What Happened when I Went Vegan—Cold Turkey.

Via Carmelene Siani
on Mar 19, 2015
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I went on a plant-based (vegan) diet because I had systemic inflammation that was causing chronic pain. So, my motive in choosing the diet wasn’t to lose weight—although I wouldn’t have minded—it was to ease my pain.

Through research, I learned that a plant based diet was one of the most effective ways of reducing the inflammation that was causing my pain and, because I believe that food is medicine, I made the decision to change from meat (and dairy)-based eating to plant based eating.

I bought a cook book and started on the diet “cold turkey.”

I do not think of vegan eating as a “diet” per se. I think of it more as a way of feeding myself that does not include meat or meat products.

When I started eating vegan I learned right away that there were other flavors and textures that were as satisfying, even more satisfying, than meat. All I had to do was learn what they were.

In other words, a vegan meal isn’t just throwing a bunch of vegetables and grains on the plate and leaving the meat out. It is creating a satisfying, richly nutrient, flavorful, combination of spices, grains and vegetables in a way that eliminates the need or desire for meat as the flavoring element.

This is actually the point that most restaurants miss. They see the need for vegan options on their menus and so they say something like their “home made meatloaf dinner can be made vegan.” What comes to the table if you order it vegan is a lump of flavorless mashed potatoes and overcooked string beans—only more flavorless mashed potatoes and overcooked string beans than you would have had if the meatloaf were on the plate.

This isn’t the way it works.

That very same plate cooked by a real vegan chef would be potatoes mashed with cauliflower and garlic, covered with mushroom gravy and accompanied by string beans roasted in the oven with salt, paprika and sliced almonds with perhaps fresh tomato slices sprinkled with basil on the side. This is an entirely different thing than merely leaving off the meatloaf.

In fact, a vegan plate of food stands up to the palate in its own right—it is not a plate of food that has merely had the meat eliminated from it.

In terms of the delicious flavors and combinations of food I eat, I don’t think of the vegan diet as one in which I am eliminating something. I think of it as one in which I am gaining something: a whole world of spices and flavors that I simply did not know about before. Having been limited to using meat to flavor my dishes—and dairy and eggs to make my dishes creamy or to hold them together—it was more a case of ignorance than a case of meat and dairy being tastier than plants and grains.

Did I have to learn a whole new way to cook? Yes. I did. Did I have to buy a whole bunch of spices I hardly knew the names of? Yes. I did. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to go this far but for me, it was like an artist who had been given a new set of brushes and a clean canvas to work on. I felt like I was going to cooking school with the big bonus being that I was going to feel better.

And feel better I did.

Within three weeks, I began to notice many changes:

The foggy thinking I had been plagued with for years disappeared!

I could read and comprehend what I was reading like I used to.

I could address complicated instructions and understand them as quick as I used to.

I could follow the plot of a movie like I used to.

It was like a dusty storage box in my mind had been emptied out and was now free to hold new information again.

Who woulda’ thought that changing my diet could affect my brain?

And in turn, my intellect? But, Inflammation is inflammation. If it occurs anywhere in the body, it occurs everywhere.

Second of all, I noticed that the pain I had been feeling in my lower back had disappeared. For two years I had been unable to step up on the curb without aid, get into the car without aid, and get up from my office chair without aid. I couldn’t stand in the kitchen for more than 10 minutes without sitting down to relieve my back. I couldn’t turn over in bed. I mean, I had a lot of pain. It wasn’t sky-high screeching pain—but it was enough to debilitate me and to stop me from moving freely.

My ankle edema also disappeared as did my indigestion and I stopped taking all of the medications I was taking to address these issues.

After about six weeks there was a marked difference in my body tone and shape. While I only lost eight pounds on the scale, I had slimmed down one entire dress size! It was obvious that I was carrying less fat and becoming more lean. Because I had been so trained to use the scale as a measure—and because the numbers on the scale weren’t going down the way I thought they should, I just stopped getting on the scale.

Something else was happening—I could see it with my own eyes and I could see it in the way my clothes hung on me. I wanted to pay attention to that, not to what the scale said.

