First off, I want to open with a great big I HATE LABELS. I honestly do. Labels make everything more difficult, keep us in a box and put so much unnecessary pressure on us. No, this isn’t why I’m no longer Vegan, but I never liked the title to be honest. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into it. We should probably start from the beginning.
What the Health?
I don’t like wasting my time, so I don’t really watch TV or movies often. However, one evening in August of 2017, I was bored (imagine that) and found myself with some free time, so I turned on Netflix to see what was interesting. I’d heard about What the Health here and there, but assumed it was basically like that one movie where the guy eats McDonalds for 30 days and nearly dies or whatever. Assuming it would be entertaining at best, I started watching. Now listen, before you go judging me or clicking away, I do believe that there is a good amount of truth contained in this movie, however the delivery is all wrong. I understand that Shock Factor is used to capture attention and get people shook up to make a change, but honestly some of the claims and statistics are absolutely ridiculous and either exaggerated or given out of context.
Switching it up
When I watched this movie, with it’s ominous music and Kip’s sullen tones, I immediately texted my husband before it even ended. I told him “I’m going to start eating differently. I have to cut out all meat and dairy. I’ll still cook for you guys whatever you want, but I can’t do it anymore.” To my surprise he actually said he wanted him and the kids to do it too. We actually hadn’t bought or used cow’s milk in several years at this point anyway. We’d switched to almond milk after my daughter was born, because with me nursing, drinking cow’s milk seemed to upset her belly. But we made regular use of cheese, butter, ice cream, etc still. And meat? It was a staple for breakfast, lunch and especially dinner. My husband had actually commented in the past that we didn’t always need meat, but I didn’t feel like a meal was complete without it.
It was 7pm at night when the movie ended, and I was hungry and very confused. What do vegans eat? What can I eat? Why am I just finding out this information? I was mad, I was hungry and I was determined to change. I think I ate cereal for dinner that night.
The first day of the rest of my (Vegan) life
The next morning was interesting. We already had planned a trip to Crystal Cave with the kids, and woke up late (as usual). We figured we’d grab breakfast on the way, so we stopped at Panera Bread because that sounded interesting. Bread is vegan, right? Not typically, as it would seem. A quick google search returned that our options were extremely limited. My husband told the kids they had to eat a new way now, and my 14 year old was immediately not happy. The youngest two didn’t fully understand, but I made sure to throw in some really quick and sobering facts on how we would die early like poppop John (my father, who passed at 54 from diabetes/health problems) and how animals were being treated horribly just so we could eat breakfast. We ended up letting my oldest get a bowl of mac and cheese because we were already stressing and he vowed to starve before he’d ever gave up meat and dairy. My youngest two split a “large” (10 oz at best) $6 smoothie because neither were very hungry. My husband settled for an egg white sandwich thinking it was vegan (he had so much to learn in the coming months #visibleeyeroll). I had a green smoothie, one of the few truly vegan options that Panera offers – it was actually extremely delicious!
“I made sure to throw in some really quick and sobering facts on how we would die early like poppop John (my father, who passed at 54 from diabetes/health problems) and how animals were being treated horribly just so we could eat breakfast.”
I was still hungry after the smoothie and absolutely starving by the time we left Crystal Cave. I had my husband google “vegan restaurants nearby” and thankfully The Hive popped up. Listen, when I tell you that their black bean burger was out of this world good, I mean it. If I could live on their black bean burgers the rest of my life and be healthy, I’d be vegan forever. Everything was amazing, down to the homemade sourdough bread. They had water kefir, home grown veggies and the whole works! I figured out how to make black bean burgers shortly after we returned home, and those suckers are SO delicious. Anyway, it was quite expensive to eat out (and this place isn’t close to home by any means – or I’d be broke for sure!) so I found out that I would quickly need to learn how to cook a completely new and different way.
When we got back home, I decided to work on my menu for the week and a shopping list. This was very confusing and I was exhausted, so I ended up just going to the store for some salad. We can live on salad, right? Rabbits do it. You have to know that our 14 year old is quite picky when it comes to food. Our 5 year old was getting to that point, also. Our youngest was thankfully still nursing, so he’d fill up on that and occasionally eat whatever he was offered. My husband was very supportive, blindly, he didn’t ask many questions but just went along with it since I did 100% of the food shopping and cooking at that time. *Note: My husband soon decided that he’d eat what he wanted when out of the house, but he respected that I’d only cook and serve vegan food at home. The kids also ate as they wished at extended family’s homes, school, church etc… This caused dissonance, and understandably so.
