Just Keep it Simple, Steve.

I’ve been dragging my feet on this first post because with 30+ years of practice under my belt, I’ve got this whole procrastination thing down to a science.  And I don’t believe laziness has ever been the culprit, rather a tendency to overthink things.  Those of you who know me well might accuse me of not thinking enough.  However, like most Americans who are inundated with information – some of which is credible, most of which is conceptual marketing – I spend way too much time thinking and not enough time doing.  To be fair, this more accurately describes my former self, eighty-five-pounds heavier and so depressed I couldn’t figure out where to begin.  THAT plunge into something new was radical; writing about what my wife and I are doing shouldn’t be.  So as time passes and I struggle to come up with a reason for sharing our stories and philosophies, I’ve landed on the concept of simplicity, something that was so far removed from my previous lifestyle that I was on the precipice of giving up.

When I was overweight, no one said a thing to me.  Well, my grandmother would congratulate my wife on a good job feeding me, but for the most part, all of the abuse was self-manufactured.  People are genuinely shocked when they learn how miserable I felt.  Now things are different.  I’ve spent the past four years gradually eliminating the standard American toxins, alcohol, saturated fat, and animal protein from my lifestyle, I’ve achieved a level of fitness and well-being that surpasses that of my high school and collegiate athletic career, and I’m in love with everything about my life; the 4:00 AM runs with a lamp on my head and the yoga that follows, our daily family breakfasts, listening to Jackson sing as I drive him to school on a full belly at 6:15 AM, my 7:00 AM swim practices where my athletes arrive to a chilly pool having just left their dreams (they’re usually not as excited to see me), the second breakfast that follows practice, the recruits from all over the world who choose to interact with me, my athletic and academic colleagues who are always willing to share their ideas (it doesn’t hurt to have an institution’s nutrition department at my disposal), an occasional second run, lunch #1, lunch #2, practice #2, a quick dinner before driving home to my beautiful family around 6:00 PM, perhaps a recruiting call on the way, bath, book, and bedtime with my son, dessert and an hour of mindless television with my wife, a little pre-bed yoga, and an 8:30 PM bedtime are all things that excite me these days.  But as if I’m lacking the energy to get all of this done on a daily basis, I’ve been on the receiving end of more (nutritional) interventions than Charlie Sheen.  It’s odd, isn’t it?  I get it; it’s a hallmark of today’s society.  When weight is the issue, it’s never the only issue, and it’s tough to broach the subject.  But there were times when I thought I was going to be held down and force-fed a bacon cheeseburger.  For the most part, people have adjusted to my new appearance and lifestyle.  In fact, my athletes are often eager to discuss nutrition with me these days and they do not live in fear of someone challenging their own concepts of nutrition.  Here are some of the typical questions and comments a plant-based fella might hear.

  • Steve, you look great! But it’s not your plant-based diet; it’s the running.
  • Are you okay, Steve? Have you thought about being tested for HIV?
  • You’re TOO skinny, Steve, and it’s probably because you don’t get enough protein.
  • Coach, I see it’s working for you. What can I eat more or less of?
  • Have you considered taking an iron supplement?
  • How are you going to raise a child without giving him milk and eggs? Where will he get his calcium protein?  What will he eat at parties?

Here are the rapid-fire answers, all of which I’ll get into with depth as we update our blog.

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Protein, Calcium, Iron, Oh My!

Every time I tell someone I’m plant based, I get a few questions:

  • Are you raising your son Vegan?
  • Why? Don’t you miss cheese?
  • Where do you get your Protein, Calcium, etc.?

So to answer these, I need to take a step back to February 2015 after I had my son, Jackson.  When people tell you having a child changes you – mentally and physically, they’re right.  After a messy, lengthy labor (“It looks like a freaking crime scene in here,” said the doctor) and a few nights in the hospital, I was finally home with my family, but the problems were just beginning. I had eczema, began to experience stomach issues, and started booking appointments with my doctor.  The dermatologist wanted to treat with steroids and the GI doc said, “Maybe it’s IBS or a Gluten Intolerance.”  His uncertainty didn’t much to calm my nerves or address my issues.  He suggested coming back when I was done breastfeeding so I could get on medication.

I knew medication couldn’t be the only option, so it was time to experiment. The first thing I did was remove dairy from my diet.  My husband, Steve, was already vegan, so it wasn’t too difficult to remove those items from the house.  Going out to eat, I’d still eat dairy in small quantities, but overall, my stomach started feeling much better.  I started running again, but was still struggling to lose the baby weight.  My son started getting old enough to start eating solid foods, but we really hadn’t decided what route we wanted to take with him.  Steve was leaning towards vegan; I was leaning towards some meat but limiting the amounts.  I decided the only way I would be able to argue my point would be to research the hell out of it to convince Steve that veganism will not be enough for a growing child.  So I found credible websites like: nutritionfacts.org (a non-profit site with no corporate agricultural ties), pcrm.org (the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine), and paper after paper explaining all of the benefits of Plant-Based diets.  I decided to try it myself.

I started following Happy Herbivore, a website that offers meal plans for Whole Food Plant Based, No Oil (WFPBNO).  I would stray from this philosophy in restaurants, but at home I would make these meals and stick strictly to the recipes.  Conveniently, I was able to spend a few hours on Sunday preparing meals for the entire week.  I found myself more and more attracted to vegetarian menu items in restaurants, and at some point meat and cheese just didn’t seem appealing anymore. I loved how I felt when eating our meals at home.  So, after running it by our physician and having done our homework, we decided to move forward with a plant based lifestyle for Jackson.  And if I was going to make the decision on his behalf, why wouldn’t I do it myself?

During my research I learned that unless you’re not eating enough calories, it’s impossible to be protein deficient.  I learned there are better sources of calcium than milk: beans, cabbage, kale, even broccoli. And that only 1/3 of calcium in milk is absorbed.  Certain greens have a higher proportion of calcium that is absorbed. (http://nutritionstudies.org/how-to-get-calcium-without-dairy/).

So in the last few months, Jackson has devoured the following meals and basic foods.

  • slow cooker pumpkin curry
  • fruits like avocados, bananas (three-four/day in the early going), strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries
  • potato, rice, and quinoa bowls with all sorts of beans, lentils, sauces, veggies, and seeds
  • taco and pumpkin-spice sandwiches
  • oatmeal (or “porridge” as Steve calls it) with kale, spices, tahini, beans, a starchy vegetables
  • whole wheat pastas with homemade pesto sauces and peas
  • nut butters
  • homemade muffins

It’s been such an interesting progression for our family that I thought it could be helpful to document the reasons we chose this philosophy and how, contrary to popular belief, it makes things easier, more enjoyable, and more affordable.