National Vegetarian Week and being an almost-Veggie

It’s nearly 18 months since I made a conscious decision to start eating less meat. Vegetarianism was never something that I had ever really considered for myself, as a young teenager I knew a few girls at school who were vegetarian and then later while studying environmental sciences at university I had several vegan friends – but I’m not usually one to do things just because everyone else is.

Partly, I just wasn’t sold on the animal cruelty arguments, not that I don’t care about animals and animal suffering, I just didn’t believe that conditions were ever as bad as some people say. Probably more significantly though, I didn’t think I could be vegetarian because I was a very fussy eater right up into my early 20s and veg were far from being commonplace in my diet – so the idea of me being vegetarian was positively laughable.

Now, I’ve been using the term ‘vegetarian’ here so far, wh

Self Sabotage

I am my own worst enemy in so, so many ways, but this particular self sabotage is very much of the emotional eating variety.

I’ve had a tendency towards unhealthy binge eating since I was a teenager. I could quite easily have eaten a whole chocolate cake or back of cherry Bakewells, but alongside being a fussy eater who ate very little as a matter if course as well as a teenage metabolism, I never really suffered any obvious negative effects like weight gain.

These days, being post-30 and eating more in the way of actual meals, I’m not so lucky.

I really want to be a thinner, fitter, healthier person (the ‘thinner’ is slightly important to me, but the fitter & healthier is becoming more of a priority than actual size). I’ve never been particularly interested in sport or exercise, but as I get older and my metabolism conspires against me it has become abundantly clear that I can no longer just eat what I want or get away without purposeful physical activity if I don’t want to become morbidly obese (and almost certainly develop diabetes). I’ve had some mixed success with bouts of healthy eating and increased physical activity, but they have been entirely episodic and usually dwindle away into obscurity after a few months, usually as winter approaches.

If you read my last post you’ll know that I’ve been eating less meat and paying much more attention to my nutrition and what and how I’m eating. I’ve also developed a good habit of taking a walk on my lunch break and have been attending Pilates classes for almost 5 months. All these things combined have had noticeable effects on my body and I feel I have more defined muscle than I have ever had before. It make me feel good.

Most of the time I manage to eat really quite well. The problem is I really struggle to manage my eating at times when I am unhappy, stressed, tired, bored or lonely (or even just cold sometimes). When I’m not feeling good all my good intentions (and previous efforts) go out the window and I reach for The Calories – ALL The Calories. The picture below is just one example of a day when I was feeling stressed and unhappy so stopped by Tesco on my “healthy lunchtime walk” and purchased nearly 1500 calories in chocolate – a full three quarters of an adult female’s daily recommended intake (all of which was consumed within 36 hours), not to mention the 161g of sugar (more than 5 times the recommended maximum daily intake).

I’m an intelligent person, I know what I’m doing and I know it’s not healthy, but I seem to lack the willpower to stop myself as I’m doing it. I’ve read lots about how to tackle comfort eating, but in the moment I never seem to actually be able to apply what I know, particularly if I’m already low or angry or irritable. I know I’m not actually hungry, I know that a non-sugary alternative is a better health choice, but my internal reward system just doesn’t respond to an apple the same way it does to a donut.

I can even recognise the behaviours I’ve developed around my sugar cravings (addiction).

I will bargain with myself. It’s ok if you eat this now if you want it, you can just exercise when you get home, which is just a deferral and then when I get home I can tell myself it’s ok, I’m tired, there’s always tomorrow. Always tomorrow. Always.

I certainly have denial issues around my binging as well. I hide what I buy and eat it in secret on my own and will even ‘hide’ it from myself by not logging it in my Fitbit food diary. I am ashamed, too ashamed to even fully admit it to myself half the time.

I also know that it’s, at least partially, self reinforcing. Feel shit, eat junk, feel shit about eating the junk, eat more junk, feel more shit……etc, and breaking the cycle is difficult.

The only thing I’ve really found that has any ‘long term’ success is ensuring I don’t have these foods around the house. I still have the issue of their widespread availability when I’m out and about, but not having junk in the house reduces my access significantly. As usual, my problem is sticking with it and eventually a pack of cookies or tub of ice cream makes it onto the shopping order and the flood gates are open again. It’s actually surprisingly hard to go about life in a normal way without being exposed to tempting treats, which makes it difficult to keep up the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach.