Learning to cook
I felt like my entire world was flipped upside down by this new choice I made. You need to understand that I’m a huge foodie, I love cooking and baking, and I love food. This was probably one of the most difficult decisions I ever made up to this point in my life. Honestly, if I wasn’t 100% convinced, I’d have never done this. Since I’m a positive person, I put on a positive persona and told everyone that this was a new adventure for me. It was exciting and fresh. I love a good challenge, so figuring out how to make vegan “cheese” from nuts and meat substitutes from the gluten of wheat was thrilling. I told myself that this would be fun.
First, I started watching more documentaries. As if What the Health? wasn’t enough. So I watched Forks over Knives, and then Earthlings. Bad idea. I was repulsed to the point where I felt as if I couldn’t go back. I have very strong willpower anyway, so that wasn’t really a fear, but I needed more fuel to know that this was the right choice. I felt as if I found some type of secret to longevity that not many people knew. I just had to figure out how to survive now. I had to eat something! I had to feel my family!
I found the website associated with Forks over Knives and they had a meal planner. I almost paid the subscription fee, but realized that most of their food didn’t seem appetizing. This was “plant-based” which is basically healthy vegan. Oil free, little to no processed food. Even more restriction. I realized that Oreos were vegan, and was thrilled. In my head vegan (meaning, no animal products) meant healthy. I was fine with a little oil and stuff here and there. At least it wasn’t animal products, right?
“I realized that Oreos were vegan, and was thrilled. In my head vegan (meaning, no animal products) meant healthy.”
I fell into a routine, and started to get my recipe book filled up. We ate black bean burgers at least once a week for the first few months while I figured out how to shop and cook this completely new way. I tried the healthier side (plant-based) of vegan eating and my kids and husband didn’t care for most of the results. I made fried cauliflower nuggets, which are AMAZING, and my family went wild. There was now a running list of vegan foods I knew they’d eat and love, so I can go to those if I’m stuck in a rut. Those foods were mostly deep fried or processed, so not the healthiest options. It was very hard to get everyone at the table to be happy and this was a huge source of frustration for me. I would have small wins, but then a loss, and I felt somewhat defeated, but still proud that I was doing “the very best thing” for us.
Conflict and Controversy
I started using Tofu to make scrambled “eggs” and soy crumbles (TVP) for taco meat and shepherd’s pie. Then I read all the conflicting info on Soy. Back to square one. I eventually found a recipe for Cauliflower Walnut “meat” which is actually amazing, and very similar to ground beef. I’d use it in my Vegan Stuffed Peppers and my family couldn’t believe it’s not real. I also started using Gluten to make things like Cheesesteak, Baby Back Ribs & Thanksgiving Roast. The Cheesesteak was marinated and turned out AMAZING in my opinion. Seriously, so good. But the other two left much to be desired, and I think the marination had everything to do with the first one’s success. My husband actually requested that I stop using gluten to make “fake meat” because no one seemed to enjoy it, and he wasn’t sure that so much gluten agreed with him. Again, I hit a wall. It seemed like everywhere I turned – once I had a breakthrough – something went bad. What’s going on?
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel handling and cooking animal products for the kitchen ministry I’m in at church, but it actually worked out OK. The smell of it raw was quite off putting, and even eggs made me feel a bit nauseous, but I pushed through because it wasn’t their fault that I decided “to be healthier”. I had a lot of people (some family, some strangers even) question my choices, and I honestly believe all of it was out of concern. Most people agreed that they could do with eating less meat and dairy. Some were shocked and admitted they could never live without it, and wouldn’t want to. In my mind, they’d literally rather continue eating the way they do, and being unhealthy, than to make a “small sacrifice” to improve their health and longevity. “Wow” I thought. And some, however well meaning they were, disagreed vehemently and explained that we need animal products to survive and thrive. I saw people doing the KETO diet, which was pretty much the exact opposite of what I was doing, and hypocritically chastised them all the while.
I found that the decision to eat vegan was quite controversial and caused a lot of dissension in my daily life. If I wasn’t fighting my kids to eat their plate of veggies and grains, I was arguing with my husband or defending myself to well-meaning in-laws. I was stressed enough trying to figure out how to plan, make and eat foods that I actually enjoyed, let alone worrying about everyone else. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t like the person I was becoming, and I felt strangely detached from food – something I’d never experienced before and it really started to depress me.
Vegan… Lifestyle or Diet?
I began to question other aspects of my life as well, after watching Earthlings and “seeing how animals were treated”. Was it wrong for me to call myself a Vegan if I was eating the diet but not living the lifestyle? I briefly gave up raw local honey, but started using it a bit here and there in our tea and Elderberry Syrup – was I hurting/killing bees/us? What about that old leather belt in my closet? Was my shampoo or makeup tested on animals? Was it wrong for me to buy eggs for our church potluck even if I wasn’t going to personally eat them if I got them from the local farm where the chickens were free range and loved? I wasn’t sure how far the rabbit hole went, but fortunately I brought myself back to reality before things got too out of hand. Please don’t misunderstand me here, I know that animals are God’s creation too, and that we should be kind to them, and treat them fairly, but I think that organizations like PETA go far too far. There has to be a balance. There has to be some sanity. I eventually decided that for my own sanity, which was already wearing thin with the diet aspect, that I could not worry about other aspects. I was doing this for health reasons, nothing else.
