Monday, October 31, 2011

My Journey to Wellness, Part II: Why I Went Vegetarian

I never, ever, EVER in a million years thought I’d ever be a vegetarian.  I freaking love meat.  I salivate to the point of helplessness when faced with a slice of Genoa salami.  When I lived in Israel, I’d make trips to Tel Aviv purely to eat pork and non-kosher beef. My mom says that when I was an infant, I went through more jars of pureed chicken baby food than any other kid she knew.
Noshing on a burger in my pre-GF, pre-veg days

And yet, here I am avoiding meat.  Those who know me were shocked to find that I’d given up meat – and I can’t blame them, since I was shocked too.  So, how did this happen?

About a year ago, I started trying to transition to a more plant-based diet.  I wasn’t cutting meat out entirely, but I was trying to cut back on how much of it I ate.  My decision to do that was simple: when I started really looking at what I was eating, I realized that although I was counting calories, I still wasn’t eating a lot of fruits and veggies.  So, in order to eat more of the good stuff, I cut back on everything else.
Then, in February, I suddenly stopped wanting to eat meat.  It was without rhyme or reason; after 30 years of loving it, I suddenly didn’t want anything to do with it.  This lasted about a month. 
During the course of that month, I started to feel pretty darn good.  My face cleared up, I had more energy, and when “that time of the month” rolled around, I was…totally fine.  This was a serious deviation from the norm for me; since I was a teenager, “that time” has entailed debilitating cramps and days of misery.   But not that month.  That month - for the first time in my life - all I needed were two Advil, and then I was good for the day.
It was magical.
I’ve since tried eating a little bit of meat very infrequently, but when I do, those same old problems – fatigue, my skin looking like it belongs to a teenager, cramps – come back with a vengeance.  So, I’ve decided to go full-fledged vegetarian. 
I’ve also decided to run an experiment: this weekend, I watched Forks Over Knives.  (It was ah-maaaaa-zing!  Coming from a family with rampant heart disease, this rocked my world.)  There’s a clip where a UFC fighter mentions that he has a milk allergy that gave him recurrent ear infections – and if there’s one thing that defined my childhood, it was recurrent ear infections.  However, I’d never heard of a milk allergy causing anything more than stomach upset. 
This, friends, is where I turn to our dear ally Google.  As it turns out, a milk allergy is a wholly different animal from lactose intolerance.  This was big news to me – I had no idea there was a difference!  And, as it also turns out, a milk allergy can manifest itself through asthma (check), recurrent bronchitis (check), ear infections (check), sinus infections (check), and other upper respiratory symptoms (check, check, and check).  So, as of today I’m going dairy-free as well to see if it makes a difference with my asthma and sinuses.
A common reaction that I hear from people is that there must not be anything that I can actually eat – but that’s not the case!  There are many, many gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian food possibilities out there, and I’m going to do my best to find, create, and cook as many as possible.

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