Saturday, August 4, 2018

Vegan.

I've had the idea for this post floating around in my head for awhile. Mostly I've been putting it off because I've been here before, in a past blog, sharing about my decision to go vegan. Quite frankly it didn't go well. Specifically, members of my family read it, freaked out, and made it abundantly clear that they didn't support my decision and thought it was a downright dreadful idea. (The joy of being brought up in the Midwest.) But I've gained a lot of confidence since then. I've realized that everyone (even family) isn't always going to support the things you decide to do. So here I am, sharing again.
Technically I've been a vegetarian for about 8 years, eating a mostly plant-based diet but still consuming things like cheese, Greek yogurt, eggs (mostly egg whites), and a whey/casein blend of protein. I tried veganism for the first time in 2014, after reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and doing some research of my own on modern-day animal agriculture. I didn't like what I learned: we spend so much money to grow crops and clear land to feed cows when we could be spending that same money on growing food to feed people. I learned so many things that were shocking (and horrifying) to me, like the fact that a lot of animals are still conscious while they're being "processed", some never see the light of day, and girls who aren't even in double digits yet are starting to have periods because of the growth hormones in dairy. Learning the numbers and the process of the entire situation led me into a hard push against it. So that summer, while abroad in Dublin, Ireland, I made the change. I enjoyed the vegan options in restaurants and supermarkets (how I miss M&S and Dunn's!), and even switched my body care products to natural, cruelty-free ones. It was wonderful, and I loved knowing that I was doing what I could to contribute to a better cause: to stand for something. And I felt great! But then I left Europe and came home, and the following 12 months were spent struggling to keep up with more expensive products and ingredients, cooking in my dorm's small kitchenette, and of course dealing with lots of put-downs from my family (my brothers, in particular). I went to school in the Northwest corner of Minnesota, so as you can imagine, 'health foods', beauty products, and basically anything free of animal by-products was very difficult to come by.  The supplements I'd taken in Dublin (B12, D3, etc.) were much more expensive in the US.  Stores didn't carry the same vegan protein. Overall, I had a hard time getting adequate nutrition and as a very active person, I couldn't maintain a healthy weight.

Something had to change, so reluctantly I started adding in eggs, cheese, and Greek yogurt. Sure, things like feeling cold all the time and and never having much energy went away, but my skin started flaring up and my body held weight in weird places. I wanted that to change, so I started lifting weights at my university's gym. I made friends with some bodybuilders, got talking with them about things like 'pre-workout' and 'branch chain amino acids (bcaa's), and even started buying protein powder to make shakes and waffles. Lifting became one of my top hobbies, and I loved the strength and tone it gave me over the following few years. And the day I managed to squat double my body weight? I was over the moon excited.
(Not blonde yet, and awkward gym selfie. Ufff)
But guys I have to be honest: I've fallen out of love with it. Sure, I still like working out and lifting, but not nearly as intensely as I used to. My job doesn't require hard physical activity and I often find myself wondering, 'Why am I trying so hard?' I'm not training for a bikini competition, I didn't get into the Navy, and I know that even the best whey/casein protein powders are still not sustainable and come from cows being fed genetically modified food. So I've come away from the intense hour to hour-and-a-half long workouts and finished the protein powder I had so as not to waste it. I had religiously been using MyFitnessPal to count my macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) and weighed out everything I ate: each and every gram. I definitely saw results, but it was exhausting! And I could never bring my food scale to restaurants or family gatherings, so actually hitting my goals consistently was rare (very frustrating to a perfectionist like me). Don't get me wrong: I love feeling fit and healthy. I loved my morning 'proatmeal' (oatmeal mixed with my favorite snickerdoodle-flavored protein) and my egg-white omelettes (most of the time). But like I said, doing a bikini competition was never in the plan, so the more I thought about it, the more I realized that micromanaging everything so intensely served no purpose. And the rate I was going through egg whites, yogurt, protein bars, and other genetically-modified, highly-processed foods, it was just getting too expensive. 
In transitioning back to a vegan lifestyle, I've loved letting go of such tight control. I've been replacing the weighed-out, micro-managed meals with things like fresh fruit, pumpkin/almond milk oatmeal (recipe to come), lots of great veggie recipes, and smoothie bowls. I still work out, hitting the gym 4-5 days per week, doing more manageable amounts of cardio and lifting. But if I need a day off, I take it. If I'm done with a work out and I'm not hungry, I don't force myself to have a protein shake. And you know what? I feel great.