The stupid thing about all of this is that after the few moments of pleasure I derive from indulging myself I will feel utterly wretched and disgusted with myself. The really stupid thing is that I knew I would because it’s happened before. The really, really stupid thing is that I expect I’ll do it again, probably in the not too distant future.

Flexitarian?

I’ve been working on this post on-and -since National Vegetarian Week back in mid-May but have struggled with pitching it right. At first I really just wanted it to be an opinion and experience piece, but found I was drifting off into fact and figures and pre-emptive defense of my position. As I’ve now finally published it I must have found the balance  I was hoping for and I hope it comes across as I intended!

Over the past 18 months I have been taking conscious steps to reduce the amount of meat I eat.  Currently, I’m only having meat in one or two meals each week. Apparently, this makes me part of a growing group that has been labelled ‘Flexitarian’ – a slightly dubious amalgamation of ‘Flexible’ and ‘Vegetarian’ (flexible in terms of diet anyway, definitely not physically).

For me the decision was totally driven by environmental concern rather than for animal welfare reasons (not that I’m not concerned about animal welfare). Modern, western, meat heavy diets have a massive environmental impact. Raising livestock is extremely resource intensive using huge amounts of water, land and energy resulting in pollution, deforestation and the emission of climate change causing greenhouse gases (globally, rearing animals for food is responsible for 15% of all human related emissions, equivalent to the level of emissions from all vehicles in the world) – amongst many other negative environmental and social impacts.

Our methods and the scale at which we are raising animals for food is bad for the environment. That’s not to say that the growing of crops isn’t environmentally damaging, but it is significantly less damaging than rearing livestock. From farm-to-fork, meat and dairy products can have a carbon footprint between 10 and 40 times the size of that of vegetables and grains. As someone who studied Environmental Science at University and still works in Sustainability, as well as having a partner who hasn’t eaten beef or dairy for environmental reasons the entire time I’ve known him, I did know that meat and dairy were environmentally harmful but I guess I just chose not to think about it. As I’ve made more deliberate decisions to try and limit my environmental impact I found that excessive meat consumption was something I just couldn’t really reconcile with that.

At first I wasn’t a little unsure about whether I would actually be able to reduce my meat consumption that much. As a recovering fussy eater who loves to cook I was concerned I wouldn’t know what to cook, how to cook it or if I would want to eat it in the end. I eased myself in slowly with easy things like stir-fries loaded with different veg and substituting the usual chicken for Quorn Chicken Pieces (which I was surprised to find I actually really like) and Bolognese made with Quorn Mince or Veggie Sausages cut into chunks. More recently I’ve branched out and had my first experiment with Tofu that worked out pretty well – I’m yet to a) find and b) be convinced by Tempeh or Seitan though and am mostly sticking to Quorn/Linda McCartney and lots of beans, lentils and chickpeas.

I’ve actually really enjoyed my journey into vegetarian cooking and in some ways find it more interesting than meat based cooking and enjoy finding new recipes and new ways of doing things. I’ve recently purchased a copy of Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero and Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give A F*ck which I’m keen to try out.

Veggie/Vegan Cooking – clockwise from top left Stir Fry with Vegetarian Duck, Many-Bean Chilli, Chickpea Curry and Toasted Chickpea Salad

Of course, meat eating is so ingrained in us and our culture that even suggesting that we should eat no/less meat for whatever reason, often solicits a very negative reaction from a lot of people. One of the big ‘arguments’ against vegetarianism is that humans have evolved to eat  meat and that we need meat in our diet. I don’t 100% disagree with this, but it’s not as simple as that. Yes, Humans have been eating meat for (probably) millions of years, but never in the quantities that we eat today – meat will have been an occasional addition to our diets, not a daily staple. Meat is a great source of protein and protein is a really important part of our diets, but it’s far from the only place we can get protein from. Reducing meat consumption and increasing plant-based foods and non-meat proteins also bring additional benefits in the form of more diverse nutrients, lower cholesterol and increased dietary fibre. Some studies suggest benefits in terms of reduced risk of certain diseases and reduced likelihood of being obese, but I don’t feel I know enough about that to comment.

