I got a great response from a previous blog post I made about switching to a vegan diet a few months ago. (For the record I began my transition on January 20, 2013.) Since the post went live, people have hit me up through email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram asking questions about veganism, so I figured I’d break down some of the basics. This will not only help explain my personal choices, but more importantly it will help educate, motivate, and inspire others so they can make their own choices too.
Hanging out with a kangaroo in Australia.
1. What made you decide to go vegan?
Most people go vegan because of health reasons or animal rights reasons, and my decision was based on both split right down the middle. Without even setting an intention to do so, I began to educate myself by watching two documentaries that friends recommended—“The Greatest Speech You’ll Ever Hear”, and “Forks Over Knives”. (Both are discussed in more detail here.)
There were several things in the films that really stuck out to me and helped me make the mental shift needed to change my lifestyle. The first was an argument about evolution and how by design humans were never intended to be carnivores. The second was some behind the scenes footage of the meat and dairy industry that showed cows being punched in the face and poked with pitchforks. These two things hooked me enough to make me really start paying attention and thinking about veganism more seriously.
Then came the health issues… When watching “Forks Over Knives” the studies that showed the direct correlation between fatal diseases and eating animal-based foods was so overwhelming that I couldn’t believe it. Heart attack, diabetes, and cancer were all directly linked to eating meat and dairy in a number of studies across the world. On the other hand, the studies based on plant-based diets all showed the exact opposite—people got healthier, and lived longer.
In a nutshell, the information I learned from those two videos was compelling enough for me to completely change the way I felt about eating meat and dairy, causing me to almost immediately change from a traditional western diet to an all vegan diet.
2. Was there anything you were nervous about at first?
The two toughest mental struggles at first were the though of going out with friends and the though of going to Louisiana to visit my family. I was worried that I may miss out on valuable social interactions with my friends when they went out for meals. I was also concerned that it may be difficult to find suitable foods when I went to Louisiana and ate with my family. Also, seafood is such an important part of the Louisiana culture that I almost felt a little sad thinking that I’d never eat crawfish, crabs, and shrimp again.
However, as with a lot of things in life (like moving or traveling, for example), I found that it’s much easier to actually do something than to think about doing it. What I mean by that is when you actually start doing something instead of thinking about it, it all starts to come together and you figure out ways to deal with things—and most of the time it’s much easier than you thought it would be. When you think about something or try to plan ahead for it, you often stress about it and make it out to be worse than it actually is. So even though I was nervous and worried about a few things when I decided to go vegan, after only two months in, those things are no longer an issue.
3. Did you make the transition gradually, or in stages?
My transition was somewhat gradual, but mostly it was all at once. I had stopped drinking cow’s milk and significantly cut down on eating cheese a while back, but I didn’t try going vegetarian first before committing to going full-on vegan.
With that said, I was on a six week international trip when I made the switch and it took a few weeks to really know what to eat in certain scenarios. After I made the conscious decision to make the change, over the next three to four weeks there were a handful of times that I ate pastas, breads, and other random things that were made with milk, eggs, or cheese. Sometimes I knew they were and ate them anyway, and other times I just assumed they were, but didn’t really know for sure. Then there were a few separate occasions when I caved in and bought sweets—ice cream, chocolate pie, and a cookie. There were also two times that I ate meat because my friends wanted me to try their local Australian specialties—meat pies and kangaroo. After those first few weeks of figuring things out, it was all vegan from there on out.
4. How did you learn to read labels?
I actually learned a lot about reading nutrition labels a while back when researching health and fitness. I found a great free Web site where a quirky guy named Scooby breaks things down so it’s really easy to understand. I would definitely recommend checking out his site and YouTube channel.
Also, in the documentary “Forks Over Kives” they talk a little bit about reading labels. What I got out of it was this: If the label has words that look and sound like chemicals, don’t eat it; if the label has a huge list of ingredients and you don’t know what a lot of them are, don’t eat it; and if the label lists anything that used to have eyes, ears, a mouth, legs, wings, a mom, or a dad, then don’t eat that either!
I look at the label of everything I buy, and the more you look at them, the more you’ll understand them.
I still don’t know a ton about specific vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, but do I know that plant-based foods that don’t have contain chemicals are good for my body, so I try my best to stick to those items.
5. How did you learn to cook?
I’ve been slowly teaching myself how to cook different things since I moved out of my mom’s house after I graduated high school. Once you know some basics and are comfortable with experimenting in the kitchen, cutting out meat and dairy isn’t hard at all. Since going vegan I have gained an appreciation for learning to cook new things, and I find that taking time to prepare meals is fun and relaxing. If you can’t enjoy the act of preparing food, then I would imagine you’d have a pretty hard time going vegan.
