Monday, July 6, 2009

Why I Choose Veganism

MrsB72008 left this comment on my blog:

"Do you think that maybe you could do an OSN post about how you worked your way into a vegan lifestyle? I think more people (like myself) would consider it if they understood that it's an attainable goal and that as with anything, it's something you work into instead of jumping head first."

This post will be about my own journey and experiences with giving up meat, and transitioning into a vegan lifestyle. This will be about my own subjective experience; why and how I found out that this diet is best for me. I am happy to put this information out there for those who are curious, or who could benefit from it.

However, it is absolutely not my intention to bash anyone else's eating styles, hit anyone over the head with vegan self-righteousness or throw verbal paint on any one's fur coats. That really is not my style, and I think that kind of judgemental abrasiveness is contra-indicative to why I became a vegan in the first place.

I gave up meat in March 2006.

Before this, my diet was pretty unhealthy.

Growing up, I ate tons of junk food. My mom made (and still makes) homemade tortillas every, single week. There was always Little Debbie and Hostess snacks stocked, along with chips, frozen pizzas and top ramen.

My sisters and I were also cheese FREAKS! We used to cut up chunks of cheese, and melt them in the microwave, and eat it out of the bowl, just like that. True story.

My mom was a single mom, so sometimes, food was more about quick, easy and cheap. However, I can not undermine her cooking. She was (is) a damn, good cook. We regularly had pretty fattening traditional, Mexican meals.

I played soccer for 8 years, up until me Senior year of high school, and I mostly credit that with keeping my weight under control.

After I graduated, and begin college, the weight really started packing on, and even though I joined a gym, and worked out sporadically, I did not change my diet. In fact, it probably got worse, since I am a self-proclaimed stress eater, and would munch on Del Taco, or pizza, while studying.

My first job out of high school was as a cashier at Clark's Nutritional Centers, a local health food store. I am very fortunate that I found this job, it truly turned my health around, although not immediately.

While working at Clark's, I really started absorbing TONS of information about my health, and what I ate. I never gave too much thought before to how the way I ate made me feel, or the effects that it had on my body. I started paying more attention to what I ate, and begin trying tons of new things from the store.

About a year into working there, the Atkin's Diet became the new fad diet of the minute. Many of our customers where having great success with it, and we sold the Atkin's products. I decided to give it a try.

After 6 months of eating a minimal amount of carbs, I had lost 30 pounds.

After this, I begin to develop a very unhealthy relationship with carbohydrates. I realized how fast I could lose weight when I cut them out. So I begin a ridiculous cycle of eating too many/too few carbs. My weight went up and down, over and over again, for the next year.

I was been happier with myself for finally losing the weight, but I definitely was not healthy.

I worked at Clark's all four years of my undergraduate education, my sister also began working there, and between all the things we were both learning and trying, my family begin to start eating better. My mom started shopping there much more, and we all started trying new foods and healthier meals.

One of the things I begin to learn there was the manner in which animals were treated, before getting to my plate.

I met many, err...interesting people while working at Clark's. They have a very colorful clientele. Many vegans and vegetarians shop there, and some would hand out literature, or give information on the benefits of an animal-free diet.

I started reading up more and more, and felt an increasing amount of guilt for eating animals.

I have always been an animal lover. Our family treated our "dog" Lucy like a family member, not a pet.

I started feeling extremely conflicted. How could I love one animal enough to let her sleep in my bed, yet, turn around and eat another one?

For awhile, I pushed these thoughts aside, or would think, "I could never live without meat." I tried to appease my guilt by only buying meat from Clark's. Most of their meat is free range or hormone free, so that helped me feel that at least I was only eating animals that were treated ethically.

After I left Clark's, I still shopped there pretty frequently, and was still trying to eat healthy, although I would have a fair amount of junk food.

I was still cutting out carbs every now and then, and on one of these meat-laden days, chicken started to gross me the eff out!

I distinctly remember looking at a piece of chicken I was about to eat, and my stomach just turning. I did not eat it.