Of course I still live in the Midwest, so it can be difficult to find ingredients (occasionally). However, more stores are starting to carry things like chia seeds, organic fruits/vegetables, non-dairy yogurt, and vegan 'mock meat'. I recently ordered vegan protein and acai powder on Amazon (thank you, Amazon cashback points). I even found cheddar cheese slices that aren't packed full of hormones (or chemicals, like some vegan cheese), rather its made from a coconut oil and paprika base. And it tastes awesome! As I mentioned in my Q&A, last time I went vegan, I hadn't learned of the dense nutrition found in things like avocado, sweet potato, beans, seeds, nutritional yeast, or coconut milk. I didn't eat loads of fruit or nuts because I thought they had too much sugar and fat. I didn't want to try tofu, tempeh, seitan, or vegan cheese because I didn't have a kitchen to cook them in (living in a college dorm). Basically, I was an uneducated vegan. This time however, I've expanded what I'll try. And for those who think that vegan food looks like the clippings your lawn mower leaves behind, here are a few foods I know you already love: chips and salsa, Oreos, potato chips and French fries, baked potatoes, wine and beer (most of it), olives, hummus, and BREAD. (Not that solely existing off these things is healthy by any means, but you get my point.)

I've also been connecting with more bloggers, Instagrammers, and Youtubers who share great recipes, lifestyle tips, and advice for health and happiness in a vegan lifestyle. It's been helpful to follow along and see some of the creativity and passion fueling their own vegan journeys, giving me great ideas for my own. Some of my favorites that inspire and motivate me to try new things are:

Oh Dear Drea - a blog I started following when I was in Dublin. Drea is an amazing vegan cook (check out her cookbook here) who has a passion for sustainable living. On her blog, she shares her struggles with things like C. diff and pollution in Florida, has traveled to many places all over the world, and even lived for a time in South America. She's 100% inspiring and I love keeping up with her, her man, her adorable daughter, and their dog.

Pick Up Limes - a blog I discovered after discovering Sadia's Youtube channel. Sadia is a nutritionist and shares all kinds of information about veganism, minimalism, and living life to the fullest. Her Youtube videos cover more varied topics while her blog focuses on getting everything the body needs while being vegan.

Namaste Hannah - a blog I discovered after following Hannah on Instagram. She is a Berlin-based blogger writing about all things positive. She shares her struggles with body image, overcoming an eating disorder, living simply and enjoying the little pleasures, spirituality and yoga, and of course vegetarian/vegan food. 

DatesAndFigs - an Instagrammer I connected with at the beginning of my vegan (again) journey who posts delicious recipes on her page for things like chickpea 'cookie dough' and oatmeal/smoothie bowls. I recently had the chance to visit Vera (the girl behind the 'gram) in Texas and try some of her local recommendations for vegan food. It was amazing the difference between her city and mine: there were so many vegan options! (The Midwest definitely could learn a thing or two from Texas...)
Since making the switch, it's been a learning experience (again) and I'm having a great time connecting with these individuals, trying out new recipes, and learning about products free of animal by-products. I feel great knowing that I'm doing my part to help the environment, no matter how small of a difference it makes. I know that veganism is not for everybody: I can accept that. People who were born and raised in 'meat and potatoes' country are not easily swayed. I doubt my family will ever get it. But for me, in my life, with my values and priorities, it just makes sense. I'm happy to share my journey as I go, and would love to connect with more of you who are on the same path! 

2 comments:

  1. I remember when you first went vegan, you got pretty skinny for a while. I'm glad that you found a less restrictive, more joyful way to do it now, and I would love it you could share some recipes! We will never cut out meat completely, but we love veggies and I'm always eager to find new and tasty ways to incorporate more green stuff into our diet. I'll check out the bloggers you mentioned as well! Drea I know, I've been following her for years. I don't agree with everything she says, but I still enjoy her blog and beautiful photography! Like you said, veganism is a touchy subject, but I'm a big believer in the "live and let live" philosophy. You do you!

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    1. I'll admit: I did it completely wrong the first time. I didn't eat much outside of cooked veggies, salad, and grains, because as I mentioned the 'real vegan food' was too expensive, and being in college limited cooking anything. I really tried to make it work. This time around is already going so much better. And I LOVE not tracking macros anymore and listening to my body more. I will definitely share some recipes! I wish my photos were as beautiful as Drea's (so the recipes could 'pop') but my camera is a phone camera, and an old phone at that... but I will do my best!

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