I’ve read various things and heard a lot of different views regarding whether you can get all the nutrients you need from a completely meat free diet. I’m personally convinced that a well thought out, balanced, vegetarian, or even vegan, diet can give us everything we need but I also know that too many people know too little about nutrition, or don’t have the time, to be able to carry it out in practice. I’m putting a lot of thought into what we are eating and I think we would be fine, nutritionally speaking, without meat but I like “Flexitarianism” as it seems to provide the best of all worlds – I get to eat and enjoy great quality, tasty meat every once in a while which will cover my bases in terms of nutrition if I’m not getting everything I need from my vegetarian days whilst also knowing that I’ve reduced my environmental impact. I also really feel that I’ve increased how much veg I’m eating generally and think a lot more about the nutrition I’m putting into my body and feel better for the changes I’ve made to my diet. I think the next book on my wishlist is ‘The No Meat Athlete Cookbook’, to try and ensure that I’m getting the right nutrition for building my physical strength and stamina (something else I’m working on).

That wasn’t too painful now, was it? I’d love to hear your experiences of flexitarianism/vegetarianism/veganism or if you think you could/would change your diet for the sake of the environment. Or if you’d like to know more about the environmental impacts of meat then get in touch!

Love

Betty

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Sorry that I haven’t called

I avoid making phone calls at almost all costs.

I am phone-phobic.

Apparently, admitting you have a problem is the first step in doing something to fix it.

So here I am, standing up and admitting it – I am utterly terrified of making phone calls.

It isn’t a new thing, but I couldn’t point to an exact time when it became an real issue. I don’t really ever remember being totally ok with phone calls, but it has definitely become worse in recent years.

Even the prospect of making a phone call sets my adrenaline off, raises my heart rate, causes me to sweat, my mouth go dry and my throat to tighten. As a result, making a phone call is never an enjoyable experience for me and so I’ve learnt to just avoid it altogether – if I can’t do it online then it usually doesn’t happen.

The most common recurring theme in my dreams is struggling to dial a phone number. In the range of different dream scenarios, as soon as I have to dial a phone number my arms and fingers fail me and I will be unable to correctly dial, leading to impending doom.

I don’t know if anyone else has ever suffered from this, I suspect I am not alone (although it is something that makes me feel very alone) but it still feels like a particularly silly phobia to have – but then I guess phobias generally aren’t logical things. However, my phone phobia does seem especially illogical – I am not completely incapable of using a phone, but I get extreme anxiety around making a phone call and will take any and all opportunities to delay and ideally avoid ever having to actually make that call.

The really ridiculous bit – I find it easier to answer the phone to a number I don’t recognise than to pick up the phone and call someone I know. With a number I don’t recognise I’m usually fairly sure it will be a short exchange in which I will have the upper hand as it’s probably some unsolicited call regarding a car accident I was never in or PPI I never took out – I can admonish the caller, pointing out the my number is listed with the Telephone Preference Service so they shouldn’t be calling, end the call and then add the number to my blocked list. If it’s someone I know then we’re into the realms of having to hold a conversation and it’s then that my adrenaline spikes and I clam up.

I don’t know how to act on the phone. I can find real face-to-face conversations hard enough but the phone adds new dimensions of potential pit-falls. What do I say? What if I stumble over my words? What if I can’t hear them? What if they can’t hear me? What If what I’m saying doesn’t make sense/isn’t funny/isn’t interesting? What if you’ve dialled the wrong number? Ultimately, what if I humiliate myself in any of a hundred different ways? The world of ‘What if’s…?’ that leads to panic and then makes me more likely to actually mess up.

Increasing use of social media hasn’t really helped. On the one hand it’s great because it provides a non-verbal, non-face-to-face means of communication that doesn’t set off my fears and anxiety. On the other hand, it has provided a means of non-verbal, non-face-to-face communication that doesn’t set off my fears and anxiety and so totally enables my phobia and doesn’t challenge me to step out of my tightly defined comfort zone.

In addition, research shows that communication on social media doesn’t actually provide the same benefits for mental health and wellbeing that other more “real” forms of communication and socialising bring. Aside from the fact that the ‘highlight reel’ nature of social media only serves to reinforce feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction in those with a predisposition towards depressive thinking (like me).

One of the worst things is actually realising that I have probably damaged so many friendships and lost friends through my inability to communicate with them in any real way.

I don’t really know where I go beyond this ‘first step’. I know the theory behind challenging assumptions to overcome anxieties, but I struggle with putting it into practice. I don’t feel capable of tackling it head on by making a phone call to challenge myself, and I don’t know who I’d call even if I felt I could.

I’d love to hear if you’ve had similar issues and if/how you’ve managed to either overcome them or learned to live with them.

Love

Betty

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