Why I Choose A Plant-Based Lifestyle + FAQ

I receive many great emails and questions regarding food, health, and my lifestyle choices.  I thought it would be fun to share a little bit more about my journey and answer some frequently asked questions too. I wrote the title of this using “choose” as opposed to “chose” because I make this decision consciously each day.

Before I begin, I want to note that this lifestyle has brought me so much joy and liberation. I wish I could share this gift with everyone, but I am not here to influence or pressure anyone into changing their lifestyle or the way they eat. I am simply sharing my story, what has worked for me, and what has brought me personal health and happiness.

My Past Eating Behaviors, Dieting Patterns, and Food Choices
I have always been passionate about learning about the human body, but up until five years ago, I was more concerned with weight loss and physical appearance, rather than overall health and wellness. That mindset of always wanting to lose weight and reading fitness/women’s health magazines and websites served me no good. I would constantly yo-yo with my plan. I was also a fitness writer, so I exposed myself to a lot of fitness competitors and bodybuilding athletes, who I interviewed for my articles.

For some periods of time, I would try to eat the typical six small meals a day with rationed out protein, carbohydrate, and fat consuming only whole foods and high animal protein. Other times, I would count calories or points, or do some other type of regimented program where there were guidelines to follow or bars and shakes and then a low calorie meal in the evening, or I would eliminate entire groups like carbohydrates. Let’s just say, I tried a lot of things.

However, from a health and sustainability perspective, all the restriction, guilt-shame patterns, and crap I put my body through during those yo-yo periods were terrible for my overall health. And whenever I did lose weight,  shortly after when I could not keep up with that way of eating any longer, I would gain all of the weight back, of course. And round and round we go. This is a typical cycle for many women, especially American women. How many of us have said, “I’m starting my diet/program on Monday!” It is just a shame that many people are still in this cycle, and I understand where they are coming from, because I was once in that mindset too, for many years.

I was never really satisfied. In between those periods of dieting, I would end up eating a mix of “health” foods, whole foods, and standard American diet (SAD) or processed foods; OR, I would binge eat junk foods that I was restricting previously then go back to eating more natural foods and be on a diet again where I would pack all of the meat and vegetables and starch in little tupperware containers in advance. Even now as I write this, thinking back to that time, it was absolutely awful for me. I definitely had a very unbalanced approach to how I treated my mind, body, and spirit.

How I Went From Eating Meat to Becoming a Happy Herbivore
About five years ago, I experienced a whole host of health problems – one of them being chronic digestive issues (I mean, it was bad). Due to my own as well as my family’s medical history, I also wanted to learn about how to prevent cancer and other common diseases. I also had chronic fatigue, skin issues, high cholesterol, and disordered eating tendencies.

Because of my health scares and concerns, I began reading books and peer-reviewed scholarly research articles about health. I began to crave knowledge about how to feel fully alive and fully healthy. I don’t think most people know what that feels like, because I certainly didn’t.

Every book, research study, documentary, and credible resource I had read had a unanimous theme: eat more plants. Could feeling better and curing my health problems really be that simple? I had to learn more, so I did.

eat-more-plants

I then read books like Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Healing the Gerson Way by Charlotte Gerson inspired by her father Dr. Max Gerson, and many other books. I also explored books like Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and one of my favorite books of all time, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. And after that, I just kept reading.

Then one day I decided, I wanted to try to eat plant foods and really be patient and give it a fighting chance.

I adopted a predominantly plant-based diet (95% plant foods), while still consuming some amounts of fish and dairy 1-3 times a month. I was going through many different adjustments with my food choices during the process too, and I learned a lot about my body and myself in the process. After a while, I gave up eating fish and other sea life, because I saw no benefit to it.

During my journey, I tried not to beat myself up over mistakes or slip-ups. In the past, having an all-or-nothing approach did not serve me well at all, and it caused a variety of problems. Learning to be patient and compassionate with myself, has helped me stick with this lifestyle long-term. And as of October 2014, it will be five years since I adopted a plant-based lifestyle, and five years since I ate a land animal (it’s been about four years since I stopped eating fish completely).

maryharris1

And something else interesting happened, even though I started this for selfish reasons ( to get healthy), what has kept me on this path is something I never expected when I initially began. The health benefits are numerous, and I will explain those in a bit; but I also learned about many food injustices, including what happens to animals who are used for meat, dairy, and other products, as well as the mental and physical health issues that plague people who work on factory farms and in slaughterhouses due to the repetitive violence.

It is extremely overwhelming to learn about, and once I was aware of  these issues, there was no unlearning it. I also learned about the alarming environmental impacts of the meat and dairy industry. As someone who loves the idea of taking care of the only home we have – our Earth – this was a very impactful component for me. And finally, from a spiritual standpoint, when I really reflected on my values and beliefs, the way I was living my life previously did not match up with where my moral compass was pointing.

The Health Improvements I Experienced
All of the ailments, health concerns, and issues that I described earlier were resolved. It was incredible. I also had an increase in energy, better self-esteem, and I was kinder to myself and to others. In fact, my demeanor changed for the better. I became a much happier, kinder, and more patient person, overall. Other benefits: I learned what it truly meant to be and feel healthy, I dropped some weight, and I started getting more physical activity into my daily routine. This was the first time in my life that I was treating my body with respect and filling it with optimal nutrition.

