This here bringer of the pooper to the fun party

You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry

WARNING: I am writing this post in response to a slew of questions I got asked on Facebook when I said on Friday night that I was embarrassed I had ever eaten Paleo. I’m bringing this here because when I am sitting in front of that Facebook screen, sometimes the responses scream at me in a condescending and whiny voice that is not necessarily intended by the person leaving the response, but it nonetheless makes me want to yell SUCK IT, FRANCIS.

(If your name is Francis, I am not referring to you. But, wow, is your name fun to throw around.)

Responding that way is never productive, so here we are! Aren’t you so happy you haven’t clicked over to Instagram to look at pictures of DIY party hats! Hunker down for some real honest talk about farts!

When people find out that I’m training for a marathon while eating an entirely plant-based diet I get the question probably every vegan has to endure whenever the way we eat is brought up in conversation: you haven’t been laid in years, have you? but where do you get your protein?

Lemme see… I can’t look on the package of the beans or lentils I eat because I buy them from the bulk dry goods section at Whole Foods—and let me interrupt myself here for a second and acknowledge that choosing and being able to eat this way is entirely privileged. It’s expensive and time-consuming, and did I mention expensive? Because I’m not a vegan who eats potato chips or cereal or pretzels or candy. I eat a shit ton of fresh produce. Massive quantities of green things. Think you can make a salad too big for me to eat? WRONG. I guarantee I’ve made one twice that size and consumed it simply by looking in its general direction.

This is the salad I had for lunch today:

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Kale, spinach, tomatoes, olives, pepperoncinis, beans, hemp seeds, flax seeds, cilantro and a cheesy dressing made from onions, red peppers, cashews, nutritional yeast and tahini. Aside from singing Marlo to sleep at night and reading next to Leta before bed, this badass salad right here is the best part of my day.

Protein is abundant in beans, lentils, quinoa, wild rice, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, nuts, buckwheat, potatoes, and amaranth (an ancient grain, KELLY). I eat a lot of protein every day. I eat a lot every day, period. The training regimen for this marathon, even though it was designed for a novice, is so physically intense that it’s forcing me to consume double to triple the amount of food I would normally eat. I would not recommend training for a marathon if you’re trying to lose weight. I would recommend it, however, if you really want to look like the Incredible Hulk bursting through your jeans:

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(You can make that the background image on your phone in case you need to be reminded of what you’ll look like after 18 weeks of marathon training, although he should be missing a few toenails.)

TANGENT AHOY: Back in February when I was at a conference in DC, I was having dinner with four of my friends/colleagues including Laura Mayes who looked on in stunned silence as I terrorized a plate of beans and rice. I stopped mid-monsterizing to apologize, like, I’m so sorry you have to witness this, but if I don’t put food in my face right now I will start gnawing on furniture. I might come for your arm, if I’m not careful.

I’d run a “short” seven miles that morning, a run she knew I’d done, and she shook her head and said, “You do NOT have to apologize. Would you like the rest of my meal that has yet to arrive?”

Some people have asked me how my digestion has handled introducing legumes back into my diet. And that is a complicated answer so I will try not to go on too many tangents here BUT I CANNOT PROMISE ANYTHING:

A year ago when I began this journey—yes, punch me right in the nut sack, I called it a journey like I’m some kind of life coach who wants you to be the best you!—I did not experience any adverse effects whatsoever. But that has everything to do with undergoing several stressful events that happened to coincide with the change, and my appetite tends to go missing when my anxiety is through the roof. I wasn’t eating much of anything, little if any legumes, so those first several months don’t count. Turns out that when your dog dies you don’t really fucking care about black beans!

And then my diet swerved all over the map. I still wasn’t eating many legumes because I wasn’t exercising like I have been over the last 18 weeks. I was, however, being a horrible vegan and making exceptions so as not to inconvenience people in my life. I have since started ordering plain salads when going out or bringing my own food and explaining, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Which is the truth. I mean, have you met me?

But then I got serious about training and making sure I was getting adequate nutrition for the distances I’d be running every week. FYI: I have run over 400 miles in the last 18 weeks. Ultra-runners do that in about two days, I know, but I’m gonna give myself some credit and say: WHO THE FUCK CARES, HEATHER.

So I started eating beans. Ahem. Clearing my throat here… one sec… okay. Let’s see. Something is stuck in my throat… AHEM. What was that one thing called… oh yeah. CHERNOBYL.

