Before I begin – if you have no interest in becoming vegan – you CAN still read this post. This post is not about following the trends or attacking the ‘non-vegans’, it’s about adapting your body and mind to a new way of living. When the topic of me being a vegan comes up at a gathering, the workplace, or a party, an array of people will come up to me and attempt to either prove that they can relate to me in some way OR disprove the vegan diet. I don’t know what it is that makes people react in this way, almost like a defence mechanism. The person who tries to relate to me usually says something along the lines of “I’m also vegan, I just eat fish,” or “I went vegan once, but I got extremely ill.” Im sure we can see the irony in the first statement so I won’t dwell on that. The second statement, which comes up more often, I find always stems from the same issue. When you transition into a plant-based diet, you need to remember that you were presumably brought up omnivorous – a completely different lifestyle. Any radical change in diet should be taken seriously because your body is accustomed to what it has been brought up to know. A deviation from this can cause a bit of a shock to the system. One needs to take care and become more aware of one’s body than usual. This is my personal journey and I am completely different to YOU. My biggest piece of advice: listen to your body.
Another reason people tend to get sick after changing to a plant-based diet is because, as in any change in diet, your source of nutrition changes. To make sure I didn’t get sick, I took the initiative and found out which foods I could get certain nutrients from. At first, I was just using Google to give myself a rough idea. Then as time went on, I built up a knowledge base of the amount of certain nutrients in certain foods. It took a bit of Google-based research and reading material here and there – it also took some trial and error. Some foods made me feel better than others – just like in an omnivorous diet. Most people tell me they got sick from a lack of iron which doesn’t make sense – there are plenty of plants that are packed with iron. I also hear that people get sick from general malnutrition which doesn’t make sense either as, again, plants are packed with an array of nutrients. The problem I’ve found is that these people are replacing meat and dairy with starch, carbs and sugar because they will feel the need to satisfy cravings. And what better way to satisfy cravings than to feed it with more addictive substances. I put on weight when I became vegan because I did just that. It was only after one year that I decided I couldn’t continue that way anymore and made a conscious decision to cut out refined carbs and sugars. Lo and behold, when combined with a running and yoga routine, I lost a lot of weight.
Some transitions in diet are implemented slowly while some are implemented immediately. My choice was immediate and that worked for ME. Some people like to cut out meat first and then eventually dairy or visa versa. For myself, all it took to convince me to make an immediate change was a documentary called Cowspiracy. I highly recommend watching it – and don’t stress, it has no forceful imagery of animals being tortured. It’s a very informative and factual look at where our food comes from. This was my catalyst, but there are various reasons people live on the plant-based diet – for health, for the animals, the environment, or for the trend. Whatever it may be – it’s YOUR journey.
When I wasn’t vegan, about a year before I transitioned, I became more conscious of where my food was coming from. I tried to make better decisions for myself and the animals. I looked for the label “free range”, I looked for “GMO-free”, I looked for “Grass-Fed”. When I found out these labels were all based upon lies, I decided to only buy my meat and dairy from a local organic online store which supported “cruelty-free” practices and farms that were truthfully free-range. This worked for a while until I eventually realised that most of these animals were also sent to slaughter houses in generally bad and stressful conditions – considered cruel. Only when I became vegan did I also realise that I had become mentally more at peace. I’ve heard that some vegans have said that they feel at ease because they aren’t taking on the emotions of the animals they used to eat – that their fear and angst was riddled in the meat. It’s an interesting idea, although we cannot be 100% certain. My theory is that I feel more at peace because I know that I am not indirectly or directly inflicting pain unto others.
So let’s talk transition…
The first thing you should become familiar with is food labels. You’d be surprised how many products contain animal byproducts in them. IT’S SCARY at first. Look out for the following sneaky items listed in the ingredients list:
- gelatine (derived from animal collagen)
- beeswax (we’ll get to honey further on)
- Casein (protein derived from animal’s milk)
- Calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate
- L. Cysteine (found in bread products- derived from feathers or human hair)
- Whey (IN ALMOST EVERYTHING)
For a further, more extensive list of animal byproducts click here.
The bright side to becoming more aware of food labels is finding out what your food actually consists of. On my journey, I realised how much unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients are in packaged foods. Since becoming vegan I eat way less preservatives and GMOs which has been incredible for my health.
I trust plants. I have learned to cook. I find myself getting excited to explore new plant-based recipes. I’ve realised that there’s a plant-based alternative for EVERYTHING. Think about why meat tastes good? A lekker chop on the braai. Most of the meat we eat in our modern-day diets are smothered in seasoning, oils and salt. All of which either come from plants or the earth. Imagine eating boiled chicken with zero spices or seasoning. We’re left with texture – and luckily there’s an array of plant-based ingredients that can create similar textures – EASILY. It makes meat seem unnecessary.