I thought that maybe I had eaten too much meat lately, since that is the primary food you eat on a protein rich diet.

I started eating carbs again, but I still could not shake off how much chicken disgusted me. I ate very few meat in the next few days.

About 1 week after the chicken epiphany, I literally woke up one day, and decided not to eat meat that day. I never ate it again.

I, quite literally, became a vegetarian, overnight.

I did not know I was a vegetarian, at that time. I thought I just would not eat meat that day. But the next day, I still did not want it. Nor the next week, or month. A few months went by, and I realized, I did not miss meat, and I did not ever want it again. The thought of it still grossed me out! I quickly realized this was not just a phase I was going through.

I thought about what it was that got me to the point of being so completely grossed out with meat, that I no longer wanted it. I think it came down combination of;
  • How overloaded my diet had been with meat in all the years of not eating carbs
  • How guilty and wrong I felt about eating animals
  • My strong conviction to not cause harm to any other living thing. I was having deep conflicts over why another living creature had to die, just so I could get fatter.

    However, I soon realized that being a vegetarian, does not equate being healthy.

    I think that is a common misconception, and one I myself ascribed to.

    I had the mentality that since I was missing out on the calories from meat, I could make up for it in other areas.

    And, I did.

    I was still mindful of my health, and tried to stay attuned to how I was feeling without meat. However, my hair, nails and skin were all still looking normal, and my energy levels had not changed. I definitely did not feel like I was suffering from a lack of protein or iron.

    I started eating more vegetables and fruits, but I was still eating my fair share of vegetarian junk food.

    French fries, cheese pizza, chocolate chip cookies and fatty pastas can all still be vegetarian, but that does not make them healthy.

    I was still not happy with my weight, and I knew I needed to make some changes in order to get down to a healthy range.

    The motivation to truly clean up my eating came when I took my engagement pictures, in August 2006.

    I was really disappointed with the way I looked in them. I strongly disliked them, and I was determined not to feel the same way about my wedding pictures.

    My wedding date was set for September 2007. I had over a year to get my weight in check.

    I started counting calories, and making healthier food choices.

    I was frustrated at first, because the weight came off MUCH slower than it had, when I did the Atkin's diet.

    But, I realized this was a much healthier, balanced method to weight loss, so I stuck with it.

    I definitely had my ups and downs in this time, (stress eating would still get the better of me sometimes; especially with planning a wedding and finishing up my Master's degree), but I managed to shed 20 pounds, before my wedding.

    In this time, people would often ask if it was hard to be a vegetarian. Honestly, it was not too difficult at all. It was pretty easy to simply omit meat from dishes. It was not terribly difficult when going out to eat, I could usually find something meatless on the menu, or ask for the dish to be served without it.

    I did not find being a vegetarian difficult or inconvenient.

    Some benefits I did notice were;
  • Clearer skin. There was a definite improvement in random breakouts and skin clarity.

  • Diminishing Acid Reflux. A few months before going vegetarian, I begin having severe acid reflux episodes.
    It would get so bad sometimes, that I could not eat anything at all and I would be so, incredibly nauseous. My acid reflux ruined a Xmas and a weekend Vegas trip, because I was so miserable the whole time.
    I know some of this had to do with how much Diet Coke I was drinking, but a large part was also due to all the junk I was eating.
    I have had very few acid reflux episodes, since giving up meat, and the ones that I have had, have not been nearly as severe.

  • Less guilt. I felt SO much better about myself for no longer eating another living creature.
    I strive to give each living thing on this earth respect and empathy. I think it is the minimum that we should give to one another as human beings. We definitely do not have to like one another, agree on everything or share the same belief systems, but imagine how much better our world could be, if we could at the very least, respect one another.
    I constantly fail at this, but I will never stop trying, and my conscious deems that some amount of respect also be shown to animals.

    The Road to Veganism:
    Early on in my vegetarian days, I toyed with idea of veganism, but, quickly brushed thoughts aside, because, "I could never give up cheese."

