Vegetarian 101: The All-Day Eating Plan

It’s funny; in today’s culture, we all want and seek quick fixes but big problems. How many times have you’ve heard of someone who wants to lose weight fast but yet they aren’t entirely willing to go the distance and get discouraged to find that really there’s no quick fix. When it comes to losing weight, and maintaining your weight after you’ve lost it, there IS a quick fix – vegetarianism. Oh, I know, the eye-rolls, the sighs, the thought of PETA and hippies trying to lecture you on the feelings of animals. Let’s skip that.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been dishing out the basics on vegetarianism. Let’s just say it gets a bad rep. People think that being a vegetarian isn’t all that much fun. They think all you have to eat is, well, vegetables. Bland, tasteless, raw vegetables. Who wants to eat that when there’s a world of great smelling, tasty, fatty meats and chemical-laden syrups and chemical experiments?

Well, I already covered how a vegetarian can tackle breakfast. There’s of course two other main meals of the day, not to mention the necessary re-fueling snacks to keep you going throughout the day. So, what’s lunch and dinner like for a vegetarian? Pretty boring? Not so. I found that becoming a vegetarian actually requires you to put MORE thought into what you eat, how you prepare it and what you’re eating. You see, the great thing about being vegetarian is that you should be eating healthier. You should be using more whole foods, natural foods, real foods instead of boxed, processed, “fake” foods.

Lunch actually starts long before mid-day. Here’s the issue with most people’s lunches: it’s their first meal of the day! Yes, people think breakfast is unnecessary or that they’re too pressed for time to indulge. So, lunch becomes the first meal of the day and people think that’s ok. They think it’s their time to indulge and go overboard because they, they haven’t eaten all day! Wrong. You’re wrecking yourself  by skipping breakfast and I wrote an entire post about breakfast and how to tackle it when you’re ditching meat for vegetables.

So, the first step in how to lunch as a vegetarian is to eat breakfast. Why? You’ll have food in your system and so lunch will be just another meal. If you’ve starved yourself all day until your lunch break, you’re likely to give into all your cravings and temptations. This means when you’re going out, McDonald’s and tons of other fast food options will look mighty desirable. If you are eating on a regular schedule throughout the day, not only will you feel satisfied and fuller through the day but you’ll rev up your metabolism and will burn more calories (and fat) throughout the day. Seems easy enough, doesn’t it?

People really underestimate the power of snacking. Snacking isn’t just for kids and grazing isn’t just for cows. Snacking is a fun break from the vegetables you should be eating during the main three meals of the day. This is when you may want to go for some healthy fats: avocados, nuts, olive oils. All of these fats will help you to feel fuller, contain essential vitamins and minerals, and fibers. Basically, you could easily snack and include fats in your diet and really not get fat by eating them! The problem with many freshman vegetarians is that they are scared of fats and deny themselves to the point of failure. Treat yourself with healthy snacks throughout the day like peanut butter, raw nuts, air-popped pop corn, carrot sticks and fruit and you’ll feel fuller throughout the day and wont go overboard at lunch or dinner.

If you’ve eaten breakfast and have snacked throughout the morning and early afternoon, lunch shouldn’t feel intimidating or that much of an ordeal. Have fun at lunch but don’t think you need to completely let loose to feel full. First, avoid fast food. Even these salads sold at places like Wendy’s at McDonalds can be calorie and waistline bombs. So, fix your own lunches. Salads seem like the go-to choice for vegetarians, which is fine. Buy romaine lettuce, mix in a variety of other green leafy vegetables such as spinach, add some raw nuts or sesame seeds and toss in some vegetables like mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots and broccoli and voila, you’ve got yourself a healthy, huge, low calorie lunch. Make your own salad dressing by mixing a little olive oil with any variety of vinaigrette to spare yourself the fat that’s packed into dressings like ranch.

There are of course other options for lunch. Try soups. The content is mostly water and it allows for you to enjoy some vegetables and a little pasta without over indulging. Another option could be the go-to meal of a veggie burger, but honestly, I’d avoid the veggie burger and save it for dinner. You can also keep healthy by having a peanut butter (all natural) sandwich coupled with a piece of fruit. My biggest tip for lunching as a vegetarian is to stop thinking of it as a meal that needs to be huge. It doesn’t have to be a large meal, it doesn’t need to be loaded with calories or fat, it doesn’t need to be complex or 3-courses. Think of lunch as a pit stop of the day. Breakfast is the starting line and lunch is when you stop to re-gas and get your tires checked up.

What happens after lunch? Again, keep lunch small and manageable and just as you should go into lunch having eaten a snack, you need to follow lunch with a snack before dinner. Snacking isn’t at all about indulging your cravings or your sweet tooth; snacking is about helping you to feel full so not to overcompensate or over eat at any given meal. So, again, fruit, nuts, peanut butter or even a healthy (note, healthy) smoothie is a great choice.

For me, dinner is the time to be a little indulgent. Breakfast through lunch you’ve eaten wisely and modestly. You’ve hopefully chosen meals and snacks that aren’t packed with calories or fat. For most people, dinner is the meal that comes with the most calories and fat. Earlier I suggested staying away from things like veggie burgers until you get to dinner. That’s because you should train yourself not to feel like every meal has to be big, huge and elaborate. If you start thinking of your meals as refueling opportunities to help sustain you rather than simple “meals” when you eat “just because”, you’ll start eating healthier and will choose your meals wisely.

So, are vegetables the only thing left for a vegetarian dinner? Yes and no. The key to going vegetarian and maintaining it is all in the spices. Think about it. When you eat meat, what’s so appealing about it? Could you eat chicken prepared the same way for weeks on end without getting bored? No, you’d vary it up – you’d bake it, fry it, grill it. You’d marinate it, saute it, season it. Think of your vegetables in the same way. Vegetables are very versatile and will take to seasonings very well. Crave Mexican food? Look up recipes for Mexican (or Chinese, Italian, Indian)  and what ingredients will go into your favorite dishes and simply use vegetables as the “meat” of the dish. Mushrooms are very versatile but don’t count out some less common vegetables: daikon, leeks, sweet potatoes, green onions and even fruits can all provide a burst of color and flavor to your dishes.

