Want to go vegan but not sure what the road ahead is like? Learn from those of us who have been there, done that. Begin your new lifestyle with confidence!
The year was 1994, and hubby Jeff and I decided to go full-on plant based. It was an easy enough choice to make, but would it be easy to actually do it? We were already vegetarian, so turning the corner to vegan shouldn't be too difficult, right?
Well, yes and no. When you decide to switch to a 100% plant-based diet, some parts of the process are actually quite easy while others offer QUITE the learning experience.
Does any of this sound like YOU?...
All of the above are certainly important things to take into consideration when changing to a plant-strong diet, and we'll go over some of these below.
But it's important for you to stay focused right now. Let's get you off to a positive and easy start. Then you can find success from the get-go so you stick with your very sound decision.
So let's start at the very beginning...
The word "Vegan" can mean a lot, and many people out there get QUITE nitpicky about it.
I prefer to be a little less like the Vegan Police, and a little more like the loving coach that you likely need right now.
So for your "Beginner" purposes, let's talk about what it means to eat a plant-based diet. Because we're all about the FOOD here!
I mean, you can't do it all overnight so you have to set some priorities. It's all well and good to get to the point where your closet isn't stuffed with clothes made from animal skins, but food is a much more immediate need.
If you don't eat the right foods, in a short time you will begin to notice it.
So...what is a Vegan?
If you are Vegan, you do not eat animal products
This includes anything that at one time was living and breathing and had a mother.
This means avoiding red meat, chicken, piggies, basically any "meat" that comes from what was a not-too-long ago living animal/mammal.
And YES even fish are off limits. (I am astounded at the number of people out there who ask "Can you eat fish?" Are fish living beings with a mother? Yes, of course. So we don't eat them. Period. Exclamation point!
Plant-strong diets eliminate the eggs too. Whether it comes from a chicken or a fish, eggs of all kinds are off limits. (And if you want to be sure to stay on this path but can't let go of the idea of eating eggs...well, then just think of them as Jeff does: Chicken menstruations. I know, totally and completely gross -- but whatever works!)
If you eat a plant-based diet it means you do not eat dairy products. This includes milk, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, and any other products that come from (as my hubby Jeff would say) bovine lactation fluids. Whenever Jeff says "lactation fluids" I roll my eyes. And when he calls meat "the muscle" -- OY, SO DRAMATIC!
But really he's right -- we need to call a spade a spade here.
Whether you eat animal products or not, it's helpful to know what you're eating...or avoiding. (And in case you're wondering, goat's milk and sheep's milk and their products are off limits too.)
Okay, now clearly you CAN eat animal foods -- I mean, nobody is going to come along and throw you in jail if you do. Veganism is NOT some sort of cult where you are brainwashed into avoiding these foods.
Going vegan is simply a dietary choice you make to do your very best to NOT eat animal products.
"Great! So what am I supposed to eat?"
Back when Jeff and I went 100% plant-based, we practically lived on fruit, bagels, pasta (egg-free) with marinara and steamed veggies, homemade veggie sub sandwiches, and giant green salads for...ummmm, about 6 months straight!
We simply didn't know what else to eat, and since it was filling us up and we were losing weight, we kept it up.
We even made a game of it sometimes just to mix things up a bit so it wouldn't be so monotonous -- who could make the best pasta? Wow, how crazy were WE!? :)
And really, we weren't doing TOO awfully bad of a job. This diet included lots of fresh veggies and fruit, plus we felt pretty good.
I think a lot of people start out this way -- just grabbing the stuff that they know doesn't contain animal products and call it a day.
So start with those foods you are already familiar with just like we did, and just like most people do when they omit animal products.
For instance, do you eat pasta with meat sauce and meatballs? Use marinara instead (meatless red sauce) and skip the meatballs. Enjoy your pasta with a large green leafy salad.
If you used to go to a Subway restaurant for a sub sandwich chock full of deli meat, instead, just ask for the vegetables, hold the cheese and mayo.
Just don't let them be chintzy on the veggies -- politely ask them to PILE them on. I mean, I don't know about you, but I am not paying $6 or $7 for the foot long and not getting that sucker PILED HIGH with veggies! They are nearly always super great about making you happy.
In fact, there has only been ONE occasion in all these years that the Subway employee just wouldn't give me more veggies. "More lettuce, please." (Adds 2-3 lettuce shreds.) "Ummmm, can I please have more than that?" (Adds 2-3 more shreds while giving me the evil eye.) COME ON, REALLY!? Oy vey! Of course, I never went back there!
Some Subway's out there have a dairy-free, egg-free, veggie-burger-type patty they can add to the sandwich (but beware, not all of the Subway veggie patties are totally vegetarian, some of them contain eggs).
