Posts Tagged ‘health’

Several years ago my now 59 year old father had a heart attack. It wasn’t a major heart attack, but it has definitely caused him problems. He’s been on medication since it happened, and has regular stress tests to see if the damage to his heart has progressed. Thankfully, up until this last time, his heart showed no additional signs of damage….but his test a few weeks ago had a different result. His cardiologist told him that another part of his heart that previously hadn’t showed any damage now was. The doctor gave him 2 choices: proceed with an angioplasty now, or take 6 months to change his lifestyle and see if his condition improved. After asking what the latter would mean, he decided to take that option.

So, what lifestyle changes did the cardiologist recommend? First, he said my dad needs to lose weight, and that he should do this in two ways: 1) by walking at least 2 miles every day, and 2) by changing his diet dramatically.

Let me explain to you exactly what I mean by “dramatically” in the case of my father:  this was a man who ate beef at least once a day, if not more, for the majority of his life.  He ate high fat, high cholesterol meats and other animal byproducts.  Butter, ice cream, cheese, steak, pork, eggs – you name it, he ate it.  He would stop at fast food restaurants and get 2-3 burgers to eat over the course of a few hours.   At this last visit, however, his doctor told him that his diet should be primarily plant-based – 80% at a minimum, but the more the better. He said no more red meat, no more high fat dairy products, etc.  This prescription would be a hard for a lot of omnivores, but for a farm-raised, country boy like my dad, it was a pretty tall order.

In the past month, however, he and my mother have been eating almost exclusively vegetarian, and have even switched from using butter (a staple for them) to using Earth Balance.  My mom asked me for healthy vegan recipes, and has been cooking completely differently than she had been.   My dad has taken to walking and is getting in some cardio almost every day. And guess what?  In about a month, he’s already lost 16 pounds, and he feels great!  And probably most amazing of all is that he says he doesn’t even really miss meat.  Usually I say that when people start eating healthy vegetarian food, they WON’T miss meat, but my dad was just such a meat lover that I didn’t know if that would be the case. I am thrilled that it is.  I’m thrilled that he’s feeling good and losing weight, I’m thrilled that both my parents are eating fewer animal products, and mostly I am thrilled that he’s making this effort for his health. I want him to be around for a long time, and unless he does this, that just won’t happen.

And maybe, just maybe, if he keeps this up and works hard, these new lifestyle  changes can even reverse the damage already done to his heart. I am hopeful that it will!

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I’m finally getting around to reading Skinny Bitch, the New York Times Best Seller about losing weight on a healthy vegan diet. I just started it, but skipped ahead to read the chapter on dairy called The Dairy Disaster because I was curious what they would say. Here’s an excerpt:

When a woman gives birth, her body produces milk and she nurses her child. Breast milk can grow an 8-pound newborn into a 24-pound toddler. Sounds pretty fattening, huh? It is. By design, it is intended to allow for the biggest growth spurt of a person’s entire life. Breast milk alone can accommodate for a 300 percent weight gain in a 12 month period. When her child is anywhere from 12 to 24 months old, a mother stops breast feeding. Her milk dries up. The child will never drink breast milk ever again.

Cows, like all mammals, are much the same. Their bodies produce milk only when they give birth. Contrary to popular belief, they do not need to be milked – ever. Their udders, like women’s breasts, exist even when there is no milk in them. There is one major difference, however. Cows’ milk, by design, grows a 90-pound calf into a 2,000-pound cow over the course of 2 years. It allows calves to double their birth weight in forty-seven days and leaves their four stomachs feeling full. Sounds even more fattening than human milk, right? It is. It should be. Cows are bigger than humans. And the inner workings of their bodies are completely different than ours, which they should be. They are cows. We are humans. Duh.

The authors go on to discuss how humans aren’t meant to drink milk after childhood because we lack the enzymes necessary to process lactose, and yet everyone is convinced we need to drink milk and consume dairy products to be healthy. Even my doctor the other day asked me how I was getting calcium if I wasn’t eating dairy. Um, my DOCTOR asked me that. That made me sad. It just goes to show you how great of a job the dairy industry has done at convincing us we need dairy.

As the authors state a little bit later, “We are the only species on the planet that drinks milk as adults. We are also the only species on the planet that drinks the milk of another species.” Interesting, isn’t it? When you look at it from that perspective, it’s really WEIRD that humans drink cows’ milk. That was kind of the thing that got me to quit eating dairy – I mean, not only is it horrible for the cows both physically and emotionally to be constantly impregnated and milked by machines instead of getting to nurse their young, it’s also really unnatural thing for humans to do. I’m sold – how about you?

