad. Oh, sure, I have my bad days where we have re-fried bean and cheese quesadillas cooked in the microwave for dinner or grocery store sushi, but most of the time I cook yummy, flavorful, filling recipes with variety and my family loves the food I cook them.
I hope you can find some recipes that you like while browsing my blog. Happy Cooking!