    In March 2008, at the recommendation of my homie Leslie, I read Skinny Bitch, and it was the push I needed to start the journey to veganism.

    There are many critics of Skinny Bitch, and they are not unfounded. The book has been criticized for it's use of foul language, and the authors' credentials have been called into question.

    Personally, I found the language and style of writing humorous, but I could see how someone with a different sense of humour, could find it offensive.

    The credentials of the author were never something that bothered me. Mostly, because it was information that I had known before, but conveniently forgot. It was a good reminder to me of how unethically animals are treated. It also helped me to see that eating dairy could still be harmful to animals, and that industry was something I no longer wanted to support.

    To read some of my initial thoughts on Skinny Bitch click here.

    The book really had an effect on me, and I decided I wanted to try reducing the amount of dairy I ate.

    The transition to veganism was MUCH harder than the transition to vegetarianism.

    Can I just emphasize how much of cheese addict I was? Cheese became my main source of protein and an absolute staple in my diet, after giving up meat. Most of my meals did not feel complete, unless they were topped with cheese. A burrito, a sandwich, pasta, they just were not the same to me, without it.

    I decided not to try an overnight veganism switch. I made it much more of a transition.

    First, I stopped buying myself dairy products. I no longer purchased cheese.

    (I had stopped eating eggs while I was a vegetarian, and I had not drank cow's milk in years. I hated it. I drank soymilk early on, when I started working at Clark's.
    I did have eggs and milk, though, when I ate baked goods, so that was a challenge to give up)

    I would limit myself to only eating dairy when I ate out, or when we went somewhere were food would be served.

    This lasted about a month, and I was proud of how well I was sticking with it. I had drastically reduced my dairy intake, and was beginning to realize that I could, in fact, have burritos, sandwiches and pastas, without cheese.

    I then gradually stopped eating dairy altogether.

    This was definitely a challenge.

    I had to pay close attention to ingredient lists. I never realized before how many breads, crackers, chips, etc. have dairy products in them.

    I was bummed to find I could no longer eat Hot Cheetos, or Hot Funyuns.

    But, this was also a good thing. My diet cleaned up tremendously, and I really started concentrating on whole, unprocessed foods.

    I did worry about the amount of protein and calcium I was getting, so I begin doing research, and read Becoming Vegan, which lists many different methods of obtaining all the vitamins and minerals you need, all from animal-free foods.

    I begin reading tons of vegan blogs, and looking up more and more recipes online. I started experimenting with different foods, and was really happy with all the diverse options out there.

    By far, the hardest thing about being vegan is eating out, or eating at other people's houses.

    My options now at typical restaurants are pretty limited. Chips and guacamole is my safe stand-by. Ethnic food seems to be the best at having animal-free options. Some restaurants are just not accommodating (*cough*Panera & TGIF's*cough*), so I generally avoid those places, or eat before hand. To see some of what I do eat, when I eat out, click here.

    However, now I get the pleasure of searching for, and trying out some all vegan establishments. I just wish there was more in my area : /

    Eating at family/friend get togethers, can be damn near impossible. Chips and salsa, and fresh fruit are usually the extent of what I can have, so I generally eat before I go. I do not expect anyone to accommodate my style of eating, and no one likes a pissy eater who complains about a lack of options, so I am happy to fill up ahead of time.
    (This is also a challenge, because people will often question, or comment on my eating habits. Maybe it is just my family, but I get my fair amount of teasing, or some people say downright ignorant and rude things. But, I have a tough skin and a quick mouth {not always a good thing}, and I stand behind my reasons for not eating animals, and I did not do this without doing research first, so I generally have an answer when people think that I am starving myself)

    Planning ahead has become absolutely essential. During the school year, I work during the day as a high school counselor, and teach classes 2-3 nights per week. I also keep pretty busy with running in between my jobs, therefore, it is SO important for me to have food prepared ahead of time, to grab and go.

