In January of 2016, I got a virus called Chikinguny aand it still feel in my bones!! That meant I am not able to live the active lifestyle I was accustomed to. I felt out of shape and lethargic. My eating habits had spiraled out of control, a side effect of spending more time at home. When I got the go t to start longer walks and return to weight classes, it was an ideal time to start fresh. So, I made a big change.
No matter your choices, I challenge you to think harder about where your food comes from, to buy locally when possible and to cook more humanely raised (and hormone-free) animal products. Labels like “free range” don’t always tell the whole truth.
If you are considering a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, or just want to adopt a less animal-centric diet, take these insights from my journey into veganism as free wisdom for your own.
1. Research, research, research.
Going straight to veganism from an animal-heavy diet is not recommended. You can get everything you need without animal products, but you need to know what to eat, how to eat it, and where to find it.
With more people embracing plant-based lifestyles, it’s easier to find information about how to stay healthy and get the nutrition that you need. A quick Google search will bring up dozens of helpful websites. (I recommend Kris Carr as an entry point.) As with anything you read or hear, question it, compare information, read about other people’s journeys, ask questions. Pharmacists are great resources for insight on vitamins. On that note, you should always speak with your doctor before making major lifestyle changes.
Collect recipes in advance and learn about “healthy” and “unhealthy” fats. Start to build a stash of goodies like maca powder, hemp seeds, and spices. They last forever and can be added to all sorts of things. These items can be costly, so I recommend building your pantry in advance, bit by bit. If you research and are prepared, you’ll be ready for the challenges that come with your lifestyle adjustment.
2. Accept that you’ll have to cook.
I’ve never been a big cook. I can cook, but I don’t really enjoy it. It can be very hard to find vegan meal options on the fly. Even if you do, you have to ensure that your diet is diverse enough to meet your nutritional needs. I actually eat a wider range of foods now than I ever did before going vegan.
I’ve started to enjoy cooking—especially bowls of steaming vegetables, hot spices and sticky rice. They make it easy to combine multiple, nourishing ingredients. I pack a lunch bag each day with leftovers and snacks (like dates and almonds) so I don’t reach for junk food at the office, and I keep a vegan protein bar in my purse for emergencies.
Like any healthy diet, cooking and planning in advance are key to making good choices consistently. These steps also ensure that your grocery budget goes further. For example, a large vegan curry is cheap to make and can feed you for several meals.
Please remember, this is a lifestyle change, not a life sentence. If, during this process, you decide that you need a steak and eggs, or you find yourself in a rush and can’t find something vegan, don’t be hard on yourself. Just start again the next day. This is your choice and you need to do what feels right for you.
3. Relearn what you plate “should” look like.
I grew up in a typical household with a dinner plate that contained a meat, a starch, and a green or yellow vegetable.
The second time I attempted to go vegan, I fell into a common trap. I kept looking for replacements—veggie burgers, veggie meatballs, Tofurkey, etc. These things are great, and have their place, but they’re also generally soy-based (something I avoid) and, essentially, processed food. One day someone said, “Stop trying to replace one thing with another; if you’re giving up animal products, give them up.”
It clicked. I had to change what I thought my plate should look like. I eat lots of veggies and perhaps a homemade curry or a dish with some other spicy sauce. Sometimes I add rice, or maybe a potato. I still have a veggie burger here and there, but I focus on fresh produce, homemade healthy sauces, and legumes. Breakfasts are often smoothies—light on the fruit and heavy on the veggies and healthy fats.
4. Eating well does not cost more.