Every Wednesday is Noodles & Company: How I Accidentally Founded the “Lunch Bunch” Tradition at My Office

This week marked the third month of my return to the corporate world. After an unexpected gig as a stay-at-home dad for 6 months, my mind is now consumed for 8 hours a day by a constantly shifting workload of HR, marketing, and admin; as my English degree somewhat randomly translated into a lifelong career as a professional recruiter; in addition to running this blog, managing two YouTube channels, and handling SEO for companies on the side.

Never in my life has anything I’ve ever done required such a high percentage of brain functioning as my new current job at a Fortune 500 company; as I hide away all day in a fancy 6 story building outside of Nashville. It’s not stressful, but it’s undeniably challenging.

For most of my 11 years as a recruiter at my previous employer, I was known for just bringing my lunch everyday. And I definitely never went out to lunch with any of my co-workers.

But about a month ago at my new job, I decided to reward myself for surviving the first two months of training. I walked half a mile around the corner to the Noodles and Company; knowing without a doubt they would quickly and easily be able to accommodate my needs as a manly vegan.

The meal was everything wondrous I imagined it would be.

So after I walked the half a mile back to my office, I casually mentioned to Lori, who works in the cubicle next to me, what I did on my lunch break.

She immediately responded, “When are you going again? Let me know- I want to go next time!”

For the next two Wednesdays, she and I both went. Then word spread. Today made the 4th week of our tradition, and now were up to about a half a dozen people.

We’re all Noodles Rewards members; meaning we earn special discounts and freebies each time we stop there for lunch.

It feels good to be a part of the group- and to know we’re going somewhere I actually want to be each week and that I never get tired of.

My favorites are the Spicy Korean noodles with tofu and the Thai Green Curry.

Noodles & Company is naturally an extension of my identity. Not only do they openly cater to vegans like myself, but they also have so many menu options for everyone else in my lunch bunch; including one co-worker who orders theirs gluten-free; which is very easy to do with there not only being rice noodles but also Zoodles, made from zucchini.

I also appreciate that I can get meals that come so spicy they fog up my glasses. I like how we can see the staff making our food the moment we order it and then how our food is brought to our table just a few minutes later.

And not only is the price in my budget, but as a token Millennial, I avoid going to restaurants where I have to tip. Noodles and Company is a fast-casual style restaurant; meaning that there is not full table service offered.

By now, it may be easy to assume that Noodles and Company is sponsoring this post. But no, they’re not.

In fact, this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned there here on my blog, simply because I am passionate about their brand. Back in January 2017, I featured them in a story about my son and I going to see Rogue One and stopping at Noodles and Company for dinner. (See picture above.)

I am simply writing about something I very much like. I am a huge fan of Noodles and Company.

And therefore, the Lunch Bunch is sure to arrive every Wednesday.

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Stay-at-Home Dad 101: I Am Now Officially an Overweight Vegan (176 pounds, 5’ 9”, Age 36, Medium Frame)

I am fundamentally opposed to New Year’s Resolutions. I have always said that if a person is truly ready to make a change in their life, then why wait for some arbitrary date on a calendar?

So for me, the first day of the rest of my life was not January 1st, but instead, it happens to be January 8th.

Last night after I took my shower and put on my size large t-shirt, I couldn’t help but notice how tight it felt. So I did something I rarely do: I weighed myself on the scale.

It took me a moment to accept my reality: I now weigh around 176 pounds. The most I’ve ever weighed was 178 pounds, and that was when I was in my late 20s and still eating meat, eggs, and dairy.

The lowest I’ve ever weighed since high school was 153 pounds; easily fitting into size 31 pants. Check out this video I made just 2 and a half years ago in May 2015, to see me in the ideal weight range for my height:

But there was a subtle change that began just a couple of months later, once my wife got pregnant with our now 20 month-old daughter back in July 2015. As my wife began eating more during the pregnancy, so did I… and I never stopped!

For over two years now, I have been slowly and steadily gaining weight; yet remaining faithful to my diet consisting of only vegetables, fruit, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. That means no meat, no eggs, no dairy.