    This has definitely proved to be a challenge. A good portion of my weekend is spent cooking 1 or 2 big meals for the week, that can be divided up for lunches/dinners, and chopping fruits and vegetables, so I can quickly grab them. I have to make the effort to get up in time each day, to prepare breakfast, lunch, snacks (and sometimes dinner), for that day. (My hubby is also a HUGE help with this, I can not take all the credit.)

    Planning ahead can be time consuming, and sometimes I would definitely rather be doing other things with my time, but I know it is worth it. I would rather eat healthy foods, and if I am not prepared, I will either go hungry (which is NOT good for anyone in my vicinity) or eat something unhealthy from a drive thru, that will make me feel like crap later.

    Slowly, but surely, I have made the transition over to being a vegan. From March to August of 2008, I lost another 10 pounds, and I attribute that mostly to how much cleaner my diet got, and the elimination of junk food.

    However, I am not the perfect vegan. Sometimes, I cave, especially for cupcakes or cake (in moments of weakness, when vegan options are not available). Once in awhile, a piece of cheese pizza still looks good (although the last time I did that, my stomach revolted), and every now and then, I eat my share of junk food; potato chips, french fries, vegan cookies, etc.

    As time goes on, these instances happen less and less, and usually, I feel like crap afterwards, and I try to remember that, the next time I am tempted, although I still reserve my right to cave every now and again.

    If you are considering giving up meat or dairy, these are just a few things from my own experience, that I think you should consider first:

  • Ease in to your transition gradually.
    Although giving up meat overnight worked for me, it may not work for you. Perhaps try going without red meat first, see how you feel, then cut out pork, so on and so forth.

  • Eat balanced and concentrate on whole foods.
    Very often, people's image of a vegan is someone who looks emaciated and anemic. Why? Because there are many vegans/vegetarians out there who look that way. They are not getting their recommended amount of protein, calcium, iron, etc.
    While working at Clark's, I encountered many vegans/vegetarians who were just following the diet to be hip or edgy, and they would come in to stock up on; chips, vegan cookies and pastries, vegetarian beef jerky and veggie burgers.
    Rarely would they eat fruits or vegetables, so, of course they would end up not up to their optimal health.
    This leads people to think that an animal-free diet is unhealthy, but it truly can be, as long as you are being smart about what you eat and still getting in all your nutrients.

  • Do your research.
    Know what non-animal foods contain protein, calcium, iron, etc. Becoming Vegan is an excellent resource, as well as this site.

    This is copied from a past blog I wrote:

    "Most of my protein comes from beans, whole grains (brown rice, couscous, Ezekiel bread), soy products, and the occasional fake meat products.

    I try to limit my intake of processed, fake meats. However, I do not see a problem with eating them in moderation, for a quick protein fix.

    Most of my iron comes from spinach and beans.

    I get my calcium from dark, leafy greens, nut butters and soy products."

  • Have an open mind, and try new things.
    There are many alternative, healthy foods out there, that can be intimidating, at first, but give them a shot, before you decide you do not like them.

    I know some people are grossed out by tofu, but try it fried, baked or raw, you may find one method is tastier to you, over the other.

    Seitan and tempeh are also excellent sources of protein, and some great recipe ideas for them can be found here.


    I hope this post has been informative and a glipse into my decision to eat animal-free. I know it was long, so thanks for hanging in there if you made it this far.

    It is definitely not my intention to come across condescending to anyone's dietary choices, but I have found what works best for me, and I hope you have enjoyed reading about it.



    Becoming Vegan

    Becoming Vegetarian

    Skinny Bitch

    Diet for a New America

    My favorite authors are Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. They write most of their books together, and their instructions are very thorough. I have Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and Veganomican. I need more!

    These are some of their books.

    Skinny Bitch in the Kitchen

    Vegetarian Times is my favorite recipe site.

    Whole Foods' website has an excellent recipe finder, and you can set the options to give you only vegetarian, or vegan selections.

