This is something that I don’t often talk about.
…for lots of reasons.
One, because everyone has their own idea of what being a vegan means. For some, it’s the militant animal advocate, while, for others, it means the patchouli-fragranced hippy. I’m not about being put into a box o’ stereotypes.
More importantly, however, I don’t believe that everyone needs to or should be vegan. As a Holistic Health Coach, I’m aware that my personal dietary choices color those of my clients and social media followers, so I tend to stay quiet on the issue. Not that I’m not vocal about loving delicious, real, whole foods. I just don’t want my personal choices to be a determining factor over whether you decide that your choices are “good” or “bad.”
Today is just about my story, why I decided to eat a plant-based diet, and some of the things that I’ve learned about myself and my body since that time.
I officially became vegan on February 14, 2013.
Rather than a celebration, Valentine’s Day dinner marked the beginning of a new adventure. Now, each year, rather than celebrating Valentine’s Day, my husband and I celebrate our “Vega-versary”—the anniversary of going vegan, typically with a decadent and delicious vegan meal at one of our favorite Seattle vegan hot spots.
Unlike many people, our journey into plant-based eating (which is my preferred term, as the word vegan carries with it weight and expectation) began as an experiment in healthy eating. Again, in healthy eating. Believe me, you can do vegan the wrong way (case in point: Oreo cookies are vegan).
Through a combination of supportive and experienced community and new knowledge about animal-product sourcing, we decided to see what it would be like to cook and eat, and eat out, sans animal products. Since then, we’ve learned that our bodies feel better eating a plant-based diet, and that we’re pretty darn happy not consuming animal products.
Here’s what I’ve learned in that time (and some of the things that I’m still learning):
1.) Being vegan brought about some really cool shifts.
When we started our plant-based adventure, the first thing that I noticed is that our fruit and veggie intake went up about 50 percent. Now, I’m not saying that you have to be full-force plant-based, but that particular increase is a good move for anybody. I felt cleaner, stronger, energized. In fact, even my PMS symptoms were minimized. My acne cleared up and my digestion improved. Also, it’s really freaking delicious. It’s made me a better cook and has expanded my palate.
2.) I started learning more about where my food is sourced.
The coolest thing about being plant-based has been all the learning. I’m a knowledge-nerd, and this gave me the perfect reason to research and learn more about where our food comes from, both plant and animal based. My advice? Do your research. Be intentionally informed. And don’t believe everything that you read on the internet.
3.) I don’t have to put myself in the plant-based box.
Truth be told, I don’t eat 100% plant based all of the time. I’d say I’m somewhere around the 99% line, but I don’t keep track. Sometimes, my foray into animal products is intentional, like our anniversary sushi date each year. Sometimes, it’s purely by accident, like that one time we forgot to ask for non-dairy milk in our cappuccinos. Oops. But it’s not about guilt or denial or expectation. It’s about knowing what my body needs. And not getting too wrapped up in the rest.
4.) I probably won’t be vegan for the rest of my life.
I do, however, get to choose what I want to eat. I eat plant-based because my body feels better on a plant-based diet. But there will most likely come a time when my body needs animal products. I might get pregnant, or sick, or just need animal protein. My honey and I have already talked about what we’