I would lie in bed or hunch over in pain and literally watch my digestive tract form words and tell me how much it hated me. But, I wasn’t going back. Eating this way is really important to me for a whole list of reasons, so I had to figure something out. NOTE: I am not judging you for the way that you are eating. Unless you’re standing inside a factory farm, looking around at what is going on while gnawing on a chicken wing, and thinking, “Cool!”

Then I’m going to poke you right in the butt.

I started reading everything I could—and this part is important, because I’m about to throw down a book that could possibly change your life—and through trial and error figured out that mung beans don’t cause me any problems at all. I buy them in bulk, soak them overnight, and cook enough the next morning to feed me for three-four days. Mung beans. Yes, mung. If you even glance at that word you can smell the socks of a 13-yr-old boy who has not clipped his toenails since he was nine.

BUT. THERE IS A BUT. Here’s where I talk about my but, you guys! I have a really hard time with certain salad greens, and right now that is the bulk of my diet. I’m looking forward to cutting back a bit on the sizes of the salads I eat so that I’m not walking around looking like I’m 16 months pregnant.

While doing all that research I came across this book, took a look at the title and said out loud, “Don’t play in traffic?”

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How Not to Die along with Eating Animals should be required reading for every American.

The premise of this book based on hard medical and scientific research reinforced by double-blinded study after double-blinded study after double-blinded study, is that a more plant-based diet may help prevent, treat and in some circumstances reverse every single one of America’s fifteen leading causes of death. That includes heart disease, lung disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, high blood pressure and Parkinson’s. WILL NOT CURE HEATHER FROM TALKING ABOUT HER DIET.

I didn’t dive into it right away because I thought it was going to read more like a boring scientific paper than what it actually is, a conversational presentation of the facts about disease in this country. Over and over again the author Michael Gregor, MD, of NutritionFacts.org makes the case that instead of treating the symptoms of our illnesses, why not get rid of them or prevent them from occurring in the first place? Why pay hundreds and thousands of dollars for a drug to regulate your blood pressure when you could cut back on the meat in your diet? It is one of the most fascinating and eye-opening books I’ve ever read.

Every single member of my family is going to be super upset on Christmas morning when they open the present from me and it’s this book, because HELLO. Heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes run rampant in our DNA. And this book goes into great detail about how cutting back on meat consumption can turn off that part of our DNA.

Cutting back. I didn’t say eliminate. You don’t have to be a vegan, but a few meals without meat might do you some good, FRANCIS.

And this brings me back to why I was embarrassed I was ever Paleo: I ate so much meat. Too much. Probably not nearly as much as most Americans. But still, I ate meat at least twice a day. And eating that way is quite simply unsustainable. It’s killing the planet, and it is killing us. So many people eating that much meat… it will be the end of us.

And I won’t even get into what goes on in those factory farms, or the fact that chickens aren’t even chickens anymore, having been so selectively bred for maximum size and weight that they are genetic mutants.

Or the fact that the smell of bacon reminds me that I was routinely eating an animal smarter than the dog whose life I now mourn as if he were my child.

That’s why I’m embarrassed.

For me—again, for ME—it’s not about cutting back. It’s about going without. Marlo did not just conjure her bleeding heart, animal-loving ways out of thin air. I don’t force my kids to eat this way, but she saw a scene in a movie where someone was roasting a chicken over a fire pit and she ran out of the room crying.

Here I am having trained for a marathon on an entirely plant-based diet. I have run over 400 miles on the fuel of rice and beans and fruit. And I love eating this way. I assemble every meal I eat (when not eating out), make every dressing and sauce by hand, and have never known that food could have this much flavor. If this inspires anyone to cut meat out of their diet for at least one meal a week (particularly anyone in my family HI GUYS!), I’d be elated. If it doesn’t, then no harm in trying. Now that I know what I know about meat, I feel like I need at least to start the conversation.

And look! No arguments on Facebook! UNTIL I POST THIS ON FACEBOOK.

  • KristenfromMA

    Michael Greger! A former co-worker is vegan and we’ve had lots of talks about food and Michael Greger always comes up. He’s great.

  • Heather Armstrong

    These are amazing recommendations! I’m staying near the finish line and need all the help I can get finding food while I’m in town. THANK YOU!

