Eating Optimally for My Body

March 24, 2013


For the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer and contemplation regarding the foods I choose to eat and the foods that I choose not to eat. And in the last week, I’ve decided to fully shed the “vegetarian” label and shift my diet to incorporate seafood. Technically, I guess my new label would be “pescatarian” though I’ve never been a huge fan of food labels since they seem to be less about what is best for the individual and more about fitting yourself into a narrow box.

Perhaps it sounds silly to say I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer regarding my diet, but the food we put in our bodies makes a big impact on the way we live our lives, so it seemed appropriate to bring this to God just like I would anything else. As most of you already know, I’ve been a vegetarian for three years this month. Just writing that, I can’t believe that it’s been three whole years since I dramatically changed my lifestyle. I started eating vegetarian out of curiosity, but found that the lifestyle suited me so well that I didn’t want to return to my previous way of eating. My meals became heavily focused on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and non-meat sources of protein, like hummus, beans and lentils, veggie burgers, Greek yogurt and my beloved nut butters.

I felt fantastic and enjoyed pushing myself to think about meals in a different way. Instead of planning what meat I was going to eat and deciding on vegetables and whole grains later, I started thinking about my meals in a different light. My job as a food editor prevented me from eating 100% vegetarian; every now and again I would take a bite of a meat-based dish at a taste panel because developing meat-based recipes was part of the job description. Additionally, I would take a bite here and there of something I made for Joe that contained meat because I was curious about the flavor profile. For me, being vegetarian was never about not eating animals because of ethical reasons, it was about eating as healthfully as I could and doing what felt right for my body. For the past three years, being vegetarian has felt very right.

However, over the past few weeks I felt a strong prompting to more closely examine the way I was eating and how my body was responding. I would absolutely not say that I felt bad, but I would say that I wasn’t feeling 100% optimal. Something started to feel lacking in a way that I can’t fully describe. I’m sure some people will jump to the conclusion that I wasn’t doing vegetarianism “right” – that I wasn’t eating varied, balanced meals with plenty of protein. I can promise you that is not true. I tracked protein consumption and food combinations religiously, closely examining what I consumed each day to make sure that my diet was well-rounded and complete.

But despite those efforts, there were a few troubling things that I can’t pretend don’t exist. My period hasn’t been consistent in over a year and my skin (which is often seen as a window to your health) has been unhappy. And then there are the issues that I’ve had with my hair over the past seven or eight months. Nothing major but enough to make me do a double take and think a little bit more about my diet. Will eating fish and seafood change this? I have no idea but I guess I’ll find out.

I prayed, I read more articles on vegetarianism (and articles from those who used to be veg) than I ever did in the past, I tried to imagine eating different types of seafood. It sounded just fine to me. I tried to imagine eating chicken, beef or pork. The thought made me want to gag. The hardest thing for me to get over was, by far, the idea that the way I described myself would have to change. For three years I’ve been a vegetarian and identified myself as such. It’s guided my conversations, my blog, and who I am as a person. Diets are deeply personal and become a part of who we are as people in the process. But for me, my body and my health, it seems more important to identify with the food that makes me feel balanced.

So where does that leave me today? I’m hoping to incorporate fish or seafood into our meals at least three times a week in some way, shape or form. Other than that, I don’t think much will change. I am still planning on eating the way I have been the rest of the time, so day-to-day I don’t think my meals will look all that different. No matter how my eating style changes and evolves throughout my life, the vegetarian style of eating (thinking about veggies, whole grains and non-meat proteins first) is something I think all of us can reap a lot from health-wise.

I would love to open this up for discussion and hear from any of you who have had experiences with different eating styles, vegetarianism, or eating vegetarian for a time and then shifting your eating style to something else that suited your body better. Since diet can be deeply personal, I’m hoping that we can keep the dialogue respectful and kind, while also sharing differing points of view. I am so excited to read what you guys have to say!



