About seven months ago, our Behaviorist Holly decided to transition to a vegetarian diet. She’s already shared one of her favorite recipes with us (veggie-stuffed zucchini), but this week she’s getting a bit more personal. Her transition to being vegetarian came with some pretty big ups and downs.
Read on to learn about one of Holly’s biggest challenges and how she overcame it.
As the months continue to pass since adopting a vegetarian lifestyle last summer, I’m asked more and more frequently by friends and family for advice, guidance, or just general thoughts on “going veggie.” And while I wish I could truthfully say it was the smoothest transition in every way, there were a couple of hiccups.
The first six weeks or so were fantastic. My skin cleared up. I dropped a few pounds. I slept more peacefully at night. I was happier. I just felt better. But a couple of months in I started to have a few issues. One of the more obvious and frustrating challenges was severe hair loss. My hair was literally falling out by the fistful every single day and continued to do so for months. I had major (and majorly embarrassing) bald spots. Soon after the hair loss started, I also began to notice that I was losing quite a bit of muscle and definition, particularly in my legs. Despite running and lifting daily, I was feeling and looking weaker. I would crash every night around 9:30pm, which was incredibly unusual for me, and I would wake up late and exhausted the next morning. And probably worst of all was my battle with compartment syndrome. Excruciating pain, numbness, weakness, swelling and other symptoms plagued my left lower leg, making my beloved runs all but impossible. The stress and anxiety of all of these things really got to me, which only exacerbated the hair loss and other symptoms.
Those closest to me questioned whether it was my vegetarian diet that was to blame for all of these new ailments, but I admittedly went on the defensive and refused to believe or consider that to be the case. Some even urged me to start incorporating meat back into my diet, but that was/is just not an option for me.
After a CT scan and abdominal surgery for a mystery pain followed by an X-ray, MRI and Doppler ultrasound study on my legs, not to mention the continuing hair loss, fatigue and anxiety, I pretty much hit rock bottom. The studies all came back negative. There was no problem that could be seen by imaging—no tumor, no fracture, no nothing. Through many, many appointments with specialists and countless hours of research, I finally came to the conclusion that many of these things could be related to a nutritional deficiency, and I was willing to try to switch things up a bit. Protein. I needed to up the protein in a big way.
I definitely was not willing to start eating meat, and I don’t drink milk or eat yogurt. I am not vegan, so eggs were the only way to get the most bang for my buck in terms of protein versus calories. I cut out eggs a while back, but I was willing to add them back in for the sake of my own health. And lo and behold, just a few weeks after eating egg whites twice daily along with several other non-meat sources of protein, almost all of my symptoms vanished. The hair loss completely stopped and the bald spots are actually filling back in. My muscle mass and definition are improving daily. My endurance for distance running has returned. And as far as the compartment syndrome goes, I changed shoes, learned a new running technique, took some time off, and retrained on a softer running surface. But deep down I truly believe that I likely wouldn’t have suffered from it in the first place had I kept on top of my protein intake.
All of this is to say a few things: First, I don’t regret going veggie. I would do it a thousand times over. I have never looked back, and I can say with 100 percent certainty that I never will. It is one of the best things I have done in my life. But I want to be transparent and say that it was not without some struggle physically. And finally I hope that by sharing my enormous mistake of not incorporating enough protein into my new diet, I will possibly spare others from going down the rocky road I did when they make the jump to a new diet/lifestyle.
To help with that, I want to share one of my go-to dishes for getting a huge daily dose of protein! I no longer have to eat egg whites daily, and I have upped the protein in other ways. My husband and I eat these super easy and convenient bowls for both lunch and dinner a few times weekly and sometimes even make a mini-version as a snack for that extra protein boost.
- (1) 4.9 oz box Near East Roasted Red Pepper and Basil Quinoa Blend (or similar)
- 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- 7 oz. extra firm tofu, diced
- ½ tsp. paprika
- Salt and pepper
- (1) 15 oz. can garbanzo beans/chick peas, drained and rinsed
- 5 oz. baby spinach
- Coconut oil cooking spray (or similar)
- 2 large eggs
- ½ large avocado, sliced
- Prepare quinoa according to box directions, or make your own quinoa seasoned as desired. When done, divide between two wide bowls. Spread a layer evenly across the entire bottom of each bowl.
- Heat 1 tbs. olive oil in skillet over medium heat, and sauté garlic briefly. Add tofu, paprika, salt and pepper and cook until desired doneness is reached. Remove from skillet and divide between your two bowls. Make a pie-shaped wedge section of tofu in each bowl on top of the quinoa, just as a Cobb salad is served with the toppings divided.
- Heat remaining 1 tbs. olive oil in same skillet over medium heat, and add garbanzo beans. Sautee briefly, stirring constantly. Remove from skillet and divide between your two bowls in the same fashion as step 2.
- Add spinach to skillet. Stir until just wilted. Remove from skillet and divide between your two bowls in another "wedge."
- Lightly spray your skillet with coconut oil (or any cooking spray), and heat over medium-high heat. Crack both eggs into the skillet, and attempt to keep them separated. Cook as desired (sunny side up, over easy, etc) and season with salt and pepper. Add one egg to each bowl as your final wedge.
- Divide sliced avocado between the middle of each bowl, and top everything with a drizzle of sriracha.
Enjoy this protein-packed dish, and make sure to send us photos of your own bowls!
As a bonus this week, I want to leave you with another of my new favorite vegetarian recipes I came across recently that is a great healthy alternative to a traditional quiche—perfect for spring! This sweet potato “crustless” quiche is oh-so-easy and equally delicious!