Third, I have so enjoyed being able to eat all I want without worry about whether it was going to make me fat. I lost my “fear of food” in this sense and that alone was worth the price of admission. To sit down to a plate full of rice biryani and be able to eat and savor the whole thing without worrying about how it was going to show on the scale in the morning lifted a burden off my mind that I didn’t even know I had.

I also feel like my body is actually using the food I am eating rather than just storing it—in my case, on my thighs, the greatest storage closet known to man—er, woman! I actually feel energy rather than lethargy after eating!

What a concept: no more food comas.

And I still drink alcohol and coffee—two things that typically would cause me to either crash or get sleepy, depending on which it was.

Incredibly, my sweet tooth has abated, if not entirely disappeared. I attribute it to the flavorful spiciness of the foods I am eating. (And don’t confuse “spiciness” with “hotness.” Spicy doesn’t necessarily mean hot, like a chile pepper. It can mean flavorful—like, for example, the spiciness of a pumpkin pie). I find eating spices makes my tongue dance until midnight—and it doesn’t need more excitement than that. I have actually found that an orange after dinner can be an absolutely delicious desert. And I am a woman who had no problem eating an entire box of See’s Candy in one sitting, not to mention a hot fudge Sundae whenever I could get my hands on it.

Also, I am not a “vegan perfectionist.”

That is—I eat yoghurt with my granola in the morning and I put half-and-half in my coffee. I do not however, use oil to cook with and “eat” my oils instead (avocados, olives, nuts, etc.). I have found this to be an extremely satisfying way to bring fat into my diet, one that allows me to eat more food, which is a great thing, because I am basically a person who likes to eat a lot of food.

There is however another component to making such a radical change in eating, and that is the emotional component which, having gone through this transition, is what I think is the back story to why people do not change their diets.

I had no idea how many memories and emotions were attached to the act of eating and to the food I ate. I have been on weight loss diets before, but they basically consisted of eating the same things only less. Changing to vegan was much more than that. It had nothing to do with the amount of food I ate. It was a sea change in what I ate and it definitely opened up memories and emotions for me

It brought me back to the orphanage when I was a little girl and what it was like to eat there. It brought me back to my mother and her cooking and not how much I missed it, but how much it actually hurt not to have it. My physical body wasn’t getting the meat, blood, sinew and fats from animals that it had been getting and my emotional body noticed. I cried a lot. For no seeming reason other than I felt different. It wasn’t agonizing crying or depression crying; it was just there and in some cases it even felt cleansing. I also laughed a lot—I felt lighter, less stressed in my gut, more alert, energetic, and—well, happy. I slept better.

So—going vegan definitely has an emotional component.

I ultimately accepted this aspect as part of the ride and even found, strange as it may seem, that the vegan food I was eating was a comfort to my moods. It satisfied my emotional hunger in a way that not eating vegan ever had and that was a glorious feeling.

I guess what I am saying is that going vegan isn’t only going on a diet at all. It is also going on a spiritual journey and in that sense, it changes everything.

In my case, I went on the diet because I was in physical pain—but the truth is, we are all in pain in some way, be it in our bodies, in our hearts or in our minds. Ultimately, eating vegan helped me to heal my pain in all those levels.

Bottom line, the vegan journey is a journey to wholeness and health in every way. I heartily recommend it for anyone—by my lights, it is a journey worth taking.

 

 

 

Relephant: 

Decadent White Lasagna with Sweet Potatoes & Spinach. {Vegan Recipe}

Going Vegan (in Diet & in Dating).

Want to Go Vegan? A Top 10 Resource Guide. 

Author: Carmelene Siani

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: via the author 

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Grow your own vegan food. Here’s how:

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About Carmelene Siani

Carmelene is a 75-year-old freelance writer who has been published at Elephant Journal, Better after 50, Huffington Post, The Reader, and Broad Magazine among others. Her stories are personal narratives on grief, family, food, and late-life love. Her aim is to help others see the ways that life is constantly opening to reveal its own lessons. She lives by the dictum of Muriel Rukeyser that “the universe is made of stories, not atoms.” Visit her on her Facebook Page and follow her on Twitter.

