My Journey

December 8th, 1987 in Kokomo, IN I was warmly welcomed to the world.  Throughout my childhood sports and active lifestyle was encouraged.  Nutrition was not at the forefront of my mind of course as a youngster.  Mostly grandma’s cooking and whatever was easiest, typically milk and cereal or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Sugar and flour was a typical occurrence and still is in the common American family cuisine.  Cooking did happen once in awhile but I was not really interested in learning about food preparation or nutrient profiles.  At age 14 I started lifting weights.  I enjoyed it so much that I started doing my version of Cross-training before it became popular in America.  Dragging weighted sleds with rope, dragging chains while doing bear crawls, handstand walks and other unconventional movements. Nutrition was far in the background.

Nutrition waded in the background while active lifestyle and lifting never really left the forefront of my life.  In college I had a pull-up and dip station in the living room.  Once college ended I began a financial internship and another job at a local fitness facility.  While internally fighting which path to go down, I had decided to roll the dice on the fitness industry.  Along with pursuing fitness as a professional, I began training harder and more intensely but never saw improvements in strength and physique.

January 2015 I began graduate studies.  I knew exercise science well before beginning curriculum but maintained minimal interest in nutrition besides my own discipline.  Over the course of that year I started to discover my passion for fitness (as a professional) was dwindling while nutrition was rising sharply.  For my final graduate school project I began digging around for research based diets that reduce the occurrence and/or reverse coronary artery disease.  This research project sparked a perpetual search for nutritional optimization for the human race and my body was/is to be the test grounds.

I started off as any American – swamped with magazines promising six-pack abs in 4 weeks reader – would; chicken, greens, rice other fruits and vegetables, whey protein, Greek yogurt, low carb high protein and lower fat.  While that is not the worst diet I was working part-time and making barely any money.  Steak, fish, chicken, turkey, bison, venison and other meats are a luxury and therefore costly.  The poorest people on earth eat rice and vegetables (or other plants).  Yes some cultures live off fishing alone but that is few and far between.  I started to experiment with pescatarianism and similar diets that still include cheese, fish, eggs and yogurt.  I may have left out a couple animal products but the point is they were still part of my diet.

Slowly, and one by one, I simply quit purchasing animals products.  Fish was the easiest to give up due to the sheer availability of plants with fats and protein.  Eggs have been drilled into most American heads that they are essential for protein and weight lifters, especially egg whites.  There is an emotional attachment to something so powerfully associated with success in the world of fitness and eggs are forever bound to the perfect physique according to most bro-articles and some leading fitness professionals.  Are eggs absolutely necessary?  Are eggs the pinnacle of protein?  I found the answer to simply be, no.  Yogurt, great for shakes?  Yes!  Taste great?  Yes!  I found this to be the most difficult to alleviate from my diet as once again Greek yogurt has been touted for protein, low carb and high in probiotics.  My question is simply; can I find these beneficial claims for animal’s products in plant form?  I believe one can if research is involved.  Find a claim for an animal product and most likely there will be a better version of that claim via plant source.

The last thing I gave up was cheese.  This is a stumbling block for many vegetarians and those considering vegan/plant-strong lifestyles.  This makes sense as there are additives in cheese that elicit an addictive response.  Some are just hooked on cheese and believe they cannot not throw some on whatever food item is in front of them.  Why?  A combination of clever marketing and cheese processing has made it difficult to not associate cheese with good feelings.  Families are rooted in the idea that gatherings are based around food.  What does your family eat?  Most likely meat is the centerpiece and cheese makes an appearance if not multiple appearances.  Pizza, bread-sticks, salads, macaroni and the list goes on; cheese is easily thrown on top.  There are alternatives or you can kick the addiction, it is difficult but worth it.

Most recently I began working on ways to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and other plants by looking up recipes and actually cooking with whole food ingredients.  The struggle became not having time or motivation to get fresh foods every week.  I started looking more into grains, legumes and potatoes as my main sources for nutrients and throwing in different fresh foods every day but some last longer than others.  For example an orange or banana may good for a couple weeks or longer whereas unfrozen blueberries maybe at optimal ripeness for a shorter period of time.  Consider purchasing a wide array of longer shelf life or frozen fruits and vegetables to minimize grocery shopping time if this is a point of concern. This tactic reduced my need to make trips to the grocery and allowed for more consistency, discipline and bulk purchasing.

As of now I don’t even consider anything I do not cook myself with one exception.  Every few days I will allow for any food (excluding meat still) I desire.  Most free-day meals are pizza or bread-sticks (no cheese).  I would never pressure anyone into this lifestyle as it may complicate social life, go against family traditions and other reasons.  I would recommend  if you are teetering between a plant-strong diet or typical American cuisine consider this: it may be difficult, against most American food ideals, but our medical healthcare system is one of the most advanced.. Drugs, medical advancements in surgeries and treatments are readily available and yet Americans in general are not healthy.  Drugs and surgeries treat symptoms not cure the cause.  The causes of preventable diseases are lifestyle choices rooted in less than optimal nutritional practices and minimally based active lifestyles.  So be proactive, drink water, go outside to soak up some sun and cook whole plant foods as the centerpiece of your plate.

In health,

-Wheeler

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