Could veganism be the solution?
I am grateful to Tiffany Damle for writing this article, in which she talks about her journey from eating large amounts of meat, to becoming a vegan for the well-being of animals, as well as her own health. There were many surprises along the way, like confusion about why so much of the readily available information is inaccurate and misguiding to say the least! Tiffany worked her way through it and ended up experiencing priceless benefits.
The catalyst for change
About a year ago, I watched a documentary film that moved me so much that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. The documentary was called, “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret”, a 2014 film produced and directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, which explores the animal agricultural industry and its effects on the environment as well as the practices and policies of environmental organisations as they pertain to the issue.
This documentary and my love for animals has changed my life forever. I learned of the horrible atrocities that animals face in the name of “food.” Animals being forced to live in despicable conditions without the ability to move, roam or even be treated with any semblance of dignity. Often times these animals are kicked, beaten or dumped into mechanical grinders while they are still alive. I couldn't pretend I didn't know any of this. Something had to change.
The research bug...
Shortly after watching “Cowspiracy”, my husband and I began gathering information from every available book, Ted Talk and other resource that we could get our hands on. We educated ourselves on what really goes on in the meat and dairy industry. All the things that they don’t want you to know!
What many people don’t realise, is that the consumption of meat and dairy doesn’t just impact animals, but it's actually the number one cause of environmental degradation, deforestation, global warming, water depletion, species extinction and ocean “Dead Zones”.
The ramifications of eating meat don’t stop there. The “China Study,” by T. Colin Campbell, and Thomas Campbell, is a book written about the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted. It provides overwhelming data to support the idea that meat consumption is one of the leading causes of cancer, heart disease and variety of other health related issues.
How did all this new information affect us?
All of this new information was eye opening, heart wrenching, and terrifying to say the least. We were so appalled and emotionally distressed from our findings that we decided to go vegan together. We vowed that no matter how difficult it was, it was the right thing to do and it must be done. Together, my husband and I expanded our research and set out to learn about veganism, which by definition according to the Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary, means, “A person who does not eat any food that comes from animals and who also does not use animal products, such as leather.”
For two meat eaters from Chicago, we had a lot of changes to embrace. I am a Midwest girl from the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. If you know anything about the Midwest, one of our favourite meals is meat and potatoes. Chicago is a place steeped in a culture of Italian beef sandwiches, and deep dish pizza sprinkled with the finest of sausages. Of course, you can’t go to a Cubs game without seeing one of those famous Chicago-style hot dogs. This type of eating is almost a rite of passage here, it’s the way we have celebrated, shared and communed together for as far back as history goes.
I grew up eating all of this stuff, and soon came to realise that it wasn’t helping my waistline. During high school, as a track and field athlete, I realised that these foods made me sluggish, left me feeling heavy and bloated. I wanted to be a top performer and on my game, so I needed to learn how to eat like an athlete. At the time, this meant switching from heavily fat laden proteins like cheese, steak and sausage, to leaner forms like chicken, fish and egg whites. It seemed like an easy enough change at the time. I could still celebrate at BBQ’s and go out to eat at restaurants, I would just opt for chicken most of the time. None-the-less, as I started my fitness career, meals centered around eating a large portion of protein sourced from meat.
A career in health and fitness
At the age of 19, I began a career in the health and fitness industry as a co-owner and operator of two Powerhouse Gyms. I had been an athlete all of my life and I really loved the results and strength that I gained in the gym. My passion for weight training led me to become a certified personal trainer and gave me an outlet to teach others how to live healthy, fit lives.
Within a year of opening my first gym, I began competing in fitness competitions and modeling for the fitness magazines. I learned all that I could about sports performance nutrition and competition diets, which eventually led me to become a certified specialist in Sports Nutrition.
Health vs looks...
When it comes to nutrition, it’s important to understand that the “health and fitness” industry is often geared more towards how you look, rather than how healthy you really are. With that said, approximately 70% of how you look has everything to do with how you eat, while the other 30% is reliant upon your training, your health and your genes.
You may have heard the saying, “Abs are made in the kitchen,” well, it’s true. I learned early on that if I wanted to be lean and have abs, then I had better get myself acquainted with chicken breasts and broccoli…and a lot of it!
As an 18 year veteran of the fitness industry, the number one thing you must know is that protein is the building block of muscle, and muscle is king!
For the past 20 years, I have eaten 5-6 small meals a day consisting of grilled chicken breast, lean steak, ground turkey, egg whites, fish and whey protein shakes, with the token smattering of broccoli and asparagus.
The recommendation of protein for bodybuilders is anywhere from 1 ½ -3 grams of protein per pound of body weight. To put that into perspective, an average chicken breast of 3.5 or 4 oz. is roughly 30-35 grams of protein. At my peak of performance in fitness and figure competition, I was around 125-130 lbs. So, in essence this means that according to the protein rules of bodybuilding, I would need to take in on average, 260 grams of protein to sustain and put on new lean tissue. In other words, I would need to consume nearly 9 chicken breasts a day! And…I did. I was religious with my workouts and even more so with my food preparations and eating. My bodyfat was around 9% at the lowest and 14% in my off-season. I was lean, I had abs, I was strong, I looked fit and healthy…but I wasn’t.
Find out more in part two