I hope everyone had an amazing first week of the new year. To start up my blog again, I’ve taken on writing about a topic that many people have come to me asking about: eating vegan. For those of you who don’t follow my Instagram (@simplycarlymarie) or know me in person, I want to preface by saying that I talk about my diet as being plant-based, aka I’m not perfect at eating vegan all of the time, and I don’t choose to be; I choose to listen to my body when it craves something, but also choose the non-plant based foods I eat intentionally. My boyfriend made it a goal for 2018 to eat vegan 6 days a week, while I simply aim to increase my plant-based meals and keep my meat/dairy consumption to a minimum. I also don’t push a vegan diet on anyone; I simply wish to peak your curiosity about your own food choices and lifestyle!
My Plant Journey
With that being said, my vegan journey began in 2016 by simply becoming more aware of how eating meat and dairy affects the world and my body. That awareness of what I put into my body and how it affects me and my surroundings was huge, because then I had a more educated choice to make about eating and buying animal products. I didn’t start eating vegan by going cold turkey (lol, the irony), but by simply cutting out foods little by little; I ate pescatarian for a while, then vegetarian with less dairy, then back to eating some meat, then challenged my boyfriend to go vegan with me for a month.
I will admit that my stomach was having some digestion issues during the first week, but after some research, I realized it was just my body detoxing animal products and getting used to eating enough fiber, since I had greatly increased my carb intake. But, after the first week hump, I felt GOOD. The first thing I noticed was how much more energy I had, it was like a wave of new light shined through me and kicked my butt out of bed in the mornings!
I also felt other benefits like increased alertness/attention, awareness of my fullness, and healthier skin. Not to mention, I didn’t feel any guilt about contributing to animal/human/environmental injustice and of consuming foods that weren’t great for my body, like the dairy that I knew was bad for my bones (we actually can’t absorb much of the calcium present in cow’s milk, especially compared to the calcium we uptake from plants, despite the “dairy is good for your bones” slogan we all grew up thinking was real!).
Where I’m At Today
Fast forward to today, I’m not committed to being fully vegan because I’m still learning what my body needs and wants. Having emotional eating issues, I stick to eating intuitively, and non-restrictive dieting. At the end of the day, we all have different bodies, some of which thrive off of full veganism, and some which thrive off of eating some meat. I noticed that I wasn’t fully thriving while eating fully vegan, so I’m still learning where I am on that huge spectrum.
So far, I’ve come to the conclusion that my body enjoys having some animal protein, but doesn’t need dairy. This is partly because I am a slower burner and don’t digest easily. Also I’ve never gotten my blood tested for anything other than thyroid, but parts of me thinks that I wasn’t fully absorbing all the vitamins I was getting from plants, which is why I’ve added a little animal protein back into my diet. This in itself can be anxiety-ridden (it was for me!), but it’s super important to listen to your body.
It’s a process, and you have to go at your own intuitive pace and comfort level when making dietary transitions and finding the right balance for your body. For me, it’s all about figuring out what my body thrives off of while also maintaining awareness about how purchasing animal products affects the world around me. When I buy meat, I do my best to make sure it’s organic/wild caught, antibiotic/hormone free, and comes from a cruelty-free place. Overall, though, eating more plant-based has been super easy and informative, which has been quite healing for me in many ways.
Okay, But Eating Vegan is Kind of Boring…
Contrary to popular belief, I actually feel like I have even more options and creativity with food than I did before I tried veganism. The first thing I ever made fully vegan was pizza, which I’d actually never attempted to make before. By cooking and eating more vegan, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the food I eat and where it comes from. It has helped me become more mindful, compassionate, and grateful for the privileges I do have. It also made me pose ethical questions like, how can I have such a deep love for dogs and other animals, but so easily scarf down a beef burger?
It makes me stop and think about what I put into my body. I look at eating plant-based as my personal contribution to bettering the environment, from reducing my carbon foot print to food insecurity to racial equality, as a way for me to be creative, and as a way to give more gratitude to the world. I believe that food is healing, and that if we eat from the best sources in proper balance, we can be the healthiest beings we’ve ever been.