In two months from now, it will be 5 whole years that I’ve been a vegan.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this “vegan weight gain”. I first brought it up in September, a month before I became a stay-at-home dad, in my first Dad Bod post.

What’s interesting, as my wife recently pointed out, is I’m actually eating one less meal a day now that I work from home and take care of our kids. Back when I worked at the office, I always had a huge bowl of oatmeal; full of protein and saturated fat, thanks to the nuts and unsweetened cocoa I put in it.

But now that I’m constantly caring for a 20 month-old daughter all day long, plus a 7 year-old son before and after school, plus writing and shooting videos whenever I get a chance, I just don’t have much time to eat… until we all eat dinner as family each night; which is apparently when I make up for any lack of calories.

I am convinced that my strategy to get back to my ideal weight is to aggressively eliminate empty or unnecessary calories; especially during dinner, which is my biggest meal. It’s important to me that I don’t go hungry, but instead, that I stop eating once I get enough food. I need to do a better job of telling the two apart.

Just imagine the irony of an overweight vegan. Imagine all those well-meaning, yet concerned people telling me over the years, “Well, just make sure you get enough protein…”

Uh, yeah, that’s clearly not a problem for me.

And in case anyone is skeptical that I am indeed overweight, perhaps because I don’t “look” overweight, just check out the height and weight chart. For my height of 5’ 9” and having a medium frame, I officially became overweight once I crossed 170 pounds. That was about 6 pounds ago.

What’s my motivation to get back into that ideal weight range where I was back in May 2015? It’s not about self-esteem. My confidence is not effected by my weight gain.

Instead, it’s important to my identity that I have control over my own body. In the same way I refuse to let other people control my emotions, I now must refuse to let my overeating habits effect my weight.

No kidding: As I was putting this blog post together, my daughter who was sitting on my lap, looked up at the picture below of my belly, and in all sincerity asked, “Baby?”

I am an overweight vegan. We do exist, yes. But I do plan to change that.

Stay-at-Home Dad 101: What I Eat During the Day, As a Vegan

The thought seemed intimidating when I was first immediately launched into my new career as stay-at-home dad:

“But what will I eat?”

Turns out, the answer was simple. I eat the same stuff I ate every day back when I commuted nearly an hour away to an office; only minus the oatmeal with trail mix and a banana.

I eat a little less because I am a little less hungry, and I suppose that might have something to do with the fact I’m not getting outside to exercise as much. When I worked at the office, I took my breaks walking or biking or running outside; as for now, I have an 18 month-old daughter and cold or hot weather to consider.

My calorie consumption begins each morning with a cup of instant organic iced coffee. (Honestly, it’s only 2 calories; but I’m not counting!) The entire container only costs about $5, the same amount of just one Starbucks latte.

While I could opt for the unsweetened vanilla almond milk in the fridge to add some flavor and creaminess, somehow along the way I discovered I genuinely like the taste of cold, black coffee.

But I do bring out the unsweetened vanilla almond milk about an hour later for my official breakfast, which is the manly vegan smoothie I invented. My recipe is high in protein and total fat, but contains very little saturated fat and zero cholesterol.

The ingredients, in addition to the almond milk: A whole banana, a cup of frozen blueberries, a half cup of plain oatmeal, a teaspoon of chia seeds, a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa or carob powder, and a tablespoon of peanut butter. Then I put that all together in the blender for about 20 seconds.

My lunch is quite predictable for me as well. There’s a brand of organic ramen noodle available at Whole Foods and Sprouts, called Koyo. They are around a dollar a package, and I cook 2 of them for my lunch. They are also high in protein, like my smoothie. I typically go with the “low sodium” version, but if it’s not available, I don’t let it bother my conscience: I usually consume under my daily allowance of sodium, since I don’t eat meat.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon, I may go for another cup of coffee, but I’m typically not really hungry after having consumed so much protein and good fats earlier in the day.

Depending on what’s for dinner, I may start prepping for when my wife and son get home. What’s really great is when my wife has already put together a crock pot meal the day before and placed it in the fridge. I can have that heating up during the afternoon so it will be ready for dinner. Plus, I can throw together a festive salad.

