This year, I have made some pretty drastic changes to my diet. In January, I made the decision to become a vegetarian [Read 10 Tips to Becoming a Vegetarian from A Die-Hard Carnivore]. As someone who ate a lot of meat growing up, it was a pretty difficult change for me. But I loved how eating an all-vegetarian diet made me feel, and slowly but surely it became easier for me to not eat meat. The steak taco cravings went away, I became a pro at ordering vegetarian friendly food at restaurants, and cooking plant-based meals for myself got easier with practice. After about 6 months of consistently eating no meat, I started to experiment with the idea of becoming vegan.
For those of you who don’t know, Vegan means not consuming any animal meats or animal byproducts. There are many ways to embrace vegan living, but one thing all vegans have in common is a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat (including fish and shellfish), dairy, cheese, and eggs.
I started doing more research and really looking into how my consumption practices were impacting the planet, specifically the animals that were used to produce dairy, eggs, and all other byproducts. After watching insider videos from PETA about factory farming in America, and how animals are crammed into ridiculously tight spaces, ripped away from their children to produce milk, and non-egg laying (male) newborn chicks are thrown into wood chippers (yes, wood chippers!) to be disposed of, it really made me change the way I look at my food.
Where you spend your money matters, and I decided that I no longer wanted to give these evil companies my money or my business. This Summer, I decided to make the jump from Vegetarian to Vegan. Here’s what I have learned from my experience:
1. There are so many vegan food options!
I’ve often heard people say, “I could never be vegan – I would get so tired of eating salads”. This always makes me laugh because while I do enjoy a good salad every once and a while, I definitely couldn’t live off them either! I discovered SO many delicious recipes and vegan food options over the past month that did NOT include salads. For example, I am a huge fan of Mexican food, so I make vegan tacos & burritos with brown rice, black beans, grilled veggies, and salsa. They are so easy to make and taste amazing!
Some of my other favorites include avocado toast, stuffed bell peppers, hummus and vegetables, vegan soup, falafel sandwiches, wraps, grilled veggies, etc. There are a ton of FREE healthy vegan recipes online if you need some quick inspiration.
I would also recommend doing your research before you go to the grocery store, otherwise be prepared to spend a little more time checking labels. Before I go to the store, I create a solid grocery list of vegan ingredients I need to buy for the week ahead. That way I don’t have to Google “is _____ vegan” every time I go to purchase a product.
2. There are lots of vegan alternatives for your favorite foods
Soy and Almond Milk have become some of my favorite vegan items! I was worried about removing dairy my diet, but after trying vanilla almond milk, I will never go back to drinking regular milk. Silk Soy based yogurt has become my favorite go-to snacks. I swear it’s even better than regular yogurt. I highly recommend the vanilla and strawberry flavors!
If you’re craving meat, there are also tons of meat substitutes that taste just as good, if not better than actual meat. I had the Impossible Burger at a restaurant and was totally blown away by good it was. I also love the Beyond Meat plant-based burgers and chicken strips. Although these options are not super healthy, they are a great substitute for meat if you need a cheat meal!
I tried vegan pizza for the first time the other day and was pleasantly surprised! It honestly tasted just as good, if not better than regular cheese pizza (Thanks Dimo’s Chicago!). When I don’t have vegan cheese options, I usually order my pizza without cheese and extra tomato sauce for some added flavor. Honestly, it tastes just as good and doesn’t leave me feeling as bloated after I finish.
I am a huge fan of sushi as well, and I recently discovered that Vegan sushi is a thing (Insert heart eye emoji here)! Some of my favorite rolls are the mango, avocado and brown rice roll and the spicy shiitake mushroom roll. There are a ton of Vegan replacements to your favorite foods – some will be better than others so don’t be afraid to experiment and test out new restaurants and items. Consider it an adventure!
3. Eating at non-vegan restaurants can sometimes be a challenge
I was surprised to learn that many restaurants do not offer vegan options on their menu. Sometimes it requires a lot of modifications, which can be frustrating. I often try to look at restaurant menus before going so that I can see what the best vegan options would be. Also, I found that restaurants sometimes don’t list all their cooking ingredients on the menu, so be careful of that. When in doubt, ask your waiter!
