Growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s, diet for a child seemed to be 90% experiment, I suppose not unlike the 40’s, 60’s or perhaps even more true – the 2000’s. My parents had grown up on TV dinners and canned everything, things that were designed to withstand an air raid. The home cooks wore polka dot aprons, fuzzy slippers, and were all on my mother’s side, whom lived on a large farm. They didn’t have any animals left on the farm by the late 80’s when I remember visiting, it was more or less a chicken farm with a boat load of apple trees, blueberry and pumpkin patches dotted the countryside in those times.
Microwaves (thankfully) did not exist in our kitchen until I was 12 or so, we were taught patience if we needed hot water for our breakfast oatmeal or hot cocoa after a “sick day” of sledding the hills in the front yard. My sister seemed to live contently (and still does, in fact!) on potato chips and yellow mustard sandwiches with a single slice of pressed American cheese product. I went through a phase when I wanted every meal to be stuffed bell peppers with rice and tomato, or cucumbers – loved me some fresh, crunchy cucumber (thanks to the pizza hut salad bars that my parents would order alongside our cheese pizza), but typically if there was and green to be found our dinner table, a few shreds of iceberg lettuce could be found somewhere on my sisters plate. As I recall, I had a robust preference for carrots and peanut butter from an early age; thanks to “Bring-your-snacks-into-class” Day in Kindergarten. While most kids parents sent extra crackers and spray cheese to share with classmates, I don’t remember who – I only remember scarfing down celery and carrots smothered in peanut butter like it would soon be out of style, some folks even preferred raisins on their celery sticks – I never had the taste buds that could handle that extreme onslaught of flavors.
Home food fare growing up was fairly typical, or so I like to think.
While I recall most of my neighborhood friends having a nightly rotation of Pizza Hut, KFC buckets, or McDonalds happy meals
(again, many thanks to my parents for not being wealthy enough to waste money on fast food daily) it would appear that the elders of the Hamilton household knew days in advance what would grace our plates each evening. As much as I loved fresh apples, peaches, plums and berries fresh from the many farms that we would pick at each fall, I definitely had a desire to quench my thirst with hot dogs, burgers, greasy anything and sugar on everything.
I think my parents strongly believed in the “just get the kid to eat anything” theory of parenting.
When we would hike – which was every weekend after the age of 6 until I was 10, we had PB&J sandwiches, powdered Gatorade (the days of Orange or Lime Gatorade, that’s all that existed back in my day!) and real deal Power Bars. I did mention that my father was a bodybuilder – so yes, if we wanted a milkshake, it was typically a protein shake; if we wanted a snack mid-hike, it was a protein bar.
I always thought I was an active kid growing up, my sister and I would race our bikes through trails behind our parents’ house, rollerblade even when that wasn’t “cool” (ooh boy.. we sure did look pretty darn rad in the flashback photos with our knee pads and matching helmets cruising the block..) We both took swim lessons for years at the local YMCA because neither of us wanted to do team sports, we climbed trees and stayed busy as kids. We didn’t have video games for at least the first 10 years of my youth, so we heard “read a book” or “go play with the neighbors”. Admittedly my father was very good about playing catch or basketball when he got home late from work, my mother always in the kitchen or taking care of the house – this was just our routine!
My diet remained absolute garbage (my honesty shining through now) until I suddenly quit my job working over night at Price Chopper stocking shelves just out of high school. I would wake up at 8pm, have a decent dinner of rice, frozen veggies and typically chicken (I was still living with my father at the time, who eats on a very regimented, rotating diet – which I also prefer on my own terms), I would bring a deli meat sandwich for my midnight “lunch”, but the part that I recall the worst (or best, I suppose, since this part I wanted to mend the most!) though, was the four pack of Starbucks double shots. Most of us would take a burn cruise on our lunch break, come back slow as molasses and guzzle Red Bulls and Double Shots until our shift was complete at 8am, go home and try to sleep for the following evening. It was a death sentence in the making. So as I was saying – I left that job the second I was offered a change – my pal from college was working at this new burrito shack in town and they needed help.
