Going Vegan

New year, new me. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Anyway, the title says it all: we (by which I mean my beautiful wife and I) are going vegan. Mostly. At least for a little while. Frankly, I don’t know if it’ll stick (she loves beef, I love fish), but we’ll see where we’re at in a couple of months. 

Vegan Zombie wants graaaaaaains...

Why I started thinking about going vegan

Weight loss, weight gain, rinse and repeat: the story of my life. After my amazing weight loss, dropping 99lbs, from 324lbs to 225lbs, I jumped back up to almost 250lbs in a matter of two months. When I saw that I was astonished. I had been exercising, but I slipped up on my eating. Still, 20 pounds? Just like that? I needed help.

 

You need help, fat boy!

You need help, fat boy!

Just to get a professional opinion on the matter, and because I thought maybe medical intervention might be in order (via drugs, not surgery), I went to a medical weight loss clinic. During some tests, it was discovered I have a a complete right bundle branch block (rbbb). In short, this means that due to an electrical issue, the chambers of my heart beat sequentially rather than simultaneously. Usually this is safely ignored (it’s the left bundle branch block you have to watch out for), but it was a show stopper: they wouldn’t do anything until I was cleared by my doctor.

Right bundle branch block - Click for full size
Immediately, I headed to my primary care physician who re-tested and saw the same thing. After comparing it to another EKG from five years prior, he decided further exploration was warranted. (The previous EKG did not show the block.) This led to having an echocardiogram a week later and a pulmonary function test (PFT) a week after that, since right bundle branch blocks, when not benign, are associated with either heart or lung issues. Luckily, it looks as if I’m cleared of both, except for maybe some allergy-related asthma starting to show up. According to the cardiologist, the block had been developing for a long time: there were signs of development in the previous EKG, and may have been intermittent, but never previously caught.

Still, I have heart disease. Sort of. Not the kind normally associated with high cholesterol or cardiomyopathy, but the kind which may be nothing more than a statistical anomaly. Good thing my life insurance is paid up, though.

(For the record, I’m currently at 240lbs. I was told by my cardiologist that the best thing I could do right now is exercise, so I’ve upped my routine to include 6+ miles per day walking at a brisk pace, keeping a heart rate of about 135bpm. Needless to say, I’m really hungry now. Hungry, but holding steady on the weight.)

Why go vegan?

When I found out about this–the rbbb–I started to look at more heart-healthy diets. After some reading I decided that a low-fat vegan diet made sense. It’s ironic that the rbbb was found when visiting a medical weight loss clinic where the plan was to go the Atkins, low-carb route.

There are a lot of reasons why I want to try my hand at veganism, but the two most important to me are as follows:

Ethics

Maybe I’m just a bleeding heart liberal, but I’ve always had a problem eatings things with a face. Not because I’m opposed to eating meat–in fact, I think that it’s a necessity, and a big reason why we humans grew capable of taking dominance of the planet–but because I’m opposed to the industrial complex which produces meat. Hunt it yourself? Have at it. Buying it from the store? You haven’t earned the right to eat that flesh.

Eating Animals - Jonathan Safran FoerYesterday someone told me how their kid is now asking questions like “where do eggs come from?” This saddened me. A kid shouldn’t ever have to ask where the eggs he eats in the morning come from. They should know, because they should have seen it already. This is not an indictment against this kid’s parent, by any means. It’s a commentary on our society. We’ve grown too far separated from our food, and as such no longer revere it for the blessing that it is in abundance. In fact, we now see it as a curse. Therefore, the ethics of meat eating is quite possibly my biggest reason. Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals crystallized this for me, and put to words a sentiment that has been brewing inside me for quite some time. (To be fair, I do think he takes the sentimental arguments about the pain and suffering of hunted animals a bit too far. Note that I said “hunted”, not “electrocuted in a factory farm and put through a grinder”.)

Pigs confined in metal and concrete pens (Image thanks to the Farm Sanctuary)

Health

This the more contentious issue when going vegan. The first question we get is “Where do you get all your protein?!” For more informed individuals, the questions a more like “Where will you get all your zinc/B12?” Those are good questions. As for protein, the answer’s easy: some plants are LOADED with protein (spinach, beans, and quinoa come to mind). As for zinc and b12…well, I’m still learning. For the moment, those will come via supplementation.

 

Bodybuilder EXTREME!

Supplementation? What’s that?

More important for me is the focus on the reduced cases of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and hundreds of other conditions. The biggest reason, however is that my GERD doesn’t bother me when I go all vegan for a few days, although it does when I eat meat and meat byproducts. An anti-oxidant heavy, alkaline diet will go a long way in treating my GERD, as well as preventing the onset of Barrett’s esophagus. (Note that by vegan I mean fruits and veggies, not a bunch of grains. Processed or not, these still give me heartburn.)

