Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The view from the other side

Not long ago, I was a vegetarian.  Not just a vegetarian, but someone who chose that lifestyle as a young teen and who stuck with it, through old fashioned family gatherings and getting married to a meat eater, for almost 14 years.  I wasn't a zealot about it, and I believed that it was everyone's choice to eat what they felt was best.  But to me, being a vegetarian seemed like the only choice that made sense, for my health and for the planet.

After a while, it started becoming a central part of my identity.  Hello, I'm Julie, a Vegetarian.  Everyone knew, because I had to be treated differently.  I'd ask at parties if there was meat in the dip.  I'd have to find out how the soup was prepared.  And for God's sake, don't put bacon bits on my salad!  I thought that being a vegetarian made me interesting and maybe even mysterious.  I know it made me feel like a better person.  Simply by avoiding meat, I gained a halo of earth-friendly, animal-activist, kind-hearted, without having to actually do that much.

It wasn't all sunshine and cupcakes, though.  About a year after becoming a vegetarian (right before my 15th birthday), I started having severe gallstone attacks.  I remember them getting so bad and so sudden that, while swimming at a creek near my home town, I got stranded on the opposite side because I couldn't move without getting physically ill.  To this day, I can't remember how I got back across the creek, but I do know that it wasn't long afterwards that they removed my gallbladder in an emergency operation. 

I my hair started to thin out, and my nails became incredibly thin and brittle.  And then, I began to balloon out.  By the time I reached my 17th birthday, I carried an outrageous 275 pounds on my 5'7 frame.  I was depressed, had little energy, and I had no idea why I was so addicted to eating.

Fast forward ten years.  In the summer of 2012, my hubby and I decided, hey, maybe we should try going low-carb.  We'd done the research, and it all sounded so logical.  I felt better right away, but I'll admit that being a low-carb vegetarian is incredibly hard.  I ended up eating tofu or seitan (a meat substitute made from, of all things, wheat gluten) every single day, and part of me knew that it wasn't good for me to be doing that.  So even though I had a lot of doubts, I decided to start eating meat again.

That was in August of 2012.  I look back at that, and it makes me wonder... how did I ever manage before then?  What on earth did I eat before I started eating meat again?  This way of eating is so natural and it feels so right.  I don't think anyone could ever convince me to go back to being a vegetarian, and especially eating tofu or seitan daily. 

It did take a few months, but my body has changed dramatically since becoming a low-carb meat eater.  The first thing I really noticed was my mood.  I used to be depressed all the time pretty much, and I had a lot of trouble getting up the energy to take care of  my responsibilities, but after changing my diet, my mood brightened way up.  The next surprising little find was that my fingernails, for the first time I can remember, are strong and long.  In the winters when I was a vegetarian, I couldn't keep them very long.  I looked like a nail biter because they would break off close to the skin, and even more disturbing, they would PEEL down where they were attached to the finger.  My hair is starting to come in thicker, too, and it's getting longer.  I used to only be able to grow it to a certain length, but my hair is certainly growing fast and long now.

The most amazing change I've seen, though, has to be my body composition.  Since I started eating this way, I've only lost a little bit of weight.  I'm still quite round and I would like to lose maybe another 20 pounds.  But even though I haven't moved the scale much, my body looks and feels different.  People ask me all the time if I've lost weight.  My pants aren't as tight as they used to be.  I see muscle now that I never used to have, and I haven't been lighting weights or anything!  It's just happened because of my diet shift! 

There are times when I'm eating a piece of bacon or whatever, and I catch myself thinking, "OMG what am I doing?!", before realizing that, oh yeah, this is how I eat now!  I still feel a little weird eating animals, and I have some trouble handling raw meat or eating any piece of animal that looks like an animal.  I would like to be eating more organic, free-range, humanely treated meats, but unfortunately my budget can't afford much of that at the moment.  I feel that animals are special, sacred creations of God, and they should be treated as such, but I do wholeheartedly believe that humans were meant to eat them, just as other predators were meant to eat prey.  It's just the natural cycle of life.

Of course, I'm not trying to bash the vegetarian lifestyle.  I know some people eat that way for religious reasons, and it can be done if you're very careful and you know what you're doing.  However, I don't feel that it's the natural state for humans, and I certainly know it wasn't healthy for me. 

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