  • americanrecluse

    Man! I read this and was slightly turned off by the defensiveness/”for ME” stuff, because why, right? Do whatcha wanna, you’re not hurting anyone! And then I read Kim’s comment and it alllllll came into focus.

    (For the record, I don’t care about anyone’s diet beyond mild curiosity – if I try to eliminate a food group I “eliminate” it right into my face because self-sabotage is my superpower.)

  • Miss lee

    I love veggie burgers!

  • Laurel

    May I please have your salad dressing?

    P.S. You rock. Thanks for sharing your journey, with all its twists and turns, dietary or otherwise.

  • Laurel

    May I please have your salad dressing recipe?

    P.S. You rock. Thank you for sharing your journey, and all its twists and turns, dietary or otherwise.

  • Kate

    I’ve been a vegetarian for about 7 years and recently I’ve been thinking a lot about eating (mostly) plant-based. I’m getting increasingly uncomfortable with eating animal products. I’ve already gone off dairy for the most part, but I do not currently really have the budget to eat a ton of fresh produce (which is really what I would want to switch to – not processed vegan foods). I would love for you to share some of your favourite recipes!

  • Melissa

    I have long been a fan of eating less meat and in the past 2 years, thanks in part to your posts about food, I have been working on reducing the amount of animal products I eat. I’m so proud when I see how much fresh produce my family consumes and how little meat. Right now dairy is the one thing we really struggle to eat less of. I have managed to introduce almond milk and my kids love it. They are learning to embrace lentils. This is a great post. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. 🙂

  • Jancave

    I have changed my eating based on two events; watching the documentary “Forks over Knives” and a PBS cooking show review of various brands of store-purchased chicken broth. My jaw dropped when they pointed out there was no actual chicken in any of the broths, even in those marked “Organic.”

  • Meegs

    Thanks, this sounds great!

  • sunbruz8

    As a non-meat eater and someone who deals with depression (though mine isn’t exacerbated by not eating meat), I just wanted to thank you for such a gracious response. 🙂

  • Ashevillian

    Although I eat fish and eggs (from a friend’s backyard happy hens) occasionally, I suffered from a B-12 deficiency which caused neurological problems. After a couple of monthly B-12 shots and now a daily (vegan) B-12 supplement taken sublingually, I am much better. Please keep consider supplementing with B-12.

  • I can so relate to this, having gone vegan at around the same time that you did, for many of the same reasons (though NOT about to run a marathon, or to the end of the block, for that matter). I read The China Study at the urging of a close friend, and pretty much immediately had almost zero interest in eating animal products. I’m definitely interested in checking out How Not To Die, especially if it presents the information in a non boring/scientific way…if only so that I can have something easier to recommend to people that ask me why I made this big change. I just want everyone to have this information. Like you said…should be required reading.

    For those asking about vegan recipes or looking to make a big change in their diet (to vegan or even vegetarian/gluten free) I HIGHLY recommend Platejoy. You can input any dietary restrictions that you want to follow, and they will give you recipes and shopping lists for as many or as few meals per week as you want to make. The recipes have introduced us to ingredients, preparations, and cuisines that we wouldn’t have necessarily tried on our own or known about seeing that most of our home cooked meals before revolved around meat. It’s made the transition to a plant based diet a lot easier! They charge a small monthly fee for the recipes and shopping lists (no food delivery unless you’re in SF, I think) but for us, it is SO worth it.

  • Amy

    I LOVE so hard that you posted a link to Cowspiracy! Corny title aside, it is one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in awhile. Everyone that eats animals should be required to watch it. Even if you don’t change your diet you should be able to see where it comes from. Kudos to you for being brave enough to post this. I showed it to my class of 50 college biology students and was amazed at the intelligent and compassionate reception it received. (I was expecting outrage!) Way to go, and best of luck in the marathon!!

  • KathyB

    Counting down to your marathon, Heather. So proud of you.

  • mairin raisdana

    I was vegetarian for the past 10 years and recently went vegan, finding that my workouts and stamina are much higher than ever before, so good for you! If you want to talk grains that are good protein sources, also check out freekah, farro and bulgur. I throw these into my salads to cut down on the legumes (which I don’t digest easily) and then add some seeds. I am healthier than most people I know, and back when I was not veg but ate a lot of processed foods and other crap, NO ONE was concerned about where I was getting my protein.