Confessions of a Vegetarian turned Omnivore

As many of you know, I was once a vegetarian. I was an honest vegetarian for over 10 years! What happened?

When I started CrossFit, I was quite pleased with how well my body responded to the Zone. There’s an actual Soy Zone Cookbook out there. It was great! It made me confident that the veggie diet was sufficient to support a CrossFitter. I was rather annoyed when I came across CrossFit sites where posters did their best to make vegetarians feel they were clueless and would better serve the CrossFit community by heading into the wild, finding a sufficiently large hole under a rock and never return.  I used this sort of sentiment as fodder to keep proving myself as a decent CrossFitter while running on this diet. I was doing well. If you check my profile on Beyond The Whiteboard you’ll see decent lifts and times.

Around November 2010 I was starting to feel I was lacking something. I was tired. My joints were always sore. I felt like I was hitting a plateau in my CrossFit career. About this time, my wife was discovering an allergy to gluten. Much to my surprise, on New Years Eve she mentioned that she might like to try salmon to compensate for all the nutrients and protein she was missing out on. This was exciting. I felt like a teenager whose parents just went away on a surprise weekend vacation and left the house and liquor cabinet unlocked. Where do we begin! We eventually decided on a Japanese restaurant and salmon teriyaki. We scanned the windows as we took our first tentative nibbles. No one from PETA started banging on the windows. We were not being struck down by a malevolent Hindu diety. Our stomachs were not expelling the strange meat in searing convulsions. Nope. All was good. And it tasted awesome!

I’ve mentioned many times in the gym that salmon was a gateway meat for me. I was starting to see gains within the first couple of weeks of eating salmon. I was moving faster, I was starting to lift heavier. It wasn’t long before I found myself at a friend’s house who had pork tenderloin sitting on the stove when I arrived. After some resistance, I gave into peer pressure and ate a slice. Once again I scanned the windows. No one screaming “Murderer!” Stomach ache? Nope. Have another slice.

Over the course of several months I moved onto bison, beef, lamb, turkey, chicken. I think someone had a plate of guinea pig that came within reach of me. All good. Heck, I can barely get out of the deli before I open up the bag of roast beef cold cuts. My CrossFit career has been improving drastically. For example, my shoulder press as a vegetarian was 135 lbs. And that was a struggle. To get that weight up was a teeth-grinding, star-seeing, butt-cheeks-clenching-to-the-point-of-cramping experience. My 1RM shoulder press is now 160 lbs. That’s significant!

I also recover more quickly from the daily WODs. My joints don’t ache any more (as much). It’s almost as if my body’s joints are better lubricated.  I’m knocking minutes off benchmark WODs that I had completed as a veggie. At this point, I’m not sensing any easement in the improvements. I don’t know when that plateau is going to arrive, but until then I’m going to enjoy the experience.

This Nutrition Challenge has been a great way to get strict on Paleo. I have been following Paleo fairly closely since around May. But there’s still the temptation of sweets, booze and other unnecessary crap.  After only 9 days of being strict I’m feeling changes for the better. What’s my usual menu look like? Since time is a big constraint, I don’t get too exotic. Breakfast is usually bacon and eggs (3-4 eggs) and a side of fruit. Berries are the best. A tablespoon of almond butter and my salmon oils and I’m good until lunch. Lunch is usually a steak that I had grilled the night before or a tin of solid tuna. I throw that in with 2 cups of greens (spinach, endives, broccoli,  etc) that is mixed with olive oil and lemon juice. One of my favourite vegetable sides is mashed cauliflower. It works cold. Dinner is usually that steak or bison burgers or something wicked that Nikki made (the other night was a ground beef pizza. Yup! Beef crust and veggies on top. Baked without cheese). I usually have over 99oz of water a day. And, as mentioned, I like to pop my fish oil caps in the morning and night. (Don’t bite them too hard. Kinda gross).

To me Paleo is not a diet. It is a lifestyle. I do it because it makes me feel good. When I’m feeling good, I can safely push my CrossFit training. When my CrossFit training increases, my work capacity increases. That work capacity is an investment in myself. It’s going to keep me out of the hands of Healthcare (unless I smash something again) and it’s going to allow me to keep doing the things I enjoy as I age, like skiing, hiking and getting off the toilet without assistance (think about it…just how enjoyable would it be if you needed help getting off the loo?)

I still respect the Vegetarian. The reasons for being a vegetarian are varied. For myself it wasn’t to save the whales or cute animals (I’ve since discovered that an animal’s cuteness is a direct correlation of it’s tastiness). I think that being a vegetarian leaves a smaller ecological footprint on the planet. I think it was a more efficient use of resources. I felt that humans could evolve to a point without needing meat-based proteins. I could not foresee a day when I would quit being a vegetarian. The Paleo experience has taught me that the human body needs meat. We are designed to run on an omnivore diet. To me, the vegetarian diet is a handicap.  However, I am careful about the meat I buy. I go to my local butcher. I buy from local farmers. I want to eat grass-fed and hormone-free. I still think fast food is appalling. Even if you threw away the bun, you’ve got a piece of industrial farm garbage. It might cost a buck or two more, but it is worth the time and effort to support your local farmers.

I hope the Nutrition Challenge is working for you! I hope you’ll consider continuing the lifestyle even when it’s done.