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I can’t believe this, but OPRAH IS EATING VEGAN FOR 21 DAYS! How excitOprahing is that? I’m a couple days behind, so this might be old news for some of you, but it’s new to me so I thought I’d share. As you probably know, Oprah has struggled with her weight for decades, never really finding anything that has worked to keep her consistently at her ideal body weight. Vegan author Kathy Freston was on Oprah’s show recently and talked with her about “conscious eating” and “spiritual integrity” and apparently it really influenced the talk show host.

Freston’s “21 day cleanse” is vegan, but goes beyond just following a vegan diet in that it requires adherents to also avoid gluten, alcohol, caffeine (what??) and sugar. Oprah is keeping a blog about her 21 day cleanse. My favorite excerpts so far:

She speaks of “spiritual integrity.” How can you say you’re trying to spiritually evolve, without even a thought about what happens to the animals whose lives are sacrificed in the name of gluttony?

Well said. One of the things I really like about Oprah is that I feel she genuinely does try to work toward self-improvement. I don’t think this is just about her weight, and I feel optimistic that this cleanse will impact her eating habits (and hopefully other product purchase habits) going forward. (Fingers crossed!)

Wow, wow, wow! I never imagined meatless meals could be so satisfying. I had been focused on what I had to give up—sugar, gluten, alcohol, meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese. “What’s left?” I thought. Apparently a lot. I can honestly say every meal was a surprise and a delight, beginning with breakfast—strawberry rhubarb wheat-free crepes.

Thank you, Oprah! This is what I’ve been trying to tell people–I have discovered so many new, wonderful foods that are satisfying, delicious, and healthy. These are foods I never would have tried had I not decided to start following a vegan diet. Now if only I could get a personal chef of my own to whip up some strawberry rhubarb crepes, I’d be set! How about it, Oprah? Feel like sharing? Please?

Okay, maybe Oprah won’t be sharing her chef with me, but I’m grateful for the number of people her journey will reach. Oprah is possibly the most influential person in American culture today, and watching her follow this cleanse might show people that avoiding animal products really can be done and that we should all be concerned about how our food is raised and how much suffering it causes to the animals who are – as Oprah says – “sacrificed in the name of gluttony”.

I’ll definitely be following Oprah’s blog and will share things with you as her cleanse progresses.

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Last night I made some pretty tasty vegan fajitas. Olde El Paso and I made them together, actually. I cooked up a couple of boca burgers (chopped up), some red & green peppers, onion, garlic and some pinto beans, threw in the the El Paso mix and voila! Topped it off with some lettuce, tomato and salsa and devoured three of them (the tortillas were teeny tiny, I swear). When I was at the grocery store tonight and contemplating making these, I realized that this would be the first time I had Mexican food without cheese. Mexican food without cheese?? You can’t do that, I thought to myself! But guess what? You can!

It got me thinking about how many times we eat things just because we’re used to them, and how surprisingly tasty it can be to just try something outside of the usual repertoire. Prior to going vegetarian, I really didn’t eat much in the way of vegetables. Once I cut meat out of my diet, I was kind of amazed at how much my taste buds seemed to change. All of a sudden all these “weird” foods started to taste really good to me. Don’t worry, I still don’t like broccoli (I mean COME ON), but I do like a much wider variety of foods now. It’s kind of awesome. The switch to veganism was much the same. After going vegan, I realized that while sometimes I miss the idea of cheese, I don’t actually care to eat it anymore, and really, the fajitas didn’t need cheese to taste good.

I definitely used to be that person who said I could NEVER stop eating cheese. That really was the one thing that held me back from taking the leap from vegetarian to vegan, but now that I have, I realize that it was quite a bit easier than I thought. I still enjoy my food when it’s not smothered in cheese. No, really, I do. One thing I’d recommend, I guess, if you are contemplating giving up cheese or some other omni food is to just take little steps towards it. I started out by getting Chipotle tacos first without sour cream, and then I eventually eliminated the cheese from the mix too–baby steps! (Ok, so I have had Mexican food without cheese, just not homemade, now that I think about it.)

Bottom line: try new foods – they might just surprise you! (If my mother were reading this right now she would definitely question who the author was, because this seriously sounds nothing like pre-veg Mindy. Wow.)

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VeggiesI didn’t become a vegan overnight. I didn’t even become a vegetarian over night. Rather, it was something I thought about for a long time before I actually committed. After mulling it over for the better part of a year, I finally decided to stop eating meat all together in July of 2007. During my year of contemplation, I gradually started eliminating meat from my diet. First it was pork and beef, both of which were relatively easy for me to give up because I’d always known how unhealthy they were. I was still eating turkey and chicken, however, and wasn’t quite sure how I’d give those up–they were a pretty big part of my diet at that point. Still playing with the idea, though, I started trying to have vegetarian meals whenever I could. I really didn’t know much about a healthy vegetarian diet, so I knew I’d have to read up on it to make sure I did it right and didn’t end up gaining a bunch of weight or feeling tired or whatever (both of which can also happen on an omni-diet, obviously). As it turns out, I started to enjoy cooking – something that had never been a favorite pastime of mine. I loved the idea of making myself healthy, filling vegetarian meals, and enjoying my food so much. My taste buds seemed to change – I was liking foods I had never been particularly fond of, and it felt pretty cool.

