Say what you want about millennials’ addiction to technology, but Netflix changed my life. It was a pretty average night of looking for something to watch, until my boyfriend and I stumbled across a documentary called Forks Over Knives, in which nutrition experts explore the possibility that people changing their diets from animal-based to plant-based can help eliminate or control common medical maladies and diseases. 96 minutes later and our lives had changed forever. Ask any vegan what convinced them to ditch filet mignon for tofu and there’s a pretty good chance they’d say it’s because of this documentary.
The Forks Over Knives argument for switching to a plant-based diet was so convincing that we started to rethink what we were eating. Fast forward a couple of years and we’re both committed to vegan diets and couldn’t be happier. But I think that’s the hardest part for people to understand. Not just why we gave up some really beloved foods — everyone is worried about cheese — but how we can honestly enjoy it.
Disclaimer: I am by no means a medical expert. Each individual has different dietary needs and a vegan diet is not right for everyone. This is simply an account of why I decided to become a vegan and why it’s the right diet for me!
After watching the first of many documentaries on the benefits of plant-based diets, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be eating meat. Some of these documentaries focus only on the health benefits of plant-based diets, but others also discuss the ethics of factory farming. My boyfriend and I both deeply love and respect all animals, and it felt like we’d been betraying them and ourselves by not acknowledging that we shouldn’t be eating meat. Not only should we not be eating meat, but any animal byproducts like dairy or eggs cause animals in factory farms to suffer too.
I don’t like to dive too deep into the treatment of animals because it makes for an awkward conversation — which means I should probably talk about it more — but when people ask me if I miss eating meat or cheese, one of the main reasons I don’t is because I don’t want any animals to suffer at my expense. The ASPCA provides great educational resources about factory farming, including what labels like “free range” actually mean.
Only one-fifth of American medical schools require students to take a nutrition course, despite the medical community largely acknowledging that what you eat can affect your health. Which means doctors are getting very little, if any, exposure to the nutritional knowledge they need in order to counsel patients on a healthy diet. It just so happens my doctor is an advocate of a plant-based diet so he has been a great resource for me, but doing your own research is never a bad idea.
Nutrition Facts is a super helpful online resource that breaks down the positive effects of a plant-based diet into small videos on a variety of health issues like high blood pressure, inflammation, heart disease, and diabetes. They also answer all of your health questions about different foods or beverages like dairy, alcohol, soy, and more.
For a deeper dive into the benefits of a vegan diet, How Not To Die is an excellent book that is heavily researched and outlined in a way that is informative and practical. The author, Michael Greger, M.D., who also founded NutritionFacts.org, is not an extremist (which vegans get an unfair reputation for being) and helps outline a diet in which you can still eat the foods you love. Even if that does means some animal products, as long as you’re eating enough of the nutrition-packed plant-based foods you need every day.
Environmental And Social Impact
The environmental impact of eating meat and other animal products is undeniable. Red meat is responsible for 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grain. On top of that, livestock are fed grains which are grown by using large amounts of fertilizer, fuel, pesticides, water, and land. According to ecologist David Pimentel of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, “If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million.” Livestock in America alone consume five times more grain than the entire U.S. population eats. That’s a lot of delicious grain bowls we could all be eating!
It’s Made Me Healthier
Whether or not we all agree on what the best diet it, we can all agree that packaged food is bad for you. Well, it turns out that most packaged foods have a little dairy or egg in them. Even chips and crackers often have some kind of dairy in their seasoning. So I’ve had to cut out a lot of snack foods, frozen meals, and packaged desserts. And now that I’ve adjusted, and have a good meal prepping routine down, I rarely miss packaged foods.
Please note: meal prepping is an extremely important part of adopting a vegan diet (at least in my opinion). Depending on where you are, you might not be able to easily find vegan food on your lunch break or when you’re running late to yoga class, so being prepared during busy weeks really helps.
Every weekend my boyfriend and I go grocery shopping and do some meal prepping. We start by prepping a lot of whole grains and legumes like faro, lentils, brown rice, beans, etc. That way, it’s easy for each of us to mix and match as we see fit. One day for lunch I might make a grain bowl with veggies on top and he might make tacos. And we make sure we have all the ingredients ready for the meals we want to make fresh throughout the week. For example, if we plan on making stir fry, we’ll cut up our tofu and vegetables in advance so we can quickly make our dinner fresh each night. For emergencies, we like to keep some of these pre-made plant-based meals from Veestro in our freezer.
I also like to prep some fun snack foods and desserts so we have them at the ready when cravings hit. My favorite is seasoned popcorn or roasted pumpkin seeds. As a bonus, these snacks are easy to eat on the go. Finding vegan dessert options is our biggest challenge. We love these chocolate peanut butter balls and they could not be easier to make. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I like to add the coconut creamer from this recipe to tea. It’s very thick and frothy and it’s really delicious drizzled on berries or peaches. I also love experimenting with this ice cream maker. Vegan ice cream options are becoming more and more available, but it’s really fun to play around with new flavors!
An Example of My Daily Diet
For breakfast I like to have what I call “loaded oatmeal” or a “loaded smoothie.” I try to add a bunch of seeds and plant-based milk to my meals to make sure I’m getting enough calories and protein throughout the day. My smoothie is always a mix of dark, leafy greens and fruit. Then I add hemp seeds, flax seeds, and Ripple Milk, which is a pea-based plant protein. In one smoothie, I can easily get over 20 grams of protein, without adding any protein powder. I load up my oatmeal the same way but sometimes add almonds or cacao powder. If I’m still hungry in the morning, I’ll eat some fresh fruit or nuts.