There are a lot of city specific vegan food bloggers that review restaurants and their vegan food options. One of my favorites in Chicago is the Chi City Vegan. You can see her blog here.
4. Vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy
One of the reasons so many people go vegan is for weight loss purposes. But I’ve learned that just because something is vegan doesn’t mean that its healthy or will help you reach your weight loss goals. There is a surprising amount of food products that are vegan and are not healthy. For example, did you know Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies are Vegan? Same with pasta, bread, chips, many sodas, French fries, popcorn, etc. General rule of thumb: try to stay away from processed foods, even if they don’t use animal byproducts.
5. Bring your own vegan snacks everywhere
I have found it very useful to carry vegan snacks with me to work. Whenever I get hungry or am tempted by non-vegan food, I have something to munch on and curb my hunger. Some of my favorite snacks are vegan protein bars by Vega, oatmeal packets (original with no added sugars or flavors), trail mix, nuts and berries, fruit, and hummus.
Parties can also be difficult. I went to a house party the other day where my friends had ordered several large pizzas, all with cheese and meat on them. I never want to be an inconvenience for my friends, so I brought my own hummus, veggies, and a vegan pizza to share. While I got a few weird looks, I didn’t feel left out while everyone was eating. Plus, my friends got to try vegan pizza for the first time and they loved it!
6. People will judge you
Even though veganism is becoming more and more popular in society, there is still a stigma against it for some reason. When I told some friends I was going vegan, they said “Oh God, not you too?!?” with a giant eye roll. Not sure where the negative mentality comes from, but I think part of it has to do with the notion that some vegans are stuck up and judgmental to non-vegans. Don’t be that guy. If someone gives me a hard time for my diet choices, I usually try to laugh and use it as an opportunity to educate, not scold or get defensive.
Also, be prepared for hard conversations with the family – especially around the holidays. I never realized how much our society is centered around meat unit recently. My family, although mostly in a joking fashion, often makes me feel bad about my choice to become vegan. Thanksgiving and Christmas are also difficult because my mom takes pride in making traditional turkey and lamb dishes, so I sometimes feel as if my diet is a major inconvenience for her. As long as you know your “why” and are strong in your beliefs, it will get easier over time.
7. Being vegan includes life far beyond food
Before I became vegan, I didn’t realize that a lot of my favorite beauty companies had products that were tested on animals. After doing some research, I have slowly started to replace my beauty, shampoo, makeup and lotion brands with cruelty free ones. Not sure why companies feel the need to have animals suffer in order to sell products, but I will no longer buy these items. Where you spend your money matters!
Here are a couple great sites you can use to find more info on what companies test on animals, and which ones don’t:
I’ve also started phasing out leather products like shoes, jackets and purses. There are SO many great quality synthetic and vegan-leather options now, there is really no reason to buy real leather anymore. Here is a list of clothing brands that offer cruelty free fashion:
8. Mistakes Happen
Okay – full disclosure – there have been a few times where I took a bite of something and realized immediately after that it had cheese, or a non-vegan product in it. Sometimes, you will make mistakes, and that’s okay. No need to freak out, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Changing your diet is basically a complete rewire of your brain. I am a huge foodie, and I never used to really think about what I was eating. I’m not allergic to anything, and I like to eat most foods. So completely switching gears on myself and limiting my diet was difficult. It’s all a learning process – changing your diet takes patience, self-control, time and practice! Don’t be too hard on yourself.
9. You will feel amazing!
Since I decided to change my diet, I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight and can definitely see a difference in the toning in my body. It’s been said that 30% of your body is made in the gym, but 70% is made in the kitchen. I feel great, am less bloated after I eat, and have so much more energy since I started. Plus, I feel great about doing something good for the earth, animals, and the environment!
Would you ever try eating a plant-based vegan diet? If you are already vegan, do you have any tips to offer for newbies to this lifestyle? Let me know in the comments below!
*NOTE: This is NOT a paid post or product promotion article. I genuinely love the brands I write about and am NOT given any money or free products for my review.