So, it’s actually quite simple. Whether you’re trying to be fully vegan, eat vegetarian, eat a little less meat or dairy, or you’re just curious to see what this whole vegan thing is about, these tips should be helpful in informing you about where to start with eating plant-based. And yes, you will eat enough protein.
Side tangent: We Americans actually eat almost twice as much protein on average as we actually need, and part of the idea that protein is SO imporant is partly to do with the billions in paid advertisements to support dairy/meat by USDA-managed partners (but I won’t get much into that 🙂 )*. While it’s super important to eat enough food in general as a vegan, having too high of a protein diet can actually be detrimental to our health, and can be seriously damaging (and incurable) to some of our organs (one example is liver disease). Of course, your level of protein needs all depends on your level of activity and health goals, but even body builders/those wanting to gain muscle don’t always have it right.
But before I go off down this spiral on the myths about veganism, lemme get back to the point of this whole post:
Here are some tips I have for starting a more plant-based diet
1 – Know your why
This is a tip I give for pretty much all aspects in life, but basically what I mean is ask yourself what is the reason you want to eat more plant based? Is it to be healthier or to prevent certain diseases that you may be prone to? Is it to become more environmentally friendly? Is it simply just to see if you can? My suggestion: Don’t just do it for as a new fad diet. There are many amazing reasons to eat plant-based. Be intuitive about this why, write them down to get your brain thinking so that you can then:
2 – Do your research
There are many aspects to veganism that it can be overwhelming to think about where to begin, but you will not learn it all in one day. Start with YOUR interests. My boyfriend and I started doing research and compiled it all in a google doc, it was super helpful! Maybe you want to learn about how dairy affects your hormones, or about how the chicken brand you eat treats their animals, or researching what products you use that you never knew were vegan, or how much the corn we use to feed cattle contributes to food insecurity and climate change. What types of vitamins do I need to make sure I’m getting in my foods or supplements (btw, I recommend getting a vegan B12 supplement as a start, we can get it in plants but it’s not always easily absorbed).
Get the facts you need, especially to prepare yourself for the pesky conversations you’re going to have with the haters. Also, have conversations with your vegan friends, what’s their purpose for the transition? Doing this will not only help you become more educated about veganism, but it’ll help you respect others’ perspectives, and might even make you become more intrinsically motivated to eat plant-based. Also, The China Study is one of those papers that is bound to come up in a conversation with someone vegan, so I definitely recommend looking at a summary.
3 – Start slow
Unless you’re the type of person who loves going cold turkey and can make it last, which by all means, go for it if you are… but if you’re like me and low-key hate change, try starting out by eating less of those non-vegan foods that you feel comfortable giving up. Don’t be hard on yourself! For example, you could commit to not eating red meat, or to not eating meat on mondays, or to eating less cheese, etc. This way, you create more lasting habits and start to change your taste buds, making you crave more of the things you do eat and less of the ones you don’t.
4 – Learn how to make vegan alternatives of the foods you love
There are SO many plant-based alternatives to the meat/dairy foods we crave, like people are getting really damn creative out there. I made a grilled cheese with vegan mayo and vegan cheese that straight up tasted like the real thing and it made my soul happy. We’ve also got vegan meats, cheese (this one was v important for me, I LOVED dairy cheese, damn casein and its addictive components), sushi, chocolate, ice-cream, donuts, even vegan Egg McMuffins!!!
While I wouldn’t recommend eating the fake meats as a staple (not because of soy, but because they’re nevertheless a processed food), they’re a great place to start and make the transition super easy. But, you don’t always have to use processed foods to learn how to cook alternatives of the foods that you love, there are PLENTY of recipes that use whole foods to get those mouth watering tastes you crave. And where do you find these amazing recipes? Ah, I’m glad you asked, this leads me to my next point:
5 – Follow YouTubers/Instagrammers for inspiration!
