Plant-Based Nutrition

After I returned to Arizona life found incredible meaning with my new-found soul mate and best friend (Matt), introduction to Bikram yoga along with the harmonious yogi community, flourishing in my career, and beginning to make future aspirations come to fruition. A few months before the meaning of existence truly blossomed, there were slight uncertainties as I had become quite content with being single and wondered whether ‘soul mates’ truly existed for everyone – all the while celebrating with many other close friends in their harmonious unions. My cynicism became particularly poignant as I expressed comfort in being in my own space to family just before being introduced to the person who continues to bring me daily meaning and glow. Low and behold, the moment I ceased the ‘search’ for my true love, it simply happened and was meant to be. Close friends were actually plotting our introduction following six years of patience when I first met them and they were intrigued by the possible future opportunity of finding friends that were a good fit – ironically my friend’s husband (from grad school) has known Matt since preschool and their moms were best friends – how’s that for small world.

Naturally we were drawn to one another, particularly with our absolute passion for wellness through healthy/active and eclectic lifestyles – through compassion and mindfulness – the very aspect that we both grew to appreciate after experiencing challenges when others shared observations about our kindness. Given that we were athletes throughout our lives, as Matt played professional hockey and I was a competitive swimmer and dancer (we actually both engaged in a variety of other athletics too which contributes to our well-rounded perspectives), we were constantly driven to find the most efficient means to maintain endurance, rejuvenate, and recover through nutrition.

While I’ve been eager throughout my life to discover the most optimal nutrition and attempted multiple well-known/popular trends including south beach, Atkins, gluten-free, vegetarianism, etc. I became disappointed with the inability to strike a good balance and continued the pursuit of genuine health and quality of life. In fact at times during my life, as many women experience, my patterns perhaps bordered on the edge of unhealthy means of weight loss which felt inconsistent with my desire to practice what I preach in clinical practice. Additionally I was determined to find a consistent plan that helped me maintain energy levels, feel nourished after meals, experience a sense of making positive choices versus a sense of guilt when overeating to appease cravings, obtain adequate rest/sleep, react less to particular meals (e.g., bloated, morning sickness, etc), and prevent the multiple diseases that I’m genetically predisposed to both maternally and paternally; such diseases include diabetes that struck my father after prostate cancer, high blood pressure that plagues my mother, CVA that impacted my grandfather on several accounts, gout/shingles that my brother experiences often, and more.

With that being said, my introduction to plant-based nutrition serendipitously presented me a window of opportunity in the midst of beginning to make tremendous career changes. Matt was offered a position at USA Hockey after I accepted an overseas assignment in England. Many people who cared deeply for us were understandably slightly skeptical of our plan to be apart, yet we were confident that our paths would remain parallel as anyone who knows us would see that we thrive on resisting ‘sweating the small stuff’ and are truly at peace with one another. As one can imagine, being apart for approximately a year was certainly filled with moments of great sorrow; at the same time we became closer than ever imagined. We eventually became engaged as Matt surprised me with a romantic proposal during one of our many incredible travels in Europe – in particular our venture to Prague, Czech Republic that will forever be a location with exceptional memories.

Equally ironic that my journey toward a plant-based lifestyle coincided with my love story as I began searching for the balance between health and happiness. As mentioned we were naturally drawn toward open perspectives of creative exploration in fitness and overall well-being. Together we attempted several nutritional efforts/strategies to boost our active lifestyles including gluten-free, high protein based philosophies for a brief period of time; though we found ourselves discouraged as there didn’t appear to be noticeable changes while engaging in what seemed like endless exercise.

All efforts changed dramatically for me when Matt introduced me to ‘The China Study,’ after he heard about the book while watching an interview with a famous NFL athlete (Tony Gonzalez). I was struck and intrigued by a newfound and somewhat foreign idea of plant-based diets. I can recall hearing about ‘veganism’ though I’m not sure I truly understood the implications behind what I now understand as an evidenced-based/well substantiated theory/practice (even while experimenting with vegetarianism during college when I found myself saying the now stereotypical phrases including ‘I love cheese, milk, chocolate, etc too much to give it up or become vegan’).

