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Wellness

What 3.5 Years of Veganism Taught Me

On March 21, 2015 I ate my last bite of meat. It’s been three and a half years since I intentionally ate an animal product. Hey, hi, I’m vegan. I’m not vegan to keep up with the latest health trend or to be able to angrily protest all omnivores that go on about bacon, I’m vegan because I feel so strongly about animal rights, health, and the environment.
The initial reason for my cutting out all animal products was because, at 15, I thought it would help me lose weight. As embarrassing and unnecessary as my reasoning was at the time, now that has transferred to a passion for animal rights, health and fitness, and the environment. I was selfish in my decision to cut out meat, dairy and eggs, but as I researched and tried to educate myself on how to live a vegan lifestyle, I realized I was committing myself to something so much bigger than an aesthetic choice. I had always been a healthy kid; we ate our veggies at home and I started getting into nutrition when I was 13. I’ve been a competitive athlete all my life, so eating mindfully and consciously was high on my agenda. I wanted to perform well, and would do anything to get there. I made all my own meals from about age 14 onwards because I wanted to exercise complete control over what I ate and how it made me feel. I thought that I was being healthy, eating small portions for how much I was exercising and following a low carb diet with a high protein intake. But, I was always lightheaded and tired; I thought it was just a side effect of lots of school work and sports.

So here’s a list of all of the important lessons that 3.5 years of veganism have taught me:

Lesson 1: you need to eat to live. Food is not the enemy. Although that might not seem directly related to veganism, to me it’s what shook off the blinders, what finally let me feel comfortable eating bigger portions and allowing myself to feel full. Vegan food in general is lower in calories than ‘regular’ food. Compare a block of cheese and a head of broccoli—same size, completely different amounts of calories. I learned quickly that I needed to eat much more in terms of volume to meet my daily requirements. I began getting enthusiastic with my portions, making huge pans of veggies and rice, bowls of oatmeal and pancakes. I was so excited by the idea that I could finally EAT and feel satiated and not weighed down.

Lesson 2: the way I feel after eating a vegan meal is ten times lighter than I ever felt before. Loads of people talk about ‘food comas’ after they’ve had a really big or indulgent meal. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of vegan foods that can have that effect on you, but they’re mostly highly processed meat or animal product replacements. As a general rule, vegan meals consist of veggies and starches, which digest well and are nutrient dense. I remember Christmas dinners, birthdays, you name it, feeling so incredibly heavy and tired after eating. I have yet to feel really poor after eating vegan food, compared to how often I felt lethargic and ready for a nap after a meal with meat or cheese in it.

 

 

Lesson 3: veganism is not my excuse for a borderline eating disorder. So many concerned mothers have asked me if I’m deficient in 101 things or if I’m using veganism as a way to restrict myself. Funnily enough, I’m much more conscious of my nutrient intake than I ever was eating as an omnivore. Although veganism is in itself a restrictive diet, as you’re really cutting out a whole food group, the core of it is directed at the well-being of animals, the environment, and your own health. Essentially, the diet you choose to restrict yourself with is not the problem, it’s the mindset you have with food. You could approach any diet with a restrictive attitude and have it be detrimental to your health. That’s why its always important to consult with a doctor or nutritionist about any changes to your diet. Overall, I wish veganism could be seen as liberating instead of restrictive.

Lesson 4: take a multivitamin. Although there isn’t a true reason why you should be deficient in anything on a vegan diet, student life, careless eating or any other ‘life’ things that come at us can have a huge impact on how well we’re being nourished. As a student, on some days I don’t have time to eat lunch or don’t have the funds for a $21 salad from Whole Foods. Some days you’re getting more nutrients than others, but it’s like that in any diet. So take that multivitamin, spare yourself the exhaustion, iron deficiencies and who knows what else.

Lesson 5: you can actually build muscle on a vegan diet. Surprise! No, I’m not protein deficient, nor do I have any trouble lifting heavy things in the gym. There’s a huge misconception around vegan or vegetarian diets that apparently none of us can build any muscle because there’s no protein in plant foods. Well actually, there’s protein in every whole food. Think unprocessed, natural foods. So, yeah, if you eat a balanced diet of whole foods and you’re conscious about what kinds of food have higher levels of protein, there should be no problem whatsoever in building muscle. Also, there is actually no such thing as a protein deficiency unless you’re in a state of physical starvation.

Lesson 6: it feels so good to fight for something that isn’t about me. My biggest reason for staying vegan is how cruel the animal agriculture industry is. I don’t believe we as humans have any right to take the life of another being simply for taste. Maybe if we reverted to hunter gatherers and were eating animals to survive, I’d be in favor. But nowadays animal products are a luxury item, we don’t eat them out of necessity, it’s pleasure. That’s not to say there is no pleasure in plant foods. At all. There are so many alternatives out there to the animal products we all love(d). Anything you might miss being an omnivore you could replace in plant based form.

All in all, veganism has been the best decision I’ve made so far. I’m entirely convinced it’s the best way to be eating, especially considering the recent climate worries. If you’re interested, or not at all, look into veganism. What eating meat means for the animals, what drinking milk means for a cow’s life, how dairy affects your body. It’s daunting in the beginning because what you’ve been raised with is being questioned, but, oh man, when it sinks in and you start to understand – true revelation.

Image credits: 1 – Writer’s Own / 2 / 3

Girl of the world, from the Netherlands. Writing because mumbling doesn't do anyone any good.
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