I was also so passionate about health, that I went back to school to become certified as a holistic health coach, so that I could help others. And of course, I started blogging and sharing my delicious, plant-based recipes.

plants

For the Animals
I have always considered myself an animal lover. Yet, I would sit at the table and pet my dog with one hand, while consuming a cow or a pig or a chicken with the other. The fact of the matter is I was mentally detached from what was on my plate. After learning that we don’t need to eat animals to survive or be healthy, giving up meat was easy for me. I could never slaughter an animal myself, so I do not think it makes sense for me to eat them. I educated myself about how animals are treated as property instead of as individuals, as sentient beings.

Most people who still eat meat joke (or not) about bacon and how they could never give up bacon. Bacon is just fat from an animal’s belly. It’s gross. I used to love the taste of bacon too. But I love pigs more, and I found a replacement for the taste, by using coconut bacon. I will definitely post a recipe for how to make homemade coconut bacon very soon. Beyond bacon, every food I have ever loved, I have found a way to make it taste 100% incredible in a vegan version. My food tastes better now than it ever did, and in my opinion, the dishes look a lot more beautiful too.

piggies

In terms of dairy, like all mammals, cows only produce milk to feed their young. Dairy is not healthy and should not even be considered a human food option. We are the only species that drinks the milk of another species, and even worse, we do this into adulthood and for many of us this is life-long consumption. How is that sustainable, by the way? Just like humans, cows don’t produce milk because fairies sprinkled dust on them. They are placed into a tragic system where they are forcefully impregnated by a machine while shoved into a holding rack. After the cows have their babies, the babies are taken away and either used for veal or dairy.

“The very saddest sound in all my memory was burned into my awareness at age five on my uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin. A cow had given birth to a beautiful male calf…On the second day after birth, my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him in the veal pen in the barn—only ten yards away, in plain view of his mother. The mother cow could see her infant, smell him, hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him. The heartrending bellows that she poured forth—minute after minute, hour after hour, for five long days—were excruciating to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory memories I carry in my brain.” -Michael Klaper, M.D.

For more information on these topics:
Cows for Dairy
NutritionFacts.org
Brenda Davis, R.D.
Calcium in Plant-Based Diets

baby-jersey-cow

For the Environment
Plant-based eating helps fight against many major issues that plague our planet, including: water pollution, land degradation, climate change, and global hunger.

““We collectively raise, feed, water, kill, and eat over 65 billion animals each year for food …10 times as many people as we have on the entire earth… We have developed a complex system of producing more and more animals that use more and more of our resources, while leaving a massive amount of waste, pollution, and adverse climate change in their wake. … This system…is… heavily intertwined with our culture, politics, economics, and the suppression of the reality of its effect on our planet.”
-Dr. Richard Oppenlander

For More Information on the Environmental Impact:
Dr. Richard Oppenlander
Vegan Outreach
Cowspiracy Documentary

oceans
We must save our oceans and the magnificent creatures within them. Photo credit: Oceanic Preservation Society

Spirituality
The final component for me that changed my life was that this lifestyle has helped me grow spiritually. I believe that spiritual nourishment (whatever that may be for you) is essential for overall health. It could be spending time outside in nature, yoga, meditation, prayer, etc. For me, living a plant-based lifestyle has encouraged me to learn more about growing my own food and connecting more with the earth. I am also more conscious, as a whole. Changing what I ate and shifting my thoughts has been a catalyst for so many wonderful opportunities in my life.

This lifestyle has helped me realize that our bodies are temples to our souls. We must take care of this precious gift of life that we have.

Eating plant-based and becoming more aware has also introduced me to concepts such as living simply and minimalism. I basically don’t live in excess, and I don’t have a lot of unneeded stuff (like I used to).

For More Information on this:
Ralph Smart, Infinite Waters
Angel Detox by Doreen Virtue and Robert Reeves

yoga

ziplining

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is plant-based?
Great question! Different people have varying responses to this question. For me, a plant-based diet is a diet primarily or completely comprised of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds, and whole grains.

2. What do you typically eat in a day?
I am answering this for me personally, but just so you know, there are many, many ways you can eat a plant-based diet. In fact, most people who eat plant-based have more of a variety in their meals.

For me, what I eat depends on the time of year and what I feel like eating at the time. I enjoy seasonal foods, and I love living in a place where there are four distinct seasons. I love gardening with my husband too. I also prepare the majority of my meals at home because it is healthier, I know exactly what is going into my body, and I save a lot of money. Sometimes I eat mostly raw, sometimes I eat more cooked foods. Right now this is what a typical days looks like:

Breakfast: A green smoothie. The one I just enjoyed was a blend of frozen banana, blueberries, spirulina, my homemade almond milk, and a touch of maple syrup. I usually eat fruit for breakfast. One of my favorite smoothies is my orange cilantro smoothie; it’s so simple and so good!

