Ramses was just ten days old when I first met him. Unable to open his eyes just yet, he nuzzled into my neck and made little whelping- like, grunting noises. There was an instantaneous bond between us as I felt the warmth of his little body against mine. I could hardly wait to get to know him, to see his personality unfold, to laugh at his funny little ways, and more than anything, to revel in his companionship.
I never knew how strong a bond could be between a human and an animal. That is, until Ramses, my Rhodesian Ridgeback pup came into my life. He arrived during my first semester of business school, shortly after my husband and I were married. Ramses opened chambers of my heart that I wasn’t even aware existed. Pawing at the pages of my textbooks looking for a playmate when I studied, basking in the one lone spot of sunlight on the floor, he was quite the character. He was quite the terror at first too. We used to call him our baby shark, before he learned that his baby razor teeth actually hurt! My husband and I had forearms that looked as though we had been moonlighting as navy seals, traversing through barbed wire.
Undoubdtley though, Ramses and I loved each other, more than words could ever express. Our bond grew deeper every day, and we learned to read each other’s expressions and body language. With the gentle lean of his body, Ramses seemed to understand when I was stressed. After being away at school for a weekend, I was greeted with an explosion of jumping, kissing and wailing, that often brought me to the ground in a most ridiculous snuggle fest. For the next several days, Ramses wouldn’t let me out of his sight and rested his head on my chest as I read from my text books, opening his eyes every once in a while to kiss my ear or cuddle in closer.
As the years have gone by, and Ramses and I spend each and every moment together, something profound has happened to me. Where once I could say that I definitely cared about animals, today, I can say that I feel for, think about and want to protect animals. The love that Ramses and I share has not only opened my heart, it has opened my eyes.
About a year ago, I watched a documentary film that so profoundly moved me, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days to follow. The documentary was called, “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret”, a 2014 film produced and directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, which explores the animal agricultural industry and its effects on the environment as well as the practices and policies of environmental organizations as they pertain to the issue. This documentary and the love that I have for animals has changed my life forever. I learned of the horrible atrocities that animals face in the name of “food.” Animals are forced to live in despicable conditions without the ability to move, roam or even be treated with any semblance of dignity. Often times these animals are kicked, beaten or dumped into mechanical grinders while they are still alive. Shortly after watching “Cowspiracy”, my husband and I began gathering information from every available book, Ted Talk and other resource we could get our hands on. We educated ourselves on what really goes on in the meat and dairy industry that they don’t want you to know. What many people don’t realize, is that the consumption of meat and dairy doesn’t just impact animals, but it is the number one cause of environmental degradation, deforestation, global warming, water depletion, species extinction and ocean “Dead Zones”, (Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret). The ramifications of eating meat don’t just stop there. The “China Study,” by T. Colin Campbell, PHD and Thomas Campbell, MD, a book written about the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted, provides overwhelming data to support the idea that meat consumption is one of the leading causes of cancer, heart disease and variety of other health related issues. All of this new information was eye opening, heart wrenching, and terrifying to me to say the least. We were so appalled and emotionally distressed from our findings that we decided to go vegan together. We vowed that no matter how difficult it was, it was the right thing to do and it must be done. Together, my husband and I expanded our research and set out to learn about veganism, which by definition according to the Merriam- Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary, means, “A person who does not eat any food that comes from animals and who also does not use animal products, such as leather.” For two meat eaters from Chicago, we had a lot to learn.
I am a Midwest girl from the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. If you know anything about the Midwest, families regularly sit down to a meal of meat and potatoes. Chicago is a place steeped in a culture of Italian beef sandwiches, deep dish pizza sprinkled with the finest of sausages and of course, you can’t go to a Cubs game without seeing one of those famous Chicago-style hot dogs. This type of eating is almost a rite of passage here, it’s the way we have celebrated, shared and communed together for as far back as history goes. I grew up eating all of this stuff and soon came to realize that it wasn’t helping my waistline any. During high school, as a track and field athlete, I realized that these foods made me sluggish, left me feeling heavy and bloated. I wanted to be a top performer and on my game, so I needed to learn how to eat like an athlete. At the time, this meant switching from heavily fat laden proteins like cheese, steak and sausage, to leaner forms like chicken, fish and egg whites. It seemed like an easy enough change at the time. I could still celebrate at BBQ’s and go out to eat at restaurants, I would just opt for chicken most of the time. None-the-less, my meals always centered on a large portion of protein as I started down the path of my fitness career.
At the age of 19, I began a career in the health and fitness industry as a co-owner and operator of two Powerhouse gyms. I had been an athlete all of my life and I really loved the results and strength that I gained in the gym. My passion for weight training led me to become a certified personal trainer and gave me an outlet to teach others how to live healthy, fit lives. Within a year of opening my first gym, I began competing in fitness competitions and modeling for the fitness magazines. I learned all that I could about sports performance nutrition and competition diets, until I eventually became a certified nutrition specialist. When it comes to nutrition, it’s important to understand that the “health and fitness” industry is often geared more towards how you look, rather than how healthy you really are. With that said, approximately 70% of how you look has everything to do with how you eat, while the other 30% is reliant upon your training, your health and your genes. You may have heard the saying, “Abs are made in the kitchen,” well, it’s true. I learned early on that if I wanted to be lean and have abs, then I had better get myself acquainted with chicken breasts and broccoli…and a lot of it! As an 18 year veteran of the fitness industry, the number one thing you must know is that protein is the building block of muscle, and muscle is king!
For the past 20 years, I have eaten 5-6 small meals a day consisting of grilled chicken breast, or lean steak, ground turkey, egg whites, fish and whey protein shakes, with the token smattering of broccoli and asparagus. The recommendation of protein for bodybuilders is anywhere from 1 ½ -3 grams of protein per pound of body weight. To put that into perspective, an average chicken breast of 3.5 or 4 oz. is roughly 30-35 grams of protein. At my peak of performance in fitness and figure competition, I was around 125-130 lbs. So, in essence this means that according to the protein rules of bodybuilding, I would need to take in on average, 260 grams of protein to sustain and put on new lean tissue. In other words, I would need to consume nearly 9 chicken breasts a day! And…I did. I was religious with my workouts and even more so with my food preparations and eating. My bodyfat was around 9% at the lowest and 14% in my off-season. I was lean, I had abs, I was strong, I looked fit and healthy…but I wasn’t.