After my own research and talking to a couple vegan friends, this was the next thing I did, and they are what keep me going. For example, I follow a vegan body builder @nimaidelgado and his girlfriend @biancataylorfitness on IG (who also used to bikini competitions and provides e-book guides), they give great tips on how to reach your fitness goals while eating vegan if that interests you (Patrick Baboumian is also an awesome body builder who gives some good tips for bulking if that’s your thing!) Some of my other favorites are:
- Caitlin Shoemaker – She makes amazing recipes and shows simple/cheap ways to make dope food! She has a great YouTube channel and IG feed. One of my fave recipes is her vegan mac n cheese.
- Jasmine & Chris – They’re a vegan couple that make awesome recipes! IG: sweetsimplevegan.
- Cheap Lazy Vegan – Her whole thing is making cheap vegan food, shows you it doesn’t have to be a huge money investment to eat vegan!
- Vegan Travel Eats – Lots of great/simple recipe videos, her IG is full of places she goes and vegan places she discovers in her travels!
- Earthy Andy – Her IG is also EarthAndy, but good gawd her smoothie bowls/nicecream are unreal.
- Connoisseurus Vegan – A plethora of AWESOME recipes to try from comfort food to creative salads! I made an amazing tempeh sandwich from there once. Mm.
- Dana from Minimalist Baker – She doesn’t make all vegan recipes, but has many that are vegan or have vegan options!so. She’s super popular, if you’ve delved into online recipes before, I’m sure you’ve seen her website.
6 – Don’t listen to the haters
There are going to be so many people out there who just can’t wrap their brains around the fact that you’re not eating meat or dairy. Being from the south where BBQ n turkey are part of holiday culture, there were definitely plenty of people around me who couldn’t believe or accept that I could actually get protein from anything else but beef, chicken, pork, or fish. Or that thought I’ll be super vitamin deficient if I’m not eating meat. Or there are those people who are like “oh, well I get it if you still eat fish and eggs” or “all you can eat is salad though”.
Like no fam. Reality check, many people can get all the nutrients they need from plants. Don’t feel obligated to have to cater to everyone’s negative questions or comments about it. Hit em with the facts when you feel like it, and gently let it go when you’re exhausted/frustrated about it. Look back on those “whys”, and lean on your support system when you need to.
I’ve also gotten lots of criticism from people being like “wtf I saw you eating that donut on snapchat, cheating on veganism?”. YEAH I WANTED THE EFFING NON-VEGAN DONUT SO I ATE THAT SUCKER. I don’t need to explain myself or the way I live my life to anyone else. You are the author of YOUR personal story, and it’s not written by your friends, family, or society. So all of this to say, there will always be haters who are simply uncomfortable with anything else but their own perspective, so do you boo. Whole heartedly and unapologetically.
7 – Prep for Success
One of my favorite quotes is “failing to plan is planning to fail”. Once you’ve done all this research, make a plan to move forward! What are you going to eat so that you don’t cave into your cravings for cheese? What restaurants around you cater to vegan eating (most do, btw, you just need to ask!)? Do you have a grocery list for your next trip so you can make some of those alternatives? Are you doing #meatlessmondays? Do you have an accountability partner to try eating plant-based? Did you make yourself a dish for that potluck that no vegans are attending? If you’re lookin for some one on one guidance on how to plan out your next steps (like grocery lists, for example) contact me directly and I’m happy to help 🙂
My Journey Continues
At this point in my plant-based lifestyle, I’m learning to become more aware of the non-vegan products that I use besides just the food I eat. I make a conscious effort to replace those with more natural, less toxic, sustainable, and non-harmful products. More and more places that I travel to have vegan-friendly restaurants, and are recognizing the awesome benefits of plant-based living. Again, there are SO many aspects of veganism/plant-based living that I didn’t touch on here, but I hope that reading this little piece of my experience at least gets your brain wheels turning and peaks your curiosity!