Let’s Talk Protein

I have been a vegetarian or vegan for a nearly 10 years. I first chose to be a vegetarian after having read The China Study. My family has a history of heart disease and cancer, and I was following the same path as my father who had a heart attack at 41. The China Study claimed that animal based protein was a major catalyst in these “western” diseases. In hopes to avoid my father’s path, I embraced this new diet. It wasn’t difficult as I didn’t eat much meat and it was mostly chicken.

I took the diet seriously and quickly lost some weight and began feeling healthier. One thing that didn’t change were the headaches I had been suffering for several years. I had started having daily migraines a little over a decade ago. At first they came in waves for a few weeks, but eventually never went away.

Going vegetarian was simple. Finding adequate protein was more challenging. Initially I went vegetarian before researching what I needed to be eating. I thought it was as simple as removing things. Eventually I learned I needed to focus on certain foods in order to have a balanced diet and began including more things nuts, legumes, tofu, & tempeh to find a dietary equilibrium. Once I had this down, getting enough protein wasn’t an issue.

I experimented with varying degrees of vegetarianism during the early years. For two years I was completely vegan. During that time I was even raw vegan (not heating anything over 108°F—usually only for dehydrating) and doing green smoothies. Both of those left me feeling empty as I just couldn’t consume enough food without carbs like pasta to stay full. I dropped a bunch of weight quickly, but felt lethargic.

Just over two years ago, one of my headache symptoms began showing up on its own, vertigo. In just under six months I went from being a fully functioning person to someone who couldn’t drive, walk more then a few hundred yards unassisted, clean my home, or enjoy a trip to the theater with my family. While I can better deal with the symptoms now, I still suffer severe dizziness every day.

One of the issues I face on a daily basis is a drop in energy when a spike in vertigo happens. I can literally feel the energy flow down my body and out my feet. so far there have only been two solutions to this—eat something or sleep. Most of the time this hits, I am out with family, so taking a nap is difficult. Because of this, I carry a handful of Larabars with me wherever I go. consisting of fruit and nuts that are all raw, they pack a pretty good, natural boost to get me through the next little bit. However, then never bring me back fully. I needed something with a bigger protein boost than the snacks available to me could provide.

About 2 months ago I began eating a few bites of my partner’s meals, primarily chicken, to see if my body can handle it. The last time I had chicken I had become violently ill. I’ve slowly built up a tolerance for meat again and have reintroduced it into my diet. I am no longer vegetarian. Sometimes this is difficult for me to cope with. However, I find that when I consume meat in at least three meals a week I lose less energy and stay mentally sharper when working. I still have limits. I can’t go running (walking a mile still drains me) or work long hours without a significant loss of productivity the next day, but if just getting through the day is easier and finds me producing more high quality work, it seems to be worth it.

This was a hard decision. Despite my first turning to vegetarianism for health reasons, I did end up exploring how our food is produced and developed a very large heart for the animals we use for sustenance. I have become an advocate for animal rights and feel that these creatures are far smarter than we credit them and should be treated more as equals than the slaves they are. Simply though, in order for me to be productive enough to support my family, I needed to make this decision.

At this point, the best I can do is to only purchase local, family farm raised, cage free meat. Getting it from places where they might have names instead of numbers, are treated with respect and not force fed is the closest thing to my animal advocacy I can get.