Five-Year Reflection

January 4 marked five years since I started my plant-based journey (six, if you include the year that I gave up pork, red meat, butter, and eggs in an effort to lower my cholesterol…read more here).  Yay me!  Am I a perfect vegan?  No.  Never claimed to be.  I will say, however, that I am closer and closer to becoming a true vegan—lifestyle included—each and every day.

As you know, initially, my decision to forego eating animal products was strictly to live a healthier life.  Today, health is still my number one priority in practicing a plant-based lifestyle.  Throughout the years, however, the environment and animal ethics have come to play a role in how I live as well.

Over the course of the last year in particular, I’ve begun trying to consider where my makeup comes from or what cleaning products I’m using.  As cosmetics and cleaning supplies ran out, I replaced them with plant-based alternatives that include no animal products and that are not tested on animals.  Below you can check out a few of my favorite vegan beauty brands.  🙂  (NOTE:  I have not been paid to endorse any of these products.)

vegan-beauty

As a result of adopting other aspects of the lifestyle rather than just the diet, I find that plant-based living is becoming more complex in some ways.  Each time I use one of the leather purses that I was gifted or bought years ago, I feel a little guilty about it.  I’ve realized, however, that I can’t change the past, but I can control how I live my life moving forward.  That was my last leather purse!

Another valuable part of my experience with plant-based living has been mentoring.  Somehow, some way, I’ve inspired people to live healthier, more considerate lives.  THANK YOU!  I am not an expert by any means, but I’ve done the research and I continue to research.  I’m grateful that vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming THE way to nourish ourselves and protect the environment.  (Did you know that sales of cow’s milk have decreased by $1 billion?!)  I’ve had countless individuals reach out to me over the past five years looking to get started with their transformation and I’m honored to have been a part of their journey.  ❤

Finally, I’m at a place where the occasional “cheat” is becoming virtually nonexistent.  The first couple of years into my new diet, once or twice a year I would still treat myself to a piece of salmon or a handful of ribs; I now have no cravings whatsoever for even a once-a-year burger or chicken wing.  I would consider myself 100% vegetarian and 95% vegan.

The pickings in our fridge were slim a few nights ago, so hubby suggested we order a pizza.  Like a “real” one, with actual dairy cheese.  The first few years into plant-based living—especially when I was pregnant and had all sorts of unusual cravings for crap food—I would have been all about that.  My desire for such items has become less and less.  We did order that pizza (vegetarian, but with cheese) and I told Travis that night that I think that that was the last time.  I don’t need it, I don’t crave it…and I make my own vegan pizza that’s fresh and delicious anyway!

I also used to go out to restaurants and pick out a salad on the menu and think to myself, “Ok, I don’t really eat cheese anymore, but there is goat cheese on this salad and they aren’t going to lower the price if I ask for it to be removed, so I am going to consume what I’m paying for.”  I’m proud to say that I don’t think that way anymore.  Now, I think about how I can request an easy substitution that would still allow me to get my money’s worth out of the salad and fill me up if I decide to omit an animal-based ingredient.  If there are cucumbers on the salad, for instance, I just ask the server if I can have extra cucumbers instead of cheese.  If the salad comes with ranch, I ask to sub a vinaigrette instead.  Always polite, I’ve never once been turned down.

If you’re interested in starting your plant-based journey, please reach out to me.  I’ve been at the starting line and am now well into the race a healthier person with a bigger heart and smaller carbon footprint.  It’s the gift to yourself, the environment, and the animals that keeps on giving!

How to Keep an Omnivore Happy

I just said goodbye to my dad, who we lovingly nicknamed Papa Kale while he was visiting from Michigan.  My dad was raised in a typical American omnivorous family with meat and potatoes and good old comfort foods on the menu often.  In fact, I think a lot of us millennials were raised that way, too; research about plant-based living is relatively contemporary in the grand scheme of human existence.

Thankfully, amid overwhelming evidence that a plant-based diet is substantially healthier than an omnivorous one, it is becoming increasingly popular to ditch animal products.  Check out any menu at a respectable food establishment:  vegan—or at least vegetarian—items are popping up everywhere.  It’s never too late to eat healthier, to educate ourselves, and to educate generations prior.  I don’t try to convert anyone; I just share what I know when people come to stay with me.  You might eat hamburgers, but they’ll never be flyin’ off the grill chez Witzke.  🙂

My dad earned the title Papa Kale because he really embraced what he calls “how the other half lives.”  Ha!  Although skeptical at times, my dad cleaned his plate—and went for seconds whenever possible—of all of our vegan food.  I’m still new-ish to the plant-based eating scene (four and half years in), but for real, my food is delicious.  As you know, every party or get together we host at our house is 100% vegan…and no one goes hungry…ever.

