Going vegan was one of the easiest and best changes I have ever made in my life. It’s brought my eating habits in alignment with my values and with my conscience. It’s caused me to think carefully and plan ahead for each meal so that I can be sure to get the right balance of nutrients every day. It’s made me something of an armchair expert in things like supplements, macro- & micronutrient sources, and amino acid chains. Best of all, I feel great. I have for the most part maintained my happy weight, or at least hover right near it, without having to stress. I feel no less strong than I used to, and I derive extra joy from cooking plant-based meals from scratch. My partner – who was the driving force behind our switch entirely away from animal products – loves to cook and eat creatively alongside me. My blood work reports healthy levels of B12, iron and other essential nutrients. We love our greens, our beans, and our dark chocolate, and our digestive systems love us for it.
What’s funny about all of this is that prior to going full-on vegan, I had built it up in thee ol’ brain like it was going to be some dramatic and difficult change. I thought it was going to be crazy tough. I pictured myself longing nostalgically for cheese, or having to explain and defend myself in fisticuffs against friends’ and relatives’ chiding and criticism. But the only crazy thing, really the beautiful thing, is that none of that happened. None of it.
I do not crave dairy cheese. Am I a freak? No! I have just fallen in love with nut-based cheeses and have discovered other ways to give my meals a savory kick, like sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and olives. In fact, I do not miss any animal product. Not chicken, not eggs, not milk, not ice cream (thank you, Ben & Jerry’s for your heaven-sent non-dairy line). Not only do I not miss these things, but the thought of putting them on my tongue kind of grosses me out.
My relatives do not fight with me and never did. Most of my extended family is totally supportive and understanding (if they weren’t I suppose I wouldn’t give a hoot anyway). Those rare relatives who are immediately turned off by the word “vegan” don’t seem to mind a chocolate chip cookie or an enchilada at all if we simply forget to mention that it doesn’t contain eggs or cow milk. And even cooler, we’ve forged special bonds and fun cooking parties with our friends and fam who have taken the leap themselves or who regularly weave animal-friendly meals into their weekly routine.
So the change was ultimately easy for me. Still, there were a few things I was glad I did, and I’d like to share those with you.
My partner Joe, who was 40 when we began dating, had been a vegetarian since he was 17. When he announced he was going vegan, I totally respected him for it and knew that it was only a matter of time before I made the switch myself. But I didn’t jump in immediately. I decided to take about 6 months to wean myself off of some of the no-no items I was ingesting. I was already vegetarian, but I expected that it would take a while to find suitable substitutes for my morning eggs and for the baked items I loved preparing. I also wanted to have a plan of action: what should I begin storing in the fridge in case of emergencies? What would I do when I was out at a restaurant? Which of my favorite items had dairy lurking? How the hell would I replace milk chocolate? I knew it would take time to study up and retrain my tastebuds, and I wanted to do it guilt free.
In the end, I was able to make the change in much less time that I expected – three months or so – but I am glad for the research and slow, intentional habit changes I was able to make during that time.
Know Your Macros & Micros
When I was 17 I jumped into vegetarianism with good intentions but without a solid plan. I was a pretty terrible vegetarian in those days, eating mostly pasta for dinner, snacking on Doritos and Snickers, and drinking awful beer more than I care to remember. I carbed myself out, so it was no wonder that after five or six years, I had put on 30 extra pounds and suffered from low energy and depression. I was a college kid without a dedicated food budget, and I gave almost no thought to my protein or fiber intake, not to mention B12 or iron. In grad school, I was a little smarter about it – but not much. So in my late twenties when I began dating a cook who loved to prepare things like chicken marsala, pork medallions, and salmon tartar, it’s hardly a surprise that I ended up breaking my vegetarianism and experiencing what I can only describe as relief. Being fed all of my macronutrients in balanced proportion made me feel more satisfied at mealtimes than I had felt in years. Excess weight melted off without my trying. It’s not that I was a meat-eating convert (I felt guilty every day), it’s just that I was finally getting the nourishment my body so craved.
This time when I decided I no longer wanted to eat animal products, I wanted to do my macronutrients right. I knew that I would have to make sure I was getting enough protein at each meal. I would prioritize intake of leafy greens and other sources of iron and fiber. I would make sure to stock food in the fridge so that I wouldn’t turn to bread and snacks instead of complete meals. When it came to micronutrients and recipe ideas, I knew I would have to do some reading. Vegan for Life has been an invaluable source, and it’s led me to take a few supplements I might not have before reading.
I take the following supplements:
- B12 – This is really a must for vegans since we have no other way to ingest it and since the body does not produce it. B12 deficiencies can lead to neurological disorders – not something I want to mess with.
- Omega 3 with DHA & EPA – You’ve heard of the fact that it’s tough for vegetarians and vegans to get a “complete” protein, right? Well, this supplement helps to complete the chain of amino acids and is therefore essential for muscle growth, health, and repair.
- Iron – Talk to your doc before taking any supplement. It’s always best to get your nutrients from food when possible. I have a family history and personal history of iron deficiency; still, I don’t want to overdo it. I take this supplement only when I have my period and feel the tell-tale energy sap of not enough iron.
Nothing is more motivating than finding a drool-worthy new recipe to try. But where to draw inspiration? A few of my favorite recipe blogs:
Stock Your Fridge and Pantry
If I were to have found Oh She Glows seven years ago, I would have had to go out shopping for each and every ingredient prior to making any dish on her site. These days, though, I have many of the right ingredients on hand and feel ready to come up with a plant-based concoction nearly every night without running out to shop. I consider the following staples and must-have items:
Always Have on Hand
- Coconut Oil
- Extra Firm Tofu (and at least one on deck)
- Black beans
- Chick peas
- Grape nuts
- Raisins or dried cranberries
- Mixed greens
- Spinach or kale
- Roma tomatoes
- Almond, soy, or coconut milk – we love almond in our house but we’re always experimenting
On my smoothest days, I or my partner make well-balanced meals from scratch – nothing overly processed, just the right ratio of protein to carbohydrate, etc. Of course, not every day can be smooth. To be ready for those times when I need to grab and go, I am very glad I keep the following items handy:
“Emergency” – I-Need-a-Quick-Meal Ingredients You’ll Be Glad You Have
- Frozen Chick Patties
- Fake chicken strips
- Hearty bread & accompanying spreads
- Endangered Species hazelnut spread
- Almond butter
- Vegan butter
- Vegenaise – like mayonnaise
- Tofutti – “better than cream cheese” – I like it a lot.
- Tofu Pups
- Breakfast Sausage, onions, peppers
That’s about it for getting started eating compassionately. What road blocks have you stumbled upon? What’s preventing you from getting started?