Today I’m honored and proud to have my brother, Matt, doing a guest post for Your Inner Skinny.
I need to preface this post by saying that I’m not a vegan nor have I ever thought about becoming a vegan. And to be honest, if you told me 12 months ago that my brother would become a vegan, I probably would have laughed at you. We’re from a small island on the East Coast of Canada called Prince Edward Island. PEI is known for it’s amazing potatoes, beef and fishing. Our family grew up, as most island families do, eating meat and potatoes and we loved every second of it.
But you know what… I’m going to let Matt tell you about all of this.
So without further ado, my baby bro, Mr. Matt Thomson (follow him on Twitter).
I look out the window first thing this morning to check the weather, the same way I used to when I was in elementary school.
Since the first snowfall of winter this past year, it’s become a ritual for me – a childhood hope that I won’t have to get out of bed to shovel the five walkways, two decks and twenty-seven steps that surround my apartment building. Unfortunately, 5cm of fresh, white fluff has fallen overnight. I’m a landlord, and duty calls.
I throw on my snow pants and coat, tie my big, white winter boots and head out the door. Ninety minutes later I’m back in my apartment, showered and listening to my new Daft Punk LP (that’s vinyl, for those who aren’t hardcore music collectors). It’s 9:30 am, and it’s the first time I think about food. What should I have for breakfast?
This thought catalyzes two specific afterthoughts: 1) the first meal of the day will obviously be some combination of low-sugar oatmeal, ancient grains cereal, almond milk, blueberries, strawberries, a banana, an Ezekiel English muffin and a glass of water, and 2) three months ago, I never would have made it this far into a day without food.
My life certainly has changed in an impressively short period time. I’m a recovering fast food addict – mostly a joke, but also sadly true. As of December 1, 2011, I’ve led a vegan lifestyle. I don’t like calling myself a vegan, and still tend to dodge the classification, but it’s true that in a 24-hour period I went from downing a double-cheeseburger meal at Dairy Queen to completely emptying my fridge and cupboards of anything animal-based.
A Physical History
I turned 28 this past December, and consider myself to be a rather active person. I played five years of varsity soccer at UPEI and continue to compete at national championships each autumn with our provincial senior men’s team. From January 2011 to September 2011, I was working full time as an instructor at Holland College by day and renovating an eight-unit apartment building by early morning, afternoon, evening, night and weekend. I’m also forced to run by my fiancé, Melody, and completed the PEI Half Marathon in 2010. Currently, I play indoor soccer twice a week, snowboard, curl when I get the opportunity, cross-country ski when I have to and lend a hand to my future sister-in-law at the apartment building she’s now renovating. I’m a mover and a shaker.
A Nutritional History
Like most Islanders, I grew up with the understanding that “healthy eating” revolved around the four basic food groups. As a child, my family stuck to the meat-and-potatoes diet, a staple of living on an island that depends on agriculture for a large percentage of its economy. Pork chops, thin steaks, fried bologna, canned veggies, mashed/baked potatoes, Captain Crunch, 2% milk, Kraft Dinner, Fruit Roll-ups, granola bars, peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Pretty standard stuff.
In high school came lunch money. Five dollars a day to purchase whatever form of nutrition was being offered in the cafeteria, which mostly consisted of fries, gravy, hotdogs with bacon and cheese, cafeteria cookies, chocolate milk, and deep-fried chicken burgers. Salads were out of the question at this point.
When I struck out on my own at the age of eighteen, monetary inefficiency was the dominating factor when it came to food choice – a lot of spaghetti, pre-packaged eggrolls, white toast and eggs. Fruits and vegetables were financially unattainable, and fast food was always a steady option. Wendy’s had their 99cent menu, DQ’s burgers were filling and delicious… and let’s try to forget the summer of 2002 when McDonald’s came out with their Olympic deal (a Big Mac and small fries for a toonie, taxes included). Even Subway was too expensive for me.
Then came the little missus: a feisty nutrition fiend who had grown up on a soup and salad diet and had never even tasted a fast food burger. We moved in together and she changed my eating habits as much as I would allow her, eliminating my fast food intake by about 85% and replacing it with garden salads, chicken breasts, brown bread, bananas, sandwiches, canned soups, 1% milk, frozen seafood and stirfrys. I’d still indulge in fast food or BBQ if the situation presented itself, but at least it wasn’t in the home anymore.
The Turning Point
The real world has an interesting effect on the human body. In my case, it kicked in when I returned home from a year of teaching in South Korea and went back to UPEI to complete a degree in Education. I was playing soccer once a week, and that was it. I was eating what I wanted, when I wanted – not over-indulging like in my early 20s, but certainly not watching what I consumed. We still made our soup, salad, sandwiches and stirfries, but I wasn’t afraid to have a couple of Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers on the way home, either. Chicken was prominent, as were omelets.
I was about 20lbs heavier in 2010 than I was in 2008 (180lbs compared to 160lbs), but most people agreed that I looked healthier with a little meat on my bones. I wasn’t concerned about my weight, but I was beginning to notice other little things. For example, when I ate chips (my absolute go-to) or fries or a can of Chef Boyardi, my face would become flushed and I would feel warm. I had stomach pains after at least 60% of my meals. I would go from full to starving in a mere forty-five minutes. Small symptoms, mind you, and easily ignored. But not completely…
It was starting to creep into my mind that my inexcusable diet from my university years was already beginning to catch up with me. I was nervous about my health, even though I was an active athlete in his late twenties. The concept of “I’ll work if off at the gym” was sounding more and more ignorant to me. The invincibility mentality was shaken, to say the least. So I made a serious effort to Eat Like Melody, the healthiest person I knew. Then, in late 2011, she received a Facebook message from her friend telling her that she and her boyfriend watched a documentary on food and were now vegan. The film’s title was Forks Over Knives. My initial reaction was the same as every single person I’ve talked to since: “No thanks. Not interested. I eat pretty healthy. Vegans are hippies. I need meat for protein. That’s stupid. I’m not doing that.” Then I agreed to watch the movie.
Matt is going to be writing a few more posts finishing up his story about his transformation, so be sure to check back for the next few Thursdays for his posts.