If I do stray from my ramen noodles routine for lunch, it’s only to finish off any leftovers from the night before, like my wife’s homemade vegan pizza; and maybe a bowl of cereal as well.

And consider, this meal plan is coming from a guy who said most of his life, “I got to have meat! I need more meat! I’m still hungry. I could never be a vegetarian. I couldn’t do it. Especially not a vegan!”

Obviously, there was dynamic character growth in the person narrating this story.

But I have embraced my identity as a manly vegan; and here more recently, as a stay-at-home dad as well.

If Vegans Don’t Get Enough Protein, Why Can’t I Fit into My Size 31 Pants Anymore? 5 Ways To Get Rid of My New “Dad Bod”

Amazingly, in the year 2017, there are still people who still assume vegans don’t get enough protein. They should just take a look at me then.

For the first time in the 4 and a half years I’ve been a vegan, and more than a year of being a vegetarian before that, I can no longer fit into my size 31 pants, which is the size I moved down to when I converted to the plant-based lifestyle. Even size 32 is becoming an issue now.

It would be one thing if I never exercised, but that’s clearly not the case. I have been very vocal about how for years now, I have been mountain biking, walking a minimum of 30 minutes a day, doing pull-ups, and even adding skateboarding to the mix this year.

Plus, all this summer, I have been running 2 miles, at least twice a week; even in 93 degree weather or rain.

Even this past Saturday while our family was on fall vacation, I ran down and then back up the mountain our cabin was on (the equivalent of 2 miles), without ever stopping. Later, I saw a very muscular guy who looked younger than I am, attempting to run the same course, but he had to stop to walk.

I’m healthy and I’m physically fit, especially for a 36 year-old… but I’m also gaining weight.

For a guy who consumes 0% of his daily cholesterol allowance, and who gets all his protein and nutrients from simply vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds, it would be easy to believe that a guy like me would have no issues with my pants no longer fitting.

Clearly, I’m getting enough protein. And enough exercise.

The fundamental problem? I’m simply consuming more calories than my body actually needs; even with all the exercise and my 0% cholesterol vegan lifestyle.

If I am to get back to size 31, I suppose it’s a matter of deliberately changing my lifestyle again, in addition to remaining vegan and continuing my regular exercise routine:

  1. Eating smaller meals and not going back for seconds.
  2. Not having vegan desserts anymore, like cashew ice cream and vegan chocolate bars.
  3. Eating whole fruit after dinner, to take the place of going back for seconds or dessert.
  4. Using balsamic vinegar for salad dressing again, so I can further cut out oils from my diet.
  5. Nearly nixing alcohol intake all together.

I am currently 167 pounds, which nearly puts me in the “overweight” category. I am 3 pounds away from being overweight. I am not okay with this. For me, it’s an attack on my identity. I have control over my weight… my weight doesn’t control me. I don’t have to settle for an expanding waistline just because, “This is just what happens when you start getting older.”

It’s funny because, in theory, I don’t eat a lot anyway:

My homemade smoothie and black coffee in the morning, my oatmeal or vegan ramen noodles at lunch, and a solid meal at dinner consisting of whatever Italian or Mexican dish my wife prepares along with a dark green salad. And the equivalent of a glass of wine or two.

No meat, no fish, no eggs, no milk, no cheese, no yogurt.

But it’s time to reduce my intake, so that I can also reduce my waist size and comfortably fit into my size 31 pants again.

I am not a victim. I am victorious. I shall overcome!

So yeah… I think it’s safe to say that as a vegan, I’m getting enough protein.

Top 10 Reasons My “Diet” is Consistently Successful (from a Non-Vegan, Non-Vegetarian Perspective)

I have a healthy relationship with food. I eat all throughout the day and I never choose to go hungry. I am happy with my weight. I am perfectly in the proper BMI range for my height, weight, and age.

