My journey into veganism started the summer before my sophomore year of high school.
To give you some background, I was coming from a few years of distorted body-image and very restrictive dieting cycles.
In fifth grade, I started doing 100 sit-ups every night before bed. I constantly asked my parents if I was fat, compared my body to others, followed "fit" accounts on Instagram, and had constant restriction-bingeing cycles.
My mental health really took a hit during my freshman year of high school, surrounded by two thousand kids, a multitude of cliques, and increasingly heavy judgments and expectations I was placing upon myself.
I cut out carbs almost completely and followed every tip and trick that fit/skinny Instagram accounts recommended to suppress my appetite, avoid bloating, and lose weight fast.
My energy drained, my hormones and brain chemicals became unbalanced, and I fell into a depression. I started sleeping a lot, stopped hanging out with my friends, mistreated my family, friends, and teachers, and was extremely unhappy with myself.
One day while watching competitive eating videos on YouTube (something I used to do to suppress my appetite), I came across a video of a very fit woman eating a bowl of pasta bigger than her head. I started watching her videos in amazement, wondering how someone so skinny could eat so many carbs (a food group I was deeply fearful of, but craved endlessly).
Her name is Freelee The BananaGirl.
Freelee had tons of videos like this. She would eat huge portions of fruit, cooked carbs, and other plant-based foods (with the exclusion of high fat and salt) to promote the vegan lifestyle and prove that carbs were not making her gain weight, but instead, feel energized.
I found out later that she, having come from a restrictive eating past, purposely made these videos to draw restrictive eaters to her channel.
After watching her videos for two or three days, I went vegan cold-turkey and never turned back. I started watching all sorts of YouTube channels to learn what kinds of foods to eat, what worked for different people, how to prepare my own meals, etc.
I went through some weight gain and bloating in my first year as a vegan, and despite that, I felt amazing and loved myself even more because I knew I was treating my body better than I had in years.
I began to feel much more energized.
I could walk up a flight of stairs without feeling drained, and my moods became much more happy, playful, and openminded (something I attributed to a balancing of hormones and brain chemicals).
My journey over the past six years has been the biggest learning experience. I learned how to cook for myself, what foods my body needed, and how much, how to order food at restaurants, food-prep, and so much more. The new energy I had helped me to be more active, kinder, and start hanging out with my friends again.
My passion for veganism is so ignited by the huge difference it made in my life and has only grown since then.
Not only is it based around health, but now it is also for the animals and for our environment: two things suffering greatly from normalization and false necessity of animal products pushed upon us by big corporations to make money.
Below is a list of food groups and how I incorporate them into an easy, tasty, and balanced lifestyle
- Potatoes (sweet, white, purple, etc.)
- Pasta (rice, corn, wheat, bean, quinoa, etc.)
- Rice (white, brown, wild, etc.)
- Breads (fresh-baked and other less processed, fewer ingredient breads)
- Fruits (peaches, mangoes, pineapple, watermelon, bananas, oranges, apples, papaya, etc.)
- Starchy vegetables (corn, peas, parsnips, squash, etc.)
- Oats and granola/cereal
- Beans and tofu
- Quinoa and other grains
- Tofu and Tempeh (soy-based)
- Seitan (wheat-based)
- Veggie burgers
- Lentils and beans (chickpeas, kidney, black, pinto)
- Nutritional yeast (has a cheesy flavor)
- Quinoa, amaranth, oats, and wild rice
- Soy milk
- Seeds and nuts (chia seeds, almonds, peanuts, walnut, sunflower seeds, etc.)
- Veggies like broccoli, potatoes, asparagus, spinach, and artichokes
3. Healthy fats
- Nuts and seeds (hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, chia, sesame and flax seeds, cashews, pistachio, macadamia, and hazelnuts)
- Some oil (olive, coconut, avocado)
- Dark chocolate and cacao nibs
- Greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, mixed greens, arugula, bok choy, collard, chard etc.)
