Saturday, March 31, 2012

Back to Vegetarianism - Simplifying Healthy Food Choices

Is it realistic to only eat fruits and vegetables at every meal?
My journey into a healthier, more fit lifestyle began back in 2005 and 2006. Although most people see a weight loss journey beginning with a penultimate, dramatic decision to give up unhealthy habits, something they begin on January 1 or some other finite date, mine began with a little chipping away, piece by piece of unhealthy habits. And it all began by simplifying my diet to make it easiest to replace the unhealthy choices with healthy ones.

By the way, my run this morning went great. Would have liked to run longer, but need to work the legs back into shape slowly. Have to get that in. This is a blog about running after all.

What began in the fall of 2005 with the purchase of some cheap running shoes culminated in 2006 when I put together my first training plan. From there things really took off. That eventually snowballed into a food plan. And that evolved into scripted samples of healthy meals and snacks I could eat on a regular basis. No joking, I literally wrote down a list of healthy, whole foods I could eat and carried it with me. At least getting started.

After about six months, I found that I had scaled back dramatically on red meat and pork, and was eating only some chicken and turkey on a regular basis. From there I took the plunge - and went vegetarian. From the end of 2006 to early 2008 I was 100% vegetarian, with only a few hiccups along the way. I could probably count them on a single hand.

Alas, soon my weight got to a point where I was very concerned about losing too much, and I began adding back some meat. Now four years removed from ending my days as a vegetarian, it is time to get back to basics.
A farmers market is a great place to pick up produce and local meats.  Ferry Plaza is in San Francisco and is a GREAT place to  find healthful foods, and not just fruits and veggies. Try the
Pork Loin Sandwich - you'll know the one by the extremely long line.
Why go vegetarian? Is it necessarily that much healthier? Is meat so bad that you can't eat it on a regular basis? The answers the these questions are, and will be for years, up for debate. In everything I have read I've found conflicted information. A good running related equivalent is the debate over barefoot and minimalism. If practiced intelligently and deliberately, many practitioners will have success. But that doesn't make something perfect for everyone. Summarily, vegetarianism was good for me, but I needed to be better informed the first time.

My plan is simple:

1) Take it simply and slowly
2) Make healthier choices all around - not just on meat consumption
3) Be conscious of what I am putting into my body and why
4) Respect the THREE food groups

What are the three food groups?

Protein
Fiber
Carbs

By simply respecting these three food groups, rather than however many food groups the USDA is pushing now (last time I checked they still lumped PIZZA SAUCE into the veggie food group), any plan can be pretty simple. Also, it is important to point out that just eating one of the food groups (simple sugar, i.e. candy and soda, could be counted as a carb) is not enough. The choice has to be a healthy one or the directive is not effective.

By making healthy choices in those simplified food groups, things were very, and I expect will be again, very easy. The easiest ways to get fiber in a healthy way is by eating fruits and vegetables. Whole wheat breads, whole grain rices, and one of my favorites, potatoes, fit the bill nicely. Many foods fit more than one (note that fiber is considered a carb on the nutrition labels of foods).

You can break those three groups out as far as you want, for example, carbs into starchy, fiber into soluble/insoluble, and protein into complete/incomplete, but I find that keeping it simple is a great start. And for me (and most trying to lose weight), getting started is the most important thing when establishing healthy eating guidelines.

That is the healthy eating plan. How do you transition to vegetarianism? I have no idea, but my plan is, again, simple.

It will take some time and experience to cut back on meat. After all, protein is important, and gaining experience on the best ways to substitute veggie-sourced protein for animal protein is tough. It was my downfall when I last "quit" being vegetarian a few years ago. So....

Two legs is better than four, no legs is better than two.

Simply put, red meat and pork, gone, poultry and fish will take its place. My wife likes some recipes we regularly make with beans, so that will be an easy transition.

As things progress I intend to report back. If YOU are a vegetarian and have great ideas for animal protein substitutes, please feel free to email me or leave a comment below.
Whole grains are more than just whole wheat bread. Try quinoa, whole grain rice, or
one of any other you'll find in the health food aisle in your local store.

Happy Saturday!

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