Here’s to Health

By Emily Heitmann, Jennifer Massoni Pardini and Phil Spiegel

Going vegan. (Monika Jurczyk)

Now that Halloween candy, Thanksgiving pies and virtual holiday toasts are behind us, our contributors weigh in with wellness resets for the resolution time of year.

Going Vegan

By Emily Heitmann 

I like to tell people that I’m 97 percent vegan (no meat or dairy)and 3 percent pescatarian (fish and dairy compliant). Though that math means I’m not 100 percent vegan or vegetarian, I’m OK with the realization that I’m not going to turn away a bowl of clam chowder from Sam’s Chowder House or Disneyland’s infamous Mickey-eared ice cream bar. And don’t get me started on gelato in Italy. But let’s put destination food aside and focus on my day-to-day shift to a plant-based diet.

It began with Netflix and its extensive collection of documentaries such as What the Health and The Game Changers. These films showed me two things: The world’s growing dependence on certain meats can harmfully affect our planet, and meat and protein don’t always go hand in hand. So, in November 2019, I decided to make a change and fuel my body in a way that impacts both my life and the lives of those around me. Since protein was always the main character in the ensemble cast that made up my meals, it was a challenge. So long, pepperoni deep-dish pizzas from Patxi’s. Farewell, my beloved bacon avocado omelet from Alice’s Restaurant. And I shed literal tears when I couldn’t order Town’s iconic Philly cheesesteak spring rolls.

But it was time for me to dry my eyes and set them on a path to uncover the best of vegan cooking. It wasn’t long before I was inspired by Love & Lemons and the Minimalist Baker’s cookbooks. And finding comfort from recipes by the likes of Amy Chaplin and Angela Liddon. I swapped my morning eggs and bacon for vegan waffles and cashew milk smoothie bowls. Lunches of cheeseburgers and chicken fajitas became tofu stir-fry and black-bean-and-sweet-potato tacos. Even holiday dinners turned vegan. Anything that could cluck, moo or oink was banished from my plate.

After 30 days of replacing meat with plant-based meals, I found that my energy had drastically improved, my skin never looked better, and I had less inflammation in my joints, which gave my body a chance to recover in between my beloved Peloton workouts. Oh, I could wax poetic about my love for the Peloton bike. But we’ll save that story for another time.

Trying Dry

By Jennifer Massoni Pardini 

According to Nielsen, 66 percent of 21- to 34-year-olds in the U.S. are making an effort to reduce their alcohol consumption, reflecting a growing wellness trend: sober curiosity. And there’s a $132 million market to match for nonalcoholic beer options alone, according to Connecticut-based Athletic Brewing, which is “reimagining” beer.

As we try to stay safe and healthy during this winter wave of COVID-19, the calendar’s reliable turn to January — even in quarantine, or something along those lines — can still be a time for reflection and a health mindset reset. This year, that may include our relationship with the sauce, especially in a culture that socializes, celebrates and dines around alcohol, something summed up recently in Holly Whitaker’s Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol.

I found myself “sober curious” last January, along with some 69 million other Americans who went dry for the month. I was turning 40, and while I rarely drink hard liquor, I noticed that I woke up more often in the night if I had wine or beer with dinner (alcohol of any kind can interfere with REM sleep). My friend Laura takes a booze break every January alongside her paleo diet, so I decided to join her in adding dry to my wellness routine — and I definitely recommend a buddy system. She suggested great alternatives to reach for: a cup of tea (a relatively easy one in wintry January), a brisk walk or just the mutual benefit of checking in with a friend about life.

The beginning of the month was the most challenging, right around those pivot points from the work-day to dinner prep and general life catch-up. But I found if I pushed through that transition and identified what it was I was really craving (usually some solitude and 20 minutes to unwind), I lost interest. And a couple of weeks in, I felt pretty great. I wouldn’t have thought the absence of a moderate amount of alcohol (usually a glass or two of wine) would make a noticeable difference. But I slept through the night more often, which meant I had energy to exercise and justified indulging in chocolate instead of cabernet. I even lost a couple of pounds without really trying.

By February and my 40th, I was ready to return to raising a glass in celebration and paired a steak with that cabernet. But I also had an overall goal in mind that my dear friend Laura had shared with me: a goal of less. With sober curiosity, “less” was easier to maintain during the rest of the year, and I ended up tackling Sober October. And, considering that surge in nonalcoholic beverages, like the new IPNA from Lagunitas Brewing Company — I’ll probably see you in Dry July.

Crushing keto. (Monika Jurczyk)

Crushing Keto

By Phil Spiegel 

Once you get past all of the legitimately horrendous aspects of 2020 — and there were plenty of those — one thing I think we can all relate to is the sheer, crushing boredom that came along with the original shelter-in-place order. For someone like me, who lives their life out and about among people, it was a surreal experience. I needed something on which to focus my energy and give me a horizon, so I started setting 30-day challenges. I began with pushups — as many consecutive as possible — untilI hit 100.

Then that got easy, I did the same thing with crunches, then body-weight squats. I was feeling pretty good until I got onto a scale.

I had gained 15 pounds.

To prepare for his wedding, a colleague of mine used the keto diet, which worked really well for him. We started talking about it, and within minutes, I had everything I needed to get going.

I was diligent about it. I can’t tell you how many eggs and avocados I consumed, but it was a lot. And to be honest, it wasn’t very hard. I never felt hungry, although the first two weeks I did notice a significant hit to my energy (so long, pushups and situps). That subsided pretty quickly, though.

I didn’t live by the scale, but I could tell things were working by the way my clothes fit. I had three or four Kiton shirts that I had bought “optimistically,” which had since been abandoned in my closet for misfit clothes. After a couple of weeks, they fit perfectly. It was almost like buying new clothes.

For me, the social side was the toughest part. It took some discipline to go to Original Joe’s (back when outdoor dining was allowed) and order a petit filet and spinach instead of a burger. After a while, though, it became no big deal. I followed a keto diet for three months and lost 30 pounds. For me, that’s significant. In 2018, I walked the Camino de Santiago — 20 miles per day, 25 consecutive days — and lost nearly as much weight.

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