papa kale

I’ve written before about how making the switch to a plant-based lifestyle takes time and patience, but truthfully, that’s much easier that pleasing those that have little or no intention of changing their diets long-term, but simply want to survive staying with you.  🙂  Whether you have out-of-town guests or are trying to convince a persnickety spouse or children to consume healthier foods, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t start with something extreme. Items like kale and tofu aren’t likely to win anyone over on the first try.  A green smoothie or edamame?  Same ingredients, different story.
  2. Offer variations of popular comfort foods. Classic dishes like chili and pizza (two of my dad’s favorites, vegan or not) are generally winners in everyone’s book.  Make a vegan version and blow minds.
  3. Dispel myths about how bland and boring vegetables are. Yes, frozen, crinkle-sliced carrots that are heated, salted, and served can certainly be unappealing.  In addition, I think that when Americans picture “salad,” they often see iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, and ranch dressing.  Travis and I whipped up these two salads (above and below) for my pops and vegetables were the main event.  (The top salad is a combination of kale, cucumber, millet, red grapes, and slivered almonds.  The bottom includes fresh tomatoes, grilled corn, avocado, lime juice, green onion, and black beans.  Both salads were loaded with herbs/spices, too.)
  4. Have sweets on hand, too. I have literally never made a bad vegan dessert—I’m not just saying that!  So far, they have all turned out fabulously, despite the gambling I’ve done with substitutions for animal-based components.  My brownies are always a crowd pleaser and my dad enjoyed my first-ever dessert smoothie, which I make all the time, and not just for dessert.
  5. Most importantly, foster a supportive, judgement-free zone. Plant-based living isn’t totally effortless for anyone.  I’ve been very frank with you about occasionally splurging myself and it takes time to break those habits…IF they are ever totally broken.  No worries—making an effort to do better is what matters…and we can ALL do better.

Moral of the story?  I can’t prepare chicken or steak for my dad—or anyone—in good conscience now that I know what the potential consequences are.  So, I continue eating and living how I always do and end up keeping my guests full and happy in the process.  Good luck—not everyone is as easy to please as Papa Kale.  🙂  Miss you, Dad!

bean salad

I’m Back!

It’s been a while since I provided you an update on my postpartum progress…or since I posted anything.  Let me explain…

Since we last checked in, I am happy to report that many of the issues I had been facing since giving birth to baby Oliver have been resolved.  I got back into working out, shed another few pounds, and was starting to feel better about myself…

…until I started to have pain in my right foot.  X-rays revealed inflammation around the two small bones in the ball of my foot.  After a number of treatments and finally, a minor surgical procedure, my foot is now back to normal.  My podiatrist said that the problems were a result of being on my feet too much.  A mom with two young boys on her feet too much?!  🙂

In addition to this setback, I have been suffering from a bit of postpartum depression.  Despite being physically on the mend, I have many moments of feeling alone, lost, and disappointed in myself when I fail to balance everything in my life with a smile.  Over the last few months in particular, this feeling had been intensifying, so in addition to regularly communicating with my doctor, I knew I needed to think more about my body in order to put my mind at ease…literally.

Working out helps to improve my mood immensely.  Prior to my foot complications, I was getting up nearly every single morning, no matter how early or how tired, and getting moving before the rest of my family awoke.  Thankfully, my podiatrist cleared me to start back up again!  Sometimes I go for a jog, other times I complete a circuit on an app that I love, SWORKIT.  I heard about SWORKIT on an episode of Shark Tank.  It’s free, customizable, and contains a variety of workouts in different categories (Strength, Cardio, etc.).  I choose how long I have to work out and can easily achieve a good sweat in just fifteen to twenty minutes.

Sworkit

As you know, working out is only part of the equation.  I have found that following a plant-based diet and incorporating exercise into daily life (i.e. walking to the store instead of driving, etc.), I don’t have to work out for long or with an expensive program or gym membership to see results.  I also don’t need to count calories or worry about food portions.

You also know that I am a big proponent of consuming a diet composed of primarily raw plants.  I am truly happier and more energetic when I chow down a fruit salad or drink a green a smoothie.  I’ve noticed that on the mornings I work out after having a heavy cooked dinner the night before, my routine is more difficult and I have to stop for breaks more often.

With that said, increased physical activity comes with a need for more calories, at least for me!  So, I’ve been adding a healthy, dense, cooked protein to many of my raw salads or as a side to something else I’m eating:  I am currently obsessed with shelled edamame.

Yea, I know, word on the street is you’re not supposed to have too much soy.  Remember, my sister lives in Japan, where I’ve seen more tofu, soy sauce, miso, and tempeh in one place than I could ever eat in my lifetime and the Japanese are living long healthy lives, so I’m not going to obsess over it.  In Japan, cancer rates are lower and life expectancy is greater…something is clearly going very well over there!  Lately, I’ve been consuming roughly a half cup of shelled edamame a day, a few days a week.  I’m certain I am ok.  🙂  (Just a reminder that I am not a health care professional.  If you’re unsure about consuming soy—or any food, for that matter—ask your doctor.)