Unlike breakfast or lunch, dinner is when you can include a couple courses in your meal. Whole grains and whole wheats are good at dinner. Some recommend saving your carbs for dinner, which means you could pair your vegetables with pastas (again, whole wheat, none of that unhealthy white stuff). You’ll also want some fiber during your dinner – eat lentils and beans! These will help you maintain a healthy GI tract and will help your body to naturally flush out toxins and waste. Along with fiber comes protein and that’s when things like veggie burgers come in handy. I’d recommend checking out Morningstar Farms’ product line. They offer “veggie” options of some of your favorite meats – burgers, chik’n, turk’y … you’ll honestly grow so used to these healthy options that you’ll feel like you’re still eating meat. Check out Smart Options as well – they offer protein links (veggie hot dogs) and vegetarian versions of lunch meats, bbq and more. There are a host of other brands that also have produced healthy vegetarian-friendly versions of meats that come with less fats, fewer calories but increased fiber and protein.

So, what’s a vegetarian dinner look like? Well, it can be small or it can include more than one dish. You want variety here – a vegetarian “meat” option like a veggie burger, chik’n patty or turk’y; whole grains and wheat (pastas, bread); vegetables (beans, leafy greens, peppers, onions etc.). If you’ve eaten wisely throughout the day as you should you shouldn’t have the desire or need to go overboard at dinner. One serving of each should do it for you. Still hungry after dinner? SNACK. I cannot say it enough how important snacking is to eating wisely. Great late-night snacks include nuts, a mashed up avocado paired with whole grain chips, air-popped pop corn and for non-vegans, yogurt. Of course, a piece of fruit wouldn’t hurt you either.

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Vegetarian 101: Fighting Temptations

Over the past few days I’ve dedicated a few blog posts to the world of vegetarianism. I dealt with what being a vegetarian is and isn’t with my post “A Crash Course for Skeptics and Beginners” and then tackled the trickiest meal of the day with “Rethinking Breakfast”. At first, the next logical piece in the puzzle seemed to be a post about how to lunch (which is still in the works) but then it came to me: there’s another hurdle other than meal planning that keeps people out of the vegetarian and vegan world: staying committed.

People always ask me, when I choose to openly share that I’m vegetarian, if it’s hard. It’s the number one question other than “why?” and is usually followed with a stern declaration, “Well, I could never do it. Oh no, no way, I could never give up meat!” So when discussing or dealing with being or remaining a vegetarian, the biggest issue many people run into is fighting their cravings and temptations for “bad” food. Let’s say you’ve never tried being a vegetarian before. You don’t even know a vegetarian and you’re a bit afraid to ask around your circle of connections and friends because of what people will think. You believe they’ll think you’re on a diet, you think you’re fat, you want to starve yourself, you’re going to turn into a granola popping, hemp milk chugging hippie. Let’s face it: being an “out” vegetarian just isn’t what it’s made out to be. So what’s a girl or guy to do?

Well, here’s the first problem: you try to go vegetarian on the down low, in secret. This is a major misstep on your part. Who is going to hold you accountable? Who is going to help you stay on track and remind you of your commitment to a healthier eating style? Becoming a vegetarian in secret without informing anyone is like trying to move to a different state without letting your co-workers, friends and family know – they’ll notice you’re a bit ‘off’ and that something is going on with you and by the end you’ll realize you needed their help, and or them to be in the know, to help you make that move. So the first step in avoiding jumping ship is simply “outing” yourself as a vegetarian. Do it. It’s not easy, it’s a bit hard but if you want to have others supporting you, they need to know what you’re doing.

Here are other ways to avoid “bad” cravings and temptations:
1. Get real. I really despise books and experts that preach extremism. They want you to eat healthy by encouraging unhealthy habits! You need to accept that few people declare they are vegetarian and stay that way for the rest of their lives. Yes, it’s possible and perhaps to some it’s even ideal, but is it necessary? No. Understand, and accept, that there are going to be days when you simply have a little meat in one meal or so. If you’re invited to dinner at your parents or a birthday party, are you seriously going to be “that” person who makes everyone else uncomfortable by lecturing them on why you’re eating nothing because there’s meat involved or you’re afraid the meat contaminated the vegetables?
Deal with it: Try to go most of the weak being vegetarian eating “whole” foods. Eat fresh produce, frozen vegetables, fruit. Allow yourself a cheat meal during the weekend or if that’s too restricting or too little, allow yourself an entire cheat day to eat what you want, within reason. If you avoid some of the food you crave like say a burger, or steak, then the moment you “accidentally” go off course, you’ll never go back on. You’ll be such in a state of bliss and bathed in euphoria from caving into your craving that you’ll always seek that feeling and going back to the “extreme” will never be appealing. Allow yourself to cheat, within reason, occasionally and it’ll be easier to upkeep your healthy eating lifestyle.

2. Fight fire with a little flame. So, you crave a burger. You want a whopper, or a Big Mac. You want fries, you crave pizza. All of these things seem very unhealthy and not so vegetarian. Or … are they? One way to fight temptation is to satisfy it with something healthy and a bit less damaging to your waistline. So, you crave pizza, huh? Fine, get a slice of pizza. Find a place that sells it by the slice and instead of getting one topped with tons of greasy meats, get one loaded with vegetables. Want a Big Mac? Google a recipe for one, serve yourself a veggie burger and simply find a way to make the Big Mac sauce using healthy ingredients.
Deal with it: In other words, take your temptation and satisfy them with imitation. I think that being vegetarian can make you a better cook. Why? Because to stick to your healthy eating lifestyle, you’ll need to do your research and experimenting in the kitchen to find healthy alternatives to the “bad” food that’s been dragging you down. The more cooking you do, the more money you’ll save by not having to satisfy cravings with fast food. The more money you save, the more calories you save because most of the food you buy prepared for you is loaded with unnecessary calories and fat. You shouldn’t ignore your cravings – satisfy them! Just satisfy them within reason with a healthy alternative. If you don’t, believe me, you’ll cave to temptations and will find it harder and harder to get back on track.

