How to Start Eating Plants, part 2 of 3

1) “I could never go vegan, I love cheese too much.” (read part 1)

2) “I could never go vegan, I work out.”

3) “I tried going vegan, but I got too sick. It’s not for me.”

“I could never go vegan, I work out.” I LOVE this excuse. Especially when someone says it to me when they are struggling to catch their breath after taking one of my fitness boxing classes. In fairness, the classes aren’t easy and I have to work at catching my breath when I take a class. The irony is, people ask me after class how they can improve, what do I do, how do I eat. And, people also ask me after I take a class because let’s be real, as much as we try to focus on ourselves in group fitness classes, we look around the room at everyone else for our ego to determine where we fit in. After I take a class I’m sweating, I worked hard. When I answer their questions and tell them I eat vegan the wall goes up (mentioned in part 1). I can see all the myths they’ve consumed come into conflict with the present moment. “Protein builds muscle, there’s no protein in plants - except you have muscle and I want to look as strong as you;” “vegans are weak, sickly sorts - except you don’t look weak nor sick and you have more energy than I do; ” “that is not a sustainable way to eat - except you tell me you haven’t consumed meat (aka protein in my mind) for 20 years.”

In the documentary “The Game Changers” there’s a line that strongman Patrik Baboumain says that resonated for me. “If you want to be smart do you eat smart peoples’ brains? No, you do what smart people do. If I want to be strong like an ox I’m not going to eat the ox.” Now, to be clear, even documentaries have entertainment value and just like political debates and speeches they require fact checkers. That doesn’t change I like what Patrik said, but it does mean that it is still my responsibility to do research outside my own echo-chamber. My experience included.

In 20 years, since I stopped eating meat, and in the past 7 years since I stopped eating dairy, I can attest that not consuming meat or dairy has not decreased my energy nor my ability to build muscle. I was once a professional dancer, and when I hear one of my boxing colleagues put down dance as exercise I know they’ve fallen for the illusion that it’s effortless. Dancers have grace, they smile when they perform. Boxers don’t smile, they don’t look pretty, what they do looks like effort. Both are based in discipline if one wants to improve, including sweat and fatigue. They require taking in the food energy to perform and both have a weight requirement (that is, when I danced not that long ago it was a requirement, and I’m happy to see in the past few years fierce dancers who would burst out of a tutu! Dance on!). Since retiring from dancing I trained for a half Ironman running 6 miles, biking 30 miles and swimming 20 laps every day during the week and still working in an office for 8 hours a day. Weekends were the longer bike rides and diversifying with other activities like yoga. During that time I ate a lot! I remember one time going to dinner with my roommate and we ordered an appetizer to share - I inhaled it - apologized and we ordered another that I did share. This particular time we happened to be at an Indian restaurant, it’s pretty safe to say that most people don’t finish their meal and take part of it home. I ate my main meal before she had eaten half of hers. I pushed pride aside and ordered another main meal. I had no leftovers. Everyone who physically trains hard knows that food = energy in order to train, and we burn through that fuel faster than folks not physically training hard. The difference I saw in myself was I didn’t need the rest days or major recovery time that athletic programs suggest. I had muscle soreness, absolutely, but the recovery was much faster - meaning I could train the next day. This was after I stopped eating dairy. A major thing I noticed when I stopped eating dairy was I didn’t suffer with muscle cramps. Sore muscles and cramped muscles are different - and feel very different. And information for anyone else with female reproductive parts, cramps stopped all together. I wish that during the years I was a dancer that I didn’t consume dairy, knowing now that muscle cramps wouldn’t have hindered me so much.

In part one I mentioned that just because something is labeled “vegan” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. All the nutritional rules still apply, the difference is now one is presented with learning about what goes into their food. Eating creme filled sandwich cookies and fake chicken nuggets is still not a “healthy” choice, despite being vegan. There is bad tasting and nutritional deficient food that non-vegan and vegan. The rules really don’t change no matter the amount of justification someone has that is not based on science or fact. Being conscious of what we consume means asking questions. Here’s a truth: I am not a medical professional, infectious disease expert or genetic scientist. I am a fitness professional, yoga expert and hobby organic gardener. My responsibility to myself (place in your own personal pronouns) is to learn and listen to what experts in their fields have to say, and then question some more. Our brains, according to what I’ve learned from experts, are slow to evolve and change ideas. It took a long time to change minds from Ptolemy assessing the stars revolved around the earth to centuries later Galileo proclaiming the earth was not the center and revolved around the sun. Everyone is responsible for themselves, but that includes learning from the past, admitting to one’s impact in the present and ripple effect for the future.

To sum up, I have been an athlete for over 30 years, meat-free for 20, meat & dairy-free for 7. I teach yoga, coach boxing and have recently been invited to train in Kali stick fighting for a teaching certification. At middle age I experience no lack of energy or strength. What I do lack is inflammation, indigestion and cramping. To be strong like the ox do what the ox does.

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