About 6 months ago, I made a 100% switch to a vegan diet. It might seem like an odd choice for somebody who has always been a little grossed out by vegetables and practically survived on cheese. However, I found it to be a pretty easy decision when I really took the time to consider it.
Diet really doesn’t have to be complicated. There are really only two questions you have to be willing to answer: What do you want? And what are your values? The hard part is being honest with yourself and not getting sidetracked by what your friends, family or co-workers will think about it. Trust me, they’ll get over it.
When I asked myself, what do I want?, the obvious answer was that I wanted to be healthy. And not just today, but for the rest of my life. This meant that I needed to actually change my lifestyle and not just go on a diet. It was time to break off my long-term relationship with indigestion. I was tired of feeling sluggish or regretful after a meal. I wanted food to energize me and make me feel amazing! Deep down, I knew that a lot of my favorite foods were making me sick. They were probably even setting me up for heart disease or diabetes someday. Not worth it.
I also wanted food to be a thing I could love again. I wanted to get excited about it and look forward to it, but also have a sense of pride about it. For too long, I’ve associated food with guilt. I would get so angry with myself when I gave into temptation. Making a good choice always meant that I would be missing out on something I actually wanted. It was exhausting to be faced with these choices three times a day.
When it came to the next question, what are my values?, that was a bit more challenging to answer. The trick here is to erase the past in your mind. What are your values right now, at this moment? Even if you’ve never acted on them before. It might be helpful to think about your future self, who has been acting on their values for years. What are they doing? The answer might surprise you.
As it relates to food, one value that I found myself coming back to is compassion. At the risk of sounding really annoying, I love animals. I would never slaughter a cow myself, so why am I paying someone else to do it? Even if that cow had a long happy life frolicking around in a meadow somewhere, I still don’t like the idea of chopping it up and putting it on a plate if I’m being honest with myself. If I’m being even more honest, most cows aren’t frolicking around in meadows.
Another value that I couldn’t ignore was the environment. If this is something that matters to you, I would strongly encourage you to do a bit of research on how animal agriculture impacts the environment. It will make your head spin. The more I learned about it, the more obvious it became that supporting this industry was not in line with my values. There was a part of me that already knew it, but forcing myself to seek out information helped me to get my head out of the sand.
Finally, of course, is the value of simplicity. This is where it all came together for me. The reason I didn’t opt to go vegetarian at first or start out with Meatless Mondays is the idea of making one clear choice. A clean slate and a straightforward framework for the future. When I allowed myself to let go of everything that does not align with my wants or my values, I suddenly felt good about all of my remaining options. I didn’t have to worry about making a bad choice anymore.
I try to focus on eating whole foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, tubers, nuts) which keeps my meals extremely simple and my grocery list surprisingly cheap. I had a misconception that vegan food was expensive, but the reality is just that mock meats and veggie cheese are expensive. If you aren’t living on processed foods, it can be really affordable. My monthly grocery budget has been as low as $160 and I make all three meals at home every day.
There has certainly been a learning curve, but going vegan has been very rewarding. I began to notice the health benefits almost immediately, which was enough to get me hooked. I lost about 10 lbs in the first few weeks with no exercise or portion control. I could eat a big plate of food without any regret and I felt great.
I am also having fun learning to cook a bit and try new foods. I find myself enjoying and even craving things that I used to hate, which is the most mysterious part of the transition. Who knew that a person could have an intense craving for cilantro?
Moving forward, there are still many things I can improve on and I’m sure that time and experience will help me get there. I don’t worry about it because I’ve already made the choice and I am confident that things are only going to get better. I am releasing all of the stress and guilt I used to feel about food and replacing it with something positive. It isn’t will power, but rather a choice to live intentionally.
So simple, I wish I’d thought of it sooner.