I have been a vegetarian for 11 years and vegan for 7 years.
The first time I decided to restrict my meat eating was when I was 12 years old. I went to Catholic School and we were encouraged to give up something for lent. I thought it would be cool to give up some meat. So a friend and I decided to give up red meat for lent.
Unfortunately, my friend came to school 1 day into our fast to tell me her dad made pork chops for dinner last night so…it looked like I was on my own. lol!
It was a challenging time. I didn’t eat a whole lot of red meat but I loved peperoni pizza, bacon, and ham. Event the smell of those three would drive me crazy. Being 12 years old in the United States, pizza was pretty much a staple in my diet so this whole “no red meat” thing was initially a challenge. However, I was lucky enough to get support at home because my mother was a vegetarian. She happily cooked things I could eat. Although she still prepared meat options for my father, older brother, and younger sister. This was tempting, but I was able to stay focused.
I knew I wanted to make it through lent, but I really took it one day at a time. I prayed, “I have the strength to make it through the day without red meat.” I said this over and over again.
Mid-way through the fasting, I realized something pretty amazing. I’d given up meat just because of the challenge. But I discovered not eating meat actually made me feel better. I had more energy, my eczema wasn’t as itch, and my skin really cleared up. I could think better, my periods weren’t as painful, and my mood really improved because I wasn’t snapping at my siblings the way I usually did.
As faith would have it, I made it the entire time without relapsing or slipping up. I was so proud of myself. The more benefits I started experiencing, the more I resolved to keep going even on the days when it got hard. Like when my brother and sister got ribs from the carryout (if you’re from D.C., you know about the carryout — lol!) and I had to eat chicken wings.
But the important part isn’t how much I was tempted or even that I succeeded in giving up red meat. The most important part was that I set a goal and achieved it. This is one of the most powerful things we can EVER learn to do.
To top it off, I was one of the few people in class who stuck with their resolutions. I felt so encouraged by my achievement, I kept going. I permanently gave up red meat, and never went back.
Well, except for that brief period in college when money was tight and food was rare. lol. So I ate everything I could get my hands on. But that didn’t last long because those old feelings started to come back. I remember eating ribs for the first time in 10 years, and I slept for hours afterward. My body felt tired and lethargic. My eczema got worst. My anemia was worst than ever. I was a mess.
Funny how you don’t know how good you have it until you lose it.
The Yoga Class
So that’s how my journey started. But after my relapse in college, I took it to a whole ‘nother level.
It all started with a yoga class I took my senior year at Spelman. I thought I was just going to learn to stretch, but this yoga teacher had other, much more things in mind for us.
She taught us how to meditate, breathe, eat healthier, and basically become more conscious in every area of our lives. We read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda and kept food journals. We learned about muscle testing and natural remedies for diseases. She opened my eyes to a whole new world of being that I felt was true, but never consciously knew existed.
So it was her who suggested we may have food allergies and not even know it. She relayed a story about how she went on a health retreat and gave up certain foods for one month during which she kept a food diary to document how she felt day-to-day without the food. She then reintroduced the food back into her diet and continued to document her experience.
This was a sure way to see what something’s affect is on your body. You don’t know to trust anyone else and their opinion about what’s healthy for you. You can gain first hand knowledge. It was this same teacher who suggested we start with dairy if we were going to test a food. “Most people are lactose intolerant and don’t know it.”
So that’s what I did. I gave up dairy for one month. The first week, I fasted on juice, water, and herbal tea.
My skin really thrived without dairy. My digestive system was great and my metabolism was on fire. It was working at a superspeed. I was losing so much weight and I wasn’t exercising or dieting. It was amazing. Everything in my body and mind seemed to work better without dairy.
The crazy part is until I gave up dairy, I didn’t know the effect it was having on my body.
A month after I gave dairy up, I went out to lunch with some coworkers to Maggiano’s. I kid myself into thinking I would order something healthy without dairy in it. But of course, once I sat down, I thought, “Oh, a little bit of pasta is not going to hurt me.” Oh…the lies we tell ourselves. lol. So I ordered cheese and a lot of it.
That afternoon, my stomach rumbled like it never had before! And I had the most disgusting visit to the bathroom…ever! I know…too much information…but I want to me as transparent and honest with you about my experience as possible.
Being Meat & Dairy Free
But besides the brief lapse I discussed earlier, I’m been red meat free for over 20 years. And I just kept experimenting with giving up other meats and dairy. I wasn’t trying to win a contest or anything so I went pretty slow. I think it’s best not to rush it. I’ve seen people give up everything overnight. All of a sudden, no meat-no dairy, and they were miserable and it didn’t last very long. Within weeks, sometimes days, they were completely back to eating EVERYTHING. So go slow. Make it a lifestyle shift.
The other thing to keep in mind is try changing your diet temporarily before making permanent changes. That way, you can do a test run. You can also see if you benefit or not from eliminating certain things from your diet.
When I finally decided to give up chicken, I had to take it slow. This was one of the last meats I had left, and I devoured it every chance I got. So I said I would give it up for a month to see if there was any benefit. If I didn’t experience any great boost in health, I was going straight to Popeye’s and get me a three piece white meat. lol!
Well, much to my surprise, my health hit even better heights without chicken. I was sad, but I knew I had to choose my health. However, one month after deciding to give up chicken, I did have a relapse. I went to a Christmas Eve party, and I had some chicken wings. They were calling my name!
So I quickly grabbed a plate full of wings. I sat down and was damn near salivating over them. I’d missed chicken and wanted to dig in asap. After my first bite, I was convinced my taste buds were off because the chicken didn’t taste like what I remembered. They was ok. But not as delicious as I’d remembered them in my mind.
I finished the plate, but I wasn’t impressed. I walked over to my friends to complain about the wings. They spoke before I got a chance and exclaimed about how good the wings were. Some of the best they ever had. In that moment, I realized maybe it wasn’t chicken that had changed. Maybe it was me.
I knew in that moment that I never had to eat chicken again.
Where I Am Today
Today, I do not eat meat, poultry, or dairy. However, I am not a strict vegan. I eat seafood. I also have a sweet tooth and enjoy a nonvegan dessert probably 3-4 times a year — mostly around the holidays.
I like to use the word vegan because it reminds people that I do not eat dairy, especially cheese, which people like to put in EVERYTHING! Now, the very smell of cheese makes me nauseous.
But don’t get me wrong, I LOVE vegan desserts! I also LOVE raw desserts (well, raw food in general). I think enjoying dairy desserts on a rare occasion is more habit than desire.
Anyway, I love my lifestyle. I still strive to get healthier, but it feels good never to have to worry about weight gain. Even when I was pregnant or after having my baby girl, my tiny waist came back so fast. People were amazed that six weeks about giving birth, I was thinner than I was before I got pregnant.
My health is also easier to maintain! If I feel a trickle in my throat, I can prevent a full cold or flu from forming. In fact, I can be surrounded by sick people and not get sick because my immune system is so strong.
I love my health journey. Who knows if I’ll ever give up seafood or become a 100% raw foodist.
My goal is not to adhere to a strict diet.
My goal is to strive for the best health I can experience. And not health for health’s sake. I want to feel
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