Two staff reporters tackle a new challenge each week and share their results.
January 14, 2016
Challenge #4: No meat
It has never occurred to me that I should be vegetarian. Sure, I love animals as much as the next person. But passing up a delicious cheeseburger never crossed my mind. That is until it was “meatless Monday” for me the whole week.
Of course the first day I was supposed to start the challenge I found a pack of bacon in the back of my fridge. When I complained to my sister about how I couldn’t eat it, she thought it would be a great idea to make it for herself. It was painful to see her enjoy those delicious strips of happiness as I settled for a bowl of Cheerios.
The temptations worsened that night when my mom decided to grill up some steak for dinner, trying to torture me with my favorite type of meat. I was even more disappointed when she suggested I make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in place of the steak. I mean, aren’t moms supposed to have magical powers where they can just whip up a meal to accommodate someone’s dietary restrictions? But considering the fact that I only told her 10 minutes before dinner, I guess that’s on me.
I’m going to be completely honest and say that I did eat meat one day, but I swear it was by accident and I had no idea. My mom had left homemade lasagna in the fridge for us to heat up for dinner and I, being the oblivious person that I am, ate a piece of it. It never even crossed my mind that normally lasagna is made with meat in it. Don’t worry, I won’t make that mistake again if I ever decide to become vegetarian (which will most likely not happen so….)
My parents are the healthy, work-out type people who eat weird things like chocolate blueberry spinach smoothies (don’t ask because I haven’t and will never try them.) So of course when I told them that I was giving up meat for a week, they went into a frenzy about how I would replace my daily protein intake, which is kind of ironic since I live off of mac and cheese which would never be called a Protein Powerhouse.
To offset my new diet, they made me eat a protein bar which basically seemed like a granola bar covered in chocolate. I thought it would be okay since it did have chocolate in it, but I was very wrong. My recommendation: don’t try it. It has a nasty aftertaste that I can’t describe and don’t want to think about.
Overall, it made me feel a little better about myself that I was not eating innocent animals. At the same time though, settling for a salad when I went out to lunch with my friends was not the best. It was definitely hard to give up something that I ate on a daily basis and also enjoy very much. However, since meat is replaceable with things like fish (is fish a meat?) or eggs for protein, it wasn’t as challenging as I expected.
But you will not catch me being a vegetarian because as Ron Swanson, from the show Parks and Rec, once said, “If it doesn’t have meat, it’s a snack.”
This week’s challenge can be summarized in three words: This was bad.
I had to get that off my chest before I began. It’s not like I’m crazy about meat or anything, it’s that I am definitely not crazy about things disguised as meat. Just typing these words makes me cringe.
Normally I’m a wannabee health fanatic. You know, the kind you find munching on fancy salads when everyone else has fries and a cheeseburger. I didn’t think cutting out the sprinkling of meat on my salads would really be that bad.
But maybe I got a little too excited, what can I say? My hipster side came out, though, and telling people that I was vegetarian made me feel super special. I felt like I was saving the lives of hundreds of furry creatures with this simple dietary switch.
Unlike the gluten free challenge, I was completely prepared for this. My freezer was stocked with enough frozen meals to survive an apocalypse — you know, if the world was crumbling down and I was in the mood for barbeque quinoa (note: no one should ever be in the mood for barbeque quinoa). Before the challenge began, I had every meal charted with a full slate of rabbit food, including tofu torture, the mysterious “green smoothies” that clog up your Pinterest feed and even meatless meatballs.
Breakfast and lunch weren’t bad, but dinner was, in a word, rough.
For my family, dinner is sacred. During the day everyone is crazy but when the clock strikes 6, everything pauses for a moment. While I normally appreciate the break, during this week it felt like getting hit by a brick. Every meal seemed to have a new temptation. My family even decided this was the perfect time to a have a thanksgiving-style feast.
I have never craved meat more in my life.
The last two days were a mess. Gone were the days of fancy all-natural meals. I had resorted to old protein bars and empty calories. I practically lived off of carrots and PB&J sandwiches. Peanut butter kept me alive. Without this small spread of protein I probably would’ve passed out a couple of times each day.
By the end of the week, I would’ve paid a million bucks just for one bite of a burger (but I love all you readers too much to do that).
Somehow I did it, but I realized just how lame I really am. This week was almost impossible for me. I can’t even imagine trying to live my entire life this way.
