I drove to the Ottawa Bagelshop after my morning clients on Friday to buy the makings of a good sandwich: Art-Is-In cheddar, chive and jalapeno bread and some rosemary ham. Then over to the Herb & Spice across the street for salad ingredients. But as I walked from the car to the store, I thought “what if I there was something other than meat to go in my sandwich?”
That’s how it happened. I went to the Herb & Spice, chose the Tofurkey “meat” slices over the Asian-infused tofu for my sandwich, and my month-long vegetarian trial was born. I knew this was a good idea when I didn’t want one last meat meal before starting. I had eaten oatmeal for breakfast, and had plans to go to The Manx for dinner where they have delicious tofu tacos, and now that I had the fixings for a vegetarian lunch, I could call that day one.
Finding a vegetarian sandwich option was just the final validation I needed to try vegetarian eating. I have had a strong “no thanks, meat” thought in my mind since eating steak for dinner a few days ago. It was pretty good, but too big, so I put the leftover cooked meat in the fridge for a sandwich the next day. Yes, I do like sandwiches. There was also another uncooked steak in the fridge that I planned to cook the next night. But the next day came and I didn’t want either. For whatever reason, the idea of eating that meat completely turned me off. So I didn’t.
The idea of not eating meat is something that’s actually been in the back of my mind for decades. Meat was never really a big thing for me; it was just a vessel for sauce. Except for bacon. I loved bacon. In fact I used to joke that I wanted to be a lacto-ovo-baco vegetarian. If only that were a thing!
Actually, there was a period when I thought it was a thing. I woke up one morning several years ago with a mission. I suddenly remembered an article in a Runner’s World magazine about a variety of leafy green that tastes like bacon. I had the mental image of the picture that accompanied the article. I mentioned it to some friends the next day, and not surprisingly they looked at me like I had just suggested there is a variety of leafy green that tastes like bacon. I went home and pulled the stack of back issues of Runner’s World out of my basement and spent hours going through them looking for that article. I thought about the first meal I would cook with it – tomato, cheddar and leafy-green-bacon omelet. I know; obvious. There it was – the picture! I had found the article! Excitement quickly became disappointment as I realized the picture was of kale. Not bacon-flavoured kale; just plain old kale. It turns out the bacon-flavoured leafy green was just something I dreamed up. It really is amazing what the subconscious can create, and how we can be convinced that it is real. Okay food industry, you’ve been given an idea. For the love of vegetarian-wannabe-bacon-lovers everywhere, run with it!
Despite never being a non-bacon-meat-lover, I have actually been eating meat more often over the past few years, as a result of reading and talking to people about nutrition. Modern nutrition information dismisses the fat-is-evil fad of the past 30 years in favour of a carbohydrates-are-evil fad. Some of it sunk in, and I found myself cutting back on carbohydrates, which for me that meant eating more meat.
There is one more factor in my vegetarian eating trial: I was an engineer before becoming a personal trainer, and have discovered that you can take the girl out of engineering, but you can’t take the engineer out of the girl. I love a good experiment, and it turns out, nutritional experiments on myself fit the bill now that I don’t have the engineering lab to play around in.
Vegetarian eating is actually nutritional trial number four for me, and follows experiments with:
Low carbohydrates. My intention was to try it for a month, but I stopped after three weeks because didn’t like how I felt. Specifically, I didn’t enjoy running out of energy during a 10 minute bike ride, carrying around a mental fog, and feeling bloated. At the time, I assumed I reacted poorly because my body really wanted the carbohydrates, but now I wonder if it was a reaction to the extra meat I was eating.
Intermittent Fasting (IF). If you haven’t heard of intermittent fasting, then check out this article that I wrote about it. Basically I stopped eating breakfast, and it turns out the earth did not stop spinning, the sun didn’t explode, and I didn’t drop dead from lack of Cheerios. Why did I stop? I basically stopped because I realized I was using the extra calories I had “saved” to have junky late night snacks. I also realized that the reason I did this was because I don’t love meat. How is that relevant? With my IF approach, I was basically eating two big meals each day, but because I don’t love meat, and I don’t really want to overdo the carbohydrates, I found myself eating two regular size meals instead of two big meals. And that led to late night snacking. The latter didn’t lead to weight gain, but it did make realize I had removed healthy breakfast calories from my diet and replaced them with less healthy snack calories. That didn’t seem like a great trade-off, so I stopped. I still think IF is a good option for the right person, but I no longer think I’m that right person. I am still intrigued by this approach, so I may try again.
Intermittent Vegan (IV). I decided to try eating vegan one evening per week as an effort to expand my regular menu. It was great! But I became very busy about a month later, so my efforts to expand what I cooked turned into weekly take out from a local vegetarian restaurant. Soon after, I let this experiment fall by the wayside.
As you can see, I like to try stuff. It fulfills my engineering mind and also fits well with my overall philosophy about nutrition:
There is not one true diet for all of us;
There is one true diet for each of us.
If we listen, our body will tell us what it is.
And so this 30 day vegetarian trial is my fourth step in letting my body tell me what the right diet is for me. I opted for vegetarian instead of vegan primarily because this experiment is about listening to my body, and my body still says “mmm, cheese”. I don’t anticipate having huge cravings for meat along the way, but in order to really make this work, I will definitely need to find some new vegetarian recipes that fit my cooking requirements: delicious, healthy and relatively easy to make. Suggestions?
Elsbeth Vaino, CSCS, is an engineer turned exercise and nutrition nerd in Ottawa, Canada.