I was equally surprised to learn that many athletes including Georges Laraque and Mike Zigomanis (NHL athlete) and Mac Danzig (UFC Fighter) are passionate about their plant-based lifestyle which helped normalize the lifestyle for me. I ended up picking up the book out of complete intrigue and read it with such ease and passion that my desire to lead a plant-based/vegan lifestyle literally changed overnight (it was as if a light bulb flickered on instantaneous). At the same time, while my mindset made a tremendous shift, I gradually ‘leaned’ (a concept I became enamored with while reading Kathy Freston’s ‘The Veganist’ and Alicia Silverstone’s “The Kind Diet’) into the many incredible changes and began to move toward progress while resisting perfection (yet another concept I learned in my research and ongoing yogi lifestyle). Realistically it probably took at least a year to truly understand ingredients/nutritional benefits/meaning of reading labels, shopping properly (particularly while in a new country – UK; actually much more user-friendly than the US), cooking new recipes, gaining more insight from research, and delving into the luxuries of many available choices. When I was vegetarian there didn’t seem to be nearly the plethora of choices as I’ve actually found replacements for all my childhood/adult favorites; such as, faux chicken parmesan, shrimp with asian pasta, beef tenderloin fajita, and so on.

Amazingly, my deep ingrained beliefs about protein (contrary to the myth that the source is solely obtained from meat and dairy products, as greatly advertised to the public, yet can be easily substituted with leafy greens, hemp seeds, and grains to name a few), lactose intolerance since birth (treat the ‘symptoms’ with supplements rather than getting to the root cause), and feeling that recipes lacked diversity (quite contrary as I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the deliciousness and multitude of options) were positively challenged.

I also find that family and friends are often quite curious and share similar aforementioned inquiries that I had in the beginning phases of the transition. In fact, it seems that others are shocked when they learn that I was a true ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of gal and raised with traditional Irish ‘corn beef and cabbage’ along with similar meals. Equally surprising and often dismissed is the fact that your taste buds change drastically over the course of choosing healthier food choices – a refreshing aspect of my rejuvenating transformation; particularly when refined sugar products were removed from my diet and replaced with more natural products (eliminating soda, energy drinks, processed foods, etc have made a tremendous difference in my overall vitality). I’ve just recently begun to lean into the ‘raw’ plant-based diet which too seemed extreme at first though when I attended a presentation by Branden Brazier (author of ‘thrive’ and developer of ‘vega’ products) I was again pleasantly surprised by the number of choices, benefits, and resources available.

Breaking from traditions can certainly be a challenge at times as Matt and I both grew up with incredibly talented chefs – our moms made decadent/rich recipes that we remain quite fond of in the midst of making new substitutions. Understandably our parents were raised during the generation of being informed that the ADA food pyramid (I’m learning has been funded by dairy corporations and quite contrary to popular belief that typical sources of protein – meat and dairy – actually contribute to life threatening diseases, mortality, and our national epidemic of obesity) is a necessity rather than looking at past generational benefits of local/organic means of nutrition – essentially looking closely at our food sources and the impact our carbon footprint has on the environment. In the midst of the generational gap, generally speaking, everyone has been quite supportive while trying to understand the complexities of our nutritional awareness. While I’m quite diligent and refrain from a ‘vegangelican’ approach when chatting about my journey, I’m often struck with how inquisitive people are when they learn I’m vegan; at which time I’m happy to chat in an open/receptive forum and normalize the learning curve that I too experienced.

A similar experience in communicating the intricate aspects of my nutritional choices become apparent when we dine out; though I’ve been pleasantly surprised by most chefs/restaurants that are quite willing to be flexible and provide alternative options; particularly when I lean toward the statement of having a ‘dairy allergy’ as it appears that more attention is given to chefs versus simply saying ‘I’m vegan, meaning I don’t eat any meat or fish products including dairy.’ A number of restaurants have specialty menus that are ‘dairy free’ and ‘gluten free’ for the occasion when I choose to eat a purely raw plant-based diet.

Perhaps my ability to speak with ease about the topic comes from growing up in Utah and being in the field of psychology (similarly with Matt’s experience in the sports industry balanced with a life long passion for eclectic interests including journalism/blogging, photography, film, and much more – he’s a true Renaissance man of the 21st century). It became quite the norm for me to dispel generalizations while sharing alternative views. My experience as a psychologist also helped me to find clear direction  with regard to self-care and nutrition so that I can fully practice what I teach.

In summary, I can genuinely and passionately say that leading a plant-based lifestyle has been one of the best decisions I’ve made (next to spending a lifetime with my soul mate, continuing passion in travels, and pursuing my academic dreams) in pursuit of a genuine and compassionate mind, body, and green spirit balance.

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