One year ago today I jumped headfirst into veganism. Yes I went cold turkey and went fully vegan overnight (but I had not consumed dairy for three or four years because I knew I was intolerant/highly sensitive to the protein). Friends, family, and acquaintances ask me questions about my lifestyle choice almost everyday. Here's a list I've complied of common questions and my answers. I hope this helps shed some light on my vegan life, and if you have more questions please don't hesitate to ask!
1. How/why did you decide to go vegan?
When I was in high school I noticed that ice cream and cheese were beginning to give me digestive issues. I cut out obvious dairy, but didn't pay attention to labels and sometimes still ate some cheese and crackers (it was my favorite snack). After I started becoming violently ill every time I ate anything my senior year of high school, I knew something was up and I needed to see a doctor. I had a scope and biopsy which came back completely normal, so my doctor diagnosed me with IBS and said I likely had an allergy to the protein in dairy. That was it. I cut dairy completely out of my diet, and started to notice significant improvements. This "limitation" opened my eyes to the world of vegan cheese, ice cream, and butter (which my dairy-eating mom admits are all better than dairy products, so she now chooses dairy free when it's an option). Cutting dairy did not completely cure my IBS although it helped improve some of my symptoms. After cutting dairy I toyed with the idea of cutting all animal products because I was halfway there, but I always decided against it. Last year I was having a conversation with a friend who I hadn't seen in a couple years and who had recently gone vegan. He kept telling me about how great he felt, so I decided I could at least do some research. He told me to check out Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives. Watching those documentaries sparked a passionate interest in me to understand the food industry and nutrition. Researching veganism and the nutritional benefits as well as the environmental benefits convinced me that I should give it a shot.
2. How do you get your protein?
The vegan world treats this question with a negative roll of the eyes, which I have been guilty of a time or two. However, I think this is a great question to spark more conversations about nutrition in general. Our bodies simply do not require the amount of protein that the media insists we need, and vegetables contain protein. In fact, excess consumption of certain animal proteins can contribute to a loss of calcium in bones due to the high potential renal acid load (PRAL) of those meats. Vegetables and fruits, on the other hand, have a negative PRAL, meaning that they alkalize the body. Alkalizing your body essentially means that you're eating foods with low or negative PRAL ratings which help your body maintain its natural pH without extra work. Eating an alkaline diet can help reduce inflammation throughout your body which can help with sleep, acne, weight, joint pain, digestion, yeast overgrowth, energy, and more. I personally don't worry about how much protein I get everyday. Everyday looks a little different for me, and I make sure to pack in as many different vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, and grains as possible. I have never felt like I was deficient in protein, or any other nutrient (except B 12 which I take in supplement form daily).
3. What do you eat? Is it hard to eat out?
I eat everything (except animal products and tomatoes but the latter is a personal preference). When I'm at home I'll make anything from a simple salad to an extravagant bowl full of my favorite veggies (which include sweet potatoes, kale, brussel sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, and many more). Once you start incorporating more vegetables and fruits into your diet, you won't even notice that the meat is gone, and you'll feel amazing. Eating out can sometimes be difficult, but that's mostly because I'm also gluten intolerant (another piece of the IBS puzzle). When I have plans to go to a restaurant for the first time, I always check out the menu online before I go or I call and ask if they can accommodate me. Sometimes the answer will be that I can have a salad, other times there are several options on the menu from which I can choose. It's always easy to look at appetizers and sides because usually there will be a few options that I can ask for without cheese or butter. If there is absolutely nothing for me to eat (which has happened once or twice) I eat something before I go out or make sure that I have something ready for me when I get home. When you know what to look for and how to prepare, it is so simple.
4. What do you do when you travel?
Being on a college golf team, I travel a lot. Since I've had dietary restrictions for a few years, I knew that going vegan would mean that I have to be prepared at all times. My team loves to get Olive Garden, which is not my personal favorite since I'm gluten, dairy, meat, and tomato free, so I always pack at least one prepared meal. When I'm short on time getting ready to go to a tournament, I stop by my favorite vegan-freindly restaurant in Memphis and get something to go. I also pack plenty of bars and trail mix (which I prefer to make myself but my favorite brand is Bearded Brothers). Complimentary hotel breakfasts are also not ideal for the gluten free vegan, so I always pack So Delicious or Kite Hill yogurt, chia pudding (recipe below), or a baggie with dry oats and ground flax seeds to mix with hot water. I pack all of this in a very small cooler which I can fit inside my golf bag. In addition to feeling great, my mental game is stronger when I pack my own food because I know that even on the road I am giving my body what it needs to thrive.
5. Do you miss meat?
Nope. It's as simple as that. Yes I grew up eating meat, but as I got older and more conscious of what I was putting in my body I preferred vegetables over meat. Often before going vegan, I would order the vegetable plate at a restaurant or have entire days where I didn't notice that I had gone completely vegan. After about two months on a vegan diet, I got a little bored because I had been cooking pretty much the same things and eating at the same restaurants. There was a short period of time where I thought about incorporating fish into my diet, but I decided to wait a little longer and after about a week I was back on the vegan train loving every bite. It's crucial to switch up your diet. Eating the same foods every day can lead to food intolerance, and variety keeps life interesting!
I hope that this post answered some of your questions about my vegan life, and if you have more please feel free to comment or email me! I'm not trying to convert the world to veganism, but I hope that my story will inspire you to incorporate more vegetables and fruits into your diet.