When I was 15-years-old, my parents treated me to a fancy dinner at The Old Homestead in New York City. I ordered a 22-ounce steak and devoured every morsel, shocking my parents and the restaurant staff. More than thirty years later, my family still talks about that night. Yeah, I loved meat.
But a few years ago, a midlife crisis had me question my dietary choices.
It began when I watched the film, Forks Over Knives — the documentary that advocates a plant-based diet, devoid of processed foods. From there, I embarked on a connect-the-dot scavenger hunt for information — not to educate myself but to hyper-inflate the message I had come to believe: eat a low fat, vegan diet, and you won’t die of heart disease.
I was 42 years old at the time with a three-year-old and an infant. For most of my life, I enjoyed stellar health and had never struggled with weight gain. For at least ten years prior, I had eaten what I believed to be a healthy diet: a modest amount of whole grains, high-quality meat and fish, beans, lots of raw nuts, a limited amount of dairy, and a copious amount of fruits and vegetables.
But given my family history with heart disease, I feared my impending mortality. I convinced myself my kids would group without a father unless I got serious about protecting my heart.
Yes, I also knew of the ethical concerns regarding factory-farmed meat, but that alone could not have convinced me to make this radical shift.
When I started on my low-fat vegan adventure, I committed to giving it six months. I dove right in, giving up all processed foods, meat, fish, and dairy. That left me with vegetables, potatoes, fruit, beans, low gluten whole grains, a scant amount of nuts, brown rice, and the tiniest amount of canola oil. That wasn’t much of a selection, so I opened myself up to new foods: tofu and tempeh, avoiding inventive vegan proteins made from soy isolate — too highly processed and, therefore, off-limits.
Sorry, soy proteins are just gross
For the first two weeks, I battled constant hunger and food-boredom. All the dishes I had prepared were bland, regardless of how much spice I added. The taste and consistency of tofu and tempeh could best be described as biting into styrofoam that tasted like construction paper. Struggling to find palatable food, I sought help.
When I scoured message boards, other vegans assured me that I’d acquire a taste for soy products and that the hunger pains would subside as my body adjusted. I ate a limited amount of walnuts and almonds to bridge the calorie gap, but since I wanted to limit my fat intake, the one-ounce a day I allotted failed to solve the hunger problem.
As the weeks progressed, the hunger pains persisted. I never acquired the taste for soy proteins, so I gave up on them. I devoured dishes heavy on beans and potatoes, eating what felt like pounds of food. Still, after stuffing myself, I’d experience that odd sensation of a bulging stomach without feeling satiated.
That lack of satiation persisted months into my veganism experiment. But what really soured me on the experience, and turned my wife against it, was my decline in health.
You look dreadfully sick
The pounds began to shed within weeks of my transition and continued as the months wore on. I started this experiment weighing 132 pounds (I’m 5' 7"). Already thin, I couldn’t afford much weight loss.
And soon, friends began to notice how my face looked drawn. My cheeks appeared as if a vacuum inside my mouth had sucked them inward. When I looked at myself in the mirror with my shirt off, I could see the contours of my ribcage. I re-introduced avocado and added more nuts to my diet to stem the decline in weight. The pound-shedding finally decreased, but I could not regain the lost weight.
About five months into my experience, my parents visited from Florida. They pulled my wife aside and asked if I was hiding a severe illness.
By this time, my diet was already straining our marriage. Caring for a toddler and infant was hard enough. But the separate meal preparation wasted both our time. My declining health, and refusal to acknowledge it became a source of frustration and concern for her.
As I approached the six-month marker, my weight had begun to drop again. Now down to 117 pounds, I felt weak, looked like shit, and struggled with insomnia — probably due to the constant hunger pangs. On the urging of my wife and friends, I consulted with a nutritional expert.
When I sat down for my consultation with her, she looked at me and then down at her clipboard, scanning for that chronic illness that must have been on my intake sheet.
I explained my history, and then in a kind, but authoritative voice, she implored me to add meat or fish back into my diet. On my way home, I picked up a quarter pound of wild salmon and treated myself. For the first time in six months, I felt satiated.
Still fearful of living on a heart-damaging diet, I limited myself to eating pricey but high-quality salmon twice a week plus more avocado, nuts, and olive oil.
Then, one night, my wife and I went out for dinner. Nothing on the menu suited my diet. That situation hastened a decision I had already made subconsciously. Fuck it. I’m ordering a burger. Never again did I consider going back to a vegan lifestyle.
For several years afterward, I experimented with various dietary lifestyle choices. For over a year now, I’ve followed intermittent fasting and a low-carb diet that focuses on limited but high-quality pasture-raised meat and fish. At 48, my sleep, energy, and blood work have never been better.
The vegan lifestyle works for some folks, and perhaps it could have worked better for me had I embraced more fatty foods (nuts, avocado, and coconut) earlier in the process.
But even after giving up on the close-to-zero-fat part of the diet, I still never felt satisfied after I ate. That feeling of perpetual hunger, no matter how full my belly, made veganism impossible to sustain.