Guest Post: I’m giving up meat, refined sugar and dairy. Send help!

My colleague Andrea Ball is a beast when it comes to reporting. She spearheaded this major investigation into CPS and the state’s foster care system, and right now, she’s digging into what happened with Austin’s failed DNA lab.

But when it comes to what she’s eating and cooking, she could use a hand. Or at least some encouragement.

Here’s the deal: Andrea is undergoing a major overhaul to what she eats. As she explains in this piece, she’s had a lifelong struggle with figuring out what’s best to eat and how to feel about it, and cutting out meat, dairy, refined sugars and other highly processed foods is the path she’s pursuing this year.

The problem is that she loves beef jerky and can’t pull off pea fritters like a pro. I’ve been giving her cookbooks and some advice in the office, but I’ve never gone through such a major change to my diet. So, dear readers, if you have any wise words of advice for Andrea — or recipes, perhaps — could you email her at aball@statesman.com?

We are going to hear from Andrea several times over the next few months to see how she’s doing.

OK, take it away, Andrea:
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The fluorescent green mixture is gloppy and gross as it sticks to my fingers, then plops into my frying plan with a soft thump.

Fried pea fritters. They looked so good in the recipe book, all golden, crispy and molded into perfectly round circles. Mine looked like a green highlighter had fallen into a bucket of wet clay.

These pea fritters didn't turn out exactly as planned for Andrea Ball, a Statesman reporter who is embarking on a plant-based diet. Andrea Ball / American-Statesman

These pea fritters didn’t turn out exactly as planned for Andrea Ball, a Statesman reporter who is embarking on a plant-based diet. Andrea Ball / American-Statesman

Maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to use my food processor, so I’d tried to squish them with my fork, then dumped them in the blender. Or maybe it was that half-cup of refined flour I’d thrown in at the last minute.

Whatever the reason, I knew I’d lost this battle. I dumped the peas in the trash and pondered my new life as a vegetarian.

On December 27, on the heels of yet another binge-eating holiday, I became an herbivore. To be more specific, I’m a plant-based eater.

A plant-based diet is one that’s heavy on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains and legumes, and light on (or excludes) meat, dairy products, eggs, and as highly refined foods like bleached flour and refined sugar.

Yeah, that. It’s not just a meat thing. It’s a cookies, cake, milkshake, bread and yummy stuff thing.

I am an unlikely vegetarian. For example, I love, love, love beef jerky. Jack Links Teriyaki Tender Bites is my jam. So tender, sweet, savory and chewy, all in one bite. I’ve been known to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, particularly when I was on the low-carb portion of my diet-of-the-month rotation.

So what made me do this? Several things, but it starts with that diet-of-the-month nonsense.

I have been on a diet ever since I can remember. The words “stocky” and “chunky” were tossed at me my whole childhood, and I quickly developed a highly dysfunctional relationship with food. I loved it, I hated it, you know the drill. I’ve done Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, low fat, high carb, blah blah blah. Cliche and boring, but accurate.

This winter, after coming off yet another low-carb stint, I started feeling like hell. My eating was out of control once again, and a new medication I was taking had messed with my digestion. Meanwhile, I had become involved with Austin Animal Center and had, unknowingly, made friends with a bunch of vegetarians.

Andrea Ball is one month into a new way of eating that doesn't involve meat, refined sugar or heavily processed foods. That means she's eating oatmeal when she goes out to eat at places like Galaxy Cafe. Andrea Ball / American-Statesman

Andrea Ball is one month into a new way of eating that doesn’t involve meat, refined sugar or heavily processed foods. That means she’s eating oatmeal when she goes out to eat at places like Galaxy Cafe. Andrea Ball / American-Statesman

Nobody pushed it on me. But when I started asking questions, my friends Stephanie and Sara extolled the virtues of a plant-based diet. Lots of vegetables and natural fiber would help my digestion and pump me full of vitamins. Some people become more energetic and slept better. Others get better skin.

No one promised any weight loss. Eliminating meat does not a skinny person make. But the idea of seeing food as friend of good health and not an enemy to avoid intrigued me.

Then I watched some documentaries: Forks Over Knives and Food, Inc. made me rethink the way I view cattle farming, chicken production and my long-held belief that only meat and dairy could give me the nutrients I need.

I’m not even going to tell you about the horrible videos depicting the living conditions of the pigs, chickens and cows that end up on our plates.

That’s how I became a vegetarian. And how I ended up making scary green pea patties that wound up in my garbage can.

Every day is a challenge as I try to figure out what to eat, what to avoid and how to cook. I can’t keep track of the number of people who have sent me recipes or given me cookbooks. It’s overwhelming. For now, I’m just sticking to the basics — rice, beans, potatoes, vegetables.

But how long I can keep this up is a question. I want it to be forever, but is this just another one of my diet-of-the-month routines? We’ll see.

As long as I can stay away from the beef jerky, I’m counting it as a win.

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