Editor’s Note: This post is not intended to encourage or discourage veganism as a dietary choice. It was meant to document one person’s journey (a vegetarian) to further reduce animal products in her own diet. We appreciate everyone’s perspective and respect all opinions.
This was supposed to be a story about how I started going vegan for a month and emerged with glowing skin, newfound energy and a complete health overhaul as my rewards.
Instead, this is a tale of how I folded like a flimsy house of cards after a mere six days.
It all started as a spur-of-the-moment decision to give up worthless (but utterly delicious) carbs like Cadbury Mini Eggs and Cheez-Its. I would go vegan. How hard could it be? Going vegan would be a great way to incorporate more fruit and veggies into my diet, and learn some desperately needed new recipes.
I’ve been a vegetarian for two decades now – surely I could handle life minus cheese, milk, yogurt and eggs, right?
Going vegan: Day 1
After checking to make sure my waffles are vegan (woo hoo!), I slather them with peanut butter instead of butter and drink my coffee black. Not huge adjustments, really, as I love peanut butter and like my coffee with just a splash of low-fat milk. I’m not going to lie, though – I do miss the butter.
For lunch, I have my somewhat usual combo of hummus, carrots, sourdough rye crackers and half an avocado. For a snack I cheat and have my usual Greek yogurt – I just can’t bear to throw it away.
Verdict: This vegan stuff is so easy. Bring it on!
Going vegan: Day 3
I buy some Earth Balance spread (completely vegan!) for my waffles. It’s not butter, but it’s not bad. Have a salad for lunch, and then surprise myself at dinner by trying some new vegan treats at our favorite Japanese place. I sample agedashi tofu (fried tofu in a savory broth – delicious!) and soba noodles with veggies. For dessert, my daughter wants ice cream, so I oblige. I sneak in some green tea ice cream for dessert. I can’t help myself – I’ve been doing so well I deserve a little treat, right?
Going vegan: Day 6
I am hungry. H-U-N-G-R-Y. Like, gnaw-my-arm-off hangry. I have my usual waffles and Earth Balance for breakfast and break into my strawberries as soon as I sit down at my desk. I’m tempted to go to the cafeteria and buy a cinnamon streusel muffin, but remember my no empty carbs pledge. Argh.
For lunch, I have homemade chickpea/broccoli/carrot casserole and some whole-grain crackers. I’m still starving – and shaking, to boot – so I break into my soy yogurt immediately for dessert. I am unimpressed.
I’m so hungry that I run out to Stop & Shop to buy another yogurt – Greek and loaded with protein this time – and a chocolate-chocolate chip muffin approximately the size of my head.
Going vegan: The aftermath
That’s it. I’m done. The great vegan experiment is over. I’m just too hungry. But I’m determined to learn from my mistakes. Did I eat too many carbs? Not enough protein? Too much fruit?
I reached out to Jen Bruning, a registered dietician nutritionist with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to answer my questions. She was gracious and knowledgeable and didn’t laugh at my pathetic attempt at veganism, instead offering up some valuable advice.
“Whenever a person is making a big shift in their diet, they’re most successful when they take it one step at a time,” Bruning said. “Going from a full-blown meat eater to vegan will be hard.”
She suggests changing your diet one meal at a time. Maybe have a vegan breakfast one day, or a meat-free salad for lunch. From there, try to work up to a full day of vegan foods. And from there, maybe work up to a week of vegan-only fare.
“You’ll be giving your body time to adjust to different nutrients and to the different mental load a new diet requires,” Bruning said.
The mental demands were something I didn’t quite take into account, given the hasty manner in which I made my decision. The vegan life certainly takes some prep work if you’re going to be successful.
“We don’t live in a fully vegan-friendly world,” Bruning said. “So many different items are available now, but it still takes a lot of planning.”
By the way, I’m still going strong on avoiding useless carbs, although I do allow myself to cheat on Sundays.
Even if it was a failure, at least the great vegan experiment taught me to be more mindful of food and what I’m putting into my body. And who knows? I might try going vegan again, now that I know baby steps are key. But I’ll definitely skip the soy yogurt next time.
Have you ever tried going vegan? Are you a vegan that has any tips for would-be vegetarians or vegans? Leave them in the comments below!