I admire vegetarians so much more now. Giving up meat doesn’t just mean trying to be “hip” or part of a social media approved movement; it means having an incredible amount of self-control and using it every day of your life. Sticking to your belief is only a about what to choose on a menu. It’s actually just a question of yes or no.
Challenge 3: Gluten Free
This week was extremely hard for two reasons: 1) Gluten is literally in everything. I mean I kind of knew that going into it, but I never really thought about it before. 2) I like good food. Let me tell you, food that is intentionally gluten-free is nasty. I tried this gluten-free mac and cheese and I’m scarred for life. How dare they ruin a perfectly good meal– it disgusts me.
Now I know some people are allergic or intolerant to gluten so they have to be gluten-free or else they’ll have health problems. But I don’t understand how people can have all the gluten they want but suddenly wake up one day and decide they’re going to be gluten-free. And yes I know that a lot of gluten and some types of it can be harmful, but why give it up if you eat it in moderation? Without gluten there’s no pasta, cookies, cakes, bread, or even pizza! Gluten is everywhere! I learned this lesson the hard way when accepting the challenge to be gluten-free for a week.
The hardships of being gluten-free started instantly on Sunday morning. It was only a few days after Christmas and some of my family was in town so my mom decided to make a homemade coffee cake. I could smell that thing from the moment I woke up in the morning. I had a slice of it on my plate and was about to dig in when I realized, with a sinking heart, that this was the week I was supposed to be gluten-free. It was harder to actually find something to eat than resist the coffee cake, which seemed to be calling out my name. Of course I had the same problem at lunch when I was searching for something to eat, but the only thing that I wanted to eat was the leftover pizza sitting in the fridge.
The struggle continued throughout the week where I was continuously tempted by foods I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t get the chocolate cake shake from Portillos, the burrito from Chipotle, or a Twix bar from the movies. Before I ate anything I was questioning if it had gluten in it. At one point I even wondered if tortilla chips have gluten in them (They don’t.) I seemed to be losing it a little and craving the foods I would’ve normally had if I wasn’t gluten-free. I even tried to make this gluten free macaroni and cheese but it tasted like cardboard which was very upsetting.
By the end of the week, I couldn’t take it anymore. All I wanted was a big slice of cheese pizza and a cookie. I couldn’t imagine living my entire life without gluten, so I give credit to everyone who is allergic or intolerant to it (But not people who choose to give it up, that’s your own fault for putting yourself through that.) It used to annoy me a little when my gluten intolerant friend would ask if something was gluten free, but now I somewhat understand. I give her credit for not crying every time she sees someone eating a cupcake, because that is definitely what I would do if I was gluten free.
Is it wrong to say that I actually loved this? I know, I know, it sounds bad. Please don’t come at me with baguette swords or send me hate cake. Yes, I might deserve it for turning my back on so much delicious food, but giving up gluten meant more to me than just a week without bread. All of the processed foods that I loved to eat but my body truly hated had gluten in them. Chips, goldfish, cookies; you name it, they got it. After a week without any junk food, I felt like a completely different person, one straight from the pages of diet book.
The challenge started only two days after Christmas and the smell of cookies still lingered in the air. It was hard waking up and making a conscience decision to change such a large part of my life. Sitting at the table Sunday morning as my family chatted over a plate of pancakes, I realized how hard it must be for people who live gluten-free without the choice I have. For our society food is more than just a necessity, it plays a large role in our social workings too. Even just sharing food or eating at a party always come with a risk.
When it came down to eating on my own, my choices were quite limited. I didn’t think ahead and buy gluten-free foods from the store so my diet was composed of many, many bowls of cheerios. The plates and platters of cookies sitting carelessly around the kitchen didn’t help my cravings. My family had decided to make a brick of cookie dough right in the middle of the challenge, the cutout gingerbread smiling happily as if they knew of everything I had given up. While finding something to make in an empty fridge or avoiding temptation around the house seemed to be the biggest challenge, I was unprepared for what eating out entailed. It was impossible to find something on a even a simple menu like Culver’s. Even fried or baked foods without breading are often cooked in the same pan or rack as glutenous foods. The challenge is even greater at restaurants like Portillo’s that are known for their pastas, burgers, hot dogs, cake; the list goes on and on and my temptation got even bigger.
