From Lamb Ragout to Spring Veggie Whole-Wheat Pasta

When I tried going vegetarian a year ago, it lasted about a week. I had been reading a lot of Douglas Hofstadter and Richard Dawkins in the weeks leading up to the attempt, and for the first time it occurred to me that the food on my plate each night had once had a soul; that it had once walked, swum, or flown around calling itself “I.” Seeing cow skins on a conveyor belt in Fast Food Nation pretty much sealed the deal for me, or so I thought at the time. So for one week I did not eat meat.  Not even fish, and certainly not chicken.

There were two big factors that contributed to the quick demise of my noble effort. The first was that I love cooking. Lamb ragout with mint and gnocchi just isn’t a meal when you take out the lamb. Maybe for some, but not for someone training for a marathon. And that was the second reason I failed; it was just too easy to say “I have to get protein if I’m running 40 miles a week, no matter how cute baby lambs are.”

So the no-meat diet gradually gave way to a no-mammals diet, which gradually gave way to “there are plenty of strips of bacon in a single pig; a little for flavor here won’t hurt.” But I never did fully go back to my red-meat ways, which I’m happy to report for both ethical and health reasons.

And then two weeks ago my mom and I went to a four-day Tony Robbins seminar. Yes, the big-teeth guy from the infomercials. And from Shallow Hal. I’m not going to try to defend my fascination with Tony’s work; just know that I loved the seminar as I knew I would. But I didn’t expect to love the last day, titled “The Power of Pure Energy.” For starters, Tony wouldn’t even be there that day. In fact I almost blew off the last day entirely, figuring that as a runner and already-healthy eater I had nothing to learn from watching video of Tony talking about diet and exercise.

But sure enough, video-Tony hooked me.  And then he hammered his point home with a series of other videos showing, among other niceties, dead chickens being mechanically separated and later floating in what is called “fecal soup.”  By the end of the day I couldn’t wait to get started on Tony’s “10-Day Challenge” for aiding digestion and maximizing energy.  Following his strict orders, when I got home I informed my wife Erin that for ten days I would be eating no meat except a little fish, no dairy products, mostly water-rich foods, no alcohol, no coffee, fruit but only by itself, protein but never with carbs, carbs but never with protein, and lots of water but never during meals.  And oh yeah, a two-week total body cleansing pill program, which Erin and I now affectionately call Super Colon-Blow.

I completely acknowledge that this diet sounds extreme, and I’m pretty sure it’s not something that I can keep up for much more than ten days.  In fact I’ve already cheated on some of the details, the most egregious offense being the two Guinnesses I had during Day 2 of the NCAA tournament.  But I have noticed an increase in energy, psychological or not, and I feel great going to bed and waking up every day (after the colon blow, of course).  And I’ve felt fine after lifting weights, swimming, and doing short runs (more on why they are short in a later post). It’s hard to say if my long-term exercise results will be affected, but there are plenty of endurance athletes who successfully train with even vegan diets. So while I’ll probably eventually allow myself to drink milk again, mix protein and carbs, and have an occasional beer or six, the experience of these past ten days has shown me that a pesceterian (vegetarian plus fish) diet is one that absolutely fits with the way I want to live, endurance training and all.

So that’s why I’m writing this blog. I haven’t really addressed the problem of what my inner Bobby Flay will miss with this diet, but I think with a little creativity I can get past that. Erin is on board with the diet, and together we’re going to make sure that we make meals each night which meet four criteria: vegetarian or pescetarian, substantial and nutritious enough for endurance training, relatively quick to make, and really good-tasting. Not the salad and plain tofu I have associated with the word “vegetarian” in the past. And I’m going to post them here. All of them, for as long as people are reading this blog and I’m having fun writing it. I’m also going to write about my training, Erin’s training, and anything else that I think readers might care about.

What I hope to get out of this blog is manifold (only a mathematician, right?). I want to demonstrate to other endurance athletes that eating less meat doesn’t have to mean eating crappy food or risking malnourishment. And on the flip side, to encourage vegetarians who don’t exercise to try running or some other sport.  It is also my hope that some of you will actually make these meals.  How could healthy meal-planning be any easier?  Nothing would make me happier than to know that I helped someone I love to change their unhealthy eating habits, even if they don’t give up meat entirely.  Finally, by writing this and sharing it with friends, family, and hopefully even people I’ve never met, I’m making a commitment to stick with this diet for a really long time. Tony Robbins would call it “getting leverage.”  And I won’t mention Tony Robbins again for a while, I promise.

Please, if you are at all interested in this blog, leave a comment!  Ask a question, suggest a recipe, give me a blogging tip!  I would much prefer this to be a multilateral conversation than a boring monologue.  I’ll try to keep it as fun as possible, but I could really use your help!

