The latest #SwansonChallenge was "Meatless March." Thirty-one days, no meat. One of our three challengers even decided to go vegan, eliminating all animal products from her diet. There were not other official rules other than abstaining from meat in all forms. The goal was to see, if only very unscientifically, how this one single dietary change may affect three very different people who led three very different lives and followed three equally different diets leading up to March.
I (Ben) had been working full time hours at Swanson, as well as coaching high school swimming in the evenings for nearly seven months straight. I had made excuses not to visit the gym or pack a healthy lunch, so my lifestyle had definitely veered into the unhealthy. Courtney, a long time vegetarian, was already eating quite a healthy diet when this challenge began. After toying with the idea to make the change to a vegan diet, she decided now was the perfect opportunity to give it a go. And finally, Dillon was our in-house CrossFit athlete, abiding by the Paleo diet full of meat protein. Yes, he loves bacon and talks about it non-stop. Of the three, most of us were more interested to see how Dillon would handle "Meatless March."
And now that the month is over, it's time to hear what they learned and see the actual physical results from their before and after blood tests...
Ben's Meatless March Review:
Now that “Meatless March” is over, I can say with the certainly that only comes from experience that “going vegetarian” is not difficult. My 31-day experiment went by quickly, without any pain and hardly any sorrow over the loss of meat. And, frankly, I am a bit surprised how easy it really was.
My friends asked me (and my wife, Emily, who thankfully joined in whole-heartedly with this challenge) throughout the month how things were going, what was I eating, how badly did I just want to cave in and order up a pepperoni pizza... And I smiled and politely told them that no, I was actually doing just fine. I felt great. I had lots of energy. I remembered what hunger really felt like. And oh what glorious regularity did I enjoy. Here’s my candid tip: if for no other reason, try going vegetarian for a month simply to clean house! The first four days were a bit uncomfortable, but from then on it was smooth sailing.
And the Indian food. Oh my heavens the Indian food. My wife and I discovered an entirely new cuisine thanks to some friends who drug us out to a locally-owned placed called India Palace. We ate there four times during the month and have already been back once this month... still opting for the vegetarian dishes we enjoyed in March. Committing to a diet forces you to explore new and wonderful foods that you would otherwise lie to yourself about “trying later.”
Other favorite foods from “Meatless March”:
- Black Bean Taco Pizza (on the grill)
- Breakfast Enchilladas with Eggs, Peppers & Black Beans
- Hummus (it’s the perfect side/app for any meal)
- Grilled Garlic Mashed Potato Pizza w/Broccoli (yes, it may be better with bacon, but...)
- Homemade Broccoli Cheese Soup
- Cheesey Ranch Baked Potatoes (can you see why I didn’t lose any weight?)
- Indian Food, all of it... with all of the amazing spices
The one slight disappointment with the whole thing was the fact that I actually gained a couple of pounds. I specifically chose not to change anything else about my current diet simply for the fact of creating the best test results (only change one thing to make sure any changes can be attributed to that one change). My diet over the winter—leading into “Meatless March”—was not that healthy and certainly not conducive to miraculous weight loss, so the fact that minimal change happened on the scale shouldn’t really be a shock. But, alas, I still held out hope.
After four days now of being “back on meat,” I should also mention how quickly my body went back into a more lethargic state of being. I had gotten used to feeling lighter (although that must’ve been my imagination, clearly), never being at all bloated and pretty evenly energized throughout the day. After the few meals I did indulge (or over indulge) with a cheeseburger or a slice of sausage pizza, I definitely felt slower and heavier.
Conclusion: I think this vegetarian diet is pretty great, although I’m not ready to make the switch full time. After talking it over at length with my wife, I think our plan is to be weekday vegetarians. If any of you have thoughts or tips on this, please share in the comments section below. And share any other thoughts or suggestions you may have for any of us, sharing what works best for you.
Courtney's Meatless March Review:
A couple things surprised me about this challenge. First, how judgmental people got. I really shouldn’t be surprised by the judgy-ness, obviously; people love to give you their opinion. But how freely other people decided that my personal dietary choices were deserving of ridicule—and that it was somehow their place to do so—was hurtful and offensive. Really, why should a random Facebook friend care if I opt not to eat eggs? I had a family member express relief that I don’t plan to stay 100% vegan. We have dinner with you once a month. Maybe I’m just feeling defensive, but is it really that hard?
Second, the fact that I found myself eating fewer vegetables than I used to. Before, we would have a (veggie) burger and roasted broccoli, or (portabella) steaks and green beans. This past month, however, we’d have (veggie) pizza or a noodle stir-fry. Not that these things weren’t delicious, but I actually miss a having dedicated vegetable component. An easy enough fix, though.
I can’t say I noticed any real difference in how I felt, my energy levels, or much else. I was unhappy to see my weight has gone up, albeit slightly, but that was more likely due to a total lack of policing of how much or how often I was eating than anything else.
One of my resolutions for 2014 was to make better dairy choices: ethically and locally sourced dairy where available or non-dairy alternatives. Unfortunately I’ve been finding that most vegan substitutes are awful—they taste like raw tofu blended with plastic. I have a feeling if I permanently committed to a vegan diet, I’d get to the point where I wouldn’t miss it, but I’m just not there yet and I have to admit I will be very happy to have real dairy back in the rotation. There were plenty of vegan keepers though: I liked the pancakes better than the non-vegan version, plus you don’t need to have milk or eggs on hand in order to make them. The vegan hollandaise sauce is good… and so much better for you (and easier to make) than the regular version that uses obscene amounts of butter and egg yolks. My husband has actually requested the Drunken Noodles again. Beyond Meat brand ‘chicken’ strips are perfect for fajitas or boneless hot wings. Earth Balance buttery sticks and spread taste and cook just like dairy butter.
I have a few vegan cookbooks now and some new favorite websites, and I’ll keep trying new recipes. I also plan to keep my lunches mostly vegan and keep vegan meals in the mix for dinner. Every little compassionate choice makes a difference!
Dillon's Meatless March Review:
Four weeks without meat—something I wouldn’t have guessed would be so easy but still challenging. I was surprised how few choices most restaurants had that did not include meat. Many restaurants had only one or two items that I could eat. I encountered only a few places that offered a wide variety of dishes that excluded meat. This experience was eye opening. I have always noticed things like this, but they never really affected me so I didn’t pay it much attention.
I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to come close to reaching many of my nutrient needs. However I was discouraged by eating similar foods again and again. I don’t fault the diet for this—more than likely it was due to the short amount of time. A month is not a lot of time to get comfortable with such a drastic change and experience everything it has to offer.
Am I going to become a vegetarian? I don’t think so. Not because I had a bad experience, I just don’t like having such rigid restrictions with my diet. However, I have learned that I don’t need to eat meat in every dish or with every meal. It could save me money, and judging by my updated health screening, many of my cholesterol panel metrics improved. I look forward to striking a balance between my old diet and a vegetarian diet.