Okay, so I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the back-and-forthing I’ve done in the three years since I started trying to eat a primarily plant-based diet. It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride. If I’m honest, for the first two-and-a-half years, I would generally go three weeks, and then fall off the wagon. This year has been a bit better though: I did manage to go for a full ten weeks before life became too hectic (a poor excuse, I know) and I fell off the plant-food diet again.
However, what I have done for at least five out of seven days over the past three years is drink my blended salad for breakfast (whether or not I’ve been good for the rest of the day). That alone has made all the difference in the world in terms of health. After a couple of years, I noticed that my hands were no longer stiff and I don’t have sore thumb joints any longer. In addition, my nails are stronger, and the ridges have smoothed out. Actually, I don’t have any health issues at all…and I’m turning fifty-seven this week, so I think I’ll continue with the “plan”–with all my failures and backsliding, I’m still eating more plant food than I ever have in my life.
And, according to Dr. Douglas Lilse, author of The Pleasure Trap, we build momentum (in a sense) with each attempt. I like this idea because it highlights the times when we are doing it right, not the times when we lapse. Lilse’s ideas were a revelation to me when I discovered his books and videos earlier this year. What I find particularly empowering about Lilse’s arguments is that he addresses the way that the human tendency toward perfection undercuts our attempts at changing bad habits.
I was thinking about what I ate during my forties, when I exercised every day, ran marathons, lifted weights, and was in the best shape of my life. I thought I was eating healthfully, but when I look back, I cringe a bit. I’d have one of those single-serve packages of sweetened Quaker’s oatmeal for breakfast, a cheese sandwich for lunch, and maybe a veggie burger or pasta with tomato sauce for dinner.For a snack I might have some pretzels or baked tortilla chips. It’s not that bad–I rarely ate fried food and would never eat a doughnut but, if I think about it, my diet included almost no vegetables and fruit. The only time I ate beans was at a Mexican restaurant. Sure, I might have had a big salad when I was out for lunch a couple of times a week, but that’s about it. I figured I was doing well because I didn’t drink alcohol or eat meat and I exercised like a fiend. But very little of what I was eating was nutritionally dense. To compensate I took vitamins by the dozen. I didn’t have any real health problems, but my hands hurt most of the time, and I couldn’t open jars because my thumb joints often hurt so much. I used to buy little heat patches to wrap around my thumbs because the pain was so bad sometimes. Then, the first two years of my fifties I suffered from adhesive capulitis in my shoulders, which was incredibly painful and got me off track in terms of exercise. And I’ve never gotten back on that track properly (oops).
I’m a lot fatter now because I don’t exercise enough (oh, and the discovery of my love of wine didn’t help), but even with a less-than-perfect adherence to the plant-based life, the pain in my hands has resolved, and I have had no subsequent problems with my shoulders.
This afternoon, as I was enjoying a snack of raw vegetables and hummus, I was thinking that when I started this endeavour three years ago, I likely would not have enjoyed it in the same way I enjoy it now. It would have felt like work, not pleasure. I suppose the difference that three years has made is that plant-based food actually tastes good (as good as cheese and eggs used to)–it no longer feels like deprivation. However, I think I’d like to get to the point where I just don’t have to think about it–not in the sense of not planning (you always have to plan your food if you’re eating this way); what I mean is that I’d like to get to the point where I consider myself vegan in the same way I’ve considered myself vegetarian for the last twenty-three years.
And I do believe I’m getting there. In the past, I would grow bored of my vegan repertoire within about twenty-one days, but I have enough recipes in the arsenal now that I can avoid that eventuality. I’ve also found that I can stick to the same breakfast and (pretty much) the same lunch almost every day, and I’m fine. And planning has become second nature: my fridge is always full of vegetables, my freezer with frozen fruit, and my pantry with dried and canned beans. I always make sure to bring some hummus and vegetables to work if I’m going to be there for more than a couple of hours. And in a little pocket in my purse, I carry a bag of almonds and a vegan bar…just in case.