- Avocados, cucumber, squash, peppers, and tomatoes (vegetable-like fruits)
- Potatoes, carrots, beets, ginger, parsnip, and radishes
- Herbs (cilantro, basil, oregano, rosemary, mint, parsley, dill, chamomile, lavender, etc.)
- Broccoli and cauliflower
- Onions and garlic
5. Sauces and condiments (arguably the most important food group)
- Coconut aminos (healthy substitute for soy sauce)
- Barbecue sauce
- Peanut sauce, sweet and sour, teriyaki, etc. (always check the ingredient label for animal products)
- Ketchup, mustard, vegan mayo
- Sriracha and other hot sauces
- Balsamic and red wine vinegar
- Tahini (sunflower seed butter, often in hummus)
- Spray olive/coconut/avocado oil
- Plant-based milk (almond, soy, coconut, oat, etc.)
Putting it all together part 1: Breakfast
I drink water straight after waking up to give my body a chance to rehydrate.
During the warm spring and summers, I always like to have juicy fruits for breakfast. They taste refreshing, feel hydrating, and rinse out my system.
These are most often two to three peaches, three to four mangoes, whole papaya, half a pineapple, or a few big pieces of watermelon.
If I am in a rush I will have a banana with peanut butter.
In the winters I like to warm myself up on chilly mornings with tea (black, matcha, ginger, etc), oatmeal, and/or homemade banana bread. I make my Oatmeal with rolled oats, almond milk, and chia seeds.
Then, I add peanut butter, blueberries, or other items depending on my mood.
My banana bread is a simple recipe of three ripened and mashed bananas, half a cup of pure cane sugar, a few shakes of cinnamon, 2-3 tablespoons of chia seeds, half a tablespoon of baking powder, six ounces of almond milk, and unbleached flour added until pudding consistency is reached.
Then, I might add mini chocolate chips, nuts, blueberries, or shaved coconut.
Putting it all together part 2: Lunch
I love to make big salads packed with lots of goody for lunch. I start with chopping up a big handful of mixed greens. Then I add onion (green, white, or red), cucumber, cilantro or basil, tomatoes, avocado, stir-fried mushrooms and zucchini, and any other veggies that inspire me that day.
Next, I always add a protein in.
This may be a veggie burger, half a can of chickpeas or black beans, or half a container of tofu which I stir-fry.
I can then save the other half for the next day.
I also like to get some carbs in the salad or on the side. This may be toasted sourdough, corn tortillas, rice, rice noodles, sweet potato, or quinoa.
The sauces on these salads can change it drastically.
Sometimes I'll go with lime and salsa for a fiesta salad. Or, I'll use peanut sauce, tahini, and lime to create an Asian salad. Sometimes some balsamic and hummus is enough.
Experimenting with different sauce combinations can be really fun and keep your meals from getting boring.
Putting it all together part 3: Dinner
Since I usually get my greens in at lunch, my dinners are more focused around carbs and protein.
My carbs are usually white rice, pasta, bread, or sweet potatoes.
My proteins are usually tofu or beans.
Then, I usually add a mix of tomatoes, avocado, onion, mushrooms, zucchini, peppers, cucumber, cilantro, or other veggies.
Again, sauces can transform any meal, and I like to mix and match until it tastes good to me.
When it comes to cooking tofu, I always get the extra firm tofu from the store so that it won't break apart in the pan. I oil a medium fry-pan, cube the tofu, and toss them in.
Stir often, adding more oil if necessary (though a little goes a long way). I season my tofu with salt-free lemon pepper and table blend seasonings most of the time. I also like to add kimchi, sriracha, and mushrooms. Listen to your tastebuds and use your imagination!
What about snacks and dessert?
In all honesty, I haven't been a snacky person ever since I started eating enough calories in my three main meals. Three meals is what works for my body and appetite personally.