3. The Sweet Escape. For many people, it’ll take 2 or 3 weeks of eating in a vegetarian way for your taste buds to change and click with your decision to give up meat. Meat will surprisingly not be as satisfying and will, in many ways, leave you feeling a bit sick. The one set of cravings that aren’t as easy to change however is your cravings for sweets. You want your cake, ice cream, sugar and everything in between, too. And guess what – you can have it. Just go vegan. Some of you may have done a double take. Understand that what makes cakes and cookies mostly unhealthy is the ingredients – eggs, tons of sugar, globs of vegetable oil. You could be a great vegetarian with a wide waist due just to what you’re treating yourself to during dessert.
Deal with it: Anything you want dessert-wise can be made over in a vegan way. Why would you want to go vegan in your deserts? Well, because that means you wont be consuming dairy and dairy is really where all the fat and calories comes from. Vegan desserts are far more easier to make and healthier for you than their counterparts. Do you know you can, in some recipes, substitute applesauce or flaxseed for eggs? Or substitute wheat flour for half of the white flour in recipes without much of a difference? How about using fresh fruit in your recipes rather than whatever the heck is contained in some boxed mixes? Believe me, whatever you crave, there’s a vegan way to make it with far fewer calories and fat. Do you like ice cream? Ever tried a non-dairy ice cream? So’ Delicious makes some and you honestly can’t tell the difference.

4. Do you see what I see? The overall missing link in sticking to a vegetarian lifestyle as opposed to joining the masses of non-believers is simply perception. Do you want to conquer your cravings? Then you need 20/20 vision when it comes to your food. Look at pizza. To a non-vegan or vegetarian, it’s a delicious, drool-inducing smelling, tasty treat. To a vegetarian however a pizza can be a slab of solidified fat known as “cheese” caked onto a processed sheet of baked white flour topped with morsels of fattening meats. In other words, it’s all a matter of perspective.
Deal with it: Educate yourself about what you’re eating. People are afraid of reading the nutritional labels because of what it often reveals: you aren’t really eating food, you’re eating a collection of chemicals and science experiments molded into looking like, and imitating foods. If what you’re consuming has an ingredients list that reads like a high school science fair project, you should be wary of what it’s doing to your body. Seek and eat foods with as few ingredients as possible. Why? Because those are whole and they probably have more nutrients for you than boxed or “easy to prepare” kits sold in grocery stores. Need convincing not to eat meat? Just read books like “Skinny Bitch” and “Skinny Bastard” or Google “how are hot dogs made” and you’ll be scared vegetarian in no time.

5. Don’t listen to haters. Remember the ’80s drug commercials where the bully would try to convince the little kid to smoke dope and the little kid would channel his inner Nancy Reagan and say no? Well, you need to get tough. Being a vegetarian means you’re constantly going to be faced and confronted by people telling you that you’re wrong, that being vegetarian is unhealthy, that “give it a few days … you’ll quit”. Often times, being vegetarian means you’ll be going at something alone. It’s okay, you’re tough, you’ll manage. Read any magazine, book, commercial cooking show – they’ll do their best to convince you that eating meat is necessary “or else”. Not the case at all. Most of these media outlets, and even government studies, tooting the necessity to eat meat are funded by the meat or dairy industries! No surprise there. There are definitely healthy people from all walks of life, young and old, athletes and blue collar types, who are vegetarian and just as healthy (but usually healthier) than those who have a meat-heavy diet.
Deal with it: Be courteous, listen, but ignore haters. I suggest you read up on being a vegetarian. Learn what foods you need since you aren’t eating meat or dairy, what different vegetables will offer you in terms of health benefits, what exercises you can do to stay healthy and what’s wrong with some of your favorite foods and how you can possible make them healthier. Part of being unhealthy, or a bad vegetarian, comes from a lack of personal knowledge and investment. Learn about being a vegetarian! If you go at it blindly with no idea what you’re doing or why you’re eating what you’re eating, you’ll make foolish decisions based on what’s tempting you rather than what’s good for you.

Is being a vegetarian easy? Yes and no. At the start, you’ll have to withdraw yourself from your temptations and cravings for fat, sugar and calorie-loaded foods. After a month or two of eating in a vegetarian manner, it’ll be easy. You’ll even be able to eat out with a group of friends or family without being tossed into a nervous fit over sticking to your eating plan. Educate yourself; don’t give in to peer pressure; learn how to cook for yourself and every so often, indulge – this is how you’ll go from experimenting with vegetarian ways to being a card carrying lifetime member.

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Vegetarian 101: Rethinking Breakfast

Eggs, ham, pork sausage, sausage patties, biscuits and gravy, bacon, milk, coffee with cream, cheese grits … all of these things seem to be the staple of the typical breakfast in America and abroad. Yet, for vegetarians, breakfast isn’t so easy. What happens when your eating lifestyle doesn’t include meat or what if it doesn’t even include dairy products? Does it mean you’re simply left out of the breakfast club? Not at all! Vegetarians and vegans, like everyone else, must eat breakfast. It’s a meal that many people skip because they say they don’t have time to fix or make it or they think it’s okay to make-up for it by eating donuts at work or a hefty lunch. Not so fast.

Breakfast is your first chance to refuel for the day. Imagine yourself preparing to run a marathon without having spent a day or week running and preparing yourself for the run. How do you think you’d do? Not very well, and the same happens when you choose to skip breakfast. Despite what people think, eating throughout the day – and eating healthy things – is how you lose weight, not by skipping meals or starving yourself. So breakfast is necessary if you want to perform well in school or at work, be sharp mentally, able to deal with problem and if you’re wanting to keep your metabolism churning throughout the day.

