That's right, the cheeseaholic has left the building--well, you know what I mean.
I decided to quit cheese last weekend and started Monday morning (so, you know, it's been nine days now! Danny has been calling me a "recovering cheese addict," and in many ways, I am.). I've maintained a mostly meat-free diet for about a year and a half and a gluten-free on for a few years now. I knew when I stopped eating meat that I wanted to go a step further and give up dairy too, but it seemed too daunting. Actually, to be honest, I have been nearly dairy-free, with the exception of cheese, for years, too, but the idea of giving up cheese seemed like too big a task.
Over the last few years, I have become increasingly aware of how I treat and fuel my body. I'd always eaten rather "healthily," but portion control hasn't ever been a concern or even thought. As I began to develop my view on food as fuel, I was drawn to seek out new information on the subject. I watched documentaries like Forks Over Knives--an excellent and informative film documenting multiple Americans regaining their health through changes in their diets. Another extremely influential film for us was Food Matters--check out this You Are What You Eat post on just how much it helped us change our minds and diets... After viewing these and others like them, we became juice drinkers, smoothie breakfasters, and eventually non-meat eaters, but I just couldn't make the decision to leave cheese behind. I knew I wanted to--my mind was already there--but obviously, my taste buds took a while to catch up.
This weekend, a friend invited me out for ice cream to catch up. She gave sweets up for Lent and had missed ice cream in particular. We decided on a local ice cream shop, where they make everything by hand, and I quickly found [online] that they had excellent non-dairy options. When I revealed that my "quitting cheese" was essentially a vegan diet, she seemed a little shocked. And, when I stopped to think about it, I have to admit VEGAN does sound a little intimidating... I get it. And, as we joked, I revealed one insecurity I had about using the term to define my eating habits: oh, just another gluten-free, vegan yoga teacher hippie... which in many ways, I am, but that isn't the whole story, nor should what I eat--or don't eat--entirely define me.
I have decided to stop eating animal products because, as I told her, I want to live a long and healthy life--stupid long. The best way I can see to make that happen is to treat my body with as much care as is possible. That doesn't mean I won't ever eat sweets/ junk food/ a second helping again, but if I can reduce my risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other deadly, chronic diseases simply by eliminating something I know is harmful from my diet, I think it's worth it.
Another reason I've decided to go animal-free is that I think it's important to consider how what we choose to eat--one of our most basic and truly open freedoms--affects other people, other species, and our planet. A plant-based diet reduces the demand for animal products that contribute to abusive practices and unacceptable living conditions. As you can imagine, if everyone on the planet ate animal products for multiple meals a day, the resources it would take to feed all of that livestock would be incredible. As it stands, there were an estimated 75.5 billion "land animals for food" globally in 2012, according to Humane Society International.
Take a moment to reflect on that number. The amount of food that it takes, alone, to raise these animals is staggering, before even factoring in the water, land, and energy... Considering the sheer number of animals we raise for food, a plant-based/ vegan, but also (primarily) local diet is the best way for an individual to reduce his/ her own carbon footprint and help to reduce climate change. If you're interested in learning more about this, check out this Huffington Post article.
But, as I said, it is day nine of operation quit cheese, can you believe it?! And I feel great. My cheese cravings are subsiding and I am beginning to feel my new normal. Although I still make a stressful and treacherous (hour long) drive on 95 a few days a week, my stuff-cheese-in-my-face feelings upon arrival home feelings are just about gone. I no longer feel like cheese, as pathetic as this sounds, has control over my feelings of satisfaction. I now know that I can feel full and content without cheese.
Obviously, I have a little work to do in order to not make other people, particularly friends and family members, feel uncomfortable or that I am ungrateful when we see each other in social settings. Like most people's social interactions, many of mine are based around food--and I don't necessarily want that to change--so, making sure I find a balance between doing what works best for me and respecting others' decisions to do what's best for them, is the challenge.
I am excited to continue on my journey to my best self and encourage my friends, family, and readers to do the same. But, at their own pace and in their own way. If you're interested in hearing a little more about what you can do to improve the health of your whole family, even one day a week, check out this news piece on plant-based foods and a chef who helps families create them.
Would you ever make a big dietary change? Where would you start?
Labels: Body & Mind, gluten-free, Go Ahead--Try It!, Life, meatless meals, Mindful Eating, vegan, vegetarian