I can’t remember where I heard this, but someone compared making a huge change in diet to getting married – you have this big day where you decide “Ok, this is it! I’m doing it!”, and then after that you just do it because you’ve committed. That made a lot of sense to me. When I was eliminating meat from my diet and learning about vegetarian cooking, I was kind of “dating” vegetarianism, until once day I decided “hey, we should get married”. Luckily, vegetarianism isn’t a person who can (and likely would) turn me down. We were partners!

It was the same thing with going vegan: I dated it for a while, and then just decided I was going to do it, and there would be no turning back. Now we’re in love…or at least I am. Let’s not worry about the details, okay?

Anyway, the point of this all is that I think baby steps are okay – in fact, they’re to be celebrated. A couple of my girlfriends (big shout out to Sarah & Becky) have both been taking their own baby steps. Sarah’s working on cutting at least some of the meat out of her diet and Becky’s a full-fledged veggie now. I am so proud of both of them, because I know what a struggle it can be, but I also know how worthwhile it is. I’ve never felt better in my life.  Sure, a lot of that is emotional because for me, eating animals just got to be kind of painful. I felt emotionally lousy every time I was doing it, to the point where it just wasn’t worth it anymore. I think that’s what psychologists might call my “conscience”, but let’s not get too fancy here. Basically, I just had this nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing – that was enough for me.

Whatever your reason for taking some of those baby steps (or in Becky’s case, pretty big leaps!) – health, the environment, animals – keep on steppin’! Knowing that you’re doing something good for yourself, the earth, and all those little piggies and cows and chickens will make you feel all warm & fuzzy inside.

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Many people confuse the terms “Animal Rights” and “Animal Welfare”.  Before I started reading about all of this, I think I just assumed that rights and welfare were the same thing, and I used the terms interchangeably.  The truth, however, is that that the two philosophies are strikingly different.

The animal rights philosophy argues that animals should not be used at all for human purposes, (whether for food, clothing, entertainment, or medical testing) because there is no morally justifiable reason why animals should have any less of a right to live free of pain and suffering than humans do.  Peter Singer explains it well in his book Animal Liberation.  His reasoning was that while we can’t know exactly how animals experience pain, it is safe to say that they do; if we agree on that, and it is generally accepted that humans have a right to be free from pain, then why should we treat animals any differently?  Some argue it is because animals don’t have human language or that their brains aren’t as complex as ours, but here we run into another problem:  Human infants don’t have language, and they don’t have reasoning abilities or a sense of morality, and yet we say that they deserve to be free from pain and suffering. Furthermore, there are many humans who have such severe disabilities that they will never have language or reasoning or morality, but we know that they can feel pain, and we would probably all agree that they deserve to be free from pain.  How, then, can we make a real morally relevant argument that animals – some who are as smart as 3 year old humans – should not also have this right?

Animal welfarists, on the other hand, believe that humans do have the right to use animals for purposes that benefit humans, but that we also have a responsibility to treat those animals with care.  The problem here is that differences of opinion will almost surely always exist regarding the definition of “with care”.  Does that mean making sure they are well fed?  That they have adequate housing? That they can practice normal behaviors for their species? That they are happy?  And how can we tell if an animal is happy?

I suppose the fact that I am vegan puts me in the Animal Rights category.  I don’t think humans need to eat animals for survival.  In fact, I think eating a plant based diet is in our best interest.  I also don’t think we need to wear animal derived products like leather and wool with all the great synthetics out there.  I think many animal-related medical tests are completely unnecessary, but I confess that I haven’t read quite enough about this yet to determine if I think any are justifiable (though if I say that some are, then I too am guilty of placing more value on a human’s life than an animal’s suffering and am probably not a very good vegan!)

I recognize that most people don’t share my views, and for that reason I am also a strong proponent of working toward better welfare standards for animals used for food, medical tests, etc.  I think asking someone to at least consider where their food comes from and how the animals were raised is a much easier sell than asking everyone to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet.  I suppose in this sense I am something of a welfarist too.  I just hate all of the commonly accepted procedures that are done on these farms – debeaking, tail docking, and neutering without anaesthesia to name a few.  These practices are so unnecessary, and result in a lot of pain for the animals who endure them.  I think it is worth our efforts to eliminate these painful practices.  Perhaps the first step in transitioning people to a veg*n diet is to first get them to realize that they have some responsibility to the animals they consume.  Unless they understand that, the chances they’ll ever change their eating habits are incredibly unlikely.

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