What’s a vegetarian or vegan to do if meat and dairy are not a part of their lives? Well, you re-think breakfast and eating in general. Each meal of the day, including breakfast, isn’t necessarily about eating for the sake of indulging and pleasing yourself. Meals are meant to provide you with the necessary minerals, vitamins and nutrients you need to be healthy during the day and beyond. Once you accept this mindset, you begin to see meals like breakfast differently. Suddenly the fat-laden meats, sugary syrups and processed pop tarts aren’t all that appetizing. What are they really doing for you beyond expanding your waist and making you feel sluggish and a bit sick? Not much. So here’s how to tackle breakfast the healthy vegetarian (and vegan) way so that you’ll feel satisfied and will keep your weight and waisline in check at the same time:

1. Go green. Stop thinking that you can only have leafy-green vegetables at dinner. Do you want to load up on much needed vitamins that will improve the way your body works and help you shed unwanted fat? Then treat yourself to a bowl of collards, kale or mustard greens in the morning for breakfast. These vegetables will give you a big dose of vitamin C without all of the sugar that comes with drinking orange juice. They also provide your body with needed nutrients and minerals like iron (without the saturated fat that comes with eating meat), various vitamin Bs, copper, calcium (yes, without having to chug milk). Leafy greens should be part of your breakfast if you’re really aiming to feel and look like a champ.

2. Think outside the box. Boxed breakfast foods are not necessarily good for you. Think of all the boxed “foods” you can buy for breakfast: cereals loaded with sugar, waffles, pancake mixes that contains chemicals you can’t pronounce, pop tarts. Do any of these things really do much for you? No. As with any food item, the boxed ones come with more than you need or want: chemicals, by-products, things with no nutritional value whatsoever. So as a general rule, if it comes in a box – skip it. Get back to the basics – fresh produce. Again, leafy-green vegetables would be a good choice but so would things like beans (black or pinto, dry or canned – but wash and rinse if they’re canned), other vegetables like squash and the big one – fruit! Bananas have potassium, oranges and kiwis have vitamin c. You get the point? Whole foods closest to their natural forms will be the best for you.

3. Get toasted. Have you heard of sprouted bread? If not, look into it. They don’t contain highly processed flours and have more vitamins and nutrients than even wheat bread because the sprouted breads are made from seeds as they first begin to sprout (you’ll also see or read this type of bread as being ‘live’ do to this). Eating sprouted bread will give you some much needed fiber which is good for your digestive track. Toast it up or spread natural peanut butter or some vegan/healthy buttery spread on it.

4. The water works. People are seriously dehydrated most of the time. Sometimes you mistake hunger for actually being thirsty. The moment you wake up, change this by drinking water. For most people, they get up and need their coffee to wake up or their orange juice, milk or other type of juice. First of all, are you really drinking juice or sugar-flavored water? Check the label. If it doesn’t read “100% juice”, you’re drinking a tonic of water, flavors, food coloring, sugar and chemicals with an aroma of fruit. Not good at all. If you eat healthy – beans, greens, fiber – water is the key that brings everything together. People often talk about going on cleanses to rid their body of toxins and starving themselves for weeks. This isn’t necessary. Just drink water! It’ll naturally flush your system, keep your muscles pumped up (yes guys, meaning if you’re working out and want to look ripped but often don’t, you’re probably dehydrated and need more water) and make you feel more satisfied.

5. The spreads and fillers. Let’s face it, sometimes you go off course and have hashbrowns and need your ketchup – or you have pancakes and need your toppings. Fine, but look into natural substitutes. If you like coffee, So’ Delicious makes a coffee creamer made of coconut milk! No, it doesn’t taste or even smell like coconut. You’ll be consuming healthy fats, won’t be going off the vegan course and you’ll never know the difference. Look into maple syrup for your waffles and pancakes or even into making your own toppings by using fruit. Condiments and spreads are gut busters that we often overlook. If you’re worried about keeping fit and your gut in check, make sure you aren’t consuming sugar-packed condiments.

6. Have your cake and eat it too. So, perhaps none of the above sounds appealing to you. You know you’ll never be able to eat vegetables for breakfast and it all seems a bit extreme. You have a family, a significant other, have breakfast with friends and you don’t want to be the odd person out not having what looks normal. Well, did you know there are vegetarian versions of your meats in stores? Morningstar Farms makes everything from sausage links to bacon strips that are, get this, purely vegetarian! Yes, they taste a bit different at first (because they aren’t packed with fat and hormones that gives the original its flavor) but after a week, the non-vegetarian versions of these foods won’t even taste the same. It may be a good starting point for those wary of going full vegetarian.

My last tip – start the morning off with water and a daily vitamin. Let’s face it – do any of us get the full 100% recommended daily value of any of the various vitamins and nutrients? No. A simple daily vitamin can help fill in the gaps from your diet and you should take it early in the day so that it can be absorbed and used by your body. Do you work out in the mornings? A good time to take a multivitamin is actually after you’ve worked out: your muscles will be more likely to absorb it better and pass along its contents to the rest of your body.

Bottom line – just because your vegetarian doesn’t mean breakfast isn’t for you! You have tons of options, more so than those who are fixated on the usual and expected. Start your day off by nourishing your body with foods that will benefit it and make it stronger, not with foods full of fat, antibodies, pollutants and hormones that are used to feed and prime meat for slaughter and consumption.

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Vegetarian 101: A Crash Course for Skeptics and Beginners

I tried staying fit throughout the winter so that come spring and summer, I wouldn’t have much work to do for the ‘shirtless’ season. Weight wise, I was about eight pounds over my usual weight. Yes, being near 120 lbs isn’t bad – most people would kill to see that number on the scale – but for me, 110 or so is normal and anything more than that sends my nerves on end. So, what’d I do? I resorted back to being mostly vegetarian because that’s how I managed to go from being overweight with a high BMI with an expanding waistline to a slimmer, leaner, healthier me over the course of two years.

Yes, being vegetarian is not easy. When you think of being one, the images of being starved, deprived and skin-and-bones comes to mind. Is it doable though? Yes. The hardest part of being vegetarian is simply getting started, enduring the criticism from your peers and family and sticking to it.