Comments

76 Responses to “What Happened when I Went Vegan—Cold Turkey.”

  1. Amy says:

    Excellent article on the perspectives people should be taking towards dieting, as a nutritionist it's always good to see people getting that food is medicine and what we eat should be a lifestyle not a fad diet.

    However as others are saying, you shouldn't be calling it a vegan diet as you are still consuming dairy. The reason we are saying this is not to sit on a moral high horse but because there is a lot of confusion out there about what a vegan diet actually is, and articles such as this add to that. Therefore when a vegan goes out to eat somewhere and specifies for vegan food we often end up being presented with food that still contains animal products as people don't understand. Hope that clears it up for everybody.

  2. Courtney Bee says:

    Thank you so much Carmeline, you have definitely persuaded me!! My health is in a bad way. Trying to do this just sounds so.. Hard!! I commend you.

  3. Madi says:

    Nah it's not a religion, it's s lifestyle choice. What some people are slightly irked about is that the writer didn't quite get the definition of vegan down. She lives on a plant based diet, but she's not necessarily vegan. Veganism is s mindset that includes the humanitarian and sustainability aspect along with the health in declining to consume animal products. An example to further explain is you can't call yourself a feminist if you only teach your daughter how to cook but not your son (due to gender roles crap). Even though this mother in the example may aid in female empowerment in areas where they are or have been oppressed. So this mother had improved her empowerment of females but she's not s feminist because her actions don't fully encapsulate the word. And when someone identified as something but then contradicts it, it makes it confusing for the public to know what the word even means. Likewise it makes it a hard time for people who do fully identify with the word as questions like "so do you eat seafood? How about chocolate?" Because no, that's not vegan, and vegans spend a fair amount of time having to explain themselves and their lifestyle choices to others due to misrepresentation of incorrect education. Does this explain it okay?
    And for the one person who insulted vegans to have a 'holier than thou' attitude, that hurts, and I understand that you're trying to comfort the author, but it was rude and also incorrect. Apart of identifying as vegan is that we don't believe we are superior to anything or anyone, that animals and the earth simple aren't ours to take advantage of negatively in the first place.
    Lastly, those who say if she wants to identify as vegan let her even though she still consumes animal products … Sure I mean like she has free will etc but or example, someone that might identify as gay might get angry at someone who also identifies as gay but is in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender. Like it's just misrepresenting the whole identification process. So please forgive any vegan who take flight offense at your comments.

  4. Madi says:

    Completely on point ^

  5. yogawithlorilucas says:

    Love it!! Good for you! I am having some inflammation issues these days as well, so it’s going around! Glad you are feeling so well too. You are a strict vegetarian but not a vegan. I'm not vegan either but I can promise you that vegans will take issue with using the word when you eat dairy (no matter how little you eat each day). There are many vegan coffee whiteners and yogurts around too (rice, soy, almond, coconut) that you can explore. I haven’t eaten meat for 30+ years now but I still love eggs and cream in my coffee etc.
    All the best to you with continued good health and joy!

  6. David Miller says:

    It is somewhat sad that a person needs to be so careful with their words when writing about themselves and their choices just because they may accidentally offend another person's sense of self identity. People tend to use the things that they choose to do in life as exclusive labels in order to define and identify themselves and others. "Vegan" is a type of meal, or a diet that excludes animal based foods. In general, a person is not a diet, and as a type of food they are definitely not vegan. Someone can choose to eat according to a particular dietary plan, but diet is always a choice of the moment and not a strict definition of a person's being. As a society we have a strong tendency to define others by what they do rather than accepting who they are. What we really are is based upon the results of our choices, and not the choices themselves. As a result people everywhere become their diets, their spirituality, their profession, hobbies, and even their sexual preferences. These choices describe what a person likes to do, not who they are.
    So the choice to eat a "vegan" diet does not make you a "Vegan". The real you is the reasons and intent of your choice. If you chose to eat vegan on every day but Saturday it would still probably fulfill the reasons that you had chosen to eat this way.
    Oh, and except for the vague part about not being a "Vegan Perfectionist". The article never actually sited anything about being a vegan, only how eating a vegan diet has improved health. The only reason people are making an issue of it is because the idea that another person is not as idealistic about the Vegan Identity label makes them feel less of a person. That is what happens when people define themselves by their choices rather than the results of their choices. Now I am going to eat breakfast, and it will contain meat products – because that is my choice.

