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The Accidental Vegan

January 28, 2010 1 comment

(cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

Last week marked the end of the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program that I started back on New Year’s Day. I made some resolutions to not only shed a few extra pounds but to make a concerted effort to eat more nutritious foods and learn how to become a better cook. In short, I made a resolution to make a lifestyle change.

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I am happy to report that I made it through the program without faltering once and I even managed to lose a few pounds, though I’m still aiming to lose more. It is pretty astounding just how much saturated fat and cholesterol I have cut out by removing meat, dairy and eggs from my diet. The program was certainly a challenge that I highly recommend to anyone, even if they don’t have the intention of keeping it up. You might be surprised at just how much you won’t miss the things everyone else thinks you will.

As the end date drew nearer, I started to field the question of whether I would keep up with the diet once I completed the program. The fact that I signed up to do this in the first place was a big enough surprise to folks, never mind that I actually completed it. I wasn’t too focused on the question, though, as I just wanted to keep my momentum going and make it to the end. Instead, I decided that I would just keep up with the diet until I made a decision.

Now, almost one week later I have made up my mind: I will remain committed to a vegan diet. Though, my reasons for staying vegan have less to do with the health benefits of such a diet (and, I assure you those benefits are substantial and include numerous benefits for mental health) than they do with how this diet has affected my relationship with Jim. It has actually brought us closer together.

The ways in which this vegan experiment has helped bring about this togetherness are subtle, but they have meant so much to me.

Take for example the first time we ordered in. It was more than a week into the new year before we did this. It was also one of those days when the idea of walking to the grocery store and then coming home to prepare a meal was just too much to bear. Why deal with long lines and self-checkout machines that seem intent on embarrassing you when you can just ask the internet to bring you food. Plus, Jim had had a long and stressful week at work. So, on this particular Saturday evening we decided delivery was the only way we were going to eat that night.

Forty-five minutes later we had food from our favorite Thai restaurant right on our doorstep. Jim has been a vegan for more than a year now. He was also vegetarian prior to becoming a vegan so we rarely shared each other’s food. I was certainly always welcome to try his, but my own biases toward a vegan diet usually kept me from doing so. This was always kind of sad for me since I love food and sharing meals, especially when we get to sample other dishes! Up until Jim changed his diet we always shared. Even though he was a vegetarian I could always at least have whatever cheesy goodness he would so often order. Once he went vegan, though, this practice became almost non-existent.

That changed recently. It happened almost without any thought. We both unwittingly just went for each other’s food as if this were totally commonplace for us. Both of our dishes were excellent, but it wasn’t until Jim had had a second spoonful of mine that he looked up at me and smiled and said, “I’m glad we get to do this again. It’s been so long and it’s fun.”

That moment was when I first began to realize that I was doing something more than just making strides to improve my health. Choosing to go vegan, if only for three weeks, meant that I had also taken an interest in something that means so much to Jim. If I have learned one thing from my experience supporting a partner with bipolar it is that the feeling of loneliness can be intensified so much that it can be debilitating. Me being vegan now means that at least on one front, Jim is not alone. Becoming vegan meant to Jim that I wanted to do something together with him, and sometimes that is all it takes.

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On the Menu Tonight….

January 13, 2010 2 comments

Lentil Barley Stew. (This picture is from Taste of Home. I hope mine looks this pretty!)

This recipe is courtesy of Nutrition MD. The folks at 21-Day Vegan Kickstart included it in their meal plan yesterday, but we didn’t make dinner last night so I thought I’d try it this evening.

It’s also the first time, since going vegan, that I’ve made dinner. Jim’s usually the cook of the house.

Jim says stews are hard to screw up. I hope he’s right.

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Veganism: Day 5

January 5, 2010 4 comments

So, I’ve been on my vegan diet since last Friday and I have to say so far, so good.

I mentioned last time I wrote about this that Jim’s been vegan for more than a year now so I have a bit of an advantage than I would if I were doing this on my own. Still, it’s not totally a cakewalk. My biggest challenge so far is figuring out what to do to snacks.

A big part of the diet is snacking. This helps keep up the metabolism, and it keeps me feeling full. I need to get better about snacking for this reason. Now I understand why Jim is adamant about eating regularly. We’re hungry all the time! It reminds me of the Margaret Cho bit about vegans. Check it out below. The clip is six minutes long, but the bit is right at the beginning. Though, you might find it hard to stop watching since she’s so damn funny.

Alright, so that is a little extreme. I will say that I’ve found myself being hungrier more often, but I promise I won’t attack you if I need to eat and you happen to look me in the eye. Just point me in the direction of the nearest Julia’s (they have an excellent vegan empanada that I highly recommend) or a Yes! food market and I’ll be fine.