In the end I caved and got a burger without the bun. Not very tasty if I do say so myself. As for snacking, I ended up turning towards fruits and vegetables instead of normal picks. Being gluten-free didn’t just make me more conscious of what I was eating, it made me a much healthier person. Even days after completing the challenge, I still am following my gluten-free diet.
Challenge 2: Going off the grid
Let me begin by saying that I am not the worst of the worst; there are people who spend every waking moment on their phone deciding on the perfect filter for their latest selfie or “stalking” everyone in their contact list. Sure I find it easier to scroll through Instagram than to try to force small-talk, but I would hardly call myself addicted. At least that’s what I thought.
I started the week off right: my phone never left the charger on Sunday and I even managed to get through my homework without checking for notifications or scrolling aimlessly every five minutes. But the more productive I was, the quicker I ran out of things to do and by noon all I could do was stare at my phone screen.
Even my reflection looked bored.
I tried everything to avoid checking twitter, my go-to procrastination tool. I watched three movies on Netflix (a personal record for me), battled the cold and walked my dog around my entire subdivision, curled my hair even though I didn’t have to leave the house, and even played a round of Twister (not an easy feat when you’re home alone). Nothing. Did. The. Trick. I actually found myself craving school and the endless amount of people to see and things to do.
Monday passed by uneventfully except when it came time for lunch. Everyone around me pulled out their phones as soon as they sat down, and all I could do was sneak a glance over my friend’s shoulder.
I felt so out of the loop; it seemed like everyone around me knew something I didn’t. Deja vu or not, the same thing happened on the bus ride home. I sat down only to find everyone else on their phones. As I stared out the window, I could feel pairs of eyes moving towards me. Their questions floated off of them like steam. What is she doing? Why isn’t she on her phone? Does she not have a phone?
Social media began to take on a new importance; not only was it a distraction, it was considered a social necessity.
The week seemed to drag by so slowly and after all, you can only refresh your e-mail so many times until it stops being fun. Out of habit I would open up twitter or instagram only to close it down before anything had time to load. When nothing was happening, everything seemed so much more boring. But when things got busy later in the week, it was nice to not worry about what everyone else was doing.
I’ve survived what I thought would be the impossible. I expected my 7 days without social media would be grueling and at some point I would be curled in a ball crying. Much to my surprise I handled it pretty well.
The first few days were rough. I caught myself opening different social media apps, such as Twitter or Snapchat, before remembering that I wasn’t supposed to. It seems that whenever I’m watching TV or doing my homework, I subconsciously open a random social media app. This happened multiple times when I was watching The Office on Netflix.
Luckily (or unluckily… I can’t decide) my family ran out of data on Saturday, so I couldn’t go on any social media without being connected to wifi.
This made it much less tempting to use social media while I was at work and school, but I could still feel the absence of it weighing down on me.
As if the universe was reminding me even more to not use social media, my prompt for the essay when I took the ACT had to do with how social media is causing relationship problems.
Doing homework was a breeze when I wasn’t concerned with checking my phone every five minutes. Although it felt strange to ignore my phone, I was more focused on my homework than ever.
I am ashamed to admit, though, that I did crack. Just once.
It was a few days after Kim Kardashian’s son was born, and I needed to find out his name. With a heavy heart, I had opened Twitter, but instantly regretted my choices. Even worse–since she still hadn’t announced his name.
Other than that small slip, I stayed social media free for the whole week. It was much easier on the last few days because I’d gotten somewhat used to restraining myself.
It was–dare I say it–almost nice to take a break from a world where you’re defined by how many likes and followers you have.
The Fear of Missing Out (or FOMO) epidemic has spread throughout the world, making social media a key part of our lives. While I never had any strong feelings about missing out, I have no doubt that a lot of my classmates could not survive an hour without social media, let alone a week.
Not to get all preachy here, but not having social media in my life was kind of nice.
From now on, I will attempt to not use social media as much (*I say as I check Snapchat*).
Want to participate in a challenge? Have an idea for our next challenge? Have a question? Fill out this form!
Challenge 1: No Music
- Monday to Sunday
- No radio
- No Pandora or Spotify
- No YouTube music or iTunes
Two girls: one a wannabe a cappella singer, the other a tone-deaf Beyoncé, attempting to do the impossible. No more head banging and hair whipping to the radio. No more dance parties in the cafeteria. No more singing into the hairbrush while getting ready. Seven days. 168 hours. No music.
Our reporters are embarking on a year-long journey to try to decide which parts of modern life are necessities and which are luxuries. Throughout the year we will give up one of our favorite things for a week and describe the fallout.
