“You’re going to do what? You’ll never be able to get enough protein to train as an Ironman.”
I’ve heard this many times over the past couple weeks as I’ve shared my newest health journey – to go to a “mostly vegetarian” diet – with family and friends.
Over the past couple of months, I’d been considering switching my nutrition to a more vegetarian-based plan. It’s not that I don’t enjoy eating beef, chicken and other animal protein, but I’d heard a lot about the vegetarian lifestyle so I wanted to know more.
Two weeks ago when I was flying to Kona for the Ironman World Championship I read Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself by Rich Roll. Rich is an entertainment attorney from Los Angeles who was a competitive swimmer in college. Rich is a recovering alcoholic who on the eve of his 40th birthday decided that he wanted to change his life. His story of becoming a vegan and what he has accomplished physically (becoming an Ultraman) is truly inspiring. I’ve been following Rich for some time on Twitter and have talked back and forth with him a few times about my weight loss journey. After I finished his book, I felt inspired. So, I made the decision to start my own journey down this road.
Of course, when I say I’m going mostly vegetarian, people immediately want to know what that means. To me it means that I’m not going strictly vegan and that I am slowly going in that direction, much like a child enters the water for the first time. First a toe, then maybe a foot, and then maybe both feet, and so on. My philosophy on my journey over the past 19 months has always been small steps and this “experiment” is no different.
Before I go any farther, though, it would probably be beneficial to share with you what I’ve learned so far about vegetarianism, which isn’t a whole lot. But it may be helpful nonetheless.
A vegetarian is someone who gets the majority of his or her nutrition from plant-based foods. Now when I think of a vegetarian, at least up until recently, I’ve always envisioned the ‘60s-looking person with long hair, no shoes and peace symbols stitched nicely on a vest with fringes hanging off everywhere. You know, a hippie. But as I’ve learned more about the vegetarian lifestyle, I’ve realized that nothing could be farther from the truth.
Now there are several different “types” of vegetarians, and this is where I think some people start to have trouble understanding vegetarianism. There are lacto vegetarians, who avoid all animal foods except for dairy. They will consume milk, cheese, yogurt and any other dairy products. There are lacto-ovo vegetarians who also add eggs and products made with eggs. This is the most common type of vegetarian in the Western world. Basically they avoid meat, poultry and fish but will eat dairy and eggs, and products containing those items.
There are also the “semi-vegetarians,” also referred to as “flexetarians,” who maintain a vegetarian lifestyle most of the time but who will occasionally consume meat, poultry or fish. More recently there has been a growth of “pescatarians” who live the vegetarian lifestyle but will consume fish and shellfish. Finally, there is the ultimate in vegetarianism: the vegan.
The vegan is someone who consumes no products that contains meat, poultry, fish or shellfish, dairy or eggs. They will also avoid all products that contain any by-products from animal products. Some vegans also avoid using any products that contain any animal products such as leather, wool and the like. It is not just a nutritional way of life, but also a social statement. Not all vegans follow the philosophy to that extreme, however.
So far my journey has been mostly on the “flexetarian” side of the spectrum. I’ve cut milk out of my diet and have replaced it with soy milk. I use it only for making lattes at home. I’ve cut meat out of my diet almost completely, but I did have a bowl of chili a few days ago. I’ve also cut deli meats out of my diet, but I did have a chicken breast last week.
I have increased the amount of whole foods I’m eating. I eat lots of fruit in the morning as well as for snacks throughout the day. I am eating salads for most lunches and have added chickpeas for protein. Dinners are the most difficult for me to go strictly vegetarian, but I am taking the small steps to get there. I am still researching options for replacing my animal proteins, and I know that I will get there.
Now that I’m 12 days into this experiment, I have to admit that I feel much better. As part of this process I’ve cut alcohol out of my diet as well as most processed carbs. Physically I feel better. Some of the aches and pains that I’d been experiencing are gone and I feel much more energy. I’ve even gotten back into my running and cycling routines on a more consistent schedule. Mentally I feel much clearer. I feel like I’ve emerged from a fog. It’s a strange feeling and one that is hard to explain, but I just feel like I’m mentally sharper. I’m not yet ready to say that it is all from the “mostly vegetarian” lifestyle, but I know that is a large part of it. Time will be the true test here.
My ultimate goal is to go completely vegan (without the social agenda). I want to see how my body responds to clean eating and what I’m able to accomplish physically. I intend to continue training for Ironman Louisville next August. I am looking forward to this next phase of my journey and to sharing it with you.
Mark D. Rucker is an attorney from Lexington who spent the majority of his adult life struggling with weight issues. As a result of his unhealthy lifestyle and weight, he suffered from high blood pressure, sleep apnea and was borderline diabetic. In February of 2011, at the age of 42, Rucker weighed over 365 pounds. It was then that he decided it was time to change his life. He now hopes to use his experience to help inspire and encourage others to begin their own journey to health and fitness. By focusing on his “small steps” philosophy, Rucker believes that anyone, at any age and in any physical condition, can change his or her life. Recently, he create a Facebook page called Get Moving Lexington to encourage the people of Lexington to get active.