Clearly, what I am doing is working, when it comes to my diet and lifestyle. But as I share my strategy today, I am deliberately not going talk about being a vegetarian or a vegan, in an effort to help more people. True, I can not deny that much of this info is what I taught myself about a healthy lifestyle only after I became a vegan in March 2013. Still, I promise to refrain from specifically mentioning not eating meat, eggs, or dairy…

Here are the top 10 reasons my “diet” is still successful:

1) I never choose to go hungry. If I’m hungry, I eat. Going hungry means I would subconsciously choose to fill up on empty calories later to make up the difference.

2) I know the difference between being healthy and being overweight. Our American pop culture has confused us, making us belief that as long as we accept our bodies and find beauty within, that we can ignore the fact we still may be physically unhealthy on the inside too; beautiful or not.

3) I know the sources of protein that contain 0% cholesterol. Vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds all contain protein, yet do not contribute any amount to the daily percentage of my daily cholesterol intake.

4) I chose good fats instead of bad fats. Cutting out all fat or even most fat is not healthy, as the human body thrives on fat consumption. However, fat from plants like avocados, almonds, and sunflower seeds contains 0% cholesterol.

5) I chose good sugars instead of bad sugars. Throughout the day, I am consuming fresh fruit, which is packed with natural sugar, along with fiber and some protein. That is good sugar. Bad sugar is any kind of sugar added to or processed with other food.

6) I find a way to exercise daily. Forget the gym. I don’t need it. I run, I ride my mountain bike, I walk, and I even skateboard. I do one or more of these things on a daily basis. I am always on the move.

7) I focus on a healthy lifestyle, not on losing weight. I have learned that by having a healthy relationship with food and exercise, I naturally have maintained my 20 pounds of weight loss from several years ago.

8) I am black and white about the gray areas. When I do chose to eat something unhealthy, I know how often and when- for those truly special occasions. In other words, I don’t keep potato chips, soda, or Oreos in the house. And no, a “truly special occasion” is not “whenever I’ve had a bad day.” I do not eat my feelings.

9) I have realistic standards and reasonable expectations. I don’t need 6 pack abs. I don’t need to compete with the looks of Hollywood. Instead, I focus on actually being healthy, not winning a beauty contest.

10) My “diet” is permanent. Going on a diet to lose to lose weight is an obvious set-up for the weight to return, once the diet is ended. The only way a diet will provide consistent results is to make it a permanent lifestyle, instead of a diet.

All of that information sounds reasonable, right? Who would actually argue with any of those 10 habits? It’s all legit stuff.

I’m not a physician. I’m not an expert. But I am healthy and I do know what I’m talking about.

My life, year after year, is the proof.

True, I am the Manly Vegan… but I can help non-vegans too.

Vegan Confession: I Went Gluten-Free for a Month and This Happened…

I always assumed that in order to take it to the next level, up from already being a caffeine-free vegan, I would need to add “gluten-free” to my list of self-imposed rigid restrictions over my life…

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

Furthermore, I assumed that by completely nixing gluten (wheat) from my diet, I would discover even more health benefits; like how when I became a vegan: my eczema, constant sinus pressure, reoccurring sinusitis, and pet allergies all went away in just a matter of days.

Plus, I had hoped (also like when I became a vegan), I would accidentally lose some weight (since I recently admitted to gaining 7 pounds over the course of the past year when I ate vegan chocolate bars and tater tots with my pregnant wife).

Well, after a month of being gluten-free, I can officially confirm that none of those things came true for me.

I have a feeling you were expecting me to say that going gluten-free totally changed my life, because that definitely seems to be the trendy thing to say these days.

And for the people who say that, I’m confident it’s true for them. I am happy for them that they found what works for them. I give them all my moral support.

But personally speaking, based on my experiment, the gluten-free experience didn’t impress me.

For a whole month, I was fully committed. I think back to last month in Atlanta, while our family was on our first road trip since having the baby.

Time after time, I turned down all kinds of magnificent vegan gluten-containing foods. At the Ponce De Leon Whole Foods where we ate several times, they had a tempting vegan pizza bar as well as plenty of other fun vegan yet gluten-filled delights. And I said no, for the sake of my gluten-free experiment. I sacrificed during an inconvenient time!

