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Interview with Gretchen Tseng: Vegan Exercise Enthusiast

Gretchen Tseng is a Nutrition Specialist with Certification in Plant-Based Nutrition through Cornell University and an exercise enthusiast. At a young age, she experienced a series of illnesses that propelled her to seek nutrition based solutions. Gretchen is absolutely passionate about sharing the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle and can be found doing so through her website Veggie Grettie, as the Editor of Chic Vegan, a recipe columnist for GoodVeg, and a Brand Ambassador for NEXT by Athena. Gretchen lives in California with her husband, two children, and 14 year-old four-legged best bud.

Gretchen_Tseng

Why Vegan?
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
I have always been interested in the health benefits of a vegetarian diet and have been flirting with this way of eating since high school. Throughout my childhood, I experienced a series of health issues culminating in the diagnosis of endometriosis. After surgery to remove my lesions I wanted to do everything possible to avoid having my lesions return and that desire propelled me to research nutrition-based solutions. 

Becoming vegan was a process for me that first began with removing dairy from my diet due to the fact that dairy and my digestive system do not get along - I actually consider myself lucky on that front. Giving-up dairy was never hard for me since the results of eating dairy were very painful. I then gave up beef followed by chicken and then fish. Seafood was the most difficult for me to give up as I grew up camping and fishing and these were big activities in my family.

The China Study was a big influence in my life and really brought home the connection between animal protein and health. As I stated, my decision to become vegan was based on health concerns, however compassion for animals ended-up sealing the deal for me. About 2 years ago, my family and I brought 2 chickens into our lives. My husband and son built the chicken coup and my children and I lovingly took care of the chickens’ every need (my husband used to joke that they ate better than most people he knew). Our beloved chickens roamed the yard at day and retired to their coup voluntarily at night. One day I took our dog into the vet for a check-up and they happened to have a large parrot there with a cone on her head because she had pulled most of her feathers out. Right in front of me stood a live animal that looked JUST like the whole chickens we see in the grocery store. Since that moment, I have been a vegan - at the time, I was still eating fish occasionally. The connection was made in my mind loud and clear. How could I ever eat another living creature?
 
How long have you been vegan?
Since 17 May 2010

What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
I feel fantastic! I used to have this awful midday slump I would have to get over and then later in the evening I would be exhausted by the time I needed to get my children ready for bed. Now I sleep less than I used to and I feel more energetic.  How great is that?! I do need to mention that I do not eat very much processed food at all and that 95% or more of my diet comes from whole-food plant-based food.

What does veganism mean to you?
It means health and compassion. It also means working toward making the world a better place for all of its inhabitants. 

Training
What sort of training do you do?

I feel that it is important to do something physically demanding at least 5-6 days a week. My weekly training regimen at the moment is:
Monday, Wednesday and Friday – 1 hour of either Pilates or SPX fitness
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday  – 45 minutes to 1 hour of cardio intervals

For cardio, I either ride the recumbent bike, my mountain bike, the elliptical trainer, or I run. Regardless of which form of cardio I do, I warm-up for four minutes at a relatively easy pace and then I go hard for 2 minutes, go back to a normal pace for 2 minutes, go hard for 2 more minutes, etc. until I have about 5 minutes left at which point I begin my cool down.

I just like to be active in general and try not to take shortcuts like the elevator. I am grateful to have a body that works so hard for me, so I try to keep it healthy by walking wherever possible and taking the stairs, etc. I also like to participate in races on occasion such as the Camp Pendleton Marine Base Mud Run.

How often do you (need to) train?
5-6 days a week.

Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
I do not do fitness training. I focus on nutrition through my website Veggie Grettie.

What sports do you play?
I began dancing (ballet, tap, and jazz) when I was 3 years old and danced all the way up until college. In junior high and high school, I was a song leader and my squad won the national title and our winning performance was televised on ESPN. I was also on a swim team as a child and throughout high school.   

Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?

People tend to believe that vegans are protein deficient and as a result, they feel that the vegan diet is not a diet that could effectively support an active lifestyle.

What are your strengths as a vegan athlete?
I recover so much faster since becoming vegan. I am not nearly as sore as I used to be when I ate animal protein. Prior to becoming vegan, there was a time when I followed a diet (and counseled people to follow such a diet…yikes!) that was extremely high in animal protein. Despite the fact that I was able to get very lean and looked very fit on that diet, I felt so unwell. My hands were so sore that I could barely hold a medicine ball! Luckily, I eventually made the connection that it must be the animal protein making me feel that way. I eliminated it and the pain went away quickly. I also stopped counseling people to follow that diet and it is at that point that I made the decision to get my Certification in Plant-Based Nutrition through Cornell.

What is your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is trying to get my family to follow a plant-based diet. While I wished that they would make the transition overnight, I realize that becoming vegan was a process for me, so I need to help them along on their journey vs. expecting them to go vegan immediately. My family has made a big change over the past two years and they do eat much less meat. My husband and I have also maintained a dairy-free home for almost two years now. For that I am grateful.

Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
I tend to surround myself with like-minded people while working. There are of course many people in the nutrition field who are not supportive of veganism, however the number of those who do support it grows daily. We are trending in the right direction.

Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
I am lucky that my friends and family are supportive of my vegan lifestyle. That being said, there are those in my family who believe that my attempts to eliminate animal protein from my children’s diet is not right and I struggle with that. Ultimately I realize that I am in charge of what my children eat 70-80%, so I hold the majority.

What is the most common question/comment that people ask/say when they find out that you are a vegan and how do you respond?
Easily the most common question I get is, “But where do you get your protein?” I tell them that it is actually really hard to become protein deficient on a whole-foods plant-based diet and then usually say something like, “You know, prior to becoming vegan I used to also think that vegans had to be very careful to get enough protein. I was shocked to learn that broccoli is 45% protein, so as you can see protein is abundant in even vegetables! By eating whole-food plant-based meals I never have to worry about whether or not I am consuming enough protein. If you are ever interested in learning about it more in depth I’d be happy to go into more detail with you.” Most of the time, that satisfies people, but other times people do take the opportunity to continue asking me more questions and I love that! This one fact about broccoli tends to pique people’s curiosity.

Food & Supplements
What do you eat for:

Breakfast and lunch tend to be very simple meals for me. I eat a bit volume-wise, but they are not complicated meals.

Breakfast – Lately I have been eating a big bowl of fruit: 1 banana, 1 apple, part of a pear, some berries, and pomegranate seeds sprinkled with cinnamon and raisons. I pour low-fat unsweetened vanilla almond milk over the fruit as if it were cereal. I love this breakfast.

Lunch - Lunch varies depending on how rushed I am. If I am going to be out and about all day then I pack a bunch of food to bring with me and it tends to be very simplistic like a few pieces of fruit along with a variety of cut veggies and hummus. If I have a lunch meeting or have plans to meet a friend for lunch then sushi is high on the list. I generally order a vegetable cut roll, miso soup, and seaweed salad. If I am at home, I usually have a big bowl of soup.

Dinner - Dinner is usually my most complicated meal in that it is the meal I eat with my family and I put the most effort into preparing it. Favorites in our house are soft taco night (with corn tortillas), paella, stews, pizza bars (where each person gets to decide what goes on “their” section of the pizza), Chinese food (stir-fries, fried rice, dumplings - my husband is Chinese), pasta night, and of course my kids are thrilled when I make my vegan gluten-free macaroni and cheese.

Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy) – I snack a lot on fruit, but I do have a weakness for the Nut-Thin crackers by Blue Diamond. My favorite is the Almond with a Hint of Sea Salt. I can easily eat the whole box in one sitting. I also just developed a dessert hummus recipe that I seem to be a bit obsessed with. I have made 4 batches in 4 days because my kids and I keep snacking on it. it is a really easy and quick recipe.

What is your favourite source of:
Protein
- Beans, whole grains, and veggies. A few times a week I will also have a scoop of PlantFusion protein powder - all of their flavors are good.
Calcium - Green leafy vegetables, tofu, and fortified non-dairy milk.
Iron - Beans, seeds, and seaweed.

What foods give you the most energy?
Definitely whole foods, I find that when I eat processed foods I feel weighed-down.

Do you take any supplements?
I do. I have blood work done by my doctor regularly and we supplement accordingly. I take B12,  vitamins by Dr. Joel Furhman, Vitamin D, wheat grass tablets, curcumin (Tumeric), iron, and tinctures from Dr. Michael Galitzer who practices Energy Medicine.   
 
Advice
What is your top tip for:

Gaining muscle
Work out consistently and intensely.

Losing weight
Stay away from sugar, processed food, added fat, nuts and seeds - while trying to lose weight, you can add them back in when you get to the maintenance phase, and focus on eating whole foods.

Maintaining weight
You have to play around and figure out the system that works best for you. For me I have found that if I exercise consistently and eat a whole food plant-based diet while avoiding added fat and sugar my body finds its happy weight and stays within a 2-3 pound range.

Improving metabolism
If you eat the right foods your metabolism will take care of itself.

Toning up
If you want the reward, you have to do the work. You will not tone-up unless you do resistance training. Cardio is great for reducing fat, but it is necessary to do resistance training consistently as well.

How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
Through my website Veggie Grettie and as the Editor of Chic Vegan. I truly enjoy what I do and feel so good about putting information out about the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle.

How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
I always enjoy hearing from people. I think it is so important for us all to work together in an attempt to further vegan causes and educate the public about how truly beneficial this way of life is for our health and the health of the planet. I have met so many people that I have partnered with through my websites and vegan events. Feel free to contact me through either This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
 
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