These are their stories.
Monday morning I woke up ready to take on the world, just without the dramatic music that had always cheered me on. I proudly turned off the radio on the way to school and covered my ears when one of my teachers played music in class. It felt good to do my homework without worrying about skipping songs or analyzing a new music video. Only seven days without music, how hard could it be?
Somehow I got through the school day and even managed to make it home on the bus without plugging in my earbuds. My headphones stared sadly at me from my desk, still plugged in to my computer from the weekend. When I sat down to do my homework I instinctively slipped them on, wearing them without listening to music for five minutes before realizing what I’d done.
Less than two days into the challenge, though, I was already showing classic signs of insanity: hearing voices (Justin Bieber’s perfect tenor was stuck in my head day and night), withdrawal (How can I be expected to help bake pies for Thanksgiving if I couldn’t listen to Mariah Carey’s Christmas album?), and mood changes (no pump up music, no energy).
As the week progressed, they became more of an accessory than anything else. My sisters came home from college on Wednesday and made it a point to monitor my every move, making sure I didn’t open up Pandora in a moment of weakness. Believe me, there were many, many moments. Three days down, four more to go.
Thursday, however, took a turn for the better. Thanksgiving brought many distractions that allowed me to forget how much I needed music.
Sure, I missed out on the first opportunity to play Christmas tunes, but that time was doled out among family and friends. Heartfelt conversations filled the voids that would have otherwise been clogged by headphones and staring out the car window; Friday came and went as quickly as a billboard sign on the highway.
My Holiday success pushed me to finish the challenge. I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and it was playing sweet, sweet music. After a week without music, I opened up Pandora, held my breath, and pressed play. The sound of relief washed over me. With music back by my side, I felt like I could conquer the world.
Junior year means spending four hours on your homework, writing countless essays, and spending late nights working on projects. It seems the only way to get through the heavy workload is to listen to the sweet sounds of music.
Whether it’s Taylor Swift or even old High School Musical, you’ll always find me belting the lyrics to whatever songs come on while doing my homework. The commute to school is made much easier while jamming out to an array of artists and genres. It’s hard for me to imagine life without music since it has become such a necessity to me. But for the sake of journalism, I pledged to be music free for a week.
I didn’t start to notice the disadvantages of having no music until the afternoon of the first day. It was a Monday and all I wanted to do when I got home was de-stress by listening to some good tunes. I was about to type in the web address to Pandora when I remembered that I’d given it up. With a heavy heart, I began to do my homework, already suffering from the absence of music.
It felt wrong to do my homework without anything else going on, so I attempted to watch Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix while working. However, it was too hard to focus on my homework when an intense brain surgery was going on at the same time, so I abandoned that idea. Although it took a little less time to do my homework since I didn’t have to worry about changing the Pandora station if a bad song came on, it was definitely more challenging to stay focused and motivated while doing homework.
The same could be said about the next day when I decided to be productive and knock out my pile of homework so I wouldn’t have to worry about it over Thanksgiving break (not a very good idea on my part.) Once again, I struggled to resist the temptation of playing just one song.
The struggle became worse when I was given the task of making a quick Target run for some household necessities. My sister decided to tag along, not knowing that she would have to endure an awkward car ride with no music. “That’s stupid,” she told me as I explained to her why I had to (reluctantly) turn off the music.
To make matters worse, it had recently snowed, marking a prime time to listen to Christmas music. Nevertheless, I drove on, crying inside from the lack of uplifting holiday music.
Although my desire for music was lost in all the craziness of Thanksgiving from Thursday to Saturday, it returned in full force on Sunday during my thirteen hour car ride home from North Carolina. Even though I had other things to do like watch movies or read, all I could think about was putting in headphones and drowning out the world with music.
The next Monday, I was almost excited to do my homework. Logging on to Pandora felt like a breath of fresh air. It was a relief that I was back to my normal routine.
The struggle was definitely real during this mental and emotional journey. We never noticed how much music is incorporated into our lives until we had to give it up for a week. Although it might seem as if we are slightly addicted to it, we think music is a helpful tool to get through the day.
Next week we are taking on–or actually turning off–social media for seven days.
Think you could do it? We’ll post updates and tell you how we are doing. We challenge you to play along with us.
Want to participate in a challenge? Have an idea for our next challenge? Have a question? Fill out this form