Why did I even start a vegan diet?
After having my first child, then moving to the US (fast food everywhere), I gained some pounds pretty quickly. So I started a portion control diet (21 day fix) and lost 10 pounds. After this, I basically went back to eating the same way I had before and gained back the pounds.
Then I realized my lifestyle had not changed and that I really didn’t have an idea of what is actually healthy, how to balance meals, what to avoid, and so on.
Besides weight loss I had chronic gastritis, which means my stomach constantly produces too much acid which keeps the stomach lining inflamed at all times. If the stomach is inflamed, chances are your arteries, skin, and other organs are inflamed as well. The stomach helps with nutrient absorption and plays a huge role in immune function for your body. On top of all that, I also suffered cystic acne.
So, I was on the lookout to find a diet that would be a part of my lifestyle and that I would just KNOW is healthy for me. We tried to cut out sugar and also cut back on gluten for a while. Then my husband and I watched “What the Health” and we were really excited to try the vegan diet. This movie spoke to me because of the health benefits from the vegan diet. It spoke to my husband because it highlighted the negative impacts on local communities created by large scale livestock farming (google CAFOs).
Of course we did not just change our lifestyle because of one movie. I began researching articles and watching “debunked” videos on Youtube. It’s hard figuring out who is telling the truth and who is fabricating information when it comes to health, so I figured scientific studies would be where I focused my attention and trust.
But, there are many studies out there….
You can find a study on a random page to back up almost any hypothesis you have about healthy eating. So it’s important to look at who performed the study, if they used a control group or placebo group, who financed the study (are they neutral), how long the study was conducted, and other factors. For example, you can find a study that claims eggs are healthy and do not raise cholesterol. You would think eggs are healthy because a study said it. But when you look deeper you find that the study was funded by the egg industry and their control groups were set up unprofessionally. Therefore, you really have to do your research thoroughly to find truly scientific health claims.
We literally threw out or gave away all non-vegan food and switched our diet within a few days (not recommended). And that approach worked for us. As soon as we understood the benefits of a plant based diet and that we simply don’t need animal protein, it was much easier to give up cheese, burgers, and steaks.
15 Things I’ve Learned In my First Year On A Vegan Diet
#1 I have to eat more food
The first thing I noticed was that I woke up in the middle of the night with a feeling of hunger. I did not feel hungry during the day at all but at night, for some reason, I felt very hungry. Maybe my gut had to get used to the “light” food and faster processing of the food I now eat.
When I started eating only plants, I ate the same volume as before but with much less calories. As a result, I lost a good bit of weight. So I had to make sure I ate a bit more.
#2 Fiber is a beast
More than 90% of Americans do not eat the recommended amount of fiber (source). Recommendations for daily fiber intake range from 25g to 38g daily (mayoclinic). Other sources recommend even more fiber in your diet.
All that fiber-rich food had me going to the bathroom 3-4 times a day. It was great! If you suffer from constipation, give one of my meal plans a try. Don’t worry, after a while your body will get used to your nutrition and you will “only” have to go 1 to 2 times per day.
Fiber is a beast because it reduces the risk of colon cancer (source), breast cancer (source), diabetes (source), heart disease (source), obesity (source), and stroke (source). It helps control cholesterol (source) and blood sugar levels (source). Fiber also binds toxins, lead, and mercury (source), which is mostly accumulated in animal fat.
#3 Weight loss can be easy
As mentioned above, weight loss was pretty easy because you can eat much more with the same amount of calories, or less calories, but still feel full. The fiber also helps you stay full for a long time. Of course if you eat vegan junk food you won’t see great weight loss results and your health won’t benefit. It is key to eat as many whole plant foods as possible and create balanced meals. Read the vegan weight loss guide for more info.
#4 There is a difference between plant based and vegan
Today you can find many different fake meat items in the grocery store. Some of them are not healthy, processed and, simply put, junk food. While they don’t contain cholesterol and might be healthier junk food than non-vegan junk food, they are still not healthy. Vegan foods also include oreo cookies and some potato chips. A whole food plant based diet does not include oils and sugars as these are not a whole food and they’re stripped of nutrients (no cookies, no chips). If possible, lean towards a WFPB diet as much as possible.
