This is post number three from my younger brother, Matt, about his transformation into the life of a vegan. If you haven’t read the first two posts, you should do so here and here and then come back and read this one. I’ve really enjoyed Matt’s insight, wit and writing style and I’ve loved having him post for me, so let’s show him so love and leave some comments and be sure to follow him and his smart comments on Twitter.
The Dark Side
Shock and disbelief. That’s the reaction I got when I first told my friends that we (my fiancé, Melody, and I) had decided to try a vegan diet. That, and laughter.
Not that they didn’t believe that Mell would turn to the Dark Side with little persuasion – she was already the healthiest person any of us knew. But me? They felt like they had been betrayed by one of their own. I was their dietary Anikan Skywalker.
To go from eating meat and dairy with pretty much every meal to feasting on legumes like it was my friggin’ job is not an easy task. This initial hurdle, I imagine, is the main reason why most people blow off the idea of changing their diet. It’s not easy, and people don’t like doing things that aren’t easy.
The most frustrating thing about changing to a whole foods diet is getting rid of the things you love to eat when they’re already inside your cupboards, paid for. The eggs, the milk, the cheese, the deli sandwich meat, the chicken breasts, the yoghurt, the whole-wheat Wonder bread, the haddock fillets, the alfredo sauce, the canned soup, the creamy peanut butter, the tail-less shrimp, the frozen yoghurt, the light mayonnaise and yes… the Eggo waffles. Note: this is especially difficult two days after having gone to the grocery store and dumping $250 on buy-one-get-one-frees. Twice the frustration.
But this is Tip #1. Don’t hesitate. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll switch over the next time you go grocery shopping. The Emperor is not that patient. These foods will linger in your kitchen for weeks. If you’re serious about getting healthy, just bite the biscuit now (figuratively, of course…) and get rid of the temptation completely. Trust your feelings, young Jedi.
The first night is tough. No quick options for that snack or meal-on-the-go. No Chef Boyardi or turkey-on-rye or Mini Wheats. You eat a banana, but that won’t fill the void. It was the only fruit you had in the house besides strawberries. Strawberries aren’t a meal, though. You could make a smoothie, if you hadn’t just given away your frozen yoghurt to your future sisters-in-law. Strawberries and ice blended together would suuuuck. You’re ready to head to the gym or go for a run but you’re still hungry. That’s never good. Was this a bad idea? Maybe I could hit Tim’s on the way and grab a muffin. Wait… don’t muffins have eggs in them? I hate this already.
Which brings us to Tip #2. Go get new groceries right away. The good kind. There are lots of websites that give solid lists of must-haves for the vegan Padawon, but here’s a survival guide to your first whole foods grocery shopping experience:
- unsweetened almond milk (not terrible, and better with time)
- Ezekiel bread (good for toast, bad for sandwiches… save yourself the ten bucks and don’t try almond butter)
- any whole grain cereal
- every kind of fruit (a lot of bananas and grapes) and vegetable (organic if possible) you can recognize by name, and a few you may not have tried before. Once you start to make specific dishes (there are tons of recipes online… try OhSheGlows.com) you’ll go after specific veggies. This is not as expensive as everyone thinks. Have you seen how much chicken breasts cost these days?
- spinach (I realize it’s a vegetable, but we add it to a lot of stuff)
- low-sodium vegetable broth (for all your soup needs)
- diced almonds, whole cashews, etc.
- raisins (great finger food, and nature’s energy jelly bean)
- bagged green lentils, canned low-sodium chickpeas, canned low-sodium diced tomatoes
- whole grain rice (no preservatives if possible)
- whole grain pasta
- low-sodium pasta sauce (no cream sauces)
- oatmeal… lots of oatmeal (low sugar is healthier… but it’s all oatmeal, right?)
- whole grain crackers
- quinoa (key-nwah… avoid looking like an idiot by asking for kwi-no-ah)
- compostable garbage bags. You’ll be surprised how much compostable waste you’ll encounter!
You’ll get home with your re-usable shopping bags full of treats (after spending two hours in the supermarket looking for everything), questioning whether or not you’ve made the right decision, and think “What can I make for supper?” Which brings me to Tip #3. Forget everything you thought you knew about meals.
I now, after five months, have no problem eating leftover vegetable stirfry with quinoa for breakfast. I’ll also eat oatmeal, Ezekiel toast with organic raspberry jam, a banana and an apple for supper. Everything in your house is now good for you – any time of day. Eat whatever you want, whenever you want. You’ll get into the flow of preparing meals in advance, which will make the transition easier. Soups are key (one a week in our household), as are bean/chickpea-based dishes like vegan chili, stirfries (watch the sodium level in your sauce), curries, and taco salad. Always have some sliced vegetables on the side (or a baked sweet potato) and some fruit for dessert.
If you’re a calorie counter, count calories. You’ll be surprised how few you consume compared to two days ago, and it’ll be easy to reduce or increase your calorie intake as needed. If you think you need a lot of protein to keep you going, no sweat. It’s basically impossible, on a whole foods diet, to consume enough calories without consuming enough protein. You don’t need 150g of protein every day, even if you’re pumping it hard at the gym. People told you that so that you’d buy meat and shakes. 75-85g a day, for a male my age and fitness level, is more than enough. Trust me, and release your inner Vader. Your body will thank you for it.