So, you’ve probably clicked on this article because you’re curious, skeptical and want to secretly become vegetarian yourself. Great! The best way to start is to understand what it’s all about. The basics – if you’re a vegetarian, you’re mostly eating naturally. You’re going to have an eating lifestyle that’s centered around fruits and vegetables and is devoid or skimpy on meats. Now, you’ve probably heard or have thought a lot about what it means to actually be a vegetarian. It does not mean you have to be a card-carrying member of PETA. It does not mean that you can never ever in your life eat meat. Being vegetarian means you need, and accept the challenge, to be more mindful of what you eat.

People are always looking for quick ways to lose weight, slim down and look great. They will spend tons of money on special products, weird exercise equipment and ‘cleanses’ to drop one or two pounds and then will go back to bad habits because to their “surprise” (it’s expected, thus the quotes) their “diet” didn’t work, they’ve wasted their time and money so why bother? People … the easiest way for you to lose weight healthily, quickly and with ease is to go vegetarian. Why? Because most people have no idea how fatty their diets are. Milk, cheese, creams, sodas (even diet), bacon, steaks and other meats and products coming from animals are fatty. Yet, most of us shun vegetables because we think they’re disgusting and nasty. Really?

As with any food, the key to not being bored or turned off by vegetables is seasoning. Get creative! Do you crave sweet and sour chicken? Then look up a recipe for how to make a healthy sweet & sour sauce yourself and mix it with tons of hardy vegetables like snap peas, mushrooms and carrots. Like Mexican dishes? Well, cut up a zucchini and tuck it into a quesedilla in place of the chicken and top with some salsa and black beans. The possibilities really are endless and you can eat all day without packing on the pounds.

There’s also the myth that once you go vegetarian, you can’t ever have meat again in your life. This will be a controversial statement, but not true. The problem with most people’s ways of eating is that it’s heavy on fatty foods and drinks like dairy and meat and barren of healthy options like fruits and vegetables. Make the biggest portion of your meal vegetables, and eat those first, and you’ll find that you’ll need and will want less and less meat. Or, treat yourself to one meal or one day of eating anything while eating vegetables and fruits the other 6 days of the week. There’s various degrees of being vegetarian, find one that suits you.

Do you really want to shed pounds quickly without having to do much work? Take it a step further and go vegan. Vegan is all about avoiding dairy. Some choose to do it because the thought of a cow or other animal being mistreated makes their skin crawl. Others do it out of necessity: they are lactose intolerant. Why should you be a vegan? Because a lot of dairy, though you’ve been told it’s good for you, is fattening. You can get calcium from green leafy vegetables and supplements, vitamin D from sunlight, other necessary nutrients and minerals from eating a wide range of colorful fruits and vegetables. There are some non-dairy alternatives to everything from the creamer you put in your coffee to the cheese you top your salads with, made from anything from nuts to tofu. Try some non-dairy options for a week and you’ll see how easy it is.

So, do you want to lose weight, improve your skin, boost your immune system and all without having to exercise much at all? Then adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. You’ll naturally load your body with minerals, vitamins and nutrients and will naturally flush your body of the toxins and hormones pumped into animals that end up on your plate.

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Recipe: Cheat-Day Pizza

I think the key to any successful eating plan (I like that term over ‘die-ting’) is allowing yourself to indulge from time to time. My favorite ‘cheat’ meal tends to be a slice of pizza from Whole Foods. They use fresh ingredients and hearth-fire the pizza, really giving you a not-so bad slice of pizza. You aren’t getting imitation ‘fake’ cheese, tons of grease and cholesterol and they offer a wide-range of toppings and variety. I usually go for a simple cheese but they have vegetable-topped pizza that I’ve tried from occasion. This isn’t at all the definitive Whole Food pizza recipe but something adapted from their ingredients list to give you a way to cook it at home/

“I’m Gonna Eat the ‘Whole’ Damn Thing” Pizza-
Cheese: A mix of jack, mozzarella and Parmesan
Pizza sauce (olive oil, salt, oregano, tomato paste, water, basil)
Pizza crust (unbleached flour, sugar, canola oil, salt, yeast, water)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, combine 3 1/2 cups of flour (unbleached or wheat), 2.5 oz of self-rising yeast, salt and teaspoon of sugar. Add in 1 cup of very warm water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil or canola oil (both have health benefits). Knead for about 5 minutes into a ball or until dough is well mixed. Let it stand for 10 minutes in a warm place.
3. After 1o minutes, roll out dough onto well-greased pizza pan. Place in the oven and bake until crust is slightly brown (approx. 10 minutes or less).
5. Remove and let cool for a few minutes. Add pizza sauce to crust (store bought or mix a teaspoon of olive oil with a can of tomato paste, a little water, chopped basil, parsley and oregano leaves). Garnish with cheese mixture and your toppings of choice. For a ‘vegetarian delight’ pizza, add red onions, sweet bell peppers, mushrooms and chopped broccoli. For others, the crust itself is super healthy (it’s vegan, not so fattening) so choose a lean meat/protein. Skip fattening meats like sausage, ham and pepperoni (try turkey pepperoni instead).
6. Place back into oven and bake for another 10-20 minutes. Remove, let cool, slice and serve.
Note: This pizza is figure friendly because the crust is pretty much vegan (meaning a lack of dairy that’ll turn into fat when consumed). Adding vegetables is a great way to boost the health content, add in some fiber and get more vegetables into your daily meals. You can garnish the finished product with spinach or basil leaves for added affect and presentation.

Say It Loud, Say It Proud, “I’m a Vegetarian!”

A couple weeks ago I posted about coming out at as a vegetarian. Since then I’ve had a few conversations with people about being a vegetarian and questions that I thought I’d address.