-Matt

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Comments

  1. vickief1998 says:

    I would love to see some good recipes that don’t use meat or chicken. And little dairy. I stopped eating red meat and chicken recently and I’m hungry! I can’t seem to find anything to eat but raw veggies and trail mixes and I’m getting tired of those. Post some of your good dishes.

  2. Erin Frazier says:

    I have to admit that I was struggling with the idea that a pescetarian and/or vegetarian diet would not be satisfying. To my surprise it has been very satisfying and it hasn’t been too difficult of a change from our typical diet which previously included chicken and turkey. Here are links to some of the recent recipes that we have enjoyed from Fine Cooking:

    Spring Vegetable Ragout: Although we love making our own pasta we took the easy way out and used organic whole wheat pasta with flax from the grocery store and it was delicious! We also substituted 4 T of olive oil for the unsalted butter that was called for to make it healthier. This was amazing!!!!

    http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/spring-vegetable-ragout-pasta.aspx

    Penne with Asparagus, Olives, and Parmigiano Breadcrumbs: We again used whole wheat pasta and then also chose not to make the breadcrumbs cheesy because of Matt’s no dairy aspect of his diet. I did sprinkle some parmigiano on the pasta when it was served.

    http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/pasta-asparagus-olives-breadcrumbs.aspx

    Both of these recipes were extremely easy and quick to make! Hope this helps!

  3. I was already formulating what I would type as my comment as I read about you not drinking alcohol. But, you quickly admitted to the Guinness I saw you drinking so you pretty much ruined what I was going to say. Anyway, best of luck, I could never do this and a very nice first entry.

  4. JBBaldwin says:

    Hey Good Luck on the diet. I like the idea of the site. Hope it works out.

  5. Undoubtedly, my eating habits have already been influenced by you, Erin and Margaret. When planning meals for any of you three, the menu is limited when red meat is off the table, so to speak. Although…sometimes I still include both red and white (meat) on the menu. And although I too read Douglas Hofstadter’s “I Am a Strange Loop”, he influenced me in many ways but not in what I might consider eating for lunch or dinner. It’s not I couldn’t be influenced not to eat the flesh of certain animals that were self-aware or having degree of consciousness, it’s that I choose not to be influenced for reasons somewhat loosely related to the joke entitled ‘Will I Live to see 80?’ that I’ll post at the end of my comment. Margaret also has made eating healthy foods a priority in her life and for extra motivation she uses an animal’s “cuteness” as a discriminator for meat she won’t eat. That criterion alone keeps her from eating all red meats but allows most species of ugly fish and ugly birds. She hasn’t read any Hofstadter but he too wrote about the sensation of “cuteness” and the protective instincts it elicits in humans. But I digress.

    If I ever did find a diet that I liked as much as I liked to eat red meat, and it was nearly as easy and inexpensive to prepare as red meat then I’ll be sold. Realistically though, I would like to find a happy median and maybe I will thanks to you and your new blog. Looking forward to some good recipes!

    “Will I Live to see 80?”
    I recently picked a new primary care doctor. After two visits and exhaustive Lab tests, he said I was doing ‘fairly well’ for my age. (I just turned 60.) A little concerned about that comment, I couldn’t resist asking him, ‘Do you think I’ll live to be 80?’
    He asked, ‘Do you smoke tobacco, or drink beer or wine?’

    ‘Oh no,’ I replied. ‘I’m not doing drugs, either!’

    Then he asked, ‘Do you eat rib-eye steaks and barbecued ribs?

    ‘I said, ‘Not much… my former doctor said that all red meat is very unhealthy!’

    ‘Do you spend a lot of time in the sun, like playing golf, sailing, hiking, or bicycling?’
    ‘No, I don’t,’ I said.

    He asked, ‘Do you gamble, drive fast cars, play rock and roll, or have a lot of sex?’

    ‘No,’ I said.
    He looked at me and said,… ‘Then, why do you even give a shit?’

  6. Christine says:

    So excited about this blog! Just a coupla questions about the ten day challenge:

    Do you think the colon blow is necessary/healthy, or did Tony give reasons why he included it? I am always skeptical of things claiming to remove toxins.

    Also, what is the reasoning behind no carbs with protein and no protein with carbs?

    For the 70% water rich foods, the only things that come to mind for me are melons and celery. What have you been using?

  7. Brian Egan says:

    Good luck kid. What was the colon blow medicine called?

  8. Matt,

    Where do you buy your fish from normally? What are your thoughts about freezing? What I mean here is frozen veggies (not canned) and fish. Are they held with the same value as non frozen or fresh food?