Expense of a Vegan Diet
Was it cheaper to eat a vegan diet, or not? One of the biggest things I saw a lot in the vegan facebook groups I was in was the savings! People would boast how much cheaper it was to eat a vegan diet. I guess it really depends. I missed cheese like something fierce so I would buy Raw Cashews and Nutritional Yeast and make my own mac and “cheese” sauce, and nacho “cheese”. It was quite good and held off my cravings a bit. Things can get expensive when you’re talking “substitutes”. I couldn’t really afford to buy Organic for the most part, so I just bought regular. Another bump in the road. What is health anymore? I’d never felt more confused in my life. Pay now for organic food and expensive substitutes or pay later with my health.
Struggles with a Vegan Diet
Unfortunately, I developed some serious food aversions over the course of these 8 months and 6 days. I considered going back several times, as I only promised myself a 6 month trial, but I decided if I was still alive after this long I could do it – it was just a matter of willpower – which I had plenty of at that time. I pushed through and some days were easier than others. Other days I didn’t eat breakfast because it was just easier than trying to figure out what to eat. Pancakes again? Cereal? Booooorrrrring. Thankfully my youngest was (and is) obsessed with pancakes, and I had a killer pancake recipe that was “accidentally vegan”, but I was sick and tired of eating the same crap every day. I would drink a strawberry banana smoothie with vanilla pea protein powder every once in awhile, but that got old, and expensive (strawberries are a commodity in these parts apparently). It was easier to be hungry.
After my morning coffee, I’d start fretting over lunch, which was equally difficult most days. Thankfully my oldest two were in school and were happy with PB&J sandwiches nearly every day – or leftovers when available/palatable. But for me, I was getting tired of those options. Nothing seemed desirable. I often wished I didn’t have to eat anymore. That’s really strange, if you know me at all. I love food….. I… loved food... I didn’t like what was happening but I felt helpless. I couldn’t eat animal products knowing how terrible they were. I didn’t want to die young. I wanted to not only watch my kids grow up, but also be healthy so that I could do stuff with them, so that we could build our bus one day and travel the US together! I didn’t have a choice but to choose this, if that makes sense. In my head, it did at the time.
Dinner was the “easiest”, if you could call it that, but most nights it was still a major struggle. I could “veganize” most all of the meals we previously loved to an extent. Some nights we would do side dishes only, which was pretty enjoyable, but I like variety and flair in my food and this felt so basic to me. I’d make carrot dogs, crunchwraps, tacos, shepherd’s pie, vegetable soup, all of our favorites, but the passion just wasn’t there. I don’t know exactly when or how it happened – but it did. I started to dread making food. I tried to stretch things as far as possible, serving leftovers several nights in a row, but my family doesn’t typically do leftovers, so they’d end up eating cereal or my husband would buy processed food occasionally. I felt some depression (and I don’t say that mildly, at this point I had felt depression -PPD – more severely right after my first son was born, so I understand how difficult and serious it is) creeping in, and I knew I had to do something, quick.
“Nothing seemed desirable. I often wished I didn’t have to eat anymore.”
For the Love of Pizza
Ok, so it wasn’t really about pizza, but that would be a great album or book title don’t ya think? I’m a firm believer in moderation. Obviously not with everything (ie nothing dangerous, immoral or illegal), but I feel like if we use the common sense that the good Lord gave to us, make the best choices we can with what we are dealt and pray over our food and our families, we will be A OK. So, pizza was one of those things that I missed hard. My family would occasionally order pizza, and I’d get pizza with no cheese, but it wasn’t the same. Not at all. Pizza without cheese is like life without music. Coffee without [almond] creamer. A marriage without love. See where I’m going here? It just wasn’t right, y’all. So I eventually gave up on trying and settled for the fact that I’d never experience the joy that is pizza again. There were other things I missed too, but pizza, sushi and Mr. Goodbars were at the top of my list.