#5 Social situations can be challenging
Going to parties or to a friends house will be a small challenge. It took a while to tell all of our friends how we eat and to our surprise most of them are very respectful and helpful. I just had to get used to asking what food will be provided at the party, then either eat beforehand or bring my own dish. If non-vegan friends invite us over to their house for dinner I tell them to keep it easy and make pasta with tomato sauce and a salad. To my surprise, some of my friends and family made very delicious vegan meals for us.
If you go to a more random party and want to avoid the vegan conversation, simply bring your own side dish and see what you can add from the spread provided. Often people don’t even notice that you only put veggies on your plate.
Check out: 15 Vegan Foods to Bring to a Non-Vegan Party
#6 Friends and family will pick on you
There are many haters out there. But often people drop a (not so smart) comment because they simply don’t know better. That is because they have heard myths about the vegan diet somewhere and never researched the truth.
For example: I am from Germany and over there the vegan diet is not considered a sufficient diet (yet). So when you talk to a nutritionist in Germany they will tell you it is not healthy and you can’t put your child on a vegan diet. Head over to the US and you will find that:
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” (source)
This goes for all stages of life (as long as meals are well-planned): pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and even for athletics! Besides America, the British Dietetic Association (source) and the Australian Dietary Guidelines (source, p35) came to the same conclusion.
Along with people who just don’t know better, there are others that might know they need to change their own eating habits but don’t want to admit it, therefore, they tease you a bit. Also, advertising and society have been teaching milk, eggs, and meat as healthy for a long time, so it’s only natural that this is “truth” to most and you’re “the weirdo.”
If someone picks on me I just smile and let it go. I gave myself the freedom not to feel like I need to justify my decision, but to remain confident and content in what I do. I learned not to start, join, or encourage a discussion unless someone really wants to understand the vegan diet or they ask specific questions.
#7 Your friends and family will not all of a sudden start a vegan diet
When I first realized how amazing a plant based diet is, what it can do for me, and how it makes me feel, I wanted to tell (and also convince) all my friends and family to eat the same way. I mean, why not, right? I really thought if I could tell them about the studies I read and what diseases it can reverse they would start eating more plants right away. Because, in my mind, that is the logical thing to do. I really wanted to explain everything to everyone. BAD IDEA.
Most people haven’t had the same journey and won’t understand. They are not at a place where they are open to hear or accept it. Most people have set opinions on things like diet, religion, politics, and such.
I learned it’s much better for friendships and also much more helpful to simply live a healthy lifestyle in front of them and sprinkle some vegan knowledge gently and naturally here and there. Advice, I feel like, is always appropriate to give to someone who wants to eat healthier. Simply tell them to eat more fruits and veggies and cut out processed foods/sugar. This tip is general enough to be acceptable for most people and encourages them to eat more vegan-like without pushing anyone to switch to a vegan diet.
#8 I am not “giving up” or “missing out”
First, I thought “How can I NOT eat burgers and cheese anymore ever again.” It is a scary thought, but here is what I went through:
I summarized all the benefits of a vegan diet then realized that these foods might taste good but they don’t fuel my body the right way. They add things to my body that should not be added. The way animal food is sourced is mostly not in line with mindful eating habits and, in reality, we don’t need it. It is simply not worth it.
I also don’t focus on what is “missing” in my diet, but rather focus on making space for the good stuff. Making space for more fiber, more veggies, more fruits. Instead of 3-4 servings of fruits and veggies, now I eat 6-10 servings. I look at this and realize, no, I actually don’t miss meat. This lifestyle brings me much more joy and there are plenty of other meal options that will taste amazing.
#9 Don’t treat the vegan diet like a religion
When you experience health and weight improvement by following the vegan diet, you might think you found the cure-it-all. It is great to have this passion for healthy eating. And while the vegan diet is proven to be healthier in some areas, it is not the only healthy diet and it is not your job to “convert” other people.
Other diets can also help lose weight, or lower your blood sugar levels, or help you eat more veggies. Naturally, we want to find the one thing that is the answer to all the problems we have. But health is not just what you eat, it is also what you think and how you treat your body both physically and mentally.
#10 I am not deficient
I have heard it all: protein, calcium, and iron deficiency. But what I am really not getting is high blood sugar levels and high cholesterol levels.
