I'm in pretty good shape. I swim with four or five former Olympians and a local Tour de France veteran. Well, when I say I swim with them what I really mean is that we all show up at the same pool and take instruction from the same coach but I inhabit a lane a few lanes down from the "big dogs." The pool is divided between slower (but still very competitive) swimmers in the first few lanes (on the left as you face the pool from the shallow end) and very, very fast swimmers on the right hand side of the pool. I swim somewhere in the middle. On crowded days, a bit to the left.
I try to go every weekday to the seven a.m. workout since I need to be up to transport my kid to cross country practice. On the weekends we have practice from 8:30 to 10:00 am, both days. Our workouts vary between 3,000 and 5,000 yards.
One of our swimmers is a guy named, Rip Esselstyn. In addition to having been an All American swimmer at the University of Texas, and a professional triathalon-er, and the current USMS 45-50 year old world record holder for the 200 backstroke, he's also the author of a best selling book called "The Engine Two Diet." His book is a bestseller and it studies the benefits (on world class athletes and ordinary people) of eating a vegan diet. All vegan, all the time. His dad is a doctor, specializing in cardiology, at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Esselstyn is the author of the book, "Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease."
They have both done extensive research into heart disease and their books imply that eating a vegan diet can help make you heart attack proof. The interesting thing about all this is that Rip has been able to convince many of the world class athletes he knows to undertake a vegan diet and the results have been pretty amazing. Everyone's cholesterol drops dramatically, and, in the pool they seem to get faster and faster.
I've read Rip's book and his dad's book and I understood most of the underlying premises but I had been letting entropy and habit take their course. Sometime in December two of my friends (who are only a few years older than me) got panic diagnoses from their doctors. Both had over 90% blockage of major arteries. Both required major surgical intervention. Both were voracious omnivores.
We generally eat pretty healthy at home but I'd been letting things slide at lunch. BBQ spare ribs here, a double cheeseburger there, some really greasy Chinese food (but I swear it was loaded with veggies....) and of course, the errant cookie with afternoon coffee. I was pretty good at breakfast and amazingly healthy at dinner (under the unblinking eye of Belinda...) but lunch was totally out of control. Fries anyone? And, at 56 years of experience who among us shouldn't be watching our diets?
So, after I watched Rip place one of the world's best known athletes on the full bore vegan diet, I decided to dive into the deep end and kick my "lunch training" up a notch. A big notch. Which has resulted already in tightening the old belt a notch or two.
Since the middle of December I've developed a new routine that saves me cash and hopefully will allow me to live forever and torment readers of this blog well into my triple digit years. I've made it pretty clear to all my photographer friends, the ones who lunch with me, that I'll be having lunch at the vegan bar at the downtown Whole Foods Market. The one at Sixth St. and Lamar Blvd. The Mothership.
How does this save me money? Well, my favorite thing to order is the beans and rice on a bed of fresh, raw spinach leaves. Big food but small cost. Currently $3.99. Filling, made with no oils or dairy or meat products, and served up fresh. Today the beans were cannelli, made with garlic and chunks of artichoke hearts. They were incredible. The vegan bar also makes infused water. My favorite is blueberry and sage. It comes with any entrée, free. As in no charge.
Then, in defiance of my own morning nature, I finally learned how to make passably good coffee on my own and I'm eating a special blend of cereal called, Rip's Big Bowl. It's really good. And vegan.
So, what does all this get me? Well, for the cynically pragmatic, I'm saving about six dollars a day versus my previous lunch adventures and that adds up pretty quick. I eat lunch out most days. I'm swimming faster than I did last year, although I'm sure we can chalk up some of the improvement to the placebo effect. I'm dragging along a few friends, a subset of whom are a bit overweight and might benefit from sharing my new dietary discipline; and they haven't really complained. Finally, I'm eating quite a bit farther down the food chain which should make Michael Pollan happy.
It's an experiment, like everything else in life. But so far this is a happy experiment. Am I going totally vegan? What? Do I look insane? Life has to have space in it for the occasional strip of bacon, the random breakfast taco, and an nice, juicy rib eye steak from time to time. But lunch is generally the meal where most of us do the most damage and I know I'm not keen to get my chest cracked open and have some veins moved around. So it seems like a good place to start.
Why am I discussing this on what has always been a photo oriented soapbox? Because it's my only New Year's resolution and the more people who know about it the more friends I'll have holding my feet to the fire and helping me over the bumps in the road (I barely made it out the door past the hot dessert bar today....). And if I jar someone else into at least considering their cardio health then that's cool too.
Coffee's not bad with a little rice milk in it........naw, screw that. I'll still toss in some half and half.
Whatever you've resolved for your New Year I hope you'll decide to throw in some exercise and a good balance of veggies over animal products. I need to keep as many of you readers around as I can....you know I love a good audience.