At church there was a luncheon after service and somehow (as usual) the topic of discussion was how I’m vegetarian. People always seem surprised to find that there’s a vegetarian among them. Really. I mean, you could be a token (the only Black, Asian or some other ethnicity in a crowd of predominantly white people), homosexual, a Southerner among yankees but the one thing people are always taken back by or surprised to hear is that you don’t consume meat. Oh, and be a vegan on top of that (no dairy) and you’re like the 8th world wonder! When I first decided to go vegetarian a year or two ago, I tried not to make a big deal about it. So what, who cares? I don’t eat meat. WELL, I found that by keeping it to myself, I would be inclined to ‘blend in’ by not always adhering to my vegetarian lifestyle. It happens, which brings me to this post …

If you’re a vegetarian, TELL THE WORLD! The biggest mistake I see vegetarians or vegans making is that it’s kept a secret. Who is going to be hurt by you eating vegetables or staying away from meat and dairy? Are you going to be disowned, thrown out on the street, strung up in the town’s square? People, you don’t need to feel guilty about eating healthy. Anything that’s worth keeping a secret usually isn’t worth it in the end. You need to tell your family you’re vegetarian. You need to tell your friends and co-workers you’re vegetarian. Why? Because these are the people and groups you spend your time with and by telling them and making them aware of your dietary needs, you’re taking the shock value away and letting them into your circle. In most cases, after the usual ‘that’s unhealthy’ and ‘what’s not good for you’ speeches, they’ll concede. You’ll be their uber-healthy eating friend and you’ll be just fine.

It always gets me how people turn food into a private and secret act. This is what leads to food abuse, obesity and eating disorders. Think about it. You have the one group who sneaks junk food (cookies, candy bars, cakes) into their homes after proclaiming a week before that they’re going on a diet. Then behind closed doors or when they’re alone, they pig out and go overboard. Or you have the people who so desperately want to look a certain way or be viewed as skinny that they engage in unhealthy and dangerous acts to make sure the food they eat doesn’t lead to a single pound on their body frame. And really, where does being a vegetarian or vegan fit into either of those situations?

It doesn’t and it shouldn’t. Yes, if you don’t educate yourself in regards to the vitamins, minerals and nutritional needs your body requires to stay healthy, then even as a vegetarian you’ll slip into dangerous territory. But if you fill your fridge with a wide range of colorful vegetables, whole grain, fruits and increase your fiber and water intake, you’ll  be fine. Want to be even safer? Then take a multivitamin. It’ll fill in the gaps for what you don’t consume with regular food.

I get asked if it’s hard to be vegetarian. No. The hardest part is usually deciding to do it and then breaking it to those I encounter that I don’t eat meat. Also, as I said a few weeks ago, there are different levels of vegetarian. I am not a fan of extremes: meaning, if you’re a practicing vegetarian and every once in a while you want some grilled chicken or turkey or just want a McDonalds big mac … then by all means, indulge, treat yourself! The point of vegetarianism is to weight down your eating with vegetables rather than with meat. I know some vegetarians will jump on me for encouraging meat eating but as I said, some people go at it hardcore and eliminate all meat and dairy from their life, some just eliminate meat and keep the dairy, some will have meat once or twice a week … there’s variation and to tell you that once you go vegetarian you must never let a piece of meat touch your mouth again at the risk of execution is foolish.

So, there’s no national coming out week for vegetarians and vegans. So don’t wait for any special occasion to arise to tell everyone around you that you’re vegetarian. Coming out as a vegetarian and letting those around you know about your switch to vegetables will help keep you accountable (say you’re vegetarian and the next time you’re out with your buddies, someone will remind you ‘Hey, I thought you didn’t eat meat!’ when you’re eyeballing something unhealthy in the food court. I promise you, they will). Plus, being vegetarian or vegan is nothing scandalous or worth keeping a secret. For the sake of your health, say it loud, say it proud, “I’m a vegetarian!”

Oh my God, Becky! Look at that PEPPER! It’s sooooo BIG …

Massive Red Pepper

Giant Red Pepper ... Coming Soon to a Plate Near You!

This is for all of you vegetarian size queens out there. My mother picked me purchased this huge pepper for me while she was at the Farmers Market in Raleigh, N.C. this morning. Look at it! It’s so big! I had some peppers I bought at Walmart last week and it’d take two of them stacked together to even compare to this one. Like a good little domestic diva, I spent part of my Saturday night chopping up peppers to freeze since I have now have an abundance of them. I thought I’d share a few pics of this one before it landed on the chopping block.

Where’s the Beef? Going Vegetarian

In day 3 of my week long fitness/health-centric blogs, I’m taking on vegetarianism. Vegetarians often get a bad rep. In movies they’re portrayed as granola munching, uber-sensitive, environmental activists that march with PETA and make scenes around those who dare to even dream of consuming a crumb of bacon. Well, that’s not entirely true! What you don’t hear is that there are as many different personality types in the vegetarian community as there are in any other subgroup or niche in our society. Don’t be afraid to go vegetarian. As I said with veganism, you’re going to get a lot of flack for choosing this healthy lifestyle. Prepare for your ‘coming out’ and denial of meat to garner unwanted attention, stares and lectures from family and friends.

There are many myths and tall tales associated with switching to a vegetarian diet. The main argument you’ll hear is that you’ll never get all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need to be healthy. Not the case if you’re doing things right! There’s a big difference between being vegetarian and anorexic. One group eats, and they eat all day without the worry of consuming harmful chemicals or getting fat; the other, well, worries that eating will lead to weight gain and they purge or starve themselves. If you’re eating a wide range of vegetables and fruits, which are the closest thing you can get to true whole foods, you’ll get more vitamins and nutrients than the average person. It’s a bit of a game; can you eat a fruit or vegetable of every color each day? I call it ‘stoplight’ eating: you aim for something red, yellow and green and all of the colors in between.

