Another 30-day challenge: DONE. Two challenges to be exact: being alcohol-free (for 6 weeks!) and eating a Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (for a month). For those new to my 30-day challenges, I’ve decided to experiment with my food choices to see how it impacts my overall wellbeing. And I’ve been writing to share my experiences with you in hopes that these stories might inspire you to rethink what you’re putting into your body. Last time, I did my challenges simultaneously: no caffeine and no sugar. This time around, I decided to cut out alcohol first for two weeks before embarking on the vegetarianism challenge. That way I could see if one of the changes had a bigger, more-positive impact on my overall well-being versus the other. My assumption was that both of these changes would be good for me and that I’d feel better from both changes. I learned this wasn’t the case for me.
So how was no alcohol?
For starters, it felt great not having a hangover or what I’ve termed: “drinking brain” the next day. Energy and focus was a daily norm for me. Long gone was the alcohol brain fog. I loved that about not drinking alcohol. It was also great for the wallet!
So what was not so great? Partaking in social events was definitely a challenge since it seems that most social situations tend to revolve around alcohol, but that wasn’t even so bad. The real downer for me was not being able to savor a glass of wine perfectly paired with a delicious meal or to sip on a glass of Italian Barolo under the warm sun as I watch the world pass by around me. What I realized during this alcohol-free period is that giving up the alcohol isn’t what is for me. The tough part is the fact that I could no longer partake in something I thoroughly enjoyed. Imagine something you really love and enjoy. Then one day not being able to enjoy it anymore. For example: I am passionate about working out daily, I adore cuddling with my partner and I savor in every moment I get to galavant around the world. If all of a sudden I was forced to stop one of those things it would take the spark out of my life a bit. That’s exactly what happened when I decided to be free from alcohol.
So what’s next for me? I plan to keep alcohol in my life, but I’m going to only have wine and whiskey as a way to celebrate life’s special moments versus having it every night after a long day of work.
Then there was the month of Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet
Two weeks into being alcohol-free I got going on eating a Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. This means eggs and dairy products are allowed. I had high hopes that eating vegetarian would leave me feeling healthy, energized and ready to tackle the world! Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect on me. Let me start by saying that I fully support those who eat vegetarian and vegan diets. In fact, I have always believed that there is not one right way to eat–it’s different for every person.
That’s why I tried this experiment out to begin with. I wanted to see how it would work for me. What I learned is that it isn’t for me. I don’t really enjoy grains or starchy foods (yes you head that correct! I don’t like rice and yes my mom always questions if I”m a “real Chinese”). So it was a challenge getting enough nutrients and calories in my body and I found myself constantly having to feed myself.
So what did I experience and learn?
- I was forever eating. I don’t like grains, starches or breads, which made it tough to get enough calories and nutrients in my body. I would eat big big bowls of salads and every sort of cooked vegetable I could stuff into my belly until my stomach was bursting from the sheer volume of food. Despite having a full belly, I didn’t feel satiated. Within an hour or two I’d be hungry and eating again.
- I felt “light” as a feather. Despite my belly feeling full from the volume of food, I never felt weighed down like I would if I had eaten a greasy slice of thick-crust pizza or big slab of meat.
- It’s tough to get enough calories without consuming a ton of carbs. Most of the calorie-dense plant-based food items are heavy in carbohydrates (i.e., quinoa, beans, potatoes, pasta, yams, breads, sugars). Even fruits (aside from berries) are high in sugar.
- It’s even harder to eat high protein, low carb natural foods on a vegetarian diet. In the US, nearly 90% of soybeans are genetically modified. Soy and its healthfulness is a controversial topic, which I won’t even try to touch. Seitan, a soy-free vegan meat option is also highly processed. Plus it’s high in carbohydrates since it’s made from gluten. For someone who wants to eat naturally both of these options are out. Almost all unprocessed vegetarian protein sources (i.e., beans, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa) are all high in carbohydrates especially when compared to their protein content.
- That’s why nuts, cheese and butter became my best friend. I needed calorie dense food items that didn’t fall into the grains, starches or breads category. Nuts and cheese became a staple every day and I would slather butter into everything I ate or cooked. That might sound deliciously amazing, but I am SO sick of nuts and cheese now (and they used to be among my favorite food items!).
- I felt tired and lacking in energy. This was the worst part for me. For someone who works out pretty intensely 5-6 times a week, I was feeling low on energy and like I could barely finish my workouts. Even HIIT workouts that used to be “easy” for me felt painfully exhausting. A number of factors could have been at play here:
- On days I got sick of eating nuts and cheese, I would give in and have some potatoes or a piece of bread to get my calorie intake. Then I’d hit the carb coma.
- Nutritional deficiency is common with vegan and vegetarian diets especially: vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc. Symptoms of no vitamin B12 include weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness. I really couldn’t tell how much B12 I was getting.
- I felt a spark of joy missing. Similar to to how I missed having a glass of wine on special evenings, I discovered that I missed being able to enjoy the foods that bring me pure bliss and smiles. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy vegetables. In fact, I love vegetables. Meats, poultry and seafood are usually the condiment on my plate. But I found myself forcing myself to eat things I didn’t really love to get the calories while forgoing the perfectly seared scallops or the juicy duck roasted until the skin is just a tinge of crispy. It made me ask myself, “Why would I eat things I didn’t enjoy that left me feeling empty while not allowing myself to consume the delicious things that I love?” That would be a sad way to live life!
All in all, I’m glad I experimented with both alcohol-free and vegetarianism. Most interesting for me was what happened after my vegetarian extravaganza. Two days after I started eating meat again I had one of my best workouts all month. It was a tough 35 minute Tabata workout. While it kicked my arse for sure, I hadn’t felt this strong all month. Coincidence? Maybe. I’ll let you decide on that. For now I’m going to go enjoy myself a glass of wine and some scallops.