The new year is underway

7 Jan

…and so is my new plan.

What is the new plan? For starters, losing weight has been moved to the top of the list — above the trial and error efforts I’ve been working on for controlling my high blood pressure. I can’t help but think this might be the one thing keeping me from reaching my blood pressure goals. For the past week, I’ve really focused on what I’m eating and how much. And I’ve exercised for 30 minutes, four of the last five days. So far, so good. I can’t wait to weigh in tomorrow and see how I’ve done this week.

I’ve also been doing some reading. I have loved cooking vegan recipes. I’ve tried so many new foods and learned new ways to cook just about every vegetable and grain. Last weekend, I purchased “Appetite for Reduction,” the newest book by one of the top vegan cookbook authors ever — Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I’ve read her most popular cookbook, “Veganomicon,” and I often cook from my favorite of hers, “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.” Unfortunately, many vegan sweet treats are still high in calories and fat, so it’s time to move away from the baking for a while.

Lucky for me, Isa feels the same way. That’s why she wrote this new cookbook. It’s packed with low fat, low calorie vegan recipes. As she writes in the intro, this is not your mother’s low fat cookbook. This does not contain any fake stuff. It’s straight up, healthy cooking with grains, veggies and beans. The first recipe I made is the first recipe in her book — “Everyday Chickpea-Quinoa Salad.” I’ve only cooked quinoa once in my life and didn’t care for it. This recipe was fantastic! She said she eats this almost every day and I can see why. It’s filling, crunchy and tasty. As a matter of fact, it’s so tasty that my kids couldn’t get enough! Even my salad-hating 6-year-old went back for seconds and the other two said it was their new favorite. The dressing is to die for. We’ve already made the dressing twice and we’ve drizzled it on all kinds of stuff — even noodles. And, it’s adaptable. Start with her basic recipe but change out the quinoa for cooked rice or substitute spinach for the Romaine. I added shredded carrots to mine, but next time I’ll also add tomatoes and cucumbers. I can’t wait to whip up more of her recipes.

The other thing I read this week was an article in the January issue of Bon Appetit magazine. It was written by Mark Bittman, cookbook author and the author of “Food Matters.” It totally hit the nail on the head for me. It was exactly what I had been trying to figure out for my diet and it made total sense. He writes:

“…I decided to experiment on myself by creating a series of rules that I hoped would not only improve my health but also lead to a new, more sustainable American diet that would feature the sensibility, wisdom, and benefits of veganism and the pleasures of the omnivore way of cooking and eating.”

I love the benefits I’ve received from eating a vegan diet for the last year. And I truly have enjoyed the foods. I also 100% embrace the idea of sustainable eating and the belief that all animals should be treated compassionately, even if they are being raised for food. (I do NOT support factory farming and do not purchase meat products or eggs from my grocery store.)

Bittman explains that this philosophy is often called Flexitarian, though it is very much like the Mediterranean way of eating. He writes:

“I created a personal diet, one that was flexible enough to allow me to enjoy all of the food I love daily (and which could be adapted by others to fit their own schedules), yet one that was strict enough to really have an impact.”

He basically eats a vegan diet, with the occasional piece of meat.

This makes so much sense to me. Now, I know there will be vegans who will desert me because of this. But, honestly, the biggest struggle of my vegan year was what to do when eating somewhere other than home. It stressed me out beyond belief. I grew up in a family where meals were shared with loved ones. Great care was taken to make the meal and it was meant to be enjoyable. Let me ask you this — how enjoyable is it to go to a restaurant and have to nit-pick your way through the menu, requesting multiple changes, and ending up eating steamed broccoli (no butter), rice or noodles (no cheese or butter) and a roll (praying it wasn’t made with egg)? Trust me, there’s nothing enjoyable about it. I spent more time stressing over what to order than any person should have to, only to end up eating a pile of plain vegetables when everyone else was enjoying something they truly wanted.

And — even more stressful? Eating at someone else’s house. We get together regularly with my in-laws for Sunday dinner and games. I have to say my mother-in-law did a great job of making sure I had something to eat that was vegan, but it was often what everyone else was having but without the butter, cheese, dressing, or anything else that would have made it a wonderful dish. Most of the time I took something that I had made, or threw a veg burger into my purse so I could guarantee myself a protein. Totally stressful and completely goes against my philosophy that meals should please your senses, satisfy you, and be an enjoyable event shared with friends and family.

So Mark Bittman’s words really hit home for me. And I am giving his philosophy a try.

Right now, about 90% of my meals are vegan. I’ve had seafood on a couple of occasions, and I’m still eating eggs which I added back to my diet last fall. I also enjoyed some of my dad’s homemade chicken sausage on Christmas morning. I hadn’t had it in a year and I really missed it! I made his Michigan Dried Cherry and Toasted Almond Chicken Sausage with sustainably-raised (aka happy) chicken. It was so good and I didn’t feel guilty about eating it!

I haven’t added any dairy products back in and I don’t think I will. I know I will never drink cow’s milk again. There are so many better, healthier options out there. I wouldn’t mind eating a bite of blue cheese or feta once in a while, but I don’t have a local, sustainable-farmed source for it. So, no cheese for now (unless I’m at someone else’s house and it’s already on the salad).

So there you go. Lots of vegan meals, a small portion of ethically-raised meat once in a great while, and a lot more exercise than last year. I’m excited to see where this leads me. I’m hoping the combination of a re-vamped diet, less stress about eating, and more enjoyment when dining with family and friends will be just the thing that gets both my weight and my BP back to normal.

Even if you have no desire to go veg — please consider reducing the amount of animal products you eat. And look for a local source for your meat and eggs. Not only does that support your local farmer, the products are fresher and taste so much better.

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