Week One: Mindfulness without Obsessing

It’s now been almost three weeks since Ken began his annual veggie challenge, and they have not passed without their challenges. (To read about Ken’s journey from start to finish, begin here.)

Ken has very poetically named his first week ‘Mindfulness without Obsessing’. Here’s what he had to say about it:

The entire premise of this annual challenge is to undo the impulsiveness that I allow myself to fall prey to during the American Football season. A time to get together with friends, drink copious amounts of beer, and gorge on a literal buffet of junk food. Chips, Salsa, Chicken Wings, Hot Dogs, Burritos (welcome to San Diego), and everything else that makes you momentarily happy while adding to your waistline. While I love the social aspect as well as the carefree gluttony of the season, I know that I have to find balance, thus I take ~6 weeks off after the Super Bowl to go vegetarian, ending on St Patty’s Day, March 17th… seemingly arbitrary, but I really do enjoy corned beef.

Mindfulness. This is essentially what it all comes down to. The 6 weeks of abstaining from meat is an exercise in mindfulness. To be more conscious about what I am eating, how it makes me feel, and a reminder that we should eat to live & not live to eat. In giving up meat, I am eliminating what is seen as a staple of a meal, the protein. I’ve had multiple friends say that they don’t feel full after a meal without meat. However, the feeling of “full” is something I rarely get after going on a vegetarian diet. Instead of “full” I feel satisfied, content, and never sluggish or about to fall into a “food coma”.

Being mindful of what I’m excluding from my diet is one way to approach the challenge, but I’ve learned that this is a form of counterproductive obsession, focusing on what you are depriving yourself. What has worked for me is focusing on food as energy as well as the variety of options available that I typically overlook when not abstaining from eating meat. The options are plentiful, though you need to be open-minded about trying new things. When you focus on food as energy, you stop seeing eating as a way to satisfy a craving for flavors and start seeing eating as an opportunity to recharge so you can carry on with your day.

So, Week 1. I had already stocked my kitchen with fruits, veggies, and a variety of snacks that fit within the constraints of the challenge. Hell, I even brought a giant veggie platter to the Super Bowl Party (which, while I was teased for not bringing the typical junk food that is typically what people bring, the veggie tray was gone very quickly). I’m also lucky enough to have a supportive girlfriend who keeps plenty of veggie options at her place for me when I stay over and cooks meals that celebrate just how good vegetarian cooking can be.

In prior years, Week 1 was the hardest. A nagging feeling of being hungry again shortly after a meal. Fighting back cravings for savory flavors typically only found in dishes with meat. A shift in digestion (e.g. flatulence). Being the 4th year I’ve taken this challenge, I’ve learned what does and doesn’t work for me. Many of the meals involve couscous, beans, and root veggies to ensure I have lots of complex carbs to give me sustained energy. Hummus & pita bread, apples & peanut butter, and a mix of sliced veggies (carrots, celery, peppers) have become staples of my diet, keeping them on hand as quick and easy snacks to recharge throughout the day. When eating out, I’ve had no trouble finding an option that suits my needs thanks to a growing culture of vegetarians in California.

There have been cravings. Going skiing in Utah for a bachelor party this past weekend was full of opportunities. We went to a decadent brunch buffet overlooking the pristine slopes of the Deer Valley resort. The buffet had every type of savory breakfast meat you could imagine and following a long day of snowboarding, my body desperately wanted a large chunk of protein to fuel my aching muscles. I did go for some smoked salmon and lobster fruit salad, though I’m trying my best to go full veg and not pescatarian… but seriously, lobster fruit salad? That was a must.

That being said, we’re going into Week 2 with a good cadence, minimal cravings, and an eagerness to explore a few new options that haven’t made it on the menu in years past.

Ken’s mindset is amazing. He seems to have formed a real connection with his mind and body and he is able to clearly identify how his mind and body is reacting to the change in his diet. I commend him on his will power, as I’m sure it could have been quite easy to use the bachelor party as an excuse to feast on all those meats, in the name of celebration. As anyone abstaining from something that’s considered so “normal” for them would know, any excuse to relapse and to justify the slip up would have been sufficient.

Ken nonchalantly mentioned that he ate seafood in his first week and I’m sure my eye started twitching as I struggled to hold back my inner angry vegan. But I took a breath and typed a more inviting offer: “I would take fish off the menu if you can in the coming weeks. Many people still leave fish in their diet (pescatarians) but if you want to give the vegan or vegetarian diet a red-hot go then fish is off limits too. Up for it?”

He responded with jovial “Deal. But lobster fruit salad! Couldn’t resist. We can call it an easing in to it week (smiley emoji)”

I was proud of his willingness to challenge himself even more. It also gave me an opening to talk about our other forgotten friends, the ones who live in the ocean.

Every year, BILLIONS and BILLIONS of farmed animals are killed by humans. That’s BILLIONS of cows, turkeys, pigs, chickens, hens, sheep, goats, pheasants, kangaroo, deer, elk, buffalo, you name it, it dies at the hand of selfish humans, and more often than not, it’s a terrifying, degrading and painful death. After having merely skimmed through Bite Size Vegan’s blog post about how many animals are killed at the hand of humans in the name of food, entertainment, clothing, medicine, health and beauty each year, I quickly realized how arbitrary the initial figure I had found in a Google search actually was.

Do you want to know what’s even more crazy? This figures does not even include sea animals! Yeah, that’s right. Just when you thought you were able to digest and justify 56 BILLION murders (see arbitrary Google search), the number of fish we kill every year is anywhere between 1 TRILLION to 2.8 TRILLION! That amount is like collecting all of Earth’s humans and multiplying us 142 times! And for what? Omega-3 fatty acids I hear you say? While it may be true that fish are a source of omega-3, this does not mean that it is the only source, and it definitely does not mean that it is the best source. It is merely the source that we have grown accustomed to accepting as the best source. As it turns out, vegan sources may not only be better for you, but also better for the environment. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish (intended) that I won’t be discussing right now. For an interesting article on the benefits of consuming vegan sources of omega-3, click here.

sources-of-omega-3

Just some of the vegan sources of omega-3. Source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

In the same way that we can replace every other vitamin, mineral, macronutrient and amino acid our bodies need to thrive with vegan alternatives, we can also swap out our fatty acid sources with that of cruelty free alternatives as well. Here are some more great sources of omega-3:

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Courtesy of A Well-Fed World.

If you want to give your diet a boost and use supplementation in addition to these foods, by all means, do that. I had a bottle of Hemp Seed Oil in my fridge at one stage and the taste isn’t too bad at all. Make sure it’s organic if you can and from a trusted source. You can also buy vegan capsules, this one from Deva Nutrition is quite popular and contains omega-3 from algae. Where do you think the fish get it from? Time to cut out the middle man, don’t you think?

Now that would be mindfulness without obsessing…

H x

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