One of the most common questions that I get is “how can I start transitioning into a vegan diet?” Where do you start? What do you need? Is it healthy? In today’s blog, I am going to talk a little bit about my experience and give you as many tips and information as I can to get you started on your plant based journey!
On January 24th, 2018, I made the decision to transition to a vegan diet and stopped eating animal products at that very moment. It is something that I always wanted to do but felt scared to do because of societal pressures and risking my career in the bodybuilding industry. I didn’t think life as a vegan was something that was sustainable or healthy. I needed my meat! Well, after watching Cowspiracy and What The Health on Netflix (while eating a bowl of chili, the last meal with meat I ever ate), my interest in the diet peaked and I nose dove into the research all night long. The next day, I was vegan. My main reason for switching to a vegan diet was my health. After a trip to the hospital triggered by a severe panic attack, I learned that I was facing some serious health issues. That time in my life was very scary for me, I was in and out of the hospital and had doctor’s appointments scheduled virtually every week. My immune system was attacking itself and my body was struggling to keep up. I tried everything from medication to a gluten free diet and nothing seemed to get my autoimmune issues under control. The number one fear my doctors and I were facing were blood clots. After watching the documentaries previously mentioned, I decided to give it a shot. What was the worst that could happen? It not working? After 3 months of being vegan, my blood work began to level out, so close to “normal,” my doctors were, for lack of a better word, shook.
I took my veganism very seriously and did not dare touch any sort of animal product for the next one and a half years. I had convinced myself it had to be all or nothing or it didn’t count or I wasn’t doing my part for the environment or the animals, both of which have become incredibly important ethical topics for me. Because of the light brought upon these worldly, ethical issues during my research about veganism, I truly convinced myself it had to be all or nothing. After a lot of thought, I made the decision to switch my label to “plant based.” What is the difference? Not much. The majority of my food intake comes from vegan products and I occasionally eat animal products, specifically dairy. At this point in my life, I would estimate that 95% of my intake comes from vegan products and then I have the occasional slice of pizza when out with friends or a cup of yogurt if there is no food in the house. Although veganism is still very near and dear to my heart, I realized that the all or nothing mindset was not healthy for me personally at this time due to past disordered eating, finances, and other contributing factors like accessibility on vacation. I wanted to tell you a bit about my story and the evolution of my diet so that you know that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing and even incorporating veganism partially into your life can have amazing outcomes on your health, the environment, and the food industry.
Now let’s get into it. The healthiest and easiest way to eat and maintain a vegan diet is sticking to the basics, primarily healthy, whole foods. This means plenty of veggies, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. If you have a well rounded diet incorporating a variety of whole foods, you are good to go! This will offer you all of the nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and protein that you need. And the best part? Higher volume meals. Whole foods are typically lower in calories and much more dense than processed foods or meats, so your plate can truly be full and satiating.
As I mentioned before, it does not need to be all or nothing. Especially in the beginning of your transition. Everyone is different when it comes to what is going to work best for them! Personally, I went cold turkey. I was vegan from one day to the next. That was the best decision for me because I knew if I slowly transitioned, I wouldn’t follow through. For others, slow transitions are what will keep the diet sustainable for them. It is completely up to you! Some options are first cutting out meat and going vegetarian, cutting out dairy, cutting out meat and dairy and becoming pescatarian, or just full fledged cutting off animal products cold turkey like I did.
I wanted to lightly touch on some common excuses you’ll hear and have probably told yourself are time and money. It takes too much time to prepare and too much money to purchase. Eating healthy takes time. Regardless of what your diet consists of, you are going to spend time in the kitchen preparing food that fits your healthy diet. So why not make something vegan?! Something I like to do is meal plan and meal prep. At the beginning of the week, I will plan out several different meals that I want to have ready for me to quickly access so that I don’t have to take the time to cook 20 times a day. Pinterest was my BESTIE at the beginning of my journey because I didn’t really know what was and what wasn’t considered vegan. Pinterest has great meal ideas for you to plan the week out, grocery shop, and prep in advance. “Okay but...it’s too expensive!” Not really! It is a huge misconception that it costs a kidney to eat a vegan diet. In reality, whole foods run relatively cheap! It doesn’t start to get pricey until you get into the specialty items like mock meats and goji berries. Think about it - a pack of 7 chicken breasts for the week is already $25 at publix. Not even the organic brand! It all comes down to planning and making the right choices for you financially when looking for vegan options and sticking to the basics. There is so much you can do with the basics, you would be surprised!
Now, you might get cravings at first. That is totally normal! You go from eating something every single day to staying away from it. Just the mental aspect of removing a food group from your diet is reason enough to start having cravings, nevermind your habitual eating methods for your whole life. I’m not going to lie, this was hard for me at first. Especially because I didn’t know what I was doing as much as I should have before starting. But, I promise, it will go away! Now, I think about meat and feel disgusted. I truly see it as a piece of flesh rather than a piece of food.
Lastly, let’s talk about supplementation. As previously mentioned, if your diet is well rounded and you eat primarily whole and nutritious foods, you won’t have any problem consuming the necessary nutrients you need. However, B-12 is something that is highly recommended to supplement as a vegan. Why? Well, having a deficiency in B-12 can lead to some really unfun things like anemia and nervous system damage. Most vegans consume enough in their daily diet because a lot of vegan foods are fortified with B-12 to help decrease the risk of becoming deficient but it is one of those things that are better safe than sorry. Some of the fortified foods you can find are different plant milks and soy products (no . . . soy is not bad for you unless you have an allergy). Of course, always consult with your doctor before incorporating new supplements into your routine!
Absolutely anyone can go vegan. For me, it was an easy decision due to health issues, but for some it can be a very tough decision to make because it is a full 180 in lifestyle. But I promise, you can do it! If it’s something you’re interested in, I definitely recommend giving it a shot. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? You start eating animal products again? At least you challenged yourself to try something new! I hope this was helpful for all the gals who reached out to me struggling to make this decision!