Monday, January 26, 2015

I Was a Teenage Vegetarian

     In my study of psychology, I found that a lot of teenage girls become vegetarians as a way of exerting some modicum of control over their lives. I came to vegetarianism in a completely different and strange way.

Debra at 13
     It all started in my grandmother's upstairs bedroom when I was twelve while watching Oprah with my cousin and best friend J. T. We would hang out upstairs and listen to music on my little pink radio while dancing until Oprah came on. Then we would do strength exercises while watching. That was our glorious routine and how I fell in love with exercise and fitness.

Debra at 14
     Then school started back, and my mom asked me to come home after school, since I was almost a teenager, so I could clean the house. I had new responsibility, but I still harbored my love for exercise, so when I got home, I would exercise. I would do aerobics and strength training before cleaning and getting my homework done. Then when my parents got home, we would go for walks or ride our bikes. I bought fitness magazines, and in their wonderful pages, I found an intriguing thing called yoga. I wanted to know more about it. I wanted to do yoga. It fit into my dream of becoming a Cirque du Soleil performer/contortionist.
     The videos advertised in the magazine were a bit on the pricy side. I think it was a four-video collection for $80, so I started saving my money. Then one day, my mom came home from the library with the Sivananda yoga video. I turned it on and began my wonderful journey into extreme flexibility. I was able to accomplish amazing asanas within a short period of time, and I loved it.

Debra at 15
     Then the next summer on a trip to Fort Walton, Florida for a bowling tournament, I found a copy of the The Sivananda Companion to Yoga. This book contains not only the physical exercises but also breathing exercises and diet. The yogic diet is purportedly neutral on the yin/yang scale, if done right. Cooked grains, cooked beans and cooked vegetables are supposedly yin/yang neutral, but because so many grains these days are genetically modified, they have become more yin. And since the yogic diet relies heavily on grains, the body will become more yin from eating this way. Although the modern take on yogic cooking is to stay away from genetically modified grains, I still don't feel that this is the best way to eat for my body. Really sweet foods are also considered yin, and I was born with a sweet tooth, so with the diet changes, the lack of yang foods, and the increase of yin foods, my body began to morph into something softer and lumpier because yin foods cause body and organ expansion. They are cooling and make one feel sleepier. Yang foods, on the other hand, warm the body, increase the need for movement, improve muscle tone, and make one less sleepy. When looked at in these terms, the Paleo diet is pretty yang, especially if you limit fruit, starchy vegetables, and Paleo-friendly sweeteners while your body goes back to a state of equilibrium.

     At this time, I was dating a guy who was in pretty good shape and had a nice body. He enjoyed exercising with me and would meet my family and me at the track to walk. He walked everywhere, since he was not old enough to drive. Neither of us where, so most of our dates consisted of meeting up at friends' houses, meeting up at the track to walk, or him coming over to hang out with me at my parents' house. We enjoyed swimming and walking through the woods, and when we ate together, it was usually what my mom fixed us.

     During this time, I began to feel worse. I had always been a sick person, but now, I was also always tired and foggy, and I began to develop food allergies and aversions. I went from mostly A's and a few B's to mostly B's with a few C's. I would work on my chores and then fall asleep while doing my homework. And it was off to the doctor's again for more test. My blood work came back, and my total cholesterol was 24! That may sound good until you know that cholesterol is key to making bile acids to aid in the digestion of foods, especially fats, coating the outer layer of cells, and allowing the body to make vitamin D and hormones, such as estrogen. It was during this time that I started having trouble with my gall bladder and having irregular periods. The doctor asked me if I was eating a vegan diet, and I told him that I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian, minus the ovo because of my dislike of eggs. He told me to eat more eggs, and if I couldn't make that work to at eat peanut butter. As I said before, I began developing food allergies and aversions during this times, so eggs were very off-putting to me. The smell of them in the morning would make me gag, but I found I could tolerate peanut butter (something I had all but stopped eating after a year-long binge when I was younger), as long as I ate it in the afternoon. This was the beginning of my addictive afternoon ritual. I would come home, make myself four peanut butter crackers and a glass of soda. After a while, I was eating as many as eight peanut butter crackers and drinking up to a liter of soda a day! The extreme soda consumption led to the worst bladder infection of my life wherein my urine was the same color as the cola, and I gave up the sickly sweet beverage cold turkey and for good.

     The next guy I dated was a stocky, older guy, and he liked to take me out to eat. At this point, I could also drive, but he usually took me out to his favorite restaurants, and exercise was not a big part of his life. He spent his days doing manual labor and didn't feel the need to be very active once he got home, so while I diligently continued to do yoga, if nothing else, I felt I was alone in my desire to be healthy and thin. Since that relationship lasted for a couple of years, and with the weekly meals at restaurants, I started putting on weight, gaining 20 pounds in those two years. You can see the progression in the following pictures:

Debra at 16
Debra at 17
Debra at 18
    And the food aversions and allergies just kept getting worse. My dad was going through his mid-life crisis and was on a health kick of his own. He started juicing, which was delightful because it made the entire house smell fresh and fruity, but he also began ordering this green powdered wheatgrass drink, and I was made to drink it. At first, it just made me itch all over, which was bad enough because HIGH SCHOOL! But after a few days, every time I drank it, I would throw up.

     Drinking the high-chlorophyll drink made me sensitive to many different chlorophyll-rich plants, and I was soon breaking out in welts every time I walked through the grass, which made outdoor activities an uncomfortable prospect.

     I felt worse after becoming vegetarian than I ever had before in my life, but I had developed an aversion to meat, so I went to eating mostly junk food and dating guys who didn't give a flip about healthy eating, exercise, or active lifestyles.

     Then I started college, and I decided to make a change. I decided to eat more home-cooked meals and to go on a guy fast. Within a year, I was back down within a healthy BMI, and I started feeling better, but I still wasn't happy with myself or my life. I was still really tired all the time with lots of pain and depression that seeped into my art and my writing.

     I've read several places where former vegetarians came to Paleo, but my path was a little more convoluted because while I was a vegetarian, then I left it behind to just eat junk. And though I still considered myself mostly vegetarian when I changed over to the Paleo diet, seeing as how I had become pretty adverse to meat, I still had a long and twisting road to travel to get to where I am now.