So those are just a couple examples of how to make it work for you.
Sit down with a pencil and paper and write down all the foods you eat, at home or out, that are 100% vegetarian. You will be surprised how many things you are eating already fit the bill. Be sure to take a peek at the Vegan Food Pyramid, so you can learn the food groups and how many servings of each make up a healthy plant-strong diet.
When You Go Vegan Your Tastes Will Change...Eventually
I hear it over and over again: "I used to be a fantastic cook! A huge foodie! But now that I went vegan, I can't cook anything that tastes good. Hrrmphh!" :-/
You don't notice it while you are eating a non-vegetarian diet, but animal-based foods are VERY rich, salty, fatty...and fattening!
Plant-based foods such as veggies, beans, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and seeds, aren't as rich-tasting, salty, or fatty. They have a completely different flavor profile than animal foods. (And can I just say "thank the gods" for that!)
So it can seem hard for you to stick to that transition to plant-based foods because the food you make -- at least at the beginning of your journey -- may seem sort of "blah".
Tastes change quite slowly. But one day you'll wake up and realize that you are cranking out food that is not only palatable, it's amazingly tasty! And the foods you used to eat are a complete turn off.
For example, once upon a time, Jeff and I were visiting some non-veg friends and they were all aflutter about this amazing piece of cake they bought that day -- each slice was approximately $10! They couldn't wait to sink their teeth into it and offered me a bite.
Now, normally I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole since it wasn't 100% vegetarian, but I was REALLY curious. Is this amazingly expensive cake something I could replicate in my own kitchen?
So I took a small bite.
OMG. I was so overcome by the SUGARY, BUTTERY, FATTY flavor of the cake that I almost spit it out. YES it was rich. YES it was decadent. But how could anyone eat an entire slice of that cake?
But the truth of it is, in my past life as a non-veg I would have eaten the whole freaking piece! But not now. Why? What has changed?
My taste buds. And yours will too. You just have to give your body the time to catch up with your brain!
And you will know your tastes have really done a complete turnaround when you realize that non-dairy ice cream (that took the place of your dairy-based ice cream) is now CLOYINGLY sweet containing far more sugar than your taste buds need anymore to be happy.
I pinky swear! :)
Suddenly, fruit turns into the perfect sweet treat.
And isn't that the way you have always wanted to eat, but just didn't know how to get there? Well, the vegan diet will help you find your way.
It's like moving to another country and learning a new culture of food. You WILL learn the ins and outs of cooking it. But you need to be patient with yourself.
So explore the world of tastes, herbs, spices, and other flavors that you would not have taken the time to discover before going 100% vegetarian. I PROMISE you there is so much to this adventure you will never, ever get bored with your food.
Now, before we go any further, we need to answer an important question...
What about the fake stuff -- vegan meats and cheeses?
Go into any natural food stores today (and even some mainstream grocery stores) and you'll notice the shelves are jam packed with the fake stuff. It's just SO easy to go vegetarian today.
It may be easy, but is it healthy to eat the meats and cheeses made from soy and other plant foods?
I can't tell you how many people have asked me this very logical question. And let me just say that we all pretty much start out with the stuff that is quite obviously missing the meat, dairy, and eggs.
But just as our pasta and sub sandwiches were a bit of a crutch for us, so are these expensive faux foods lining the shelves.
Yes, they are good to have out there because they can help you make the transition practically overnight to being totally plant-based vegetarian.
Let's face it, they're fun to eat. But so is pop rocks and cotton candy, but are you going to base your diet on them?
There comes a time when you can't live your life eating pasta and sub sandwiches or those processed faux meats and cheeses.
Let's not pussy foot around...
You will not find a healthy and balanced vegetarian diet lining your grocery shelves in pre-packaged and frozen meals. Plus, you might wake up one day and realize you've relied on all those vegetarian processed foods from your grocery store for months or even years -- and you'll wonder why the vegan diet didn't make you that super healthy and slender person you thought it would.
So again, have fun with those fun foods. But only for a bit. Always try to buy them in organic form, and then use them as only a very small part of a well-balanced whole foods vegetarian diet.
And speaking of...
Step-By-Step Transition to Working With Whole Foods
Here's how to embrace cooking with whole foods...Begin by checking out my Cooking Guide that teaches you how to prepare basic whole foods such as beans, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.Look through the vegan meals at Cooking From Scratch where I show you how to work with these whole foods so you can learn to put together a delish meal on the table in virtually minutes.Of course, you'll want to be sure this diet can provide you with the nutrients you need, so take a gander at my Nutrition Tips.