    Nice work with the blog! I have been getting away from red meat, but have not tried to get away from chicken. I think if I were to try I would need a tried and tested recipe for tacos without meat for they are my great love.

  9. I get it at a normal grocery store, not really by choice but because that’s all that we have here. I would imagine the quality is much better at Whole Foods or an actual market.

    As far as I know, frozen stuff is generally fine. When vegetables are frozen for a while, I think there is some nutrient loss, but not nearly as much as when they are canned. With fish I’ve heard that frozen can be more reliable in terms of freshness than fresh. I’m sure it varies from brand to brand, but when they flash-freeze it on the boat there’s not much that can go wrong on it’s way to your plate (unless you f it up).

    What you said about tacos is funny; Erin just mentioned yesterday how much she was going to miss turkey tacos. But in SoCal they eat fish tacos, maybe that’s the way we have to go.

    • Chris,
      I’ll write a post about the 10-day challenge in the next few days. It should answer those questions.

      • Christine Frazier says:

        In response to Vickief1998:

        If you’re looking for something filling, try some bean chili. You can use the chili recipe you made for Matt and me growing up, just sub out the 1 lb ground beef for 1 cup cooked brown rice and 1 cup black beans (either dry beans soaked overnight or a can. If you get in the habit of setting the beans out before bed, it’s easy to include more beans in your diet and it cuts out a lot of sodium from the canning process)

        Add those in saucepan/dutch oven with
        one fried onion
        one can chopped tomatoes
        one can light red kidney beans (again these don’t have to be canned if you’ve got the time)
        1/2 cup water
        1 tbs chili powder
        1 tsp salt

        Simmer covered for at least half an hour, stirring occasionally. the longer it cooks, the better.

        for some variation, add some cumin, chopped cilantro, hot red peppers, garlic, bell peppers…chili is very forgiving, you can throw in whatever you want!

    • Matt-
      Would you clarify what cleansing your body of toxins means? I used to think it was just the colon, but Tony Robbins talked about it being much more than that. And was it the cleanse that helped the red blood cells circulate more freely and carry more oxygen as opposed to travelling in clumps as we saw in the video?

      Also- have you noticed in difference in your energy level since you’ve been following this 10 day plan? If so, I would really like to see what you’ve been eating over the 10 day period. You mentioned that the food has been tasty- love to see some of these recipes!

  10. I can give you a Guiness though!!

  11. my final comment of evening
    we’re getting a Wegmans in Harford Co… will be awhile but great store

  12. Hi! Just read your interview with Brendan Brazier & then read your first blog entry. What a great website! As a veg runner myself, I was very excited to stumble across it. I will be rooting for you in October and wish you the best until then. I know you will ROCK the marathon and qualify for sure!

    • Hey Jen, I’m so glad you found me. It’s funny how infrequently that first post gets read, since most people are interested in the new stuff. But I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Hope you enjoy reading my blog in the future; leave me lots of comments!

  13. I found my way here from your recent post “New comers guide to No Meat Athlete”. It’s great to see where it all began. I joined you in August last year and haven’t missed a post since. I thought I had caught up reading the popular posts through your sidebar. Reading this one inspired me to look for your archives. I’ve got some reading to do! But first I have to finish your Marathon Road Map! Loving it so far!

    • Hey Jason! Wow, August was a long time ago. Thanks for reading so faithfully.

      Thanks for buying the Roadmap and for reading NMA. Let me know if I can help out with anything. :)

  14. I went to Tony Robbins’s UPW in November/2013. After that when everybody else was doing the “10 day Challenge”, I flew to my home country for 2 weeks vacations. I came back and after throwing away almost everything in my little kitchen, I have started the 10 Day Challenge. Thanks for your blog, is giving me support now. Some years later. What’s that for “a little leverage”??

  15. Thanks Pedro. Now readers can rest assured that if I were to lie, the fact-checkers would not let it slide. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  16. I understand the point of the joke but I think that what a lot of people don’t get is that giving up (or limiting) meat in your diet doesn’t necessarily mean enjoying food any less. You certainly have to be willing to put a little more effort into finding exciting recipes, but of the meals I’ve made over the last week, there haven’t been any which I think would really taste any better with meat in them. I think a large part of people’s hang-up over eating less meat is just inertia; we’ve been conditioned through years of habit to believe that we have to get three “square” meals per day, all of which include meat or some form of protein. Probably initially some people might experience some displeasure in not being able to eat meat, but once the old routine is broken and a new habit is formed I don’t think that eating is necessarily any less enjoyable.
    And wouldn’t it be nice to have a healthier diet to increase the number of years that you can actually enjoy “playing golf, sailing, hiking, or bicycling”?