I also find it very helpful to look up recipes online or in cookbooks. I bought two cookbooks that a friend recommended, but I’ve actually used online recipes more than the cookbooks so far, mainly because the cookbooks don’t have as many photos. There were a couple dishes I ate at restaurants that I Googled and learned to make on my own, and there were a couple more things that I saw people post on Instagram, so I looked those up online and found a recipe too. When you want to know something, including how to cook a good vegan meal, Google is your best friend!
6. Have there been any substitutes or comfort foods that have been helpful?
I don’t ever eat meat or dairy “substitutes” like tofurkey or anything like that. However, I have cooked dishes similar to what I used to make with meat and simply replaced the meat with vegetables.
I also have a handful of what I would consider to be my personal staples for meals and snacks…things that I pretty much have in my fridge or cupboard at all times. Once you find a healthy, balanced base of what you like for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, you can stick to those things for a while as you learn, grow, and experiment more.
Some of my most common staple items are:
– Oatmeal (which I improved on over time by mixing in chia seeds, flaxseed, and hemp seed)
– Sandwiches made with whole grain seed/nut bread, hummus, spinach, bell pepper, and avocado.
– Whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce and a mixture of lots of veggies…any combination the following works great: pumpkin squash, bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, and/or zucchini.
– Carrots, broccoli, and hummus.
– Raw nuts and dried fruits. (Dried figs are my new addition!)
– Fresh fruit.
– Natural nut butters like peanut butter, almond butter, and cashew butter.
7. What have been the social repercussions of your switch? Have your friends and family been supportive?
Nearly every person I’ve told has been really cool about it. Of course one of the more common reactions is, “I could never do that,” but lots of people have been really encouraging, intrigued, and supportive. And what really surprised me is that once I started telling people, it seemed that a lot more people than I realized were either vegetarian or vegan, or were considering moving to one or the other. Also, the more educated you are, and the stronger your reasons are for being vegan, the more you can explain it to people and help them see your point of view. I’ve already helped several people see the benefits of a plant-based diet, and have seen them make changes in their diets and lives.
I still haven’t been to see my family in Louisiana since making the switch, but they were all supportive over the phone, and I know that be the time I go there in a few months I’ll be so set in my new vegan ways that finding the right foods won’t be hard. After all, nearly every town in the country has a grocery store with a produce section!
8. Is it hard to go out to eat now?
It’s not hard at all! It’s not quite as convenient or readily available as it used to be, there’s no question about that, but at least when I do go out to eat, I know the stuff I’m putting in my body is good for me.
Probably the easiest, and my favorite option when eating out is Thai or Indian restaurants. They both have a lot of great vegetable curry dishes that are amazingly tasty and super filling.
I actually find eating out much more enjoyable now. When you switch to a plant-based diet you find a new love for food, and since making the switch, I find it really fun to find new vegan-friendly restaurants where I can try new things.
And once again, Google is your friend! When traveling, you can Google vegan restaurants in the area, and more often than not, something will come up. And when that fails, you can look up an Indian or Thai restaurant. Also, there’s a Web site and an iPhone app called Happy Cow that is pretty helpful as well.
9. Did you notice any changes with how you felt after going vegan?
Yes, I fart more often now. A lot more often…and a lot of times they stink worse than before, but that’s a small price to pay in my opinion. Plus, it makes me giggle.
I was pretty healthy and in shape before going vegan, so there wasn’t anything drastic that happened to my body, but the first week or two after making the switch I did notice some unusual things. First, I noticed that I was very light-headed when I stood up. This is common for anyone under certain conditions when blood flow is limited to an area, but it happened to me nearly every time I stood up from any position. Luckily that went away pretty quickly and doesn’t happen anymore. I also had fairly severe diarrhea for several days in the first few weeks. I think this was more or less my body’s way of cleaning itself and readjusting to the new diet. Now that I’ve been eating vegan for two months, my trips to the bathroom are much more pleasant and everything comes out great!
10: Where do you get your protein?
First of all, let’s state the obvious…I’m not a nutritionist. Now on to my answer… I eat a well-balanced diet that includes beans, legumes, nuts, oats, and grains that all have good proteins in them. I also recently ordered hemp protein powder to use after workouts and in certain recipes.
Bonus Question: What advice would you give to someone who wants to go vegan?
Do some research to educate yourself to ensure you have a solid reason of why you want to make the switch. Once you are informed and have real motivation, the change becomes much easier. For me, once I had the reasons behind me, a drastic change was my only option.
Also, keep it simple…vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, beans, legumes, and grains. Stay away from anything artificial, processed, or containing added sweeteners, and finally, drink a lot of water and don’t drink a lot of other stuff. (I actually ONLY drink water.)
Good luck, have fun, and stay healthy!
Other Helpful Resources:
– Guide to Vegan Living Web Site – A great overview of veganism.
– Vegan Action – Another great overview of veganism.
– Oh She Glows – Great for recipes.
– 10 Vegan Health Tips