My current philosophy on food and diet is a culmination of years of marathoning, triathloning, and educating myself in the pursuit to tweak my diet so that it helps, rather than hinders, my general well-being and athletic endeavors.
In 2000, I began running marathons. I completed 9 marathons in 5 years and loved the goal setting, camaraderie, fitness level and sense of accomplishment I found not only throughout the process but also at the finish line. In 2003, I was introduced to the world of triathlons and worked hard to supplement my running fitness-base with swimming and biking. After racing a handful of Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, I was hooked! I completed my first Ironman Canada in Penticton, B.C. in 2005 and I absolutely loved it! The distance of the race was hugely challenging and I found the event, and all of my preparation leading up to it, such a satisfying journey. While I came away from race day feeling proud, energized and accomplished, I couldn’t ignore one downfall of the day. I was slow! It took me 15:46:39 to complete the 3.8km swim, 190km bike ride and 42.2km run. I was just shy of the 16 hour completion cut-off time and totally in the dark (and I mean literally in the dark – I was even armed with an official Ironman Canada glowstick. Safety first!).
During the following year, I decided to train for, and race Ironman Canada again. This time I managed to take over 2 hours off my original finisher’s time. While I knew that this was a great accomplishment, I felt that I could still be faster. I also felt that there had to be something more than the training that I could do to pull off a faster race.
In 2006, leading up to my 3rd Ironman Canada, I decided to take a different approach to my training. Up until that time, I ate whatever and whenever I wanted. I believed that if I was burning so many calories each day in training, eating high fat, high calorie, and low nutritionally valued foods wouldn’t matter. I started to wonder, however, that if this was the case, why didn’t I have a six pack stomach and buns of steel? I was doing the work but neither seeing the physical results nor feeling the speed.
Consequently, I started to take a closer look at my diet. I even figured that if I was 30 pounds lighter, maybe I could be significantly faster, especially on the hilly, challenging Ironman Canada course. Try putting an extra 30 pounds in a backpack and carry it with you as you ride a bike for 180km and then follow it up with a marathon. Yeah – no thanks! I started to work with a naturopath and research what I was really putting into my body. What I learned was shocking.
As the year began, I started to learn about the food industry and how much of a processed world we live in. More than that, I started to understand how much of an impact processed foods can have on my health, my energy levels, and my weight, which all go hand in hand. I soon learned that it’s the choices that I make within the diet that I choose that make the difference. I started to cook more of my foods from scratch, using whole grains, organic fruits and vegetables. I also steered clear of fast food restaurants.
As the year went on, and my training progressed, so did my knowledge of the food industry. I became grossly aware of how foods, especially animal products, are processed. I also became increasingly shocked by my own and society’s lack of awareness and/or ignorance around the meat industry. Although my journey did not start with animal rights in mind, my learning challenged and inspired a shift in not only my thinking and values, but also my eating habits.
The more I learned, the leaner I got. Even though I was completing two challenging workouts a day, sometimes burning up to 2800 calories in a single training session, I felt more and more energized. I attributed this to my shift in thinking and eating. With only a few months to Ironman 2007, I felt ready to remove all animal products and processed foods from my diet. I was experiencing the reality of how becoming vegetarian enabled me to live and train smarter. I felt confident that the changes I was making would reach far beyond my original goal of a faster Ironman, to long term physical, mental and emotional health.
Despite my readiness to become an “unprocessed vegan”, I postponed any additional dietary changes until after my third Ironman. My rationale behind this postponement was that Ironman Canada was only months away and further changes to my diet could have jeopardized my training and cost me, what I hoped would be, my race of a lifetime. I committed to myself, however, that the minute I crossed the finish line, I’d “swap meat” for good.
I pulled off a great race, knocking another hour off of my finishing time and went on to live a vegan lifestyle for over two years. Unfortunately, for reasons within and outside of my control, I gradually lost touch of my commitment to veganism. I began to consume animal products once again. For the better part of a year, I indulged in the foods that I, at one time, thought that I had left behind for good. Fortunately, I now see this year of indulgence as a “blip” in my journey to learn more about food, the food industry and myself, especially now that I’ve once again become vegan. By living through the “blip”, I feel more energized, inspired and grounded in my learning journey and current vegan food choices.
And so here I am! I’m back in my animal-free kitchen creating, researching and adapting vegan recipes – especially those that exclude soy and wheat. And as I’ve had little luck finding such recipes online, I figure that I may as well share with you some of my recent, and more successful adaptations and creations! I welcome any comments or suggestions and if anyone has devised a substitute for “vital wheat gluten” I’m all ears! Here’s to the Swap Meat!