Since writing this post about veganism, I have continued to research, learn, and discuss food, sustainability, health, and wellness through nutrition. I am so incredibly grateful to all of you who reached out to me in support and those of you who shared information with me, recipes, and your own experiences. I am so blessed to have so many friends and readers with such a wealth of knowledge and experience. After ruminating on nutrition from many angles (including advice from my medical practitioner), I've developed a plan for myself and wanted to update you all here. I'm going to lean into veganism without going full on vegan. Vegan-ish I suppose. Here are the factors contributing to this plan (in addition to those discussed in my previous post: health, environment, animal cruelty/torture, world hunger, and deceit by big businesses):
1. My disease. First and foremost, I have to be concerned with my own health. I have an autoimmune disease (Hashimoto's hypothyroidism), and I have lots of hope that I can heal my body and cure this disease using nutrition. I've explored this a little bit in the past, but I am recommitting to finding a natural cure and am going to be as aggressive as I can be. I'm taking a small dose of thyroid medication now (have been since Jan 2010), and I really don't want to be taking it for the rest of my life. My thyroid problems contributed to my difficulty getting pregnant (more on that history here), so I want to find a way to support my thyroid naturally and move away from taking medication, without jeopardizing my ability to get pregnant again. Phew, what a challenge! At the same time, I have lots of good things happening with my health, and I don't want to jeopardize the things that are going well. I get bloodwork done every year to check cholesterol, triglycerides, and whatever else is standard, and my bloodwork for that is always really, really great. I am hoping to balance out the things that aren't working well in my body while still maintaining the things that are working.
2. Life stage. As a breastfeeding mom and someone who wants to have more children, I need to take care to ensure that my caloric needs are met and that my body is healthy, nourished, and full of all of the important vitamins and nutrients it needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding. I know this is completely obnoxious, and I apologize in advance for this comment, but it's somewhat challenging to keep my weight within the healthy range for my height while breastfeeding. I feel like I eat all day long, and the numbers on the scale keep dropping. I'm borderline under weight, so I really do need to be concerned with this. Sorry, I know. But maybe this is a good advertisement for breastfeeding!
3. My obsessive perfectionist personality. I definitely have a perfectionist personality, so I have a huge tendency to obsess. If I decided to go completely vegan, I would be neurotic about every single morsel and leave no room for exceptions. Some people can probably label themselves vegan and then cut themselves some slack. For me, if I label myself such, I would feel like a failure if I strayed at all, and I would also feel a huge responsibility to other vegans to maintain that diet, regardless of what my body was telling me.
4. Soy. I have never really eaten much soy. Yes, I know soy is a hidden food, so of course I eat some soy, but I've never really eaten soy products–like soymilk, tofu, soy hotdogs. Whatever. Most of what I read about soy is just confusing. Yes, there are lots of evidence-based studies that conclude that people who eat soy are generally healthier than people who don't, and I rely heavily on actual research in these things, but I still have a bit of hesitation when it comes to soy. Especially because my body isn't used it. Also, most US soy is GMO and loaded with pesticides. I'm not going to completely avoid soy, but I will limit it to a couple of times/week and make sure that the soy I consume is organic, non-GMO, and from good sources as much as possible.
5. Processed foods/ fake meat. Since reading In Defense of Food in 2009, I have been on a whole, unprocessed, natural foods "kick", trying my best to avoid processed foods as much as possible. I have not been perfect in this respect, still occasionally relying on convenience foods, but always reading ingredients, mostly shopping at Whole Foods/Trader Joe's, and doing my best. There are many, many meat alternative products made from soy and/or wheat that can be found in specialty grocery stores, and it is tempting when going vegan to just substitute them for meat in the dishes I'm used to making, but my gut is telling me that that is not the way to go, at least for me, my body, and my beliefs about food.
6. Supporting the farmers who are doing well. There are some awesome family farmers out there who really make a strong effort to be sustainable and raise their animals in a humane way. I want to support these people so that they can continue to offer quality and humane animal products in their communities. I have a HUGE disclaimer here that it still comes down to reducing consumption of animal products in order to make a real difference. In order to raise animals in a sustainable and humane way, it requires lots of land and time. The reason CAFOs exist is because we demand more meat than can be raised in a sustainable way.