  7. Carmelene Siani says:

    I brown the staring veggies (onions, garlic, etc.) in a dry frying pan and add tablespoons of water as needed. The directions for this kind of cooking are in the "Forks Over Knives" cookbook. Thanks for asking, Sharon.

  8. Carmelene Siani says:

    I am now fully aware that to call myself vegan is a misnomer — I am definitely not vegan. I am plant based. It was a mistake in terms that I didn't become aware of until I wrote the article and got the responses that I did. Thank you for bringing it to my attention so kindly! And for the congtratulations!

  9. Carmelene Siani says:

    I appreciate your support Kaeil. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me. xoxoxo

  10. Carmelene Siani says:

    It's funny you should mention it, John because it's absolutely true. Now that I don't eat animal flesh – it seems abhorrent to me to do so — not to mention that the meat industry is just a habit. That's all it is. A dietary habit born out of the days when we were mostly farmers and raised our own food. The slaughter? The waste of resources? I just don't get it any more. It's not like I had some kind of big "spiritual awakening…" It's more like I stepped out of the forest and saw the trees and realized what I was doing by eating meat. Thanks so much for your comments!

  11. Carmelene Siani says:

    To be honest Deb, I think it's just black and white thinking. It's the trend these days. Lol!

  12. Carmelene Siani says:

    I started with "Forks over Knives," Kat. It was my bible for months. Then I moved to "Oh She Glows," and now, I simply go to the grocery store, buy what is on sale, come home and google a "vegan recipe" for whatever I bought. It was a happy adventure, learning a whole new way to cook.

  13. kkoschalk says:

    Great article. I'm a vegan as of 3 months ago. I'd be interested to hear what your staple vegan foods/meals are, or a sample of what you might eat in a day, as it seems whatever you're doing is greatly diminishing the inflammation in your body. I'm just curious as there are so many different versions of vegan diets (i.e. high fat/low carb, high carb/low fat, raw, etc.). Thanks!

  14. Lisa says:

    Healthy oils such as coconut and cold pressed virgin olive oil reduce cholesterol. Your brain needs fats. Cutting oils and fats out entirely is extremely detrimental. I would revisit that one for your husband's sake.

  15. Gerald B. says:

    Well said David! Congratulations Carmelene for your success. I felt this was more of a story of a positive personal experience with a drastic diet change than a crusade for animal rights. Please don’t let the negative comments by hair splitters on such a positive article discourage you or anyone else for that matter.

  16. B. says:

    Thank you for asking, Deb. Veganism is not a religion but an ethical stance that opposes animal exploitation. Since it is a consistent ethical stance, ethical vegans attempt to avoid all products that come from animal exploitation. That is why for ethical vegans it makes a difference whether someone eats 1/3 of non-vegan yoghurt a day or not. Veganism also entails not buying clothes such as leather or wool or silk etc. It is a total shift in how you relate to the world, a philosophy in itself that goes so much further than mere changes in diet and it can be very rewarding.

    That being said, I am very, very happy that Carmelene and other people get great results from an almost exclusively plant-based diet. It's wonderful for them and it's also helpful in reducing animal exploitation.

  17. Carmelene Siani says:

    Sorry for the late response Allie — I don't know if you will even see this. When I sautee veggies or spices I use a dry frying pan and add a tablespoon of water as needed to keep them from sticking to the pan. When I roast veggies in the oven (which is very seldom, I mean very seldom) I use about a teaspoon of olive oil. But I can't remember the last time I roasted veggies in the oven. I follow the cooking method in the "Forks over Knives" cookbook, you may want to look into it if you are interested in no oil eating. Hope this helps. And by the way, check out my article "Gluten: Maybe it's not the Devil.." I address the gluten/inflammation issue in that article. I personally have finally learned that it was not gluten that made me sick – it was the way the poisons in the land when the wheat was grown and the way the flour was milled and stored…. again, thank you for your comments. Hope you see this!