I decided that it wasn’t worth the stress anymore to be so rigid, so I ordered pizza on a whim one night for dinner and enjoyed the ever-loving-heck out of it. My kids and husband were a bit shocked, but I think they realized that I was at my breaking point so they didn’t question me much. Now – before you assume that I flopped right back to my old carnivorous non-vegan self, that’s not what happened at all. I felt a bit queasy from the pizza, likely from both the cheese and the grease, but I was OK with that because I was in heaven, pizza heaven. I decided that I’d take it one moment at a time, meaning, if I wanted to eat something I’d consider it instead of automatically shutting it down because it’s not vegan.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to eat meat again, but told my husband I’d be open to implementing eggs, chicken and fish. Pork and red meat were going to be on the no-no list, at least for now. I would do chicken if I could find locally raised antibiotic free chicken – which I hadn’t yet – for a decent price. I started buying eggs at the local farm again, like I used to, and I was OK with them but the smell was still quite bad to me. I planned to still use the Neat Egg substitute or flaxseed for most baking applications, but implement scrambled or dippy eggs into breakfast maybe once a week. We had some shrimp the for a memorial day celebration, which was very delicious and surprisingly easy for me to eat. The raw smell was very bad, but once cooked they were amazing. I can’t imagine myself eating meat right now (as of writing this post, some point in 2018), so I don’t know that I’ll ever go back to that, at least not for awhile. While I’m still very conflicted when it comes to meal planning, I don’t want to bring back dairy like I used to either. Our breakfasts used to consist of me making up a huge batch of sandwiches for the freezer (english muffins/bagels/biscuits) with sausage or bacon, cheese and eggs) OR including bacon or sausage along side of my pancakes or eggs/potatoes. OR making sausage gravy/cream chipped beef along with my homemade (lard) biscuits. So you see, meat was a huge and integral part of our foods, and that was just breakfast.
I don’t have many regrets because I believe that our choices and our past – while they don’t define us – make us who we are today. But, part of me does regret watching that film and making such a rash and quick decision. I do believe that we could all do with less meat and dairy, but I also believe in moderation and the importance of my own sanity and health. Is being stressed out all of the time over food, or not eating, really what’s best? Is fighting with my children and spouse several times a week over what we’re going to eat actually worth it?
So, I’m guessing you want to know how I felt after 8 months 6 days vegan? If I saw any changes? Honestly, it’s hard to remember how I felt before I started because I didn’t keep a journal back then or any way to record my feelings/energy levels/etc… but, I was looking forward to the “energy boost” and “clarity” so many boast about when going vegan. Yes, vegan, I’m not even talking about the healthier, plant-based. version. But, I was disappointed for the most part unfortunately. Now, I feel like if I would have implemented more fruits and veggies, specifically raw ones, I’d have definitely felt an improvement… but, again, I had to cater to my families preferences as well, and we are on a budget so it wasn’t really an option for me to eat a separate diet from them. As far as weight loss, I did lose about 5-7 pounds originally (which doesn’t always tell the full story), but then I stopped breastfeeding in April, so I put about that same amount back on. My stomach didn’t change much, but again, I’m not “overweight” by any means, at ~128lbs. I do have a stomach, from having 3 children, which I was hoping would slim down a bit at least, however I did no exercise, so I don’t know what I was expecting.
I was truly expecting to feel amazing. After all, in What The Health? all of the already super unhealthy people – I’m talking people with diabetes, heart disease, one lady whose doctor told her she had less than a few months to live continuing the way she was – made a complete 180. They got off all of their medicine, could breathe again, and the one woman could even walk again! This seemed like a real life Fountain of Youth! I figured since I was already pretty healthy I should feel stupendous from this diet. I figured it would probably take a few weeks or so for all of the animal products to get out of my system, but then I should have insane amounts of energy, the clearest skin ever and be able to run blocks without getting out of breath (even though I’m pretty trim – aside from the mom-muffin-top – I’ve hardly exercised a day in my life). Unfortunately this didn’t happen for me, not anything noticeable at least.
I believe that there was some truth in those films, but a lot of it was vegan propaganda, and made out of the interest of animal lives over human lives. Again, I don’t condone animal abuse or misuse by any means, however I believe that when we know better we do better, and there is only so much one person can do. I truly believe that a plant-based (not vegan, if we are going off of the raw sense of the words) diet can be one of the healthiest ways to live, but it needs to be done right, takes careful planning, a good amount of money, and honestly it’s not for everyone, and that’s OK. For me, I am trying to get back my love for food… how that’s going to look now, I don’t know. I’m trying to find a balance. I need to get comfortable again. When you shake up the snowglobe, things are crazy for awhile, right?
Edit: I actually purchased and cooked a Whole Organic Chicken in my Instant Pot this week, and while I was a bit squeamish preparing it, once I smelt it cooking and tasted it, I definitely enjoyed it. I’m still not super comfortable eating meat, but I assume this is from what I told myself constantly for those 8 months to keep myself motivated towards the vegan diet.
So, what’s your story, friend? Are you eating a Vegan or Plant-Based Diet? If not, have you considered it? I’d love to hear your experiences, please leave me a comment!