Authenticity, Compassion, and Omega 3’s

Have you ever felt morally conflicted?  I have, and today I’m sharing why.  If you’ve been following my blog or instagram page for a while, you may have noticed that I try to follow a plant-based/vegan lifestyle.  I say “try” because I’m human and I’m not perfect.  As you’ll read below, I’ve had moments when I’m not 100% vegan.  I still wear my old leather shoes and belts, but I no longer buy these items.  I do this because I personally do not want to contribute to violence and pain in this world, but I understand people may have other beliefs when it comes to what they do.

A few months ago, I started having intense cravings for meat, poultry, and fish.  This is not a new occurrence for me.  I became a vegan at age 15, and honestly, I’ve taken a few short breaks in the 12 years since then due to health issues and intense cravings that were related to anemia and B-vitamin deficiencies (pro-tip: take your vitamins).  The most recent series of cravings motivated me to pay closer attention to my diet.  Even as someone who (almost) has their Master’s in Nutrition, I still have to remind myself what balanced eating looks like.

I tried adding more protein to each meal, but the cravings persisted.  I tried going outside more too, because I tend to get low in vitamin D during the winter, but I still craved salmon constantly.  Every time I really wanted a piece of chicken or fish, I reminded myself of the torture animals face, so instead I would buy beans, tofu, veggies, and some form of carb…followed by another carb because I wasn’t really satisfied and I found myself overeating on desserts (vegan muffins, vegan cookies, etc.).

Finally, sometime in the past two weeks, I decided to just eat a piece of chicken.  It tasted delicious, I felt satisfied, but I did not sit right with my morals.  I brushed it off, and tried to convince myself to listen to my body.  This worked, and a few days later, I ate a wrap containing meat and cheese at Whole Foods Market.  However, this time something felt so different.  In all my years of being a vegan, it was really mostly for my own health.  I felt it was easier to not overeat on a vegan diet, especially because all my “trigger foods” used to be dairy-based (ice cream, froyo, cheese, and baked goods, the latter of which you can find all sorts of vegan versions).  Over the past year or so, I’ve become more aware of how eating affects the environment and the animals I love.

This most recent fall-off-the-wagon made me realize some important things.  First of all, it’s important to eat a balanced diet.  If something feels off, it probably is.  If you’re constantly craving something, it may be a sign that you’re deficient in a nutrient.  I realized I’m really lacking in omega 3’s (an essential fatty acid found in fish, but also found in plant sources such as flax oil and chia seeds).  I’m also sensitive to some of the proteins I was eating, especially large amounts of legumes eaten in one sitting.  I realized that it’s important not to judge yourself, and to not judge others.  I felt an immense sense of guilt when I was eating chicken, and I felt equally guilty after I overate on vegan junk-food when I couldn’t seem to satisfy my hunger and cravings.  No one is perfect.  We do enough self-criticizing that I would hope I don’t face criticism from vegans and animal-rights activists.  I learned from this recent experience what is important to me and that is my health, the planet, and living in accordance with my values. Because of this, I’m making it my mission to plan out my meals more carefully, supplement my diet with a vitamin/mineral supplement, take an omega-3 supplement, and try to eliminate foods that don’t agree with me.  I don’t plan on ending my veganism, in contrast, I’m really interested and excited to develop a more nutrient-dense, plant-based way of eating using the knowledge I’ve gained from my nutrition classes.

I hope to help people who have struggled with similar issues.  I also hope to spread a message that even adding more plant-based foods and eating less meat is great and something to be proud of.  Have you gone through a similar experience when it comes to veganism or any issue related to how you eat and how you feel?  Feel free to comment, email me, or connect on facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine.

-Jess

Bye to 2016 and the winter blues

Happy 2017!  I hope everyone had a healthy and happy new years celebration.  I was going to write a post about making new years resolutions, but this year I decided to not make any new years resolutions. I decided not to try to make any specific goals for the next year for two reasons: 1.  I think it’s easier to work on short-term goals, without using the calendar year as motivation 2.  Northeastern winters don’t exactly scream “LET’S GET MOTIVATED!” to me.  Instead, today I’m sharing some tips about improving your mood during these cold months.  I decided to share some things that have helped me stay happy and sane during winter because I’ve noticed that every year I start to feel less like my usual upbeat self as soon as November/December rolls around.  While I don’t personally suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD, so aptly abbreviated), it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health professional if you feel your mood going seriously sour during any time of the year.  If you feel like you just need an extra happiness boost during the winter, here are some things that have helped me.

My Winter Mood-Improving Habits

  1. Get outside!

Unless you live close to the equator, your skin gets less exposure to sunlight during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).  Sunlight is important because it’s a major source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D has effects on the hypothalamus which regulates sleep, hunger, and other factors that influence mood.

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These ducks have the right idea, although I didn’t take a dip into the frigid water, I did take this photo on a chilly winter walk

Another reason to get outside is just to enjoy the outdoors.  Although being outside during the winter requires some extra layers, being amongst nature has so many benefits, both for the mind and body.  Try going for a walk outside a few times a week (for the most benefits, aim for mid-day, especially when it’s sunny out).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, go ice-skating, skiing, or snow-shoeing if you live in a snowy climate.

2.  Eat (healthy) carbs!

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a toasted whole-grain bagel with a healthy fat, such as melted natural peanut butter makes for a deliciously warming winter breakfast

Complex carbs can health boost serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood.  I feel best when I stick to minimally processed whole grains and avoid white flour. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and 100% whole grain breads.  Paying attention to portion size is important.  It’s easy to over-do pasta, bread, and rice, especially because these foods can be so comforting.

3. Exercise

I love moving all year round!  Exercise always puts me in a good mood. If you can’t exercise outside, indoors is just as good.  I try to exercise daily for 30-60 minutes, or at least most days.  New to exercise?  Try to find something that you enjoy and that you’re willing to commit to.  Walking, running, yoga, weightlifting all count.

4. Sleep, but not too much

It’s so tempting to sleep more during the winter and go into “hibernation mode”, but I’ve found that (for me) this makes me feel lazy which then affects my mood.  Instead of staying in bed all day, try to get moving and accomplish one productive thing a day.  Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, so if you find yourself preferring to stay in bed for an excessive amount of time and you also feel symptoms of hopelessness and apathy, it’s important to talk to someone.

5.  Participate in life

Sometimes during winter, I feel like hibernating and going into my shell, but I’ve noticed that this makes me feel down and withdrawn.  Find an engaging hobby that will keep your mind active.  Social support is also vitally important, so make some time for friends and family.

These are just some simple things that have helped me.  I hope you feel amazing today and every day of this winter season 🙂