People think of vegan as being restrictive, but I found the opposite to be true. Going vegan opened up a world of flavor, spice, and color!
BV (Before Veg):
I ate a lot of chicken. Usually grilled chicken (because that was “healthy”), with a side of steamed broccoli and a baked russet potato. For variety, I might have grilled chicken on a salad or grilled chicken on a sandwich. If I was feeling wild and crazy, grilled chicken fajitas.
Beans were pintos, sometimes chili, served with chopped vidalia onions and a slab of cornbread.
Spices were table salt, pre-ground black pepper, refined sugar, and Tobasco sauce.
For fruit, I liked Golden Delicious apples and green seedless grapes.
And I was the kind of person who’d order “butter chicken and garlic naan” at an Indian restuarant or “pad thai” at a Thai restaurant. You know, your typical middle-class white Yelper.
I’m bored writing this. You’re probably bored reading this.
AV (After Veg):
I have sixteen different varieties of dried beans and lentils in my pantry. Plus tofu and tempeh in the fridge and coconut milk ice cream in the freezer.
Spices tumble from the cupboards.
Stacks of cookbooks perch precariously around the kitchen.
I go crazy at farmer’s markets, filling my bag with a colorful assortment of veggies (not just broccoli).
I walk into Trader Joe’s. “Well now, that’s an odd looking little fruit! I must try it! And what are these? Donut peaches? Plumcotts? OK, I will try those, too!”
Ethnic restaurants are an adventure now that I no longer stick to the familiar. I’ll try anything as long as it is meat free, egg free, and dairy free. Instead of “What have I had here before?” I’m now, “What haven’t I had?”
I’m sharing because I want you to get excited – VERY excited! – about your new vegan life! You are about to discover a whole world of food and flavor you never knew existed!
As a vegan newbie or wannabe, you’ll be introducing many unfamiliar foods as well as increasing certain foods you are already eating. Some of these foods will make you feel great; others, not so great.
Which is how we come to VBL Goal #2:
Keep A Vegan Food Journal
Don’t panic! I don’t want you to keep track of calories or fat grams or anything boring like that.
Just note what you eat, how you feel, and any other notes that seem pertinent (such as yum or yuck!)
Here are some insights you might have when you look over your journal:
It’s Not Always The Beans. It’s a common myth that everyone going veg has initial problems digesting beans. Some people do – some people don’t. (I didn’t!) It might not be the beans … the culprit could be that huge leafy salad you eat for lunch every day. OR all those nuts you are suddenly snacking on and cooking with. OR that new mock meat – there’s a reason Tofurky is nicknamed “Tofarty.”
Sometimes It Is The Beans. But maybe not all the beans. You may find you have digestive issues when you eat kidney beans or pinto beans, but can tolerate chickpeas and black beans. And lentils may give you no discomfort at all.
Note The Nightshades. A few people are sensitive to nightshades – eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, and white potatoes.
If you are one of these people, increasing your intake of these could cause mild inflammation. It’s rare, but if your arthritis (or eczema, or IBS) starts flaring, check your journal to see what you’ve been eating recently.
Allergies Can Get Better – Or Worse. By increasing your intake of certain foods, a mild allergy might become worse. For example, two common allergens are nuts and citrus. You might be eating more nuts (think nut cheeses, cashew creams, nut butters, nuts on salads and nuts as snacks). Or, you are consuming more citrus in those green smoothies!
On the flip side, many people (like me!) notice their allergies actually decrease once they remove dairy from their diet!
You’ll Remember What To Order – Or Not Order. So you ventured out of your comfort zone and tried something new at an ethnic restaurant! Now you want to go back and have that same delicious meal again.
But, wait! Was it the aloo matar you liked or the aloo gobi? The pud gra pow, the pud prik khing, or the pud prig sod? And was this the restaurant where Spice Level 3 was bland, or the restaurant where Spice Level 3 was atomic? Aaargh!!! If only you’d made a note – oh, wait, you did!
You’ll Be Kinder To Yourself. Few people, going vegan, do it perfectly. Most of us have a few slip-ups and mistakes.
- You ate a bowl of your grandma’s chicken noodle soup, that she made “just for you” because you had a cold.
- You couldn’t resist a slice of that pizza with real cheese all your friends were eating. Heck, they couldn’t eat all those pizzas by themselves anyway. They needed help.
- You got tipsy and hungover and blurrily decided at 7:00 AM the only thing that could help you toddle off to work without puking on your boss was a greasy sausage gravy biscuit from McDonalds.
Or you unknowingly made a rookie mistake:
- You ate vegetable soup, not realizing it was made with beef broth.
- You ordered vegetable fried rice, unaware fried rice is traditionally made with egg.
- You assumed that, because you ordered a Beyond or Impossible burger, everything on that burger (bun, sauce, etc.) would be vegan.
You then feel weak-willed or stupid.
When, in fact, what you are is human.
PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION. Flip back through your food journal and see that you just had a streak of seven plant-based days, or 18 plant-based days, or two months! Even if your streak was just two plant-based meals, if you previously ate animal products at every meal – THAT IS PROGRESS! Go, you!
Learn from your mistakes instead of beating yourself up. Do you always lose your willpower around certain family members, or certain friends? Should you perhaps drink less? (Debbie Downer: The answer to this question is always yes.) Should you ask more questions in restaurants or make more of an effort to read ingredient labels?
For Vegan Veterans
Even long-time veterans can benefit from occasionally keeping a journal.
Because what we THINK we eat and what we ACTUALLY eat are sometimes two completely different things. Small changes in our lives – a change of seasons, a hectic work schedule, recovery from an injury or illness, new friends – can alter eating habits without us noticing.
Are you eating enough fruit? (I do in summer; not so much in winter.) Enough leafy greens? (I have to work at that one!) Is there variety in your diet or are you eating the same favorite dishes over and over? Are you relying more on vegan convenience food than you realize? I’m all for the occasional Gardein or vegan grilled cheese – you should check out The Dale Jr. from Queen City Grounds, y’all! – but you need to balance with a large proportion of whole foods. Keep a food log every now and then and you may be surprised at what you are actually eating!
Frugal Vegan Tip: Anytime you notice your grocery bill going up, that’s a sure sign you are eating more vegan convenience and “specialty” foods. Cut back on the mock meats and faux cheese and watch your bill plummet!
What Kind Of Journal?
Any kind you want! Remember, we are not tracking calories or fat grams or carbs … unless you want to, of course! You could use a small, pocket-size notebook or an app on your phone. Just be sure you can scan back and forth quickly to note patterns and causes-and-effects.
Exceptions are those with health issues. You might want to “splurge” on a fancier journal. I used the “Healthminder” Personal Wellness Journal when I was recovering from several serious injuries, and it really helped me see a correlation between what I ate and how I was feeling. It has spaces to track not only what you eat and any physical symptoms you have, but also blood sugar, blood pressure, and medications.