If you’d told me 20 years ago that I’d be living life without consuming any meat or other animal products, I’d probably have laughed! It’s been a long road to my current health perspective and lifestyle. Like many U.S. raised individuals, I was nourished by a meat and sides approach to diet. For meat to be missing from the plate, there must have been some financial shortage or a kitchen mishap - a meal was incomplete without some sort of fleshy component . Some form of seafood, egg or farm raised stock was a staple.
When I was 19, I completely stopped eating pork and have not had it since. Over the years, I attempted many levels of vegetarianism - Pescatarian, Ovo-pescatarian, Ovo-vegetarian and just plain vegetarian (now often termed “vegan”). I had difficulty maintaining any of those diets, or rather labels, because I had no real motivation to maintain such a lifestyle (I didn’t even recognize that it was a LIFESTYLE change) at the time. I’ve never been a person to appreciate being labeled. I like to have the freedom of options. I don’t like to feel confined or restricted in any way. When I would make the decision to eat a certain way, I felt that I’d trapped myself to a certain behavior. As I’m a person of high integrity, if I slipped at all in my diet, then I felt that I’d failed in my attempt at the diet and I would then abandon the label and return to previous eating habits.
In 2012 I began studying Traditional Chinese Medicine. The degree program included learning signs and symptoms of various diseases and conditions, diagnosis and treatment of those, and classes on both western and eastern approaches to dietary nutrition. In my first few weeks of class, my education confirmed for me that I had an intolerance to dairy products (meaning those foods derived from cow’s milk - including milk, cream, butter, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese ice cream) and to wheat gluten. I had suspected the same intolerance was present in my then 10 month old son who had suffered from digestive disturbances since his first week of life (even though he was exclusively breast fed for his first 4 months of life - for anyone wondering, I nursed him for 1 year and only stopped because we learned my diet was affecting his health) and who also had developed eczema around this age. I made some huge changes to my diet and to my son’s. I had been eating all organic and certified non-GMO foods for years. We moved to dairy free (I hadn’t had milk for years either, but was still using butter, cheese, and sour cream quite a bit) and gluten free products. In the first week, my son’s eczema completely cleared. Within one week, both my son and I had flat stomachs after eating, when usually we would both be very noticeably bloated! When we brought meat or fish into our kitchen, my husband and I only purchased grass raised, free range, free roaming, and any other “sure-to-be” raised “clean” and guaranteed to be expensive options.
For a long time, I’ve heard a whisper, an insistence, to avoid eating meat so that my mind could be more clear. On a physical level, I am very aware of how much more energy I have and how much clearer my skin is, how much more regular I am when I don’t consume meat or animal products. There was no sudden feeling that I needed to protect the lives of animals. I still wear leather and purchase skincare products that might not be labeled “Vegan”, I don’t turn my nose up at people who eat meat. I don’t live the lifestyle of the commercial “Vegan”, and frankly I don’t want to be associated with the modern image of a Vegan, especially when the pop version of that image is a person surviving off of processed junk foods like fries and soda. I follow a whole food, plant based diet with lots of legumes, greens, fresh vegetables and fruit, grains (rice, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, gluten free pastas, corn), yams, and nuts.
This is the lifestyle I’ve chosen for myself based on how my body responds to different foods I’ve eliminated and/or introduced. My advice to others considering changing their diet is to pay attention to your rate of digestion (ingestion to elimination), your skin health (especially facial), sleep pattern, and your energy levels. Some notes to consider: 1. Food should energize you. If you feel tired whenever you eat, your body may be using all your energy reserves to process something incompatible with your system. 2. You should be comfortable after you eat. If you sense any discomfort - especially gas and bloating, consider an evaluation of your diet. 3. Even as a teen, your skin should be clear and free of blemishes. If you tend to break out a lot, especially on your face, but also back and chest, this may be an indication of a food sensitivity - if not some other health concern.
If you see me around, or you mention my writing, please don’t call me vegan. My name is Dr. Rhonda M. Coleman, DAOM and I’m just avoiding meat!