For the record, I’m not knocking some of the other ways of eating out there, such as the so-called Paleo-diets, or the Atkins approach. I’ve done the Atkins diet and lost a fair amount of weight on it back in college. While I’m not interested in doing that now, I do find the paleo-diet is particularly attractive, and this vegan diet may shift to a paleo-diet sooner rather than later. Also, there’s evidence that higher protein diets will actually assist in the recovery of cancer. The theory is that cancer cells use glycolysis for fueling themselves, but are unable to switch to ketosis when the body reduces its intake of sugars. Without fuel, cancer starves.

Nevertheless, a far graver concern for me than cancer is diabetes, which runs strongly in my family (conversely, cancer is unheard of in my family). A low-fat vegan diet has been clinically proven to reverse and prevent diabetes, and although I am not diabetic, I am flat-line hypoglycemic, verified by a 2-hour glucose tolerance test. This means that if I don’t stop it now, it won’t be long before I do become a diabetic. Add to this the anecdotal GERD evidence and you can see why at this point in my life vegan seems like the best way to eat

What approach to take

The first diet that caught my attention was actually a raw food vegan diet. However, I’d tried this before, and after a few days without family support (no way I was selling this to anyone in my family, least of all my wife), this failed miserably. So I decided to scale it back.

Again, I actually thought that a paleo-diet would be a better way to go, but at this time my mind was flooded with the words “heart disease”. Over and over, I saw that a low-fat vegan diet (a la Pritikin) had been clinically proven to reverse heart disease. (The paleo-diet’s evidence was still not as solid.) Unfortunately, this didn’t apply to idiopathic right bundle branch blocks. Still, their claims that it also reversed diabetes, lowered cholesterol, and helped prevent cancer struck me as worth investigating.

After reading around, I found a couple of books to read on the subject matter.

The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter's 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the PoundsRay Kurzweil - Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well ForeverThe China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term HealthCaldwell Essesltyn - Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based CureDean Ornish - The Spectrum: A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight, and Gain Health

  • I’ll be starting with Rip Esselstyn’s Engine 2 Diet. The biggest reason was that it offered a very clear-cut way to get started, including meal plans, recipes, and shopping lists. Also, it’s an easy read, even though I have a few problems with some of the oversimplifications.
  • After that I’ll be taking a look at Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever, by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman. If you know about Kurzweil, you know about his emphasis on longevity, which is why I’m interested in the book. True, it’s not strictly vegan, but I’m sure many of the recipes could be adapted, though mostly what I’m looking for is information.
  • Next on the list is The China Study. This is one I’ve heard talked about over and over again, and it’ll be interesting to read the information there.

My reading won’t stop there. Books by Rip Esselstyn’s father, Caldwell Esselstyn, as well as those by Dean Ornish will probably make it to my Nook, bookshelf, or both. I’ll also be picking up The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat, because I’m honestly curious. How well I do by going vegan will determine whether I pick this up sooner rather than later.

For now, here’s how we’re starting: first, our fridge is empty. Time to shop. Second, we’re buying kitchen equipment. We needed new pots and pans because ours are ancient, and I want to move away from Teflon.

Family support

As I said, I’ve tried this kind of stuff before. this and other diets. My biggest reason for prior failures? Family.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just weak-willed, but unless I have my wife having a similar diet to mine, I find sticking to any diet difficult. For example, I’ve tried going vegan before, but having my wife bring leftover pulled pork, beef tips, and grilled from her work lunch eventually drove me back to meat. I’ve also tried the other way, going low-carb. Hard to do when chips and salsa are ever present, and when the pulled pork and beef tips are accompanied by corn bread. Given this history, if I’m going to have a chance at success, I need her on-board.

(Note: I’m not blaming my lack of will on her. It’s my life, and my choices which make it up. The fault lies entirely with me.)

 

Fine. You've twisted my arm. I'll eat that.

Oh, just this once you fuddy duddy!

Considering her love of beef, selling her on a vegan diet wasn’t easy. Inadvertently, I found evidence that the diet could help with one of her more annoying (but not life threatening) medical conditions. Along with showing her that she could lower her cholesterol (which is ~225, although he has an HDL/LDL ratio that’s better than 1/1), and reducing the possibility of cancer (which runs in her family about as strongly as diabetes runs through mine), she decided to try it out. In fact, now she’s excited about it.

(For the record, my cholesterol is already low. Last time it was checked it was about 120 total, with an HDL of 42 and an LDL around 70.)

So what’s next?

Alright, so I’ve laid down my reasons and my plans. Now it’s time to get to work. But I think I’ll keep this on the down-low: I’ve already had people laugh at me and tell me about how they enjoyed a big, juicy burger that very afternoon, while others have, with concern and fear in their eyes, asked me “So you’re only gonna eat nothing salads? I don’t think I could do that. I need some REAL food.” Then they laugh and try to get me to admit that plant-based foods aren’t “real” food. But this is the kind of stuff that happens whenever you want to do something which differs from what the rest of society does.

Anyway, time to get started. I’m thinking oatmeal, bananas, and all-natural maple syrup.

 

Oatmeal topped with bananas and maple syrup. OMGYUMYUM!

I am delicious. Eat me.

Side note: Special thanks go out to @thatgirlallie for kicking my butt and telling me to write something.