After 6 months of following a vegan diet I got a blood test done and guess how that turned out? All the values you would expect to be low were either average or high.The only low nutrient in my blood was potassium, which was really surprising (hello bananas). Here are some values from my blood test (and the healthy values):
- potassium 3.6 (3.7-5.4)
- total protein 8.1 (6.4-8.3)
- sodium 141 (136-147)
- glucose (after eating 1.5h) 86 (70-99 fasting)
- vitamin D 46 (25-80)
- total cholesterol 112 (needs to be under 200)
- LDL (bad cholesterol) 54 (desirable under 100, but good 50-70)
- white blood cells 7.1 (4.1-10.2)
- red blood count 4.64 (3.8-5.2)
- hemoglobin 14.6 (11.9-15.5)
My potassium value was 3.6 and on my lab report it stated this is deficient, but some sources say that 3.6 is low but not deficient (source). Either way, since then I include more potatoes and bananas in my diet.
My glucose levels were at 86 and for a fasting state (not eating) it should be between 77 and 99. My blood was taken 1.5h after dinner (not fasting). “Normal blood sugar levels are less than 100 mg/dL after not eating (
BTW: I had a greek quinoa salad with over 80 carbs that night (complex carbs from whole foods).
#11 I need to keep learning
I’ve also learned that I must consistently work on my healthy lifestyle. While it is much easier to maintain a healthy body on a vegan diet, I tend to eat more sugar at times or lack working out on a regular basis at other times. There are always new recipes to learn or new vegan foods to try. Learning more about health keeps me motivated to keep going.
#12 I am going out to eat less often
The vegan options in restaurants are much more limited, therefore, we go out less often. This saves us some money and is much better for health. I also learned that vegan options in restaurants sometimes contain only half the calories. While the normal restaurant meal is over 1,000 calories, you can order a veganized option for only 300 to 500 calories and save money. Read how to do this here.
#13 I am cooking more often
When we first started a vegan diet the cold lunch options were pretty limited. I decided to cook double the amount of dinner and eat the leftovers for lunch the next day. I like this way much better because it provides a balanced, healthy, and delicious lunch meal that is filling. Personally, I find it much easier to create a balanced meal when I use cooked recipes compared to sandwiches and salads.
Because I am cooking more often on a vegan diet, I love one pot meals. These meals are such a relief for weeknights or any busy schedule. See all my one pot meals here.
#14 Vegan recipes are NOT boring
I was super excited to start a vegan diet, but my first question was: What do I even eat now, just veggies and beans? Luckily the internet is filled with delicious vegan recipes and tips. The more I tried new recipes, the more I realized there are some pretty amazing recipes out there. To get started, check out these vegan cookbooks for beginners and follow my Pinterest recipe board for delicious recipes.
#15 A vegan diet is good for our child
People, especially family, have been worried about our child being on a vegan diet. Common opinion suggests drinking cow’s milk for bone growth and eating meat for strength. As mentioned above, the vegan diet (appropriately planned) is sufficient AND provides health benefits for all stages of life, including children (source).
Our son was 3 years old when we started eating vegan and the biggest change we saw in him was a reduction of eczema. The winter before, he had fleshy spots of eczema on his legs and arms (and at one point his stomach). This year he barely had a small patch of rough skin for a couple of days. I would say the eczema reduced about 90%.
The struggle to maintain his diet change is more present during birthday parties or social gatherings, when other kids eat hot dogs, chicken nuggets, or pizza. We as a family decided to allow him the occasional party food, but we also explain our diet choices so, as he grows, he can make his own decision when choosing what to eat. Sometimes we also bring vegan hot dogs or nuggets to gatherings. In my opinion, restricting too much will lead to rebellion. Therefore, we allow it sometimes but teach him how to make better, more informed decisions along the way.
To balance his diet, I make sure he always eats vegetables or fruits with the party treat and doesn’t indulge on it. And when he enjoys entertainment he always eats a plate of chickpeas, fruits, and veggies. Now that he is 4 years old he is beginning to understand the difference between almond milk and cow’s milk.
Children learn by watching examples, so the best you can do is simply eat different kinds of plants often in front of your children, have them on the table for easy access, always offer a variety, and sometimes show excitement about the fact these foods make you healthy and strong (if you have a boy, you can easily refer to plant eating dinosaurs 😉 ).
Today, our child loves broccoli, berries, cucumber, chickpeas, and much more. He likes them raw and sometimes with dip. It is nice to see how he develops his understanding that fruits and veggies are a normal part of our eating habits, and he just eats them without a fight.