5 Months Vegan – 10 Observations
I just passed my 5-month mark as a vegan. To be honest, I haven’t been totally vegan the whole time, but maybe 95% of the time. And it feels good!
I don’t actually like to call myself a vegan, by the way. I prefer to describe my diet as “plant-based oriented”, which means that I avoid animal-based foods and eat as little processed foods as possible. I’ll occasionally have a bite of meat or cheese because I’m against extremism in any way, shape or form.
From a diplomatic perspective, going totally vegan is probably not the best idea ever. There are lots of countries where the selection of food available is limited, which can make it challenging to find something to eat.
Also, veganism can clash with the local (food) culture. We live in Armenia now and when I scanned the embassy cafeteria menu the other day, I realized that there wasn’t a single vegan item on it besides French fries.
Diplomats are frequently invited for dinner somewhere, and it’s hard (and possibly undiplomatic) to say “no” to what you’re being served. I don’t want to burden my host with my self-imposed dietary restrictions (sometimes it’s a waste of time anyway, because in some places people have no idea what you mean when you talk about veganism).
Despite these challenges, I found it surprisingly easy to switch from being a “flexitarian” (as in, I didn’t eat a lot of meat before) to being a semi-vegan.
It all started when my husband and I watched a documentary called “What the health”, followed by “Food Choices” and “Forks over Knives”. After that, we had a brief discussion about animal cruelty, the health benefits of a plant-based diet, the common sense of it, and the research that appears to be backing it up. Then we simply made the switch.
For me it felt like an experiment at first. I wondered what would happen to my eating habits, my body, and my mind. I wanted to find out how many animal-based things I actually ate, how hard it would be to stop eating them, and how I would feel about it. Here are some of my main observations:
1. I found out that I actually ate a lot of animal-based products. On a typical day, I would eat yoghurt, white cheese, butter, eggs, and beef.
2. The hardest thing to give up was yoghurt. I’ve eaten one bowl of natural yoghurt almost every day of my life, usually for breakfast – it’s the only thing I enjoy eating before 9 AM and I still miss it sometimes.
3. I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% vegan. I’ll eat meat when I get it at other people’s places and some things I will always continue eating, even if they contain eggs or dairy, including chocolate and chips – just not every day. I also don’t see the point in giving up honey, or my leather bags and shoes.
4. I eat WAY MORE vegetables and fruits now. I do all the grocery shopping in our house and I buy at least double the amount of fresh produce than I used to. I also eat a wider variety of produce (as wide a variety as there is in Armenia, where everything is local and seasonal).
5. The other main change to my diet is that I eat tons of legumes and beans now. I never thought I could get used to eating things like beans, chickpeas and lentils every day of the week, but apparently I can. I’m still working on adding more healthy grains to my diet, like millet, buckwheat and barley, which are actually delicious. I just haven’t gotten comfortable making them yet.
6. I don’t find it very difficult to adapt the meals I already used to make. For example, instead of beef tacos I make black bean or green lentil tacos; instead of hamburgers I make falafel burgers; instead of bolognaise sauce I make tomato-zucchini sauce; instead of chicken-noodle soup I make mushroom-noodle soup. It all tastes great and my 4-year old son doesn’t even notice.
7. There are plenty of cool cookbooks for trying vegan and plant-based recipes. There is one cookbook in particular I find absolutely hilarious called Thug Kitchen; there’s a lot of swearing in it, but I crack up every time I use it. And of course there is a wealth of recipes online also.
8. I’m not gonna lie; my body took several weeks to get used to my new diet, and I was gassy at first. My husband reported actual stomach pains. What also sucks is that sometimes, when I suddenly eat something forbidden like melted cheese (as in, a slice of pizza), it seems to cause stomach cramps.
9. I eat far less candy and other junk food now, because I’m focused on eating as much fresh foods as possible. Especially in the beginning, I felt like I needed to stuff myself with vegetables all the time in order to feel full. However, it doesn’t mean I’ve turned into some kind of health freak. I’m still a major fan of French fries and potato chips, which I will continue to eat no matter what.
10. At the same time, I’ve gotten really fond of a number of much more healthy snacks. My new, go-to favorites include hummus, baba ganoush, carrots, cucumbers, radishes, sprigs of cilantro, fresh bread, popcorn, and raw nuts. I also make tons of fresh tomato salsa and eat avocados at every available opportunity.
The things that worried me most during these past five months were: getting tired of eating vegetables and beans every day, not eating enough, and being hungry. I worry about it far less now, because I really enjoy my adapted meals. I enjoy eating vegetables and beans much more now than I did before.
I don’t feel like I’ve “lost” anything by not having my go-to foods (like yoghurt and hamburgers), as long as I exchange them for other things I love (like fruit smoothies and falafel wraps).
I also don’t feel hungry anymore. As soon as my body got used to the shift in my diet – I guess it was more of a shift than a switch – I started to feel pretty damn good. I rarely feel bloated, nauseous or guilty. I eat as much as I want, and I don’t care if that sometimes means I have to snack more often, as long as those snacks are fresh and plant-based.