    Veg Web has a unique and diverse collection, for recipes I could not find anywhere else.

    Favorite Blogs:
    Veggie Vixen

    The Urban Housewife

    Vegan Dad

    What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat Anyway?

    Vegan Yum Yum

    "Is your husband a vegan?"
    Find out the answer, and his thoughts on my diet, here.
  • Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Recipe: Tofu Spinach Salad

    I definitely get sick of the typical green salad; tomato, cucumbers and carrots, I can only eat it so much.

    I try to add in some sort of protein in my salads, to make them more filling.

    I cubed 1 serving of tofu, and poured Brianna's Poppy Seed Dressing over it.
    Tofu + Poppyseed dressing

    For the salad; I chopped up a few handfuls of spinach and threw the tofu on top. I also top the salad with strawberries, dried cranberries and slivered almonds. I topped the whole salad with red wine vinegar.
    Tofu Strawberry Salad

    I love using the tofu because it is low in calories, but very protein dense, this kept me full for a few hours.

    If you eat meat, you could probably use chicken, or another lean protein, instead.

    If you eat dairy, feta cheese would probably be a nice addition on top.

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    Follow Post: Running Challenge

    OK, Skinny Nerds!

    How did everyone do with the Running Challenge?

    Did you hit the road or the treadmill, at least once?

    What were your thoughts? How did you feel? Do you see it as something you may want to pursue more, or did you find that in fact, running is not for you?

    Ironically enough, I received an email about a day after I posted the last blog, from It is a really great article on how to begin running. Running 101: Take the First Steps Today.

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    Gadget Alert!

    Hello, world! I'm Anna, also known as love.wins on the nest.

    I was poking around on SparkPeople today and discovered that they've developed an app for the iphone/ipod touch that allows you to access your nutrition and fitness trackers on the go!

    More info here:

    Monday, June 15, 2009


    Many times, when I talk about running, or an upcoming race, I often hear people say "I hate running" or "I could never do that."

    I understand where they are coming from, because I used to be the same way.

    I dreaded running. I played soccer for 8 years, growing up, and it was the worst part of the sport for me.

    I would always hear about how many calories running burned, so I would force myself to try to run 4-5 miles on the treadmill, when I first started losing weight.

    I hated it with a passion, it would be the longest 45-60 minutes of my life, and my knees and ankles hurt afterwards.

    This finally all changed, once I joined a running group. I wanted to check it out, and see what it was all about. My group is amazingly supportive, and full of knowledge. I learned so much from others in the group, and that knowledge gave me the confidence to run 2 10k's, a 15k and 2 full marathons, all in less than a year.

    It is not my goal to convince everyone that running is for them, but maybe I can share some of that helpful information, that may make a difference in your running results.

    1) Shoes: Running can be a costly sport, there are tons of gadgets and race fees that can quickly add up. You do not have to spend alot of money to be a successful runner, however, if there is one thing that you invest it, it should be a pair of fitted running shoes.

    What I mean by "fitted" shoes, is going to a running speciality store, and have them assist you in finding the proper shoes for YOUR feet. Sales Associates at my local running store have spent as much as an hour with me, in the past, in order to find the correct shoe for my needs. They watched me run in tons of different pairs, and based on my form, were able to assist me in finding a pair, good for me. Click here for a running store near you.

    Do not buy a pair of shoes because a magazine or friend recommends it. It may be good for them, but may not be good for your needs. This really makes all the difference in preventing injuries, and ensuring comfort.

    A good pair of shoes made all the difference for me. It helped tremendously with alleviating my back, knee and ankle pain, while running. In the past, I had just purchased whichever the cutest, pink Nike's were out, but, a once I got shoes that fit me, running was no longer excruciatingly painful. Properly, fitted shoes are the most important piece of equipment, any runner can buy.

    2) Start where you are at: I think many times people think they have to be in great shape to run, or be extremely athletic.

    I know that is what I thought. My mental picture of a marathon runner was definitely not a picture of myself, it was of an Olympian who was in phenomenal shape.