Lunch: I usually have a huge raw, green salad (I mean huge) or a raw zucchini noodle dish. The salads vary depending on what I have at home. One example is: kale, mixed salad greens, carrots, red onion, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, beets, avocado, topped with flax meal and nutritional yeast, sometimes walnuts, sometimes almonds, or sometimes organic sprouted tofu, etc. I also use lots of fresh and dried herbs, fresh ground pepper, and pink or red sea salt. I make my own salad dressings made from whole foods using my blender.

Dinner: I will make a vegetable stir fry dish, or roasted vegetables with greens, or a crockpot soup like lentil vegetable, or a raw soup like a cucumber dill or carrot ginger with greens or a salad, or vegan pizza, etc. Sometimes I will have a homemade veggie bean burger like sweet potato and black bean with a side of greens and all the fixings. Other nights I will make collard wraps with mashed sweet potato, chickpeas, and avocado, or quinoa veggie bowls. There are so many options, and I enjoy everything!

Snacks and Treats: Fresh fruit like a bowl of grapes, homemade black pepper and sea salt popcorn, homemade smoothies, homemade trail mix, raw cacao treats (real chocolate), or my 3-ingredient cookies.

Drinks: I drink filtered water. I use a Berkey to filter my water. It removes trace elements, chemicals, bacteria, chlorine, and fluoride (if you opt for the fluoride filter attachment). Apart from water, sometimes I will also enjoy organic, caffeine-free tea. I also like to make fresh juices at home, when I feel like cleaning my juicer.

And can I just say, the food is really delicious and so simple to make!

recipes

photo-24

3. Are you vegan?
I am just Mary. I currently self-identitify as someone who enjoys a vegan and whole foods, plant-based lifestyle. I love the vegan lifestyle, but I am not perfect. At the same time, I realize that no one is. Here is a great video on the subject by one of my personal inspirations, Colleen Patrick Goudreau. Sometimes I use raw honey my friend Farmer Leo’s honeybee friends make, because I know the bees are not hurt or robbed of their honey and then fed high fructose corn syrup (it’s a sad fact that most people don’t know about). I won’t just buy honey from the store, and I don’t use honey often at all. My husband and I have honeybees on our property too and I am very passionate about helping honeybees and planting bee and butterfly friendly gardens and not supporting pesticide use. We have even rescued swarms of bees. Vegans will not use any animal products, so honey falls into that category.

For me, I just try to live my life as compassionately and consciously as possible. My first year started by changing the way I ate, and then I started learning about products that are made from animals in general. Ever since, I always make sure that I purchase non-leather belts, cruelty-free shoes, and basically nothing made out of an animal. In a future post, I will talk about eco-friendly fashion, which is not a cut-and-dry topic.

I volunteer to direct a non-for-profit program called The Monmouth Area Vegetarian Society (MAVS). I have been running the nonprofit for three years, and all of our programs are completely free and open to the public and include an educational talk or film screening, and a vegan potluck. I also attended Vegetarian Summerfest for the past two years. Through both of these opportunities, I have met many incredibly inspiring individuals who I have learned so much from. Here is a sampling of pictures of just some of the awesome people who I have met over the years.

Joe Cross, star and director of the documentary film "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead"
Joe Cross, star and director of the documentary film “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead”
Jenny Brown, founder of The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and author of “The Lucky Ones”
Rich Roll, plant-powered wellness advocate, bestselling author, and ultra-endurance athlete
Rich Roll, plant-powered wellness advocate, bestselling author, and ultra-endurance athlete
T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, author of "The China Study" and "Whole", also featured in the documentary film "Forks Over Knives"
T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, author of “The China Study” and “Whole”, also featured in the documentary film “Forks Over Knives”
Howard Lyman, the Mad Cowboy, a 4th generation cattle rancher who after 45 years and a series of events, became vegan. He is an animal rights and environmental activist now.
Howard Lyman, the Mad Cowboy, a 4th generation cattle rancher who after 45 years and a series of events, became vegan. He is an animal rights and environmental activist now.


4. Where do you get your protein?
This is probably the most common question that people who eat plant-based are asked. First, I will share this picture and ask you, where does he get his protein from? That’s right, plants.

gorilla

I recommend these two quick reads for further information:
Slaying the Protein Myth by Rich Roll  and The Protein Myth by The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine.

In a nut shell (no pun intended), plant foods provide us all the protein we need, plus countless other health benefits. For any athletes who are concerned with losing muscle, performance levels, or not being bulk enough, this is simply not an issue. Here are some athletes I recommend looking into. They are all plant powered!

frankandantonieyye
Frank Medrano and Antoniette Pacheco, vegan powerhouse couple and calisthenics athletes

Steph Davis, an American rock climber, BASE jumper and wingsuit flyer
Steph Davis, an American rock climber, BASE jumper and wingsuit flyer
78-year-old vegan bodybuilder, Jim Morris
78-year-old vegan bodybuilder, Jim Morris

 5. What resources do you recommend for people who are curious about learning more?
In addition to all of the books and films I have already mentioned, check out my wellness resources page for some ideas. Apart from that, there are many books, studies, films, and podcasts to be discovered. There is so much to explore.

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Thank you for allowing me to share my story.
Mary Signature

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