For lunch, I generally eat a grain bowl with the grains we prepped over the weekend. I change the vegetables and seasonings I use each week, but I always try to add some leafy greens in.
For an afternoon snack, I’ll usually eat hummus with vegetables, chips and salsa, or a simple salad.
Dinner is usually where we get a little more creative. We like making chili (another easy recipe to meal prep), a hearty soup, stir fry, pasta, or any kind of Mexican food!
For dessert, if we haven’t made one of the desserts I mentioned above, we usually keep some goodies from Trader Joe’s on hand!
I Feel Better
People always ask me if I felt different after we switched our diet. And I did, almost immediately. I used to feel uncomfortably full after eating a very small amount of food. A small yogurt would be a struggle for me to finish — which no one ever believed. Upon reflection, it’s clear I did not tolerate dairy well! With no animal-based foods in my diet, I can actually eat more and feel great after eating. I never feel tired or weighed down after a meal now. And this may not be exactly health related, but my breakouts lessened. A lot. The few times I have gone back to eating a little extra dairy, like when traveling, the breakouts come right back.
I Took It Slow
Becoming a vegan, if you’re used to a traditional animal-based diet, is a big change and not one that needs to happen overnight. My transition was a slow process, but by taking it slow I was able to make my new diet work for me in a way that felt natural. If I had jumped in before I was ready, I might have been overwhelmed and given up. It was also really helpful embarking on this new chapter in my life with a partner in crime. My boyfriend and I were pretty unfamiliar with what vegan meal options there were — we’d never even had a piece of tofu! So we decided to keep eating meat while we experimented and introduced new food into our diets. Turns out, I like tofu way more than meat. And next thing you know, we’d found enough vegetarian meals that we loved and were able to cut out meat altogether.
When we first cut out meat, we never thought we would be able to fully give up dairy and eggs. It just seemed too hard. But then we realized we were replacing a lot of our meat meals with egg and dairy based meals. Health wise and ethically, we didn’t see this as a much improved option from eating meat. So, we slowly replaced some of our favorite meals with plant-based alternatives. Our go-to vegetarian dinner was cheese and egg burritos. So we tried making bean and rice burritos and — again, much to our surprise —we liked them better.
It Can Be Hard, But Not That Hard
Another question I get asked frequently is, “Isn’t it hard?” Yes and no. Yes, sometimes it’s hard when your friends choose a restaurant with limited vegan options. Or when you have a layover in a small airport. Or when it’s Halloween and you really want all the candy. But for the most part, it’s made my life way easier. Cooking is faster and stress-free without worrying about cooking and cleaning up after meat properly. Plus, our grocery bill has gone way down — we spend less than $100 a week on groceries for two people. And in the past we were worried we weren’t eating enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in a day, but now we know we’re getting plenty!
I’m Not Perfect
This part stings to admit a little, but I am not a perfect vegan. I try my best every day, but there are still times when dairy or egg-based products slip into my life. I would never eat a piece of meat again — I lost my taste for meat pretty quickly — but there are times when I slip up. If I’m traveling, I may try a must-have local dish, like pizza when I was in Rome. Or I might indulge in dessert at weddings or holidays. I don’t slip up often, but I don’t beat myself up when I do. Plus, I usually don’t feel great physically after, which is a nice reminder of why I don’t need the foods I gave up!
Not Read to Be a Full-Time Vegan? Try This…
If you’re not ready to jump into being a vegan full-time, there are small ways you can reduce your consumption of animal products that you’ll hardly notice! And those small changes make a difference. When I began this dietary journey, I just cut out meat. And that means I went from seven servings of meat a week (I only ate meat at dinnertime) to zero. One year later and I’d eaten 365 less servings of meat. But even if you eat two more meatless meals than normal a week, by the end of the year that’s still 104 less servings of meat. It took that first year for me to adjust to my new meat-free diet, but along the way I was able to slowly experiment with recipes and cut dairy and eggs out of my life until I was ready to make the transition to being vegan.
Participate in Meatless Monday
Meatless Monday isn’t a new concept, but it’s an effective one. For one day a week, plan meals that are meat-free. That one day a week is a great time to experiment with new meatless recipes and to see how your body really feels when not eating as much meat. These are some of my favorite vegetarian recipes, and they can easily be made vegan if you’re up for the challenge.
Avoid Packaged and Processed Food
Vegan or not, packaged food is generally not good for you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a real chicken nugget or a faux-chicken nugget — you’re not going to feel your best when you eat it. You don’t want to let vegan fast food derail your progress!
Give Up What You Care About Least
I always had a complicated relationship with meat. As a child I really didn’t like it, but as time passed I got used to eating it and found ways to prepare it that I enjoyed. But, even as an adult, I didn’t eat any pork or fish and was often drawn to meat-free meals. Which meant that giving up meat wasn’t that hard for me. However, I always loved dairy, so cutting it out first would have probably made me give up before I even started. Even if you don’t go full vegan, at least you know by cutting out one type of animal product that you’ve made a huge change in your diet.
Focus On What You’re Gaining
To have a healthy vegan mindset, it’s more productive to focus on what you’re gaining, not what you’re giving up. Every time you give up a meal that has meat or eggs in it, you could be gaining a nutrient-rich whole food like lentils, beans, or rice. As you add more plant-based whole foods to your diet, you’ll naturally have less room for animal-based products.