Am I doing this whole healthy thing right?
March 15, 2011 1:07 PM   Subscribe

My lifestyle has gone through some major flux in the last couple of months and I need some advice/guidance/reassurance from others who are trying to be their healthiest every day.

A couple of months ago, I reintroduced cardio into my life. Then I quit smoking. Then I started cooking and eating primarily vegan and now I am lifting weights a couple of times a week. Great, right?

The thing is, it feels weird like a temporary fascination or daliance, but I really want to live like this. I don't want it to be a diet or a plan to get "beach ready!" or any of that bs. I want to be healthy. Years and years of doing the yo-yo have conditioned me to check the scale constantly, like there will be an end point! There is something in me that is unsatisfied, but I think that's the smoking part of the equation. I want something to make me feel better the way a cup of coffee or a smoke or something sweet used too, but I can't put my finger on what would satisfy me. So, hivemind, reassure me and help me figure out the ins and outs of this.

1. I really have no idea about this whole vegan thing. I've never been much of a meat eater, but I think I feel better without the dairy. What are the nutritional "biggies" I should be aware of? Like how do I make sure I am getting enough calcium or B12 or other things I may have no idea about.

2. I work out a lot and unless I'm eating a lot of prepared soy protein bars, I don't think I get hardly any protein anymore. What are some easy, hopefully not prepared ways to get some protein back? (I am not actually a vegan, so once a week or so, I'm eating Greek yogurt w/ honey for breakfast, but I should probably eat protein a lot more often!)

3. In the long run, how much structured exercise did you find made you feel your best? For me anyway, that means enough to feel happy and fit, but not so much I am exhausted or starving or the amount is defining my life rather than enhancing it.

Any other little bits of anecdata would be great. I just want to do this and do it right. I've lost almost 50 lbs in the last 18 months or so and I want this change to stick and not just fly away when something stresses me out or I hit some arbitrary made up number.
posted by stormygrey to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Lentils are great for protein. You can make pretty much anything out of them too.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:13 PM on March 15, 2011

If you're not eating any protein to speak of, you're going to feel unsatisfied a lot of the time and ultimately you're not going to be very healthy. Are you vegan for a specific reason or just as a general attempt to make a change? For me, I need to eat dense protein regularly and in quantity if I'm lifting weights at all, and that means meat. Lots and lots of meat. Fortunately, I *like* meat.

Unfortunately, there are not a ton of ways to get dense protein that aren't meat and aren't heavily processed. You can eat beans and get a little, or make things with a variety of plant protein powders - soy, rice, etc. For me, it's just not enough, but you could certainly try.

If you're not ideologically wedded to the vegan lifestyle, you might want to expand your research a little bit - check out Paleo and similar concepts. You might find they work better for you.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:16 PM on March 15, 2011

If it's an option, I know that I really got a lot out of visiting a nutritionist when I was eating a low fat vegetarian diet. The one I saw was vegetarian, and she was really wonderful about giving me a variety of ideas for protein. I added things like lentils, beans and chickpeas to salads, which was a huge help in terms of energy.
posted by Zophi at 1:19 PM on March 15, 2011

How do you feel about eggs?
posted by thefool at 1:30 PM on March 15, 2011

Response by poster: I am not an ideological vegan as much as my friend I cook and eat with is a vegan. I've never been into most meat and I really kind of think eggs are gross.
posted by stormygrey at 1:40 PM on March 15, 2011

Yeah, beans and lentils are great for protein, but I also like soy milk and soy yogurt, which are good sources of protein. I put the soy (or almond) milk in my oatmeal, which is also nutritious. But greek yogurt and cottage cheese are also high in protein - something like 13 g of protein per cup in greek yogurt, and 20+ g of protein in a cup of cottage cheese. So if you're willing to expand your dairy a little, that'll help.

You should be getting about a gram of protein per kilogram of weight per day. You can put your diet into a calculator on-line and it will calculate how much protein you're getting (for example, daily plate).

Nutritional yeast is great for B vitamins.

Sometimes, though, it also just takes awhile to get used to the idea that this is You. This is the healthy way you live, because you care about yourself. It's a big mind-shift.
posted by ldthomps at 2:00 PM on March 15, 2011

I'm mostly vegan and I suffer from the same protein problem, especially because it's hard to get cheap protein that's neither peanut butter nor tofu nor super-carby.

If you're not ideologically vegan, get yourself some tasty cheese and eat a couple of servings a day when you feel crashy. A full serving of peanut butter on a whole wheat english muffin is also pretty satisfying.

Tempeh is full of protein, and if you marinate it in oil/rice vinegar/soy/garlic and then saute it, it's a great sandwich filling or addition to pasta sauce.

I also integrate a lot of tofu into stuff (and I expect steamed soybeans would also work). For example, I eat ramen regularly (I am broke!) and I chop up half a block of silken tofu and toss it in. I make vegetable soups with tofu chunks, bread and pan fry tofu slices for sandwiches or to top with sauce, and so on.
posted by Frowner at 2:21 PM on March 15, 2011

Oh, also mock duck sauteed with vegetables and topped with curry sauce.
posted by Frowner at 2:22 PM on March 15, 2011

2. It's really not that hard to get enough protein as a vegetarian/vegan. Here's a couple sample menus that get you to a gram of protein per kilogram of weight per day. But seriously, beans, lentils, nuts, quinoa, tempeh, tofo, seitan, etc.... Then add yogurt and cheese if you want to stray into vegetarian-land.
posted by grapesaresour at 2:24 PM on March 15, 2011

Tofu even!

