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Okay, remember how I mentioned salad and said we’d talk about that later? Guess what? It’s later.

Here’s the thing: Vegetarians don’t just eat salad. In fact, most of us only eat salad when forced to by some restaurant that doesn’t know how to cook without dead things and then we’re pretty cranky about it. Vegans? Same thing. Vegans and vegetarians are generally a hungry bunch. While a good salad can be wonderful, especially on a summer day, they aren’t always filling.

Look, I grew up on mystery meat, Chef Boyardee (more mystery), and iceburg lettuce salads drowned in nuclear orange dressing. I get it. However, there’s more to life and your tastebuds feel left out.

See, here’s what most of us are used to: salty food, greasy food, salty, greasy food, sometimes ketchup-covered salty, greasy food. See a pattern? If our tongue is coated in a thick film of grease (and if you stop eating hydrogenated oils for a month or two and try to go back, you’ll notice that film even more), you can’t taste the more subtle flavors of a dish. You need more salt and hot sauce and HFCS ketchup to get through so you taste something.

That’s why “diets” and “cheat days” and all that crap ends up failing. If you go back to eating junk, your body will want junk. Until you train it otherwise. So, for one-to-three months, don’t eat fast food. Don’t eat anything with hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils. At all. Look at the ingredients. If it’s in there, but it back on the shelf. (And “Zero trans fats!” is misleading because that’s “less than .5 per serving. It can still be in there and it’s still doing its candle-wax routine with your tongue.)

But? I thought you said we weren’t going to “diet.” If I just quit fast food for a few months, isn’t that a diet? Look, what we’re aiming for here is a lifestyle change. With some things, you can change gradually. You can mix in whole wheat pasta with your semolina until you get used to the nutty texture. (Frankly, I like both and use both depending on which will go better with a particular dish. I also use buckwheat soba and amaranth pastas, etc., but that’s a whole other thing.) The fast food thing? The hydrogenated oils thing? It’s gotta be whole hog, so to speak. After your 1-3 month “cleanse” or “purge” or whatever, if you find yourself craving a drive-thru, go ahead… But! Order small. And then pay attention to how you feel after you eat it. Take notes if you have to. Do you feel hungry two hours later? Do you feel bloated? Gassy? Does your tongue feel like you licked a Yankee Candle? If so, don’t do that anymore. There’s better food out there than stuff that gets passed into your car by a teenager.

Here’s where you roll your eyes because I’m being ridiculous or accuse me of being one of those liberal hippies who doesn’t want you to eat things that taste good. The thing about that is, once you start tasting food, you realize McBurgerBell doesn’t taste all that good. And it might be convenient, but at what cost?

Speaking of costs, I’ve heard the arguments about vegetarian meals costing more than meat dishes. Think about that for a minute. If grains and vegetables and beans cost more than a slab of dead cow, just how healthy was that cow and what kinds of other cost-cutting measures happened along the way? But that’s a whole other rabbit hole.

I’ve also heard the arguments about soy not being good. And about “you’re not getting any calcium if you don’t drink milk.” And “veggies aren’t completely safe either.” Yeah, except the main thing is to start listening to our bodies. Mine? Really happy with tofu and seitan and beans and grains. I was often anemic back when I ate meat and that hasn’t really changed, but the listening reminds me to take my vitamins that and evens it out. Otherwise? There’s calcium in lots of vegetables and nuts. Almond milk generally has more than cow milk and lacks the lactose that tends to cause excess mucus, bloating, and other side effects as well as lacking the cholesterol. Oh, and the main contaminants of veggies? Cross-contamination with meat products and lack of proper sanitation in fields (e.g. not having proper restrooms for pickers or having cattle runoff too close to the crops).

So, eat the things your body tells you to eat. Not the things your midnight-TV watching brain tells you to get from a drive-thru. Not the sugared-up junk your kids beg you for. Not the convenient things in the vending machine at work. Not the high-fat, low-nutrient foods you want after three beers and a bad day. No. Listen to your body. Your intestines. How do they feel after junk? Pay attention to your energy levels. Which foods make you want to jump up and run around the block and which ones make you want to hibernate until spring. (No, I can totally kill some mac n’ cheese, I get it. I just make it which fake cheese because dairy hates me and hates my husband more.) Phase out junk. Pay attention to flavors. Learn what to do with spices and herbs. Eat outside your comfort zone (and no, that doesn’t mean “eat gross stuff like that Bizarre Foods dude). Give Meatless Mondays a go.

I know it sounds corny. And maybe hokey and like a bunch of new age-y BS. Really. I get it. But when you listen to your body, you feel better. Trust me.

For the record, a “good” salad to me has things like spinach and an interesting leafy lettuce mix( maybe even some kale), broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, maybe some beets, beans like garbanzo or black or kidney, maybe some avocado slices, maybe some fresh-grilled corn hacked off the cob, with a vinaigrette and a big chuck of multigrain bread on the side.

Mmm…avocado.

*wanders off to make avocado-lemon-garlic sauce for linguine*

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