February 6, 2013

Misty Watson: A month-long commitment of avoiding pizza and eating veggies

No fried eggs on my grits. No pizza with cheese. Not even a Hershey Kiss!

I apparently like to torture myself.

Since being vegetarian was no longer challenging me (until I pass a Zaxby’s), I decided to step it up a notch.

I committed to being vegan for the entire month of January. That means not only did I not eat any animal products, but I also didn’t eat any animal byproducts which includes dairy, eggs and even white processed sugar. (I’ve often been asked why sugar is not vegan. Much of the sugar in the U.S. is refined using bone char, charcoal made from animal bones. Yum, yum!)

It also means I stayed away from a lot of foods with hidden animal products. Do you know how many foods contain whey, casein or shellac (which is made from insects)? I certainly had no idea until I began reading labels and ingredient lists and looking up what those things really were.

I’m proud to say I survived in a house of cheese-loving egg eaters. I didn’t cheat once, though the temptation was definitely there.

I kept dreaming of eating an ooey gooey cheesy pizza. My favorite was the night I dreamed of eating one with Amy Poehler. I couldn’t figure out if the dream made me happy because I was eating pizza or if it was because she thought I was as hilarious as I think she is. There is no suitable vegan substitute for a cheese lover’s from Pizza Hut, though there are plenty of vegan-friendly pizzas out there. Some are even edible. A few are even good.

Yes, it was tough at times. The key was finding new food I loved, not finding replacements for the old foods I loved. I really believe that’s the key to sticking to any dietary change. If you like it, you’re going to eat it and not wish for the bad for you foods.

Being vegan took a lot of researching and planning, not just when I was eating out, but when I was cooking at home, too. I was glad to find out it didn’t mean I had to take homemade granola around with me everywhere I went just to stick to my vegan diet. (That didn’t sound crunchy at all, did it?)

Taco Bell is the most vegan friendly fast-food restaurant. The “sub beans” and “fresco style” buttons combined equal vegan every time. With a little guacamole, I never missed the creamy, fattiness that cheese adds to a meal. But in a cruel twist of events, the Taco Bell in Chatsworth (where I live) was torn down the week after I made my commitment. They say they are closed to be remodeled, but remodeling doesn’t typically involve a complete demolish first.

So this was going to be a real challenge. Let’s face it. Cooking at home is easy. I made a plethora of vegan foods: apple, sweet potato, chipotle soup; pintos and vegan cornbread; tofu, spinach burgers (they’re better than they sound); tostadas with roasted veggies; lots of baked potatoes with chili; vegan BBQ (Don’t roll your eyes! It’s a thing, a very delicious thing!); and lots of peanut butter and bananas. I even made my own dressings for salads.

My husband ate everything I put in front of him. So did my 15-month-old daughter. Yes, even a toddler liked the foods I was creating.

Also there’s a line of foods, Amy’s, that has vegan soups and frozen meals that helped me stick to my diet when I was so busy at work I didn’t have time to prepare a real meal to pack for the next day.

But it’s unrealistic to work the hours I do and always be able to eat food made at home. Though I prefer to eat at locally-owned restaurants when I’m not able to cook, it was a lot harder to know what I could and couldn’t order there and remain vegan. Chains often have ingredients listed online, and a lot of websites and blogs that promote a vegan diet tell you what to order at each restaurant. Being vegetarian made it hard for me to run through the drive-through and pick up fried fat topped with some cholesterol and a side of sugar. Being vegan made it impossible.

Subway is easy, a veggie with no cheese and certain sauces. Quiznos is easy, a veggie with no cheese and certain sauces. If you’re looking for a good vegetarian sandwich, ask for a veggie “Lee’s way” at the one in Dalton. It’s one of my favorites. With a few adjustments — no cheese and omitting a dressing — it became an equally delicious vegan lunch.

I found most ethnic foods were easy to eat: Thai food, vegan dishes were on the menu and no adjustments had to be made; Indian food, vegan dishes were on the menu and no adjustments had to be made; Mexican food, vegetarian dishes were on the menu and only minor adjustments had to be made to make them vegan. The Chili’s here in Dalton was very accommodating and made me veggie tacos with corn tortillas and guacamole. No one gave me a hard time. Fuji was accommodating. The waitress told me I was asking her questions no one else had asked, but together we were able to come up with a vegan-friendly meal without any hassle.

The best part was I wasn’t starving. I was eating food I enjoyed. Weight started dropping off of me again. My total weight loss since having my daughter is almost 60 pounds and I am 35 pounds lighter than I was when I got pregnant with her. I had more energy. My skin was healthier. My blood pressure was perfect.

At the end of the month I found myself asking “Where do I go from here?” I had cut another major food group out of my diet and liked the results. Other than treating myself to a real pizza from time to time or sharing a birthday cake with a loved one, I couldn’t see anything else holding me back from remaining vegan.

So that’s where I am. I allow myself no more than two non-vegan treats a week, whether it be ice cream or pizza or some M&Ms. Yes, it is a sacrifice, and no, not everyone can do it. But for me, the benefits of eating vegan outweigh the temporary gratification I get from loading my body down with fatty cheese or processed sugar.

Murray County native Misty Watson is a photographer and staff writer for The Daily Citizen. You can follow her on Twitter, @mistydwatson.

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