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  • Reply Laura March 24, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Such an interesting post Madison! I was vegetarian for two years but due to health complications (low iron) I decided to eat meat again. Now, I must say I was NOT a good vegetarian! I had very little knowledge on nutrition. Although I was eating healthy with no processed (fake) foods, I was not eating enough, especially not enough protein or fat. Now that I am omnivore again I feel so much better but it took an entire year for me to feel like this (my hair is thicker, less breakouts, way more energy, iron levels great, etc.). However, I can’t offer anything definitive because I don’t know how I would feel as a vegetarian if I knew what I know now about proper nutrition. All I can say is experimentation is good! I may dabble in vegetarianism again soon because I feel so much more confident on how to approach that diet. You will only know for sure by trying! Anyway, good luck šŸ˜€

    • Reply MadisonMayberry March 26, 2013 at 2:55 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Laura! It’s interesting to hear the experiences others have had with eating vegetarian and what led them to transition away from eating 100% vegetarian. Since Joe and I are so active, I wonder if, despite my best efforts, I was just simply not able to get the amount of protein I needed or if the vegetarian sources were just not adequate. And, as you said, I’ll only know if it makes a difference if I give it a try! I’ll keep you posted with updates along the way.

  • Reply Christina March 24, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Wow, Madison! I never saw this coming! I hope that article I sent you wasn’t too persuasive. Well, you prayed about it, so I trust your decision šŸ™‚

    I’ve been lacking a consistent period as long as I can remember. (We’re NFP so I track everything very carefully), and one I started eating meet, I’m as regular down to the day! It’s such a relief.

    I know I don’t eat enough protein unless I eat meat. My only protein was cheese sticks & yogurt and beans. Now, when I eat meat, I eat it very sparingly, but it still helps.
    I’m with you most of the time: beef and pork gross me out. I can eat it if someone else cooks it, but if I see it raw, no good.

    Anyway, good luck in your new diet. Keep us updated how it goes šŸ™‚

    • Reply MadisonMayberry March 26, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      Oh goodness no, my dear! You were just a helpful source of support along the way. It seemed like a lot of information and conversations all came together and pointed me in the same direction. I’m not one who looks for signs in every little thing, but sometimes I think God speaks in interesting ways. šŸ™‚

      SO interested to hear about your experience with meat and your cycle. It has really bothered me and weighed heavy on my mind that I wasn’t having the regular cycle I once had. I’m looking forward to seeing if introducing seafood into my diet makes an impact in that regard.

      Thanks again for your help!

  • Reply Eva March 24, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    I agree with you……..I do eat fish and eggs along with a very health vegetarian diet which includes beans, vegetables, quinoa, farro and any other healthy grain I can find. I think like always you need to listen to your body and do what is best for you! Gut instinct goes a long way. Love your blog…thanks for always being open and honest!

    • Reply MadisonMayberry March 26, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks so much, Eva! I was a little nervous about how my post would go over, but the support and encouragement from readers like you really did a lot to ease my nerves. I’m excited to play around with more recipes using fish and seafood. šŸ™‚

  • Reply Ashley March 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Interesting post. I started struggling with my skin quite a bit over the last year (I’m 29) after having pretty good skin for much of my 20’s. After doing a lot of research and trying a variety of products, I finally gave dairy-free a try. It has helped tremendously with my skin. No doubt it has been a struggle because I love cheese (there are great milk and butter alternatives, no so much for cheese), but I am starting to adjust. Might be worth giving it a try as a last resort.

    • Reply MadisonMayberry March 26, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      Ashley –

      Great suggestion about the dairy issue for skin problems. In the past four or five months I’ve almost completely cut out milk from my diet and switched to almond milk since I’ve heard too many things about the hormonal impact of milk. Additionally, I’ve switched to full-fat organic yogurt to reduce the impact on my body. Perhaps cutting back even more might be a good way to go or at least something to try if the skin issues persist!

  • Reply Laura March 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Hi Madison, First of all I don’t think it’s strange that you’ve been praying about your eating habits. I always find that the few hours after a yoga class (spiritual for me) are when I think most about my nutritional needs. I was a vegetarian for 12 years and after a while definitely struggled with the feeling that there was, nutritionally, a piece missing — that even after eating I felt not 100% nourished. I also had hair so thin the stylist told me not to use hair ties, and my skin was dull and agitated. I’ve reintroduced some meat, since I can no longer eat some other things (gluten, dairy), and I feel SO much better, my hair is literally 2x as thick, and my skin is glowier.
    Meat definitely weirds me out, so I do mostly seafood, which is so easy especially to drop into Asian-style clear broth soups for poaching at the last minute, and goes well with fruit, which you seem to enjoy. I can also see you loving fish tacos made with lots of slaw/shredded veggies. Smoked fish is also great for salad topping, and should be easy to find a delicious and fresh brand, living near all those lakes. Keep us updated on your journey!