But, if I ever do find myself hungry in-between meals, I usually dip carrots, cucumbers, or pretzels in hummus.
I do have a sweet tooth though, and a little bit of sugar can be a great addition to my night once in a while. Though I love vegan ice cream, I try to pick up a vegan yogurt instead and pack it with chia seeds, chocolate chips, slivered almonds, and/or granola.
On special occasions, I might get some vegan cookie dough as well.
A 100 percent natural sweet tooth fix are dates. They are a sugary fruit that tastes almost like caramel, and some come rolled in coconut or peanuts.
Eating out at restaurants
There are a few food chains that have vegan options:
- White Castle has Impossible sliders.
- Chipotle has lots of options including tofu to add to your taco, burrito, or bowls.
- Domino's thin-crust pizza can be modified without cheese and added vegetables.
- Taco Bell has a black bean crunch-wrap supreme, tacos, burritos, etc. that you can modify.
- Subway has a Beyond Meat meatball sub and veggie patty wrap.
- Burger King has an Impossible whopper.
- Baskin-Robbins has non-dairy ice cream flavors.
- Auntie Anne's has a sweet almond pretzel, and so much more!
Simply Google vegan option at a certain location and you will find clear directions of what and how to order.
When eating at a non-fast food restaurant, look for things like hummus plates, Impossible burgers, wraps, paninis, pastas, pizzas, salads, and burritos. Those are often easy to modify and sub-ingredients. Get rid of cheese, meat, fish sauce, sour cream, and other animal products.
Add extra veggies, sides of bread and any other vegan substitutes your server mentions.
In meat-free items like pizza dough, marinara sauce, refried beans, sauces or dressings, and veggie burgers, ask your server if they contain any milk or eggs.
You are definitely going to find restaurants that have nothing vegan but a plain salad with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber.
Try to avoid those at all costs.
Most places have tasty options for vegans nowadays and it shouldn't become a negative experience to eat out with your friends and family.
It is very helpful to look at menus online before choosing where you go to reduce stress. It can be hard not to feel like your lifestyle is imposing onto others or being a burden to be with, but stay strong in your decision and know that the people who support you will always make sure that your needs are taken care of.
If worse comes to worse, eat before going out and get a light appetizer or salad for your meal.
There have even been times when I've brought my own or another restaurant's food into the restaurant that my friends were eating at.
The ONLY necessary nutrient that vegans cannot get from their food is B12. In fact, many meat-eaters end up being low in B12 as well. This is the only supplement that I take.
It can still be helpful for any person with any lifestyle to take daily supplements with vitamin D and C.
To avoid deficiencies in any diet, always make sure to eat a variety of foods and colors and switch things up once in a while.
You do not need protein powder to supplement your diet unless you are training to gain a lot of muscle. Just be sure to eat protein-rich foods once a day and the rest will accumulate in small quantities from the rest of the whole-foods that you eat.
And, most importantly, drink water! three liters a day at the least is required for healthy functioning.
If you are curious and would like to track your calories, vitamins, and minerals for a week or so, there are a couple of apps and websites that you can do that on. I used Cronometer when I first went vegan.
Be careful not to become too attached to entering your food and checking your calories. Your appetite is subject to change every single day, it's totally normal.
Always eat and stop eating based on your body's cues.
If you re interested in shifting into a vegan lifestyle or eating fewer animal products in general, I recommend watching YouTube videos of what different vegans eat in a day, doing your research, and experimenting with making meals without animal products.
There are so many variations and options out there for vegans. The only "food" group you are getting rid of is animal products; food is so much more than that!
On an earth that provides so many flavors from ginger to garlic to chocolate, there's no need to exploit animals for their flesh.
I hope that this article gave you a good peek into this lifestyle, removed some of the stereotypes of vegans eating "rabbit food," and encouraged you to be more conscientious when it comes to how you treat your body, animals, and this earth.
As always, from my heart to yours, stay curious, remain open-minded, and spread love.