The reason I wanted to change my diet was simply because I wanted to live a longer life. I wanted to be healthy for my future children. To see them grow up and do the great things I know they will be destined to do. I wanted to feel better about myself and improve my mental health, because what you eat really does affect every part of you. And I wanted to be a better influence to the people around me that I love whose eating habits also aren’t healthy, because I want them to live long and healthy lives too. I speak in the past tense, but I’m currently still near the beginning of this journey. While I do eventually want to go vegan, I first stuck to a pescatarian diet for a couple of weeks (mainly because I still had salmon and shrimp in the freezer), and then went vegetarian, but back to pescatarian for health reasons that I will discuss later. I do eventually want to become vegan, but am taking it slow, primarily to avoid too much of a shock in my system from going from eating meat almost everyday to eating no meat or dairy. But also because I need time to conduct some thorough research about a healthy vegetarian/vegan diet—i.e., the effects of too much soy for women, etc. And also because of the cost. While vegetables themselves aren’t terribly expensive, having a healthy AND delicious vegan diet is quite difficult if you don’t quite know what you are doing yet. If you are like myself and don’t plan to completely cut out at least the illusion of cheese and meat all of the time, then buying vegan cheese and meat substitutes will get very expensive. So for now, I am a mild pescatarian. Mild meaning not eating fish everyday, but at least once or twice a week. In later posts, I am going to share meals of the week and try to be creative in doing so. But for this first post, I wanted to share some history and some challenges that I have had in the past attempting to go vegetarian/vegan.
It’s not like we never ate healthy foods when I was younger; my mom used to cook quite a bit and we often ate healthy meals, fruits for snacks, etc. The only problem is that all of this healthy eating was probably completely cancelled out by the amount of ramen and fast food we ate. These eating habits followed me to college, where I didn’t make much of an effort to change them drastically. This was mainly for two reasons: Firstly, I was a D1 Varsity track athlete for the majority of my life. In other words, I was always in shape and thus associated my physical body with healthiness, something that a lot of us unfortunately and inaccurately do. There was no desire for me to lose weight, which equated to my lack of desire to eat healthy. The second reason was because I put my health on the back burner as I focused on seemingly more important things in my life. What you put into your body has a direct effect on your physical, mental, and emotional health. But I always deemed the latter as more important, not realizing the drastic and inevitable connection between them.
Whenever I would “eat healthy” I never took it too seriously. I would just eat more salads, less McDonalds. But it rarely lasted. For so long, I told myself that it was because I wanted to live my life how I wanted. If I wanted a burger, I was going to get a burger. I don’t necessarily have anything against this mindset, especially since it is often how I think in general anyway. The only problem was that I was lying…partially. Yes, of course I did want a burger because I loved burgers, but I also found it so hard to stray from the lifestyle that I was so used to. It’s easy at first when the motivation hits, but after a couple weeks, it seems to get old. Change is hard. Being around other people who still ate the same way that I had for years was hard.
As I mentioned earlier, there were other times in the past in which I attempted to go vegetarian or vegan. But it never worked out. Many times, it was an impulse decision without any real, valuable thought process or plan. And while it is okay to not have a plan per se, the issue is that I didn’t know what I was doing. There was a time where what I would eat for dinner was mozzarella sticks and french fries. Technically it WAS vegetarian. But during that time, I felt terrible. My mental health declined, my track career slowly declined, and my face began to break out. Eventually, I went back to eating the meat I was so used to, and didn’t look back again for two years.
“Once I get older, more established, and financially secure, I’ll really change my ways.” That’s what I would always tell myself. But I was just making excuses. If I wanted to put in the work, I would. But at the same time, it felt so hard. My mental health made it difficult for me to want to change. And not changing made my mental health worse. What a cycle. But one day, a couple of months ago, I watched a YouTube video as I preheated the oven for my beef taquitos. While laying the taquitos down on the baking sheet, I heard the video mention that it was time to stop waiting around and saying that maybe tomorrow will be the day I change. I was capable of doing it right now. If I didn’t do it now, I might regret it in the future. Something really clicked for me at that moment, and I threw out the taquitos and all of the other junk I had, and decided that this would be the time I actually tried.
Right before starting my freshman year of college, I lost my grandfather to type 2 diabetes, the same type my father has. My grandmother suffers from heart disease, and my mother from a thyroid condition. While these aren’t all necessarily caused by eating unhealthily (with the exception of type 2 diabetes), they could be thwarted by changing diet early on in life, or even later on in life after being diagnosed. When I was younger and my dad first got diagnosed with diabetes, I remember crying and worrying so much about what would happen to him. I was constantly scared that he was going to die. We once read a book in my third grade class about diabetes and I remember crying hysterically. Watching my grandfather suffer from the effects that type 2 diabetes had on him was horrible. Hearing that after so much suffering he had finally passed and gone back home, affected me for so many years afterwards. I mention all of this to say that I want to stop this cycle. That I will stop this cycle. These patterns go back for generations and did not begin with my dad, mom, or my grandad. It is unfortunately common within the black community.
I don’t have any authority to force anyone to try and change their diet, but I write all of this to share my journey even though I am still in the beginning stages. I hope to continue sharing my story and my experiences as I navigate this lifestyle for the third time, but successfully. I have faced some confusion and setbacks, but I won’t give up this time. I hope you won’t either.