    • Reply MadisonMayberry March 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      Laura, it sounds like you are totally speaking my language with your story about eating meat and what happened to your skin, hair, nails, etc. It’s so reassuring to know that others have had the same experience I have been having. I’m hoping that introducing fish and seafood on a regular basis helps some of the thickness issues I’ve been having with my hair and that it helps my skin, too. I’ll make sure to do an update after I’ve been on the new diet/lifestyle for a while.

  • Reply shalomfrompch March 24, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    I stumbled onto your blog through a link. It’s amazing to me that in the body of Christ He is taking so many of us on a journey to examine what we eat. I ate only vegetables for a year at one point in my life but it was really a fast. I started milling my own grains almost 2 years ago and totally cut out processed flours and sugars. I have recently been reading about eating fermented foods. There is a Christian lady that has a masters degree in food science from the UGA that has some really beneficial info on our diets whole grains, raw dairy and other issues her info can be found at Breadbeckers ,the web site.

  • Reply Lauren at Keep It Sweet March 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    So happy to hear that you are listening to your body and doing what feels right for you. I go in phases with eating meat and not eating meat, but I’ve always been happy that I haven’t labeled myself so that I didn’t feel like I was doing anything “wrong” either way. I’m looking forward to hearing how you feel in a couple of months after incorporating seafood into your diet!

  • Reply Jen March 24, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post! I have been “vegetarian” for almost 11 years now. However, a lot of people tease me, saying that I’m not a true vegetarian. I definitely don’t eat actual meat (ie chicken, beef, etc), but I do eat seafood. I also don’t pay close attention to whether something has chicken stock in it, since I know that would be impossible to follow while eating out at restaurants. It’s really refreshing hearing about your time as a vegetarian, knowing that there are others out there who don’t follow all of the so-called rules. I gave up meat because it wasn’t something I really liked in the first place, and I very rarely ever miss it. I agree with you, that it has helped me make some better choices for my diet, such as loading up on veggies and alternative sources of protein. Good luck to you!

    • Reply MadisonMayberry March 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      Jen, it sounds like we are very similar in how we view what we eat and what we don’t eat. I’ve never been a stickler for whether or not something contains chicken stock or not, etc. Since I didn’t eat vegetarian for animal welfare reasons it wasn’t a huge concern to me if I had a little stock here, a bite of chicken for work, etc. I don’t miss eating meat like chicken, beef or pork either, but for some reason I really do love eating seafood. Thanks for your comment and letting me know there are others who feel similarly!

  • Reply Urban Wife March 24, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    What a gracefully written post. Bravo, Madison! I think it’s great that you have prayerfully considered your decision, as well. To me, there is never any decision too small to bring to Jesus. I’m glad you’ve found peace about the new direction in which your eating will go and pray that your body be 100% optimally nourished and stabilized as a result.

    • Reply MadisonMayberry March 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Thank you, Iradis! You have no idea how much I always appreciate your thoughtfully written comments on E&C! I agree, there is no decision that is too small to bring to our Lord. He truly wants to hear about the things that are on our hearts, big or small. And I guess when you think about it, what you eat really is a big thing!

  • Reply Kayleigh March 25, 2013 at 1:25 am

    Good luck! Sounds like you’ve given it a lot of thought and prayer. Hope it goes well!

  • Reply Marissa March 26, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    I’m a pescatarian (although I say I’m a vegetarian). I eat fish on occasion, mostly when out or when I get a craving for something high protein that vegetable and legumes cant seem to satisfy. I think about my choices to be vegetarian frequently, and often do consider eating meat. I’m not vegetarian for animal-rights purposes, it’s more to reduce my environmental footprint. So I consider eating locally farmed meats, although in the end I never do since I think that becomes too difficult to explain and makes it difficult to draw a hard line with respect to what I eat and what I dont eat. Overall I dont miss eating meat and poultry. But I do love seafood so that is still a part of my diet.

    I think its important to constantly re-evaluate our choices and our health. Hope you enjoy your new lifestyle!

  • Reply Nicole Wheatley March 28, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    Hi Madison, I’m pretty new to your blog but I’m really enjoying it! I went through a similar trajectory in terms of going vegetarian, vegan, everything in between and struggling with my cycle. I also did a lot of praying and reading and found information that totally rocked everything I thought I knew as nutrition fact. And I was a health promotion student so definitely a curve ball for me. So I just want to say that I know it can be intimidating to change your views on food but I have seen God work miracles through people’s diets, especially when we are open to changing our views. I want to recommend the book Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck. She has great info and a really down-to-earth writing style. Good luck! May God bless you!

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