Another myth is that you can’t build muscle without the protein you get from meat. Another tall tale, people. There are tons of healthy, fit, ripped and tone athletes who are vegetarian and vegan. Again, the key to muscle growth is good nutrition and that comes from whole foods. Personally, I’ve tried it all. I went vegetarian in 2008 when I was 5’3 and 170 lbs with a 36/37 inch waist. It didn’t take even a year before going vegetarian (and exercising, of course) had dramatically improved my health. I lost nearly 60 lbs, waist size went down to a 27/28. Not only that but my skin cleared up to give me an impressive glow, I didn’t need depression medication to keep my mood in check and I had an increase of energy, all by not consuming the hormones and harmful byproducts contained in meat. Point is, you will not waste away by going vegetarian. I’m no Hollywood star with rippling abs and all but I went from looking like the State Puff Marshmallow Man to looking lean with a noticeable V-shaped torso and the hint of emerging muscles and abs.

If you’re concerned about the environment, going vegetarian is an easy way to help cut your carbon footprint. The amount of carbon emissions coming from cows and the whole meat industry is ridiculous and yes, though you are one person not purchasing meat, you’ll still be making a great contribution to improving the planet’s eco system. Here’s another note about vegetarians and meat: you’ll probably be spending about the same in the grocery store. While you’ll be cutting out expensive meats, you’ll be increasing your uptake of fresh produce. Produce, of course, either needs to be frozen or the freshness of it will decrease and it could spoil quickly. So be prepared to have in mind what you want to cook for the week, buy just that produce and consider cooking those dishes all in one day and freezing what you don’t use.

If you’re starting out in your vegetarian journey, don’t rush the process. It is a process; you’ll be weening yourself off of meat (and hopefully sugar and other processed foods) and if you go at it too quickly, you’ll end up having a craving that’ll lead to you shoving other things you don’t need down your throat. If you like burgers, then stock up on veggie burgers. There are tons of options out there including the standard Boca and even some that are portabella mushroom base and taste rather meaty. If you’re a big fan of breakfast meats, there are vegetarian ‘meatless’ versions of sausage patties and links and bacon. They’ll take some getting used to but they’re a much healthier option than caving and eating the real thing. I suggest a gradual easing into vegetarianism. Don’t throw away the food you have in your freezer or fridge; that’s wasteful and stupid. Take a week or two and use it but as it’s used and eaten, don’t replace it with more meat, replace it with vegetarian options. Or, throw a party for your friends or family and let THEM feast on the meat while you quietly slip in your veggies. Another option that I chose: give your food away to someone who’ll use it. In this economy, we all need help. You giving someone some meat or the foods you no longer want (that are still good, mind you) will be a great act of kindness and charity.

Again, there’s no one set type or definition of vegetarian. If you want to be a casual vegetarian and only eat chicken or turkey, go for it. If you only want to eat meat when you’re out with your friends and family, go for it. Perhaps you choose to only eat meat on Fridays to celebrate the end of the work week, that’s okay! That means you’re still increasing your vegetable intake 6 other days of the week. If you want a bigger challenge, think about being a vegetarian and a vegan (I posted about going vegan on Monday). It’s the easiest way (I’ve found) to lose weight while not starving yourself. You’ll have a very clear and defined set of foods you can eat and what you can’t eat and so you’ll know if you over indulge, it’s more likely to cause you to spend more time on the toilet than it is crying over an added pound or two on the scale.

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Being Vegan: Okay, Who cut the cheese?

This week (God willing) I plan to do 1 post a day about a health/fitness issue. Since 2008, I’ve lost over 60 lbs. Am I perfect now? No, I’m still a work in progress. More work actually goes into keeping off the weight you lose than you put into getting the pounds off at the start. These posts cover 7 things I’ve done or have incorporated into my lifestyle to lose weight and keep it off. These are things most anyone can do. They vary from easy-to-do to a bigger commitment on your part. First up, going vegan.

The first topic this week is veganism. A lot of people either have heard or know of a vegan but I’ve found not a lot of people ‘get’ or understand veganism. First off, being a vegan is not the same thing as being a vegetarian. Being a vegetarian means you don’t eat meat; you’re all about the vegetables, no fatty foods and so on. Then there’s veganism. Being a vegan means you don’t do dairy: no cheese, milk, butter and so forth. In a way, being a vegan is similar to being an extreme vegetarian. BUT there are some vegetarians that actually do eat dairy and cheese and all of that stuff; there are some vegans that despite cutting out dairy will eat fish and meat.

I read Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness and a host of books by such health figures as Dr. Oz and so on. They all leap to tell you that the ONLY way you’re going to get your calcium is from dairy. They and the government and recommend 3 servings of dairy a day to promote bone health. Well … that’s cool and all but most people eat and drink far more than that of dairy each day. Yes, milk, cheese and other dairy products are a good source of calcium, an important nutrient for bone health, but dairy isn’t the only source of calcium. Dairy, no matter how you get around it, is super fattening.

When I first started losing weight, I went vegan. I cut out milk and cheese, two things I consumed a lot of at the time. When I did that and started exercising more, the pounds come off easily. For a period last year, I decided to ease off the whole vegetarian and vegan wagon. I was reading Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness (two magazines I actually like a lot) and watching The Doctors and Dr. Oz and saw that all of these sources tell you that you MUST consume dairy. I fell into the trap of thinking this was the way to go, especially to build muscle. Not the case. A lot of these government studies that get published in fitness, nutrition and health magazines are funded by dairy and meat groups here in the U.S.  These special interest groups have the money to basically get anything proven that they want. They can say “eat 5 servings of red meat each day for optimal heart health” or “drink 8 cups of milk a day or you’ll get osteoporosis” and they’ll fund a study to prove just that and nothing else.

Going vegan is a bit scary. It knocks out a heck of a lot of the typical diet plan that most people are going to push. Pizza, dishes with cheese, muffins, cookies, lasagna, quiche, scrambled eggs … all of that is suddenly cut out of your diet. When you go vegan, you’re going to get a lot of flack. People aren’t going to cheer you on in most cases. In fact, they’re going to think you’re crazy, claims you’re depriving yourself, that you’re anorexic and all of that. In reality, some of these claims COULD be true if you aren’t being a healthy vegan and/or vegetarian.