7. Fish. I read in Veganist that it takes 5 pounds of wild fish to raise 1 pound of farmed fish. WTH?! I have also read a lot about the fishing industry and how we are basically stripping the oceans, and some countries have been lying for years about the numbers of fish they are taking from the oceans. I will not eat farmed fish, but I will eat certain wild caught fish. The Marine Stewardship Council certifies certain fish as sustainably caught. Follow that link to learn more and to find stores and restaurants near you that carry certified sustainable fish. Also, look for this seal when making purchases:
OK, so what does all of this mean? What exactly am I eating? I'm following a hybrid of veganism, whole foods, and an anti-inflammatory diet. The anti-inflammatory diet is supposed to help with an auto-immune disease. This is sort of what the anti-gluten was supposed to do for me, but I'm learning that there is so much more to it than cutting out gluten, and that, really, a gluten-free diet could still be very inflammatory depending on what you're eating instead. I really love Dr. Weil's anti-inflammatory diet with this great visual pyramid.
link to figure out what is super important to avoid. Thanks to Simple Homemade for introducing me to these sites! So I'm basically following this pyramid with a few modifications:
1. Soy– limiting to 1-3 times/week, and trying to choose organic, non-GMO as much as possible
2. Fish– staying on the low end of the recommendation here (1-2/week)
3. On the "other sources of protein" section, I will only have meat or eggs if they are from a local sustainable farm. No dairy for me.
4. Healthy sweets– no refined sugar at all. I will have some sweets if I've made them myself using maple syrup or something like that. I gave up sweets for Lent, so I've sort of been able to detox myself from my sugar addiction during the last month plus. It's a good place to be starting from for this goal. If you don't know about the refined sugar addiction that plagues pretty much everyone in the US, do some reading on this subject.
5. My grains will be as whole as possible. I will make every effort to eat the grains themselves, cooked from whole. I will allow for some things made from flour, like bread, but I will choose the most whole-grain, hearty varieties as possible. Same with pasta. I will eat gluten, but only in whole grain form. I really think that whole grain barley or hearty wheat bread is better than gluten-free cinnamon buns made with processed ingredients and refined flours.
6. not so much into the Asian mushrooms. I'm just not a big fan, and it doesn't say you have to eat them, so I'm skipping those.
7. When I do eat animal foods, they will be strictly from local, sustainable, humane sources. No more Costco meat or eggs. Whole Foods or farmers market only.
8. No dairy at all. Dairy is hugely inflammatory, exacerbates/causes allergies, and it saddens me to think of those poor lil baby/mama cow duos being separated. If there's one thing I can be super strict on, this is it.
Considering that just a month or so ago, I was eating meat or fish pretty much every day, this is a huge change for me!
In order to be organized about this, I'm cooking/eating vegan during the week (from scratch) and then allowing for a little fish and animal products from local/sustainable sources on the weekends. When dining out, I will eat vegan (or do my best). We don't actually dine out very often, and when we do, we try to support restaurants whose missions are focused on sustainability and local cuisine. But, if I do slip up on any of these goals, or I find myself in a difficult situation with limited choices, I will do the best I can. I will also try my best to be forgiving and carry on. I'm using this app called "FoodTracker". It's basically a food group checklist for $1.99, and you can add your own food groups and customize how many servings you want from each. I didn't want to be writing down everything I eat, but I did want to generally track foods in a quick way, so this works for me.
I hate to call this a "diet" because of all of the connotations of that word, so this is my eating plan, my nutrition goals, and I'm hoping to have this be sustainable. All this being said, I will do my best to really listen to my body, and if I feel that my health is suffering in some way, I will reevaluate rather than stubbornly stick to this plan. I've been doing this for a couple weeks now, with this particular plan for the last week or so, and already I'm seeing some good things with my thyroid, so I'm optimistic! Stay tuned for more thyroid-specific stuff and some of my favorite new sources for recipes. I never dreamed I could eat so well as a (weekday) vegan! Yum. And please keep sharing your favorite recipes with me. The CBM facebook page is a great place to continue the conversation.
Have a happy and healthy Easter weekend, folks!