Why is this an amazing plant-based snack or meal add-on?  For one, edamame is truly a heart-healthy super food.  It is loaded with protein, fiber, manganese, copper, and vitamin K.  In addition, it is neutral in flavor, so it is adaptable in endless applications.  I throw it into salads and wraps containing both fruits and vegetables all the time.  It fills me up and provides me with the extra energy I need for increased working out as I continue to tone up my post-baby bod.  When I add it to raw plant foods, it’s just what I need to feel a little fuller with more calories to pound through my workout.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to for the past few months:  healing, focusing on being happy, working out more, and eating edamame!  Oh, and raising those two crazy little boys I have, too.  🙂  Check out these adorable jars of plant-based goodness for Baby Oliver!

Baby Food

Recipe/formula posts (for non-babies!) to return this week!

How I Made the Switch

10860945_10105950389328904_2142054229820765234_o_edited

What I love about being an educator is my ability not only to teach students important academic content, but to help shape their lives.  I am thankful that my work habits trickle into my personal life, allowing me to reach those outside of the classroom, too.  Since adopting a plant-based lifestyle over three years ago, I’ve had many students, friends, and family members interested in making the switch themselves.  They’ve asked me for ideas and recipes, just wanting to live a healthier life.

As I’ve always stressed, I am not an expert in nutrition or dieting; I know what I know from old-fashioned research and experimentation.  For me, the proof of my lifestyle and Fresh Formula concept is in how I look, and more importantly, feel, in the day-to-day.  While I’ve never been overweight or unhealthy overall, I really believe that we can always improve, which is what I set out to do.

I also believe that the people in my life bring out the best in me, making me want to live as long and as healthy a life as I possibly can.  My husband and son in particular are what inspire me to make smart choices (as my mom always says!) each and every day.  I don’t want to watch my son ride his bike off to school; I want to ride my bike with him.

11001720_10204884344286016_940481854688695948_o_edited198628_10101096867216124_2241408_n_edited The most common question that students (and people in general) ask me once they learn that I don’t typically eat animal products is “What do you eat?”  I addressed this in a previous post, so I’m here today to answer the second most popular question:  “How do/did you do it?”

I’m an ordinary person with a busy lifestyle and like many people, occasionally make a really unhealthy food choice.  As a result, I knew that I would have to take baby steps in transitioning from a traditional, animal-laden American diet to one revolving around plants.

For me, the first step was doing away with cow’s milk.  Many varieties contain added sugar, hormones, and more (I’ll let you research that on your own).  I gave up cow’s milk over six years ago and should have done it sooner, being that I am mildly lactose-intolerant.  Skim milk never irritated my system much, but I knew that it wasn’t the healthiest milk option for me for a number of reasons.  So, I have since switched to plant milk.  I drink primarily almond, but I also like cashew, hemp, oat, and grain.

Less than two years later was when I was told I had high cholesterol.  Ugh!  My doctor advised me to give up red meat, pork, eggs, and butter.  I went without these for an entire year—not that I previously ate them much anyway—before I kicked all meat and most dairy to the curb.  Despite being lactose-intolerant, it’s been more difficult to give up dairy because it is often the staple ingredient in comfort foods:  ice cream, mac ‘n cheese, mashed potatoes, etc.  I am no different than the average person – sometimes, comfort food just sounds damn good.

Now, “comfort food” to me is a big salad or rich smoothie because that’s what I’ve come to crave.  I also really look forward to making customary animal-based comfort foods vegan, trying new things, and learning about the latest super foods.  That leads me to the next stage in my plant-based journey…

About six months after eliminating animal products, I decided to make it my mission to try new fruits and vegetables.  A friend that I used to teach high school with and I would head out to the farmer’s market and while I would buy plenty of familiars, I would also try to grab at least one or two items that I didn’t recognize.  While this sometimes wound up in failure (you can’t help what you like and don’t like!), 90% of the time I found some—or a lot of—success with new produce.

The last phase in my journey to plant-based living involved what I call, for no particular reason other than simplicity, “picky vegan things.”  I gave up honey, gelatin, white sugar, etc.  In other words, I gave up the foods that don’t outwardly say “I’m made with animal products,” or that we commonly associate with chickens cooped in their pens or salmon being fed corn, but foods that contain animals or are made by animals nonetheless.

Today, I am working on becoming even more dedicated to an imperfect model.  I am not above grabbing a slice of pizza at a party; I just choose not to eat like the majority 95% of the time.  For this, I am healthier than ever, with great blood work, loads of energy, reliable sleep habits, and a normal weight and heart rate.

I hope that taking a look into how I got where I am inspires you to make a healthy change in your lifestyle, however big or small.  There’s nothing wrong with baby steps and there is no perfect diet.  🙂  For more inspiration and ideas, read more about me, plant-based living, and my Fresh Formula concept.  As always, enjoy!