CHEESE! “HOW CAN YOU LIVE WITHOUT CHEESE!?” – the answer is easy. Before I start on alternative cheese options, it’s good to note that in becoming vegan, besides the initial transitioning stages, you will stop missing things you used to eat. I eventually lost interest in cheese. I also eventually became grossed out by the thought of cheese and what it actually is made from. Alternatives – yes there are. Although there are vegan cheese imitations available at most conventional stores now, my favourite alternative to cheese is NUT cheeses. I make a mean cashew nut sauce that is delicious with pasta. Another favourite recipe of mine is for stringy vegan mozzarella which is almost identical to the real thing – it’s actually better because you know its cruelty free.
The next biggest miss is eggs. Eggs can actually be cruelty free, but to find the source of cruelty-free eggs is difficult. If you find a local farmer who has pet chickens that pop out eggs daily, who are healthy, happy, and treated with respect – I would then consider the eggs cruelty free. AND don’t believe statements written online or on packaging – the only way to find out the truth is to visit the farm or speak to someone trustworthy who has visited the farm. If purchasing cruelty-free eggs is not possible, don’t worry as there are plenty of plant-based alternatives – chickpea scramble is DELICIOUS. Baking? Don’t worry about that either as there are countless vegan binding agents. And if you miss boiled eggs – I just like to remember that someone once told me that an egg is a chicken’s period – that usually does it.
When I became vegan, my family first expressed their disbelief that I would stay the course. They also told me they would support my decision. After the countless and repetitive jokes withered away, it became the norm. My tip for making it through the “judgement phase” would be to just hang in there until they can see that you are serious about your decision.
I take vitamins and mineral supplements every day – not because I’m vegan but because I try to be healthy. It’s almost impossible for us to obtain the full amount of vitamins and minerals from the food we call “easily accessible” today. In addition, we as humans have adapted a much busier working lifestyle – no time to garden, harvest, research etc. Therefore, one has to supplement one’s diet. I created a simple table for myself that indicates the recommended daily intake of most vitamins and minerals (I used the book: Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Fifth Edition – A Practical A-to-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & Food Supplements). I use the table every now and then to work out if I am taking in enough vitamins and minerals. I don’t follow it strictly as I do have a life, however, it was interesting to research more about what my body needs and what foods can assist me.
For ease, I try to get most of my daily nutrients in my morning smoothie – flax seeds, chia seeds, vegan protein powders, superfoods etc. Then for lunch and supper, I try to make sure I include legumes or brown rice, otherwise I just make sure I eat a lot of vegetables, mostly greens.
Lastly, I’d like to list a few pointers to hopefully help your transition.
- Go easy on yourself, its a big change.
- Don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes – we’re all living in an omnivorous society making us a minority – and the temptations around us are strong
- That being said – it’s okay to make mistakes but NOT excuses
- Its easy when you’ve mentally committed to the change
- A good support system helps
- Challenge yourself
- Find out more about your community – of vegans, yes
- Gardening becomes a strong possibility
- Gain a respect for vegetables
- Read up on vitamins and minerals
- Try to encourage the connection between your mind and body
WHAT I’VE LEARNT AS A LEVEL 3 VEGAN (3 years vegan)
Apparently when you reach level 5, you can levitate
Its not expensive to be vegan, its expensive to be healthy
There is an alternative for everything
Flavour comes from vegetables and fruit
In any mince dish, replace the mince with lentils
Way less time is spent in the inner isles of shopping centers
Hay fever stops (I suffered from extreme hay fever which completely stopped when I became vegan)
Spend way less time and money on your doctors appointments (I haven’t had the flu in 3 years)
You get way too excited in health shops
Dedicate an hour for health shop trips
Organic is ALWAYS worth it
Its okay to make mistakes but not excuses
Even 1/2 a pro-Vegan documentary can get you right back into it
Center of every party joke
Laugh with them
Encourage rather than force
Prove them wrong
Cut the carbs
Cut the sugar
Things taste better eventually
You don’t have to reason or explain your diet
Your family will adapt
Facebook is fragile
Find vegan friends
Be more conscious
Juices are life savers
Coriander seeds on anything makes it taste like biltong
This is all information that I have gathered over time from different sources, as well as from personal trial and error. Remember that everyone is different and our systems may work a little differently so please take caution when trying any new eating plan as well as consulting your doctor beforehand. Take extreme caution if one is pregnant, breast feeding or living with a chronic disease. For instance, people suffering from Lupus cannot consume Alfalfa even though it is a superfood.
~ Rebecca Hayter