    Most marathon runners are not Olympians, and everyone had to start somewhere. Wherever you are at, is the perfect place to start!

    You may be only able to run for 10 minutes at first, that is OK!

    I think many times there is the misconception that running has to be extremely fast. It absolutely does not! Just start somewhere, and if it feels too hard, or if you feel like you are short on breath, SLOW DOWN!

    No matter what, the first mile for me, is generally the hardest. It takes a bit to find my stride, especially if it is in the morning, I still may not be all the way awake, and it takes some time for my joints and muscles to warm up. I am generally feeling much better, by mile 2. So, if you feel a bit off at first, give it some time.

    A program that I hear so many good things about is C25k or Couch to 5k (3.1 miles). This program is designed for those who have never ran before, and walks them through training up to 3.1 miles. The website has links to Podcasts, and other information, on how to navigate through the program.

    3) Extras: Properly fitted shoes, motivation and a positive attitude are the essentials to running. Whether it be 1 mile, or 26.2 miles, you can get by with those basics, but there are so many other tools to help you along the way.

  • Tracking your miles: If you are interested in knowing how far you have run, you can track the miles with helpful websites, such as, Map My Run or Running Map. These websites allow you to input your route, and will tell you your distance.

    Or, you can shell out the dough for a Garmin, or other tracking system. I have the Garmin 305 Forerunner, and it tells me my distance, pace, calories burned, heart rate, etc. I find it tremendously helpful, but it is definitely not something that is necessary, to get a good run in.

  • Sign up for a race: I am much more focused and motivated in my running, when I have a race to work towards.

    Racing can be costly, but it is also tons of fun, and a great goal to work towards.

    If you initally sign up for a 5k, it can motivate you to be faithful in your training, and motivated to start building miles. is a great website that list tons of events across the country.

  • Music: I clip my ipod shuffle on, during almost every run. I think I would go nuts without music. I try to change my play-lists up frequently, and I try to post my lists in my blog, each month.

  • Get a running buddy: I would have never progressed as far as I have in my running, without my running group. The positive energy and motivation has really helped me along the way.

    I also run with a co-worker, once during the week. This has helped keep me accountable and motivated. There were probably a few times I would have skipped my run after work, in favor of a nap, if it was not for the committment I made to her.

    I really do not know how people can run whole marathons alone. I would get way too bored, and be more likely to quit, without someone by my side, encouraging and motivating me along the way.

    ***I hope some of this information has been helpful. If you feel like I have left anything out, or if you have further questions, please leave them in the comments, and I can try to find out the answers. I am in no way an expert, but I run with alot of them, so I am sure I can find out the answer, somehow. :)

    Now I would like to put out a challenge to my fellow Skinny Nerds! I would like to challenge everyone to go on 1 run within the next week. So between now, and next Monday, June 22nd, trying running, at least one time.

    I do not care if it is only for 5 minutes, just give it a shot! I know running may not be for everyone, but give it a chance before you rule it out, who knows, you may surprise yourself and find you enjoy it.

    Lace up your shoes, hit the pavement, dirt, gravel or even treadmill, and accomplish this challenge!

    I will post a follow up next week, to see how everyone did.

    Happy Running!
  • Friday, June 12, 2009

    First Rule of Skinny Nerds Club

    You don't talk about Skinny Nerds Club... oh no wait, that's not right :)

    First rule:
    We lose weight so our pants will be loose.

    And that is the first rule of Skinny Nerds Club.

    Thursday, June 11, 2009

    Operation: Skinny Nerds

    Welcome to Operation: Skinny Nerds!

    This is a place for all the nesties from the book club board to talk about their weight loss, health, and fitness goals. We hope to see posts from numerous members about what they are doing to get healthy, what motivates them, how they live healthy during the day, music playlists - whatever!

    Any nestie is welcome to post on here, just send me an email or a page on the board and I'll send you an invite.

    And now it's time to get to work. Let the operation begin!