  18. Carmelene Siani says:

    Thank you so much for your comment Trinity — and my apologies for the delayed response. It never occurred to me that people would still be reading this article so I haven't checked for comments. As for what you said about leather shoes, glue, etc. Yes. I with you that not eating meat is a HUGE thing — one step at a time, you can move on to not wearing leather shoes later… (oops. I think there's a pun in there. LOL)!

  19. Carmelene Siani says:

    I know the truth of what you are saying now Amy, and I totally agree with you. Had I only know that when I wrote the article I would have titled it differently! Thanks for taking the time to make a comment.

  20. Carmelene Siani says:

    I totally agree with you Madi. I am in fact, one of those people who wasn't all that "informed" when I wrote this article. Suffice to say that my food coach calls herself a "vegan coach" and so — I went with that. Were I to do it over I would have called myself plant-based, not vegan. Thanks for taking the time to make such a well thought out explanation. My apologies for a delayed response. It never occurred to me to check my inbox since it's been so long since I published the article. In any case, once again, I appreciate your kind remarks.

  21. Carmelene Siani says:

    Thank you so much for your encouraging words yogawithlorilucas. All the best to you! Do you realize how much WATER you have saved the planet by not eating meat for so long. Thank heavens for people like you! xoxoxo

  22. Carmelene Siani says:

    kkoschalk — I don't think I could respond to you here — that's a lot to type! LOL. I can tell you that my bible is "Forks over Knives" and that I have tried about 90% of the recipes in there. Also, remember, I eat yoghurt – so a lot of my meals would not satisfy your vegan lifestyle. Thanks for your comments and questions. I hope the referral to the cookbook helps.

  23. Elena G. says:

    The comments from people who are upset about you saying you’re vegan but eat yogurt are a little over the top. Please.. No one is truly vegan. Think car tires, fireworks, glue in musical instruments and furniture.. the list goes on and on. So for heaven’s sake people need to stop badgering you about a little cup of yogurt. Also… as for the ethics of veganism (which was not addressed by the author but instead commenters)… Tell me more about how ethical it is to use modern day slaves to harvest your holy crops. lol. Anyways.. Glad you found a diet that has been helping you out.

  24. EBONY says:

    I really enjoyed reading your article. My lil sister is Vegan. I don’t know how she does it but she looks fantastic. My sister eats yogurt as well but thats the only animal base food she eats and its made from goat milk (I believe). Keep doing your thing and don’t sweat the black and white thinkers lol good luck on your journey.

  25. guest says:

    I personally believe plant based to be even more strict than Vegan. I define my self as a 90% plant based & 10% nutritarian, because I do eat chicken, turkey & fish occasionally. I am more concerned with the nutritional value in food than anything else. My staple meal is beans, which I have for 1 meal every day. I don't eat any bad carbs, like rices & pastas, stay away from processed high sugar, salt & fat foods. It took me about 1 year to finally get results from what was a struggle to make this lifestyle change, but it was well worth it. I did not do it for religious reasons or because I spent countless hours educating myself on the misery of animals for our consumption. However following the plant based diet has made me more sensitive not just to animals feelings but other human beings too. How many times have you seen people defending animals while being cruel to other human beings? When you read something it is much different from feeling it from lifestyle change. Carmeline comes off as an individual who is very sensitive, much more than the animal lovers that choose to attack her. I say keep up the good work Carmeline.

  26. Sean Lunny says:

    Great article Carmelene and congrats on making those big changes and healing yourself with the change of diet. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable food is once you make the change and how much more different types of food you begin to eat. About the being vegan comments that everyone is making, you’d be considered mostly plant based or vegetarian. You would do much better mentally, physically,emotionally etc if you totally cut out the dairy. You can get Probiotics other places than yogurt and coconut creamer taste better anyway. Plant Based is a diet and veganism is a way of life who eats plant based diet. I’ve been vegan 10 years and I’m still always finding new beans, veggies, grains etc. The one other thing you gain from being vegan is compassion grows! Everyone is born with it but it diminishes because of how we are taught and what is normal to eat and that pets are different than animals you eat. Good luck on your journey and enjoy your new way of life!

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