But in the end, I saw no benefits.

Granted, I lost 2 of the 7 pounds I had gained for the “vegan chocolate bar and tater tot” incident. However, that easily could have been for the fact I don’t eat vegan chocolate bars or tater tots any more.

Gluten-Free Vegan Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia in a 2016 Toyota Highlander Limited

I am willing to acknowledge though, that gluten-free is a way of life for many people. However, I am not one of those people.

My body processes gluten just fine; no issues at all. But the trade-off is, I can’t process eggs or dairy without major instant health issues.

As for my future with gluten, the experience has taught me this: I prefer corn tortillas over wheat.

So as my wife makes Mexican meals, I will continue to only eat corn tortillas; not wheat. And I truly enjoy spelt and quinoa in her Italian meals, which we have been eating more of here lately.

In the end, I won’t eat as much wheat as before. Going gluten-free opened my eyes to other options. Yet still, gluten is my friend.

Vegan Confession: I Gained 7 Pounds by Eating Tater Tots and Vegan Chocolate Bars (Over the Past Year)

Vegan Confession: I Gained 7 Pounds by Eating Tater Tots and Vegan Chocolate Bars

From the time I was my heaviest back in 2008 when I got married, I reached 178 pounds. That may not sound too heavy for a guy, but at 5’9”, I was actually “overweight” according the height/weight chart.

And I know… many people don’t like to take those charts seriously. But I do, on a personal level. Because at my heaviest, I also had health problems like eczema; as well as constant sinus pressure, and reoccurring sinusitis, and pet allergies.

My theory is that with the extra weight on my body, along with it came health problems.

Vegan Confession: I Gained 7 Pounds by Eating Tater Tots and Vegan Chocolate Bars

On Thanksgiving Day of 2008 (a few months after getting married), I became like a faithful Jew and gave up pork and shellfish. That was the beginning of the slippery slope, as I found myself becoming a vegetarian by December of 2011.

By April 2013, I became a full vegan, and in the process, I accidentally went from a size 34 to size 31 pants. That summer I got down to 153 pounds, without even trying.

That means I lost 25 pounds in the process of getting healthy. Yet losing weight was never my goal; I just wanted to be healthy.

As you know, all my previously mentioned health problems have disappeared and remained in remission since becoming a vegan.

For the majority of these past 3 years of being a vegan, I leveled out and remained right at around 155 pounds. Until this past year…

With my vegetarian wife being pregnant from July 2015 to April 2016, she began craving “fun food”. So I began picking up vegan chocolate bars at Whole Foods Market on the way home for work.

Vegan Confession: I Gained 7 Pounds by Eating Tater Tots and Vegan Chocolate Bars

It began a normal thing for us to go through a whole bag or two of tater tots over the course of each week.

Keep in mind, we were still eating our normal healthy meals too. But ultimately, both the chocolate bars and the tater tots contained oil; which we typical avoid. Not to mention, the chocolate bars also contained extra sugar as well.

Remember what I always point out about veganism:

Being a vegan forces a person to consume 0% of their daily cholesterol; as the amount of cholesterol even in the fattiest vegan foods (cashews, avocados, and even oil) still never reaches 1%.

Even so, I was at 162 pounds when my daughter was born 3 months ago; which is about 7 pounds is heavier than I’m used to.

My size 31 pants were so tight in the waist that I asked my wife more than once if she recently had begun drying our clothes on a higher heat setting.

Nope. It was the all the vegan chocolate bars and tater tots over the course of the past year.

Chocolate Tater

Four weeks ago, I nixed those items from my diet, along with all fried foods, and gluten.

While I haven’t publicly announced I am now gluten-free in addition to being a caffeine-free vegan, it’s working for me so far.

I’ve lost 2 of the 7 pounds so far and I physically feel better.

So yes, it’s possible for a vegan to gain weight just by eating foods with more oil and sugar.

Granted, it took me an entire year to accidentally gain those 7 pounds. Now the question is, how long will it take to lose it all?

I refuse to buy a bigger pair of pants!