Man, I freaking loved this job! It didn’t take long for them to notice I operated stronger in the morning with my pot of coffee after the prior night drinking. I started opening the shop and soon after, cooking all of the warm food – I was the Head of the Warm Department – okay, I definitely just made that title up on the fly, but I did the caterings, opened the restaurant daily, and genuinely took pride in cooking my meats, rice and beans (all the hot items were under my supervision basically). I got to know the regular customers and they appreciated what I did, I eventually hated it, but couldn’t say much except to my buddy Nick who was still eating chicken but had progressed to preferring our tofu. Nick was the Tofu-Master-In-Charge before I also took over that area and he moved primarily to the catering side of business. I would let the customers try a piece of tofu (which I seasoned to my taste) which was enjoyed by many meat eaters, some couldn’t get over the texture which I completely understand but I saw a lot of my friends switch to tofu on their salads and in their wraps over those 5 years.
I was never a ‘steak’ eater when I worked there because when it came out of the package, typically a half pound nugget of solid white fat would roll onto the grill too. The chicken had its own set of disgusting moments – not only did I regularly have screws and metal shards embedded in the raw chicken (I went to corporate over this issue), but the day that I had a six square inch piece of chicken skin (complete with all of the holes where the feathers had been torn out), and several chicken toes with claws – that was my final straw, I ate that tofu religiously from that day on! By then I had naturally eliminated quite a bit of the processed food from my diet, opting for a whole lot of fresh veggies and brown rice while at work, I still ate turkey (burgers), chicken breasts and loved a juicy burger after a day of hiking. This was around the time I was several years into my day drinking, thinking nothing of it, substituting coffee for a 10am coffee porter while at work (I was able to justify it in my head that I was not harming anyone so it was okay, after all, I loved to brew beer so I was just trying new styles – “research”, as I would tell myself. Plus I would get out of work at 3pm and go run 5 miles, so no one could tell me what to do – I felt “healthy”)
The following years were just steady, eating and drinking to survive
and trying to feel that I was making healthy choices with my cucumbers and tomato’s dipped into hummus. I had a small “pallet planter” at one of my smaller Upstate NY apartments (second floor with cats so I couldn’t grow inside, a small balcony garden was the only option that I could think of!). We had an orchard farm stand on the village green where I could get all the produce (corn, peas, broccoli, tomato, cukes, eggplant, raspberries, peaches, melon – aww man, I was in heaven!) that I could carry. It was within walking distance from the apartment, but I was still understanding that it was acceptable to commence my daily hard cider consumption at 7am. I wanted to be as healthy as possible despite mentally feeling like trash daily, I often ran to escape, I had actually by then given up the warm whiskey pre-run mind lubrication.
Man, I was letting that apartment killing me, literally. I took a job running a large warehouse, ate salads daily, cucumbers and tomatoes by the truckload, but a co-worker who had been flown in from the next location around the holidays recognized the mess I called my life and invited me to rent with him. I still hiked on the weekends, ran when I wasn’t hiking and tried to eat better still. I got to the point I didn’t like the tired feeling that pizza or burgers made me feel, I grew a preference for raw veggies, roasting cauliflower with hot sauce and create my own ‘hot wings’ because the texture was better than chicken. This new apartment was really the first time that I remember feeling free to do anything, eat anything I wanted – there was no one around to criticize me for putting a block of tofu on a sandwich, or why I opted away from the pepperoni pizza in the freezer.
In fact, I think I made quite a delightful roommate during that period of my life, ate all fruits and veggies, went to work, didn’t complain to anyone but my cat, and sat on the floor of my bedroom and would read for hours (standing was still dangerous, several times I tipped into the wall, even fell into the closet several times when I was prescribed “anti-anxiety” medication, pills were not going to make me stop drinking, at least they never did in the past! This was a concoction that almost kept me from getting back to my own apartment one night after taking the trash out. I fell down the stairs, could see my destination, but the combination prevented my leg muscles from pushing back up the stairs, after what seemed like 30 minutes I crawled to my door, super thankful no one else wanted to walk those halls at the same time.
Here in my story is about the time I started hiking with Ciara, Boone and Crockett.
I stopped taking all medications the day that I resigned from that warehouse job. I drank, but I had managed to take a few days off to show myself that I was still in control.