There’s a ton of sources of calcium. They include calcium-fortified soy milk, calcium-fortified tofu, soynuts, bok choy, broccoli, collards, Chinese cabbage, kale, mustard greens, and okra. An easy way I get in my calcium each day is to start each day with a dose of calcium just like anyone else; I consume a small bowl of greens (collards, kale, spinach) for breakfast. This isn’t your typical breakfast and it’ll take a week or two to get used to but dairy often-times makes you feel bloated, sluggish, run down where as vegetables give you a great dosage of minerals and vitamins and are more easily broken down by your body. If you’re a vegan and a vegetarian and eat 3-6 small meals a day (as you should to maintain a good metabolism), believe me, you’ll get enough calcium each day to be healthy.

For those still on the fence, consider this: what other species other than humans consume the milk of another species? Humans are pretty much the only ones. And think about this: do you think milk is 100% calcium? It isn’t, people. You’re consuming whatever else that cow was fed. I won’t use scare tactics to sway you to the vegan side but believe me, cows aren’t as healthy as you’d like to think. They’re pumped full of hormones to make them bigger and meatier and in the end, you end up drinking those hormones which lead to acne, screws up your metabolism, can lead to abnormal puberty spurts in children and young adults and can end up packing on the pounds. So sure, you’ll get some calcium with a list of dozens of other things. The moment I cut out dairy and went vegan, getting my calcium from vegetables rather than milk and cheese, my skin improved. The weight that I had gained by eating dairy also started coming back off, I have added energy and endurance.

There are some really great cookbooks that are all vegan recipes. Alicia Silverstone also helped pen a book titled, ‘The Kind Diet’ that I found to be really helpful in making the transition back to being vegan. If you want the dish on what the dairy and meat industry isn’t telling you, pick up ‘Skinny Bitch’ or ‘Skinny Bastard’ but be warned – neither book is for the faint of heart as the descriptions of animal treatment and what you’re really consuming gets graphic.

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Promise to Try – Vegetarian/Vegan Update

A month into my vegetarian/vegan experiment

So, if you haven’t already heard or read, I’m back to trying to be a good vegetarian and vegan. I just came from a dinner tonight where I got a chance to check the restaurant’s menu before heading out. I’ll say this about the place – their food is great, but obviously it’s great because it’s full of yummy fat and calories. I thought about getting this place’s vegetarian nachos. Well, I checked the nutritional facts (posted on THEIR website mind you) and the vegetarian nachos, without anything like sour cream (which I hate already) and with the bare essentials was a mere 1,300+ calories, 200+ calories that were nothing but fat. People. That’s heavy. That’s fattening, I don’t understand why you can’t even get a vegetarian meal in America without getting fat! That’s just ridiculous to the ninth degree.

So, I chose to get a burrito without the tortilla shell (I know, so that makes it a non-burrito), black beans, a scoop of rice, pico de gallo, lettuce, olives and ‘grilled’ vegetables (I put that in quotes because the veggies looked like they’d be drenched in grease and oil) and according to the restaurant’s nutritional stats, this meal came out to a decent 260 calories. I had the options of getting the free side of homemade chips but … I passed because when I added that to the meal, it pushed the meal’s total calories to almost 600, and again, 200 calories were from fat. People at the table politely looked at my meal, one of them asking if I was always conscious of what I eat. Uhm. YES I AM. Why? Because I work out almost every day, run when I can, and I know that ONE meal can indeed send a person off their track and lead to nothing but trouble. You all may think that’s me being hard on myself. Well thank you, but really, yes, one meal can send you off your rocker and never really making up for the mistake.

A little while ago I posted that I had come out as a vegetarian. In actuality, I’m coming out as a vegetarian again. I did so the first time in 2008 when I was first starting to get healthier and work out more. The first photo in the post is how I look today – the bottom? That’s me in 2006. People have a hard time grasping or getting all the work I’ve put into getting healthy. I used to be the type that felt getting fit and dropping the weight was just impossible. For those who do know me and have known me for a while, they ask how I did it. One person even asked did I do it in a healthy manner. Yes. A lot of it is exercise and always finding a way to get at least 30 minutes (but usually more like an hour or two) of exercise in a day. The other part was all about nutrition and eating right. Different things work for different people. For me, what works is being a vegetarian and trying to be vegan. No meat, no fish, just veggies … not even organic vegetables (even though those are good if you can afford ’em). Also, I’ve found that being a vegan is key to me being healthy. It means skipping on the dairy – cheese, milk, yadda yadda yadda. To some it probably seems extreme. What do you eat for breakfast if you don’t eat meat and you don’t eat dairy? Well, nowadays I start off my day with beans and a leafy green vegetable. It’s probably not as tasty as a sausage egg McMuffin or ham and egg biscuit but it’s a heck of a lot healthier.

Look at the two pictures – obviously, the one above is a far healthier person than the meat eater. I read somewhere that eating meat can even go so far as to affect your psychological health. Imagine the fear and emotions a lot of tortured animals endure in their wonderful life of being raised to be killed and consumed and eaten! Basically, YOU’RE eating these damaged animals and consuming every part of them, even their stressed feelings and emotions. Around 2006, I’d definitely (like many) found myself depressed and always eating. I went on my fair share of anti-depressants. They didn’t work. What did work was to stop consuming animals and products that come from animals. Nowadays, I have no need for anti-depressants. A great natural anto-depressant for me happens to be exercise and living an active life. I still enjoy a lot of tasty food, even when it’s limited to vegetables. I cook most of my own food, I read articles on health, I can go out on nights like this with non-vegetarians and order food, eat, be social without feeling guilty about coming out as a vegetarian.

The point of this isn’t so much to sway you to the vegetarian or vegan side (though you shouldn’t be afraid to give it a go if you’re curious. You’d be in good company). The point is to encourage people to be mindful of what yo consume  food wise, visually and so on. Being healthy should be everyone’s top priority and the two pictures here – one of me as I am in 2010 today and another as I was at some point in 2006 is evidence of what kind of change you can bring into your own life in just a couple of years if you put in a little effort and give it a try.

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