On the Mend

It’s been over two months since I last wrote. Health issues had put my life on hold for a little while, but after some hard months, I am finally on the mend. It’s a slow, snail-paced mend, but it’s something. And when you’re knocked down, you cling to any help to get you back up.

Unfortunately for me, that help comes in the form of medications, and lots of it. I know I’m lucky to be living in a time that modern medicine and technology keep me alive with a disease that has ‘gravis’ in its name, derived from ‘grave’, but side effects are a real bitch.

Because I have an autoimmune disease, I know my immune system attacks itself. I became a vegetarian about eight years ago after my neurologist at the time told me about a book by Dr. Joel Fuhrman called Eat to Live.  She said her sister-in-law has lupus but had been able to get off most of her medication after following the book’s diet. This was in late 2012. I bought the book. It recommended a plant-based diet.

At the time, I was not at all familiar with plant-based anything. I was eating the standard American diet consisting of mostly meat, dairy, and some vegetables and salads. I didn’t know what inflammatory foods were, but I would come to learn that animal protein is a huge culprit in inflaming our immune system. And for people like me who are already battling a compromised immune system, we don’t need any help wrecking the part of our body that is integral in fighting off viruses and infections, and keeping us healthy.

So I gave up meat. I wish I could say I did it cold turkey, but I am by nature a gradual person. I phased out red meat and pork, but ate chicken and fish. It took about five months to completely be off meat. I also ditched dairy milk for almond milk. That was an easy transition because almond milk is delicious.

Eliminating animal protein completely from my diet was hard. I hate that it was so hard for me. I hate that I didn’t read Dr. Furhman’s books and immediately change my diet, especially after what my doctor had told me. But diets are hard to change, but I eventually made the change. I went vegan, but would eventually eat cheese again. This back and forth happened three or four times. It was a vicious cycle.

About a year ago I again went vegan, with an emphasis on eating a more plant-based diet. For a little while there I was consuming way too much vegan junk food. With the rise of more people ditching meat or just eating less of it, companies have taken notice and grocery story shelves are filled with vegan pizzas, vegan burgers and sausages, vegan chicken nuggets and patties, vegan mac and cheese, and vegan ice cream and doughnuts.  I indulged in all of them and I loved them all — a bit too much.

I’m not saying I’ll never eat those foods anymore, but they are no longer stocked in my fridge the way they used to be. It is definitely a ‘once-in-a-while’ thing. All that processed food is not the optimal diet in fighting inflammation. I admit, before this flare-up happened and when I was feeling good, I got lax, and I ditched some veggies for  vegan corn dogs and fries and other tasty and convenient vegan products.

Earlier this year around March, something triggered my immune system to get all wacky and now, in September, I’m still trying to make it right. Things are getting better, but it’s been a journey I never want to be on again. I do wonder if I were eating a more anti-inflammatory diet would my immune system have responded better? Had I stuck to my plan of eating mostly plants and whole foods would I been able to beat this flareup? Maybe. I don’t know, but my diet now is based around whole foods, as close to its natural state as possible.

It’s easy to eat extra healthy when you’re not feeling well, but making it your lifestyle even on days where you’re feeling great and just want to splurge a little, nd then it turns into a lot. That’s the challenge. But if I ever get tempted to go back to my old ways, I have about six months worth of reasons not to.

My Failed Plant-Based for Thirty Days Challenge

My plan to eat completely plant-based for thirty days lasted about seventeen days. Though I’ve failed to eat 100 hundred percent plant-based, doesn’t mean I completely gorged myself on junk vegan processed foods, although I did over-indulge a little. A couple weeks ago, a local Chicago-based fast food restaurant, Buona Beef, that specializes in Italian beef, debuted its Italian “beefless” sandwich.

It tasted just what I remember an Italian beef tasting like. Even my omnivore neighbor couldn’t taste a difference. It’d been awhile since I’d had one. Italian beefs were one of my faves. For me, an Italian beef sandwich is more “Chicago” than hotdogs and deep dish pizza. But Veganwise, there was nothing comparable to the real thing…until now.

In the last few weeks I’ve had three of them. Don’t judge. I’m making up for lost time. At least I’d found the will to steer clear of my favorite vegan ice creams — and there are many. Still, despite my affinity for all things Beyond Burgers and Daiya pizzas, I do have my limits to the amount of delicious vegan processed junk I consume on a regular basis. I enjoy many simple vegan meals too, based around foods that were grown in the ground and not in a lab, but if those lab-grown foods replace animals from being torturously slaughtered, then I’m all for it…with some consumption limitations.

Although I failed the challenge I made to myself, one habit I’m going to make permanent is not filling my freezer with all of my favorite vegan junkfoods – pizzas, burgers, sausages, corn dogs, and ice cream. If it’s not in my house, I can’t eat it.

Plant-Based Living

I’ve been eating plant-based for about eleven days, as part of my thirty days of plant-based eating. I had decided I’d been consuming way too much processed vegan junk food, and decided to give my body a break from the manufactured foods, and instead, fill it with whole foods as close to its natural state as possible.

Most of the the recipes I made came from a cookbook written by Dr. John McDougall. He preaches a low fat/high carb vegan plant-based diet, consisting mostly of potatoes, rice, pasta, beans, and multigrain breads. Although my previous diet did consist of plenty of fruits and vegetables, my snack choices– chips, ice cream, pastries —  were counter productive. The past few weeks my snacks consisted of raw nuts and sliced veggies with hummus. To satisfy my sweet tooth cravings, I turned to fruit, smoothies, or fruit in plain yogurt. (Okay, I cheated one night with a piece of vegan dark chocolate, but I didn’t need nearly as much chocolate as I usually do. That’s progress, right? Please say yes :).

The recipes I’ve made so far have been easy and convenient and very healthy, but there hasn’t been much of a change in how I look or feel, except to say that a couple days ago my face broke out in acne I haven’t seen since I was thirteen. I’m hoping it’s a result of all those toxins exiting my body. Maybe? Could be?

It would be unfair for me to judge the impact this plant-based diet is having on me thus far, because I am currently experiencing a Myasthenia Gravis flare-up that began before I started this diet. In fact, it was because of the flare-up that inspired me to clean up my eating to help give my immune system a boost.  I am sure if I wasn’t experiencing muscle weakness that is limiting my physical abilities right now, and I was able to exercise while eating this diet, I’d no doubt see a more physical change in me.

I have over two weeks left to go. I definitely am not going to ever abandon eating plant-based. I think from now on it will always be the majority of my diet, with just a splash of the vegan processed junk I love so much.

Here are pictures of some of the meals I’ve enjoyed eating so far.

Continue reading “Plant-Based Living”