It wasn’t until Ciara and I left in her Honda with the pups to go adventure in new places that I officially did not eat meat. I felt incredible – I only had a hand full of stomach issues (which was down from daily before we left), I had energy coming from places that made me want to hike and run, I felt more positive than I could remember. It felt incredible riding across the country, each of us enjoying the same carrots and peanut butter (which grew very old by the final days on the road!) We ate all of our meals together, went to fruit stands and got excited for the same fruits (watermelon never failed to lighten our spirits.. and probably never will, ever.) We cooked rice, beans, made wraps, ate a lot of tempeh and drank our share of kombucha (when we found some, that was our treat.)
When we returned after 3 or so months, I knew I was not going to welcome myself home to a burger or some fibrous chicken meat junk. I just didn’t want it.
I proved to myself during that trip that I did not need meat protein. That was the proof that I had always looked for, it was not found in a cookbook or text book, experimenting in my day to day for months with no meat. The last piece of the puzzle though, and the hardest – I couldn’t keep up alcohol and a friendship at the same time – never expected that I would have to choose. When I tried to hide it, I had the guilt written all over my face, every day, every time I opened my mouth, all that came out was the guilt of not being able to be honest.
I had to make the decision myself, much like quitting cigarettes, no one can tell you “that’s it, you’re done now”, because it just makes the person want it more, in an effort to say “screw you, don’t you tell me what I can and can’t have!”. Trust me, I know on both accounts.
I ran every morning, before I started working in New Hampshire, I ran daily to keep my mind busy. I ran to tire my mind of nagging, I worked out and did yoga daily. When I get alone, that’s when things happen, that’s when I slip a drink – when no one is watching. So I decided to watch myself, putting more pressure on becoming a stronger, better me. The best thing I ever did was tell myself I will refuse to allow myself to drink. I’d love to say I don’t want it, but I do. And it’s a damn good thing I have a strong will when I want to. In 5 days it will be a year – the strongest year of my life. It is life I never felt I was worthy of.
Oh wait… this is a blog about becoming a plant-based athlete.
Welp… there’s all that, as a side note about me.
So… why do I prefer this plant-based diet?
I mean, I’ve watched the documentaries.. so yes: it is better for the environment, it is better on my conscious (ever see into the depths of the meat industry? That will change your mind real fast…), I am happier being plant based. One of my original deciding factors was that “fake-meat”, or “veggy burgers”, or TVP (textured vegetable protein) has remarkably similar flavors and textures as its meaty alternatives without all the bone and grit and grizzly fatty bits that come standard with real animal flesh! YAY!
Hands down the most important fact that I have witnessed firsthand that will keep me from ever, ever, ever desiring real meat on my plate came right from my experience: I still have muscle, I grow muscle just as easily as I did when I ate meat – the difference? I heal 50 times (okay I guessed at a number, but I can assure you it is high..) faster on a plant-based diet, that to me is the most important (I probably sound like a self-centered prick right now), I used to feel like I could not stand after hiking 10 miles of moderate peaks in New York. I can easily hike 20+ miles with a heavier pack and more overall elevation. While you may argue the point that I can hike further, easier simply because I run further. I would agree with this, but also the point that I run and hike further because I don’t get tired like I used to, my muscles rebound and rebuild so much faster. I ran 33.5 miles straight last October, I couldn’t have shed the extra pounds on a meat/dairy-based diet which allowed my knees to tolerate the pounding.
As I write this, my food is quite simple day to day while trying to be ridiculously, meticulously planned out as to not miss anything that my body may need. I try to give it only what it needs to perform as I ask it to, while still treating my taste buds like it is their birthday every day. I am still learning daily about new ingredients, and researching just what our fruits and veggies contain (absolutely blown away every time I read how much calcium broccoli contains!).
I’ll do another write up in the coming days about what I eat and drink, now that you know all about what I no longer eat and drink! What works for me pre-run and post-run, during a backpacking trip or for lunch. Something about this whole eating plant based really has put a big ol’ smile on my face – and I want to share that with you!! Feel free to drop a line with any questions or comments for me.
As always, keep eating your plants and stay awesome!!
Much love and happy trails!