Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Classroom I Chose -- The "HOW" of My Personal Vegan Journey

When entering Brother Hinger's classroom your spine stiffens, your smile drops from your face with the force of a dead bolt locking, and you walk, sit, read, and speak in the exact manner in which the stern Brother dictates. There is no getting lost in the shuffle here; there may be 30 other fellow 7th Graders, but Brother Hinger's presence was immense, and intense. Homework due? There was no handing it up to the front where your paper, or lack thereof could hide, rather Bro. Hinger walked to each desk for a quick inspection, and woe is you if your penmanship was sloppy, or if your work was not thoroughly complete. And if you didn't have it done at all? Hell, sheer fire and brimstone hell to pay. It was an odd day if someone was not reduced to sobbing tears by the Gestapo-like interrogations of Brother Hinger over where your homework was, or what was the difference between an electron and a neutron. You lived in total fear of him. As predictable as the Santa Ana winds racing over Los Angeles, every Autumn you'd hear the whisper, "I heard that two years ago Bro. Hinger threw some kid down the steps of the second story classroom!" "Yeah, I heard that too, the kid broke his arm!" A persistent rumor about him that went all the way back to the 1950's and which petrified every new class of 12 and 13 year olds over the decades. When my younger brother went through his class, the rumor was it was me. Although one day, late for his class, he stopped me at the top of the landing, and while my heels were precariously balanced on the top step, and his boney, Ichabod Crane finger was jamming in my chest like a jackhammer making way for the 2nd Avenue subway, the rumor of me being thrown down the steps was greatly exaggerated.

Brother Hinger taught 7th Grade Science at our local Catholic Jr. High School. Being a Marianist Brother he was always in a black suit and tie - sometimes smoking his large pipe which smelled of a funeral pyre. He cut a figure that was pure Dickensonian; looking more like a British Headmaster with his Brylecreem inspired slicked-back silver hair, wiry glasses, and pinched face, than he did a Southern Californian man of the cloth. And in his class you did everything with precision. The answer was not "15," the answer is "15 milliliters, Brother Hinger." There were no shortcuts, there was no bartering, no acting up, no fudging, no lying, no nothin'. You sat, you cowered, you did the work exactly as he said. He was the most hated man in 7th Grade, and by the time that class graduated from High School, as well as when commiserating 20 years afterwards, the feeling was unanimous: Brother Hinger was one of the best teachers we ever had because we learned so much.

I tell that story because 6 months ago I was faced with a choice. A simple one really. Lose weight, lower my cholesterol or not, and maybe die young of a heart attack. The vanity issue was a big part for me as well. After a decade of pointing to that college photo of me on the mantel in my apartment and saying, "I used to look like that," while in full courting press with one woman or another, it got old. Old, and pathetic. An obese and pickled 40 year old man living like a 20 year old with the song "Glory Days" on a permanent loop in his head.

So, how do I get healthy? How do I lose a significant amount of weight? What plan shall I chose? What will be my playbook? Which classroom will I choose?

Some kids learn more when their teacher has a beard and long hair, wears blue jeans, sits in his chair backwards, throws the text book in the waste bin, and asks the students to call him "Chuck." Others, like me, where self-discipline is more of a challenge -- be I a restless 12 year old, or a 40 year old needing to change my entire lifestyle -- I need more of a Brother Hinger classroom.

I knew it was not about just losing the pounds. I knew it was a complete life change in how I ate and drank. Now, Dr. Fuhrman's Eat to Live is a great guide. For the big weight loss, it's pretty strict at first, but slowly you reintroduce a limited amount of fish or chicken. And in the end , it would all be about smart eating, and moderation.

Moderation. "Hey, the cool teacher will give everyone an 'A' if you just show up and talk about how you feel about Calculus!" How does my mind work in hearing that? "I wonder if I show up once a month to the cool teacher's class I can skate by with a gentleman's 'C?'" So, if given the chance to eat in moderation where I could have a little bit of skinless chicken, and a little bit of salmon, and a tiny glass of wine in addition to my plant-based diet, I will take that little bit of chicken, and soon enough I will be saying, "Well, these 47 chicken wings count as chicken!" And that 8 oz glass of wine turns into 8 oz's per digit on my hand...both of them. And on and on.

So, I knew moderation was not a friend of mine back on November 1, 2009. I knew that following the instructions of the cool teacher, no matter how sound and nutrient dense, was going to lead me to being imprecise, and fudging on the diet. A small Alaskan salmon filet without butter is good? Well, a giant basket of double-fried fish & chips is good too, right?

I was too old and set in my ways to flip the moderation switch. I needed a semester of precision. I needed a semester of all or nothing. I needed to go 6 months without any animal products at all. I needed to go 6 months without drinking alcohol. I needed a semester of strict guidelines. I needed to go 100% vegan.

And I am so glad I did. It was the only way for me to become friends with moderation. I had to be "all in." I had to go 100% vegan and take the guess work out. I knew without equivocation what was off the menu, and never to be touched. It was only in this environment that I could follow the Eat to Live plan.

Son of a gun, it worked! I have lost 57.5 lbs as of today, and dropped my bad cholesterol 120 points! I look much better, feel terrific, and now I am so focused on this new lifestyle change that the thought of going back to the old ways of eating are simply an anathema to me.

There are many different ways to live a healthy lifestyle, and change your diet to lose weight. But, I am thankful that I know enough to know what works best for me. Some people like it when Chuck says, "The correct answer is what you want it to be," but I needed my knuckles rapped and the answer to be unambiguous. Out of the success of these past 6 months I am now friends with moderation, and I don't need to take a Bro. Hinger approach for my next endeavor, and I can have a great chicken meal that will not lead to chicken parmesan with extra cheese, and I can have a cocktail without it turning into an all nighter.

On November 1, 2009 I walked into Brother Hinger's class. And though it was not a semester of loving everything I ate and drank, and though I was at times unhappy, it was a semester in which I learned more about nutrition than I ever thought I would. It was a semester I learned more about myself than I ever thought I would. And it was a semester about success because it was a semester about precision. So, no, the answer was not, "No meat, fish, dairy, but once in a while a little butter." NO! The answer was emphatically, "No meat, no fish, no dairy, no exceptions!"

And I did it! I did without ever cheating, without ever making concessions for myself, and the results, because of my nutrient-dense eating, are startling!


Vegan Epicurean said...

We are very much a like. I had to use the all or nothing approach myself. I guess that is why I am so fascinated with your journey.

Regarding moderation I picked up an idea about it in the Cornell cert program on plant based nutrition. Would moderation make as much sense to you if the item in question were cigarettes? Just something to ponder. Have you read "The China Study" yet? I would highly recommend it.


Terrence said...

Yes, I do have the China Study, and thanks Alicia/

Daryl S. said...

Contrary to popular rumor, Bro. Hinger never threw me down the stairs either.

Mr. Havercamp said...

Terry: I have not read this in weeks and the day I decide to check in I see Bro. Hinger! Damn near made me wet myself!!! That man was freaking scary. I think it was Richard Ford in our class that was "thrown down the stairs"...Classic.

Has it been 6 months? NICE JOB DUDE. Looking forward to seeing the reduced you someday soon.


Terrence said...

thanks Mike.

Duly noted Darryl.