I’ve also incorporated some exercise into my diet so hopefully within a few weeks I’ll start to notice some real changes. One thing I have noticed after only 5 days as a vegan is that I don’t feel nearly as bogged down or heavy as I did just last week. I have had nothing but vegetables and whole grains since Friday and I feel awesome. It’s pretty amazing what just five days can do.

As for what I’ve eaten, Jim decided to make this awesome delicious kale recipe on New Year’s Day. He made this one up, but it definitely needs to be on some recipe web site somewhere. I don’t have the particulars of the recipe just yet, but I’ll update this post with it. Also, look for a whole section on my favorite recipes here soon.

The kale lasted a couple of days, but ran out Monday afternoon so last night we went with a recommendation from the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart web site. I’m glad we did, too! Chili mac was one of my favorite dishes as a kid and when I saw it as an item for dinner I knew we had to have it.

I don’t want to get into the habit of using too many meat substitutes (this one calls for soy crumbles), but it’s cold here in Washington and it sounded like the perfect remedy for the blustering cold weather outside.

Be sure to use whole grain pastas and, if possible, organic vegetables. Jim decided to use canola oil instead of boiling the vegetables. This will bump up the caloric intake some, but canola is a good cooking oil to use. Just go easy on it.

I was totally on board with this decision. Boiling the vegetables would have resulted in a rather bland dish. We want people to eat healthier, right?! Being vegan does not mean you have to sacrifice taste. The vegetables and the soy crumbles go really well with the pasta and I’m sure you’ll love it.

It makes a fair amount so you might have some leftovers for the next day, but since when are leftovers a bad thing!

If you’re also trying out this 21-day Vegan Kickstart then congrats to you! You’ve almost one week down and only 16 days to go.

Happy vegan eating!

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Lifting the Veil off Mental Health: Labor Day Lessons

September 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Labor day has arrived, which marks the end of summer, but we all have one last weekend to celebrate the season before getting back to work and settling down for the cold months.

This weekend we will be a spending our final summer holiday on the Delaware shore, a popular destination for many Washingtonians. We were lucky enough to be invited once again to a friend’s house, and the rest of the group making their way to the beach will surely make the weekend a success.

While getting ready for our beach getaway, I started thinking about how different things are this year versus last. This time last year, Jim was still reeling from the effects of a week in the hospital, and we were both trying to figure out what his illness meant for us. Jim’s new medication regiment was also still fairly new, and he was dealing with the side effects that inevitably come with such drugs. I was also busy thinking about what I should change about myself.

Much has happened in the past year and as we say goodbye to summer 2009, I would like to reflect on a couple of things I have learned.

I have learned how to be more empathetic. This lesson has been hard won and in many ways I think I am still learning, but I have made great strides since last summer. Well before Jim was hospitalized, I often found myself frustrated with him when he mentioned feeling anxious or when his mood suddenly changed without warning and for no reason. This frustration turned into resentment and often escalated into unnecessary arguments. I could not understand what was happening when Jim had to leave dinner with friends suddenly or why leaving the house was not an option on any given day.

During dinner at home one night, though, I finally felt what Jim was feeling. It was a simple dinner and we were watching a movie when suddenly Jim’s demeanor changed and he had to put his head into his hands shaking it back and forth. Naturally, I was concerned and asked what was wrong or what I could do. “Nothing,” he answered. “I’m fine. I know what to do. Just imagine your ‘fight or flight’ instinct being triggered for no reason. That’s what’s happening to me right now and it’s terrifying.” There was nothing I could do to help and trying to would have only worsened the situation. I felt so bad for him and tried to imagine what he was going through. Indeed, empathy was all I could offer at that point. I understood his illness better that day, though it was just one tiny sliver of what he endures on a daily basis.

I have also learned that I don’t have to try so hard. Last summer, I was doing everything I could to make sure Jim had what he needed to the point of exhaustion. I constantly asked how he was feeling, what I could be doing for him. An announcement from him of the slightest discomfort would result in myriad questions about what he was thinking. I wanted to be the perfect supporter to show him that he was not alone. I was still learning about bipolar and had overlooked the fact that often what Jim needed was just for me to be there and listen. He loved what I was trying to do for him, but it wasn’t always helpful and he didn’t always want to answer questions about his moods or about his meds. I learned that sometimes, all he needs is to sit with me or hold me. Usually, I don’t have to say anything. I have learned that the best thing I can do to take Jim’s mind off of his illness is just to be his partner and not his caregiver. And, I am more than happy to be that for him.

So with that, I say goodbye to the summer of 2009 and hello to the fall season. I’m already looking forward to the lessons to be learned this weekend.

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