81. No Meat for Me,Thanks

81. No Meat for Me,Thanks

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

No Meat for Me,

Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life
on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.
 ~Albert Einstein

One hundred fifty, 160, 170. . . I jumped off my white bathroom scale before its flaming red pointer had the chance to deliver its final verdict. I had already seen enough.

The scale and I had first become enemies when at the age of six it was determined that what had once been affectionately called my “baby fat” was really just plain old fat. My trim mother consulted our pediatrician about my inability to lose the stubborn weight. After prodding my soft belly and considering my eating habits, the doctor determined that I needed to eat a diet laden with meat. My appetite would be satisfied by meat and I would be less apt to fill up on starchy foods like rice, pasta, and potatoes, the foods I loved. Those were the foods, he explained, that contained useless calories and made a little girl like me fat.

Long before the high protein-low carbohydrate diet was a glimmer in Dr. Atkins’ unclogged arteries, my pediatrician must have seemed like a real forward thinker, and following his instructions, my family cowered before the carbohydrate, the devil’s food. All vestiges of starch were removed from our pantry with the exception of bread. My father couldn’t live without it and where else, he argued, would we place all our fat-fighting luncheon meats?

Meat and I were never a love match. Yet prompted by my pediatrician’s recommendations, there were burgers for breakfast, pork chops for lunch, and pot roasts for dinner. My belly became bloated. My arms and legs felt sluggish. I was miserable. I was constipated. And on top of that, I was still gaining weight.

I’m not exactly sure what the food pyramid looked like back then, but even as a child I innately knew that this wasn’t a good lifestyle for me. First of all, my little body wasn’t faring too well trying to digest all that animal protein. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the menu was just not pleasing to the palate. There was a whole range of foods out there and I wanted them. One evening, with a brown hunk of beef laid before me, I threw myself down on the ground and simply refused to eat my dinner. Quietly, my mother removed my plate and replaced it with a bowl of blissfully buttered mashed potatoes. Diet over.

I continued to struggle with my weight throughout my childhood and in my teen years I managed to diet and exercise myself from obese to just overweight. Too often, I heard the siren song of sweet snacks, starches, and fried foods. My weight inevitably would rise as a result of these falls from grace and the diet would be over once again. As difficult as such a regimen was to maintain, I knew that the only way to a healthy weight was through a balance of fruits, vegetables, and meats.

“Not necessarily,” said my friend Suzanne. Suzanne was a single mother of four teenage boys who worked with me full time and went to college at night. She was tall and slender with shiny brown hair and clear skin, a picture of health and energy. And she was a vegetarian.

“I don’t eat anything with a face,” she joked as she ran some cabling from my PC to my new printer. “That’s how I stay in shape.”

“But you must have been slim your whole life,” I countered as I twisted to remove my ample hips from my office chair. “I’ve had a weight problem my whole life. Giving up meat wouldn’t ever get me in the type of shape you’re in.”

Suzanne turned toward me, serious. “You didn’t know me back then,” she said. “I was a mess. I would balloon up, then starve myself. After the birth of my youngest, nothing worked. I was in such bad shape that all I did was lie on the sofa and listen to radio talk shows.” Suzanne went on to explain that she started to become interested in one of the health and fitness shows that promoted a vegetarian life style. That was one eating program she hadn’t yet tried. Me neither. But, I was willing to give it a shot.

So, armed with a jiggly block of beige tofu and a few recipes from Suzanne, I became a vegetarian and amazing things started happening. I started to lose weight and I had more energy. Exercise was no longer a chore, but a pleasure. Before long I had shiny hair and a glowing complexion, like my mentor. Let me be perfectly clear here; this was not the result of simply eliminating meat from my diet. Suzanne had recommended several books about the benefits of a diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins like soy and legumes. I bought the books, studied them carefully, weighed the pros and cons, then with the blessing of my doctor, followed a program that appeared to be medically sound. I started to become really involved in what I ate and delighted in making new discoveries about food. For example, shredded zucchini can make a very tasty and filling substitute for spaghetti. I found that I actually preferred sweet potatoes to French fries and veggie burgers to cheese-burgers. Cooking became an adventure and I sometimes even baked my own grain breads. I know that sounds time-consuming, however I found my new hobby relaxing.

Even though I sometimes enjoyed a cookie or half a doughnut with my afternoon tea, I eventually reached my goal weight. That’s when I had the pleasure of replacing my entire wardrobe. My feet no longer ached and my hips no longer stuck to the side of theater seats. Finally, I was free! Yet, the crowning moment came when I made my annual visit to the doctor. I watched proudly as the scale’s pointer came to rest on an acceptable number. In her office later, my doctor reviewed my records: blood pressure, good; cholesterol, good. She peered at me over her reading glasses. Weight, good. My body mass index, she told me, was smack dab in the middle of the medically recommended range.

“That’s what happens,” said Suzanne, “because being a vegetarian is a lifestyle, not a diet. Diets fail because they’re only a temporary way of eating, but this is a total commitment to healthier living.”

Even though I’m a success story, I understand that becoming a vegetarian is not for everyone. I suspect that any eating program that advocates a wide variety of healthy foods eaten in moderate portions can be equally as successful. As for me, however, when the platter of meat is passed around the dinner table, I just recall the miserable six-year-old girl, the plump teenager, or the frustrated adult I once was and say, “No meat for me, thanks. I’ll pass.”

~Monica A. Andermann

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