  17. Brian,
    It’s called Enzymatic Whole Body Cleanse. It’s not really medicine; it’s mostly fiber and some other pills. The kit cost about 25 dollars. I’m a little sceptical as to whether pills like this can really cleanse you of toxins, so I don’t really know if it has worked. But it has “worked”, if you know what I mean.

  18. I will write a post within the next few days about the ten-day challenge, since mine ends today! But obviously I’ll keep the pescetarian part, and maybe more, because I really have felt great. Especially in the evenings, compared to when I used to eat a huge meal and then drink a beer and then get really tired.

    The cleanse Tony Robbins talked about was a full-body cleanse; I think this is mainly the blood stream. The kit I got is supposedly a full-body cleanse kit.

  19. Matt, there’s a lot better selection of fresh fish at the converted gas station across from Harford Community College. It’s owned by the same people that own the Seafood Stop in Fallston. Here’s some of there fish today:

    Fresh Fish (by the pound)

    Salmon Market
    Grouper Market
    Flounder Market
    Orange Roughy $9.99
    Catfish $6.99
    Mahi-Mahi Market
    Rockfish Market
    Halibut Market
    Tuna Steaks Market
    Tilapia $6.99
    Sea Trout Market

  20. Thanks Matt! We actually have fresh fish tacos at the cheesecake factory and people seem to enjoy them. Maybe I will try them this week.

  21. margaret says:

    I’d love some help with getting your dad to eat healthier food. The king of white bread and mayo prowls around the kitchen every night asking what he can eat. He shoots down most of my suggestions and usually won’t eat what I’m eating. He mentioned soup last night so I’m thinking some recipes for healthy soups or stews so the excess can be frozen would be ideal, especially now that standing up long enough to cook is so painful for him and I have so little time after work. Thanks!

  22. Margaret- you may like this… I just made the BEST soup tonight. I was in the mood for a bean soup- without the pork or bacon. This doesn’t sound really good when you read it, but it was terrific! Everyone kept going back for seconds and thirds, long after the dinner dishes were cleared. And it’s super easy. Here’s what I did:

    9 cups water in pot- begin boiling
    add
    2 cups uncooked minute instant whole grain brown rice- directions say it takes 10 min to cook by the way.
    1 small chopped onion
    6 stalks celery
    2- 16oz cans white beans
    1- 16oz can diced tomatoes
    1/2 tsp garlic powder
    1/2 cup ketchup
    salt and pepper

    Let simmer for 25 min. or so, until celery is tender and rice is soft.

    That’s it! Just put it in the pot and come back 1/2 hour later! And… I think the entire pot of soup cost less than $5.00! It would also be good with carrots and/or corn.

  23. Margaret,
    I’ve been wondering how to get him to eat healthily for a long time. The fact that he cooks a lot is good, because just by cooking you eliminate a lot of the crap that goes into food. Maybe get him to take a modified (chicken-allowed) 10-Day Challenge. And if he doesn’t like it he can go back. But that might mean you need to cook him some good meals while he’s on it!

  24. uh oh Matt was actually going to email you or Erin and tell you to come over Sat and have some dinner- Ol and Hen will be camping out in basement during shower…..but I am afraid there will be absolutely nothing you can eat!! and not so much for Erin either I don’t think…..

  25. and a vote for fish tacos- I have made them for yrs- ever since I ate them in Mazatlan with Mom Mom Schenk- she LOVED them! so do I

  26. Hey Anne,
    Thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment! We expected when we decided to eat this way that there would be a lot of times when it’s not the most convenient thing for us, but that it’s worth it. So this Saturday will be the first for Erin! Don’t worry, she’ll fill up ahead of time. But if I show up and there’s no Guinness for me… I won’t even go there.
    Thanks for the Wegman’s tip too. I had heard that once but I thought it was just a rumor. Do you know when?

  27. Unfort a little under 2 yrs for Wegmans- per Oliver- it will be in Abingdon—- near Social Security admin and that complex….. re: fish I have good luck at Klein’s- now that it is Shop Rite I don’t know if quality will change, so far OK though- I like flaky white types- got wild caught sole (I hate farmed- even before I read a thing about it I could tell it tasted different)- it was good- made it tonight
    tell Erin I am having a shrimp and pasta dish tom- with a light tomato basil cream sauce- so- prb cream not good and it isn’t whole wheat pasta- have given all types a try as Oliver wants lower carbs/more protein- so far I’m not sold on taste/texture… OK …..other dish has chicken- but there is salad and bread, cheese and fruit – oh and Christine’s cake! yum- if you’re coming I’ll tell Ol to get Guiness!

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