Nutritional yeast is also a good source of protein. And delicious on popcorn!
posted by grapesaresour at 2:29 PM on March 15, 2011

If I were you, I would start drinking a protein shake after each workout. You can get vegan protein powders made of hempseed, green peas, or brown rice -- combine with rice or almond milk and maybe a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter, in a blender or shaker bottle.

There are some great suggestions above which should help you increase your overall protein intake, but when you're lifting it's also important to get a good shot of protein after each workout.
posted by vorfeed at 3:39 PM on March 15, 2011

From Ms. Vegetable:
First, congratulations on this! I think it's awesome that you've decided this is not a phase, but rather your life, and you're getting feedback that you feel better and healthy.
Regarding your questions, in so much as I can offer anything:
1. Take a multivitamin. Get a variety of colors in your diet. Make sure whatever your beverage of choice is (mine happens to be almond milk) has calcium and such. A nutritionist is actually a very good idea.
2. Beans are my major source of protein. They're delicious. If I could, I'd eat a Luna bar every day and have a protein shake, too. But I don't think I need to.
3. To stay sane (ish), I work out 30-45 minutes 4-6 days a week. This does not include my regular walking around the city to get to work and run errands, this is just the minimum I'll do at the gym. I remember feeling better when I was going to yoga once a week and kickboxing or cardio dancing once a week for workouts, but I don't have those available right now, so I stick to my own routine.
Good luck!
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:29 PM on March 15, 2011

It actually sounds like the changes you've made have stuck, so you should be proud that you're living a healthier, fitter life than you were before. I know you're saying that many of these changes are within the last couple of months, but if you've been losing weight for a year and a half, it sounds like you're actually living healthier as a rule, rather than being on one end of seesaw that will dip down any moment now. In terms of wanting to be sure that the changes to be permanent and figuring out how much exercise is just right, those are all things you figure out as you go. Eventually you will learn to trust your new instincts--the new instincts you've developed from making healthier choices--and you will let go of the fear that you're seesawing. You will know, for example, that you can overeat here and there or miss workouts every so often and know that those things are part of a healthy person's repertoire--balance! You will also discover how much to exercise when you have days when you're so psyched to be working out that you go extra long or extra hard just because. Or maybe you'll train a bunch, get bored or tired and decide to dial it back...or not! Eventually though you will land on an equation of frequency and rigor that satisfies you. Once I discovered how much I love to run, it made me less fearful to try other physical activities and I discovered rock climbing, hiking, and lifting weights and now that it's been about 3 years of living healthier, I have a fairly integrated fitness practice that just sort of intuitively makes sense.

One last note re: scales. Some people feel that weighing themselves regularly is integral to successful weight loss--the numbers keep them honest, provide positive reinforcement and motivation, etc. And for lots of people, especially those people actively trying to shed excess weight, that makes sense. Other people come to feel chained to the number and lose perspective on what they actually feel like, or just feel totally imprisoned by the number they're seeing and never feel good about how they're living unless they're at some goal weight. If you find that the latter describes you, dump the scale. I believe that once folks are well into a healthy lifestyle it pays to make decisions about calories, weight, etc. by how you feel physically and how you feel in your clothes, rather than what the scale says.

I am dairy-free omnivore and my protein go-tos are:
- unsweetened soy milk--it's so rich and creamy that it's good just on its own (or in smoothies, oatmeal, etc.). The 365 Whole Foods brand is delicious, but Silk and Westsoy are good, too. They're also low in carb (unlike plain soymilk) and have a good amount of healthy fats.
- lean poultry
- tofu
- seitan
- eggs (usually hardboiled)
- Some Kashi cereals

You can also experiment with making protein shakes from powders, etc.

If you really want to figure out how much of these nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you should be getting, you can consult a nutritionist or some resources online that will give you formulas to determine how much of everything you should be getting. Or you can use one of the websites people link all over AskMe such as DailyPlate, etc., which will also give you a sense of how much of everything you should be consuming.

Best of luck and don't forget to enjoy your healthy lifestyle and be proud of you!
posted by Rudy Gerner at 4:59 PM on March 15, 2011

As a vegan you should supplement K2, Vitamin D, B complex, algal omega-3s (DHA), magnesium, and it wouldn't hurt to get a large portion of your calories from the healthy fats in coconut. B12 is well known, but B6 is hard to get as a vegan and helps to clear homocysteine, an inflammatory compound whose excesses may play a part in development of heart disease.

Beans and lentils are half-decent food if you soak them for like half a day, sprout, or ferment them. Since you are not an ideological vegan, I would encourage you to consider eating humanely-raised milk and eggs, you will be better off because the protein is better quality than you will find in beans and does not come with some of the potential problems of soy (phytoestrogens, lectins, phytic acid, etc).
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:22 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

The book Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet is a good place to start if you're new to living on a plant-based diet. Lots of information, lots of facts, LOTS of citations to peer-reviewed scientific articles and studies, and no woo-woo nonsense about how being vegan will help you "move to a higher level of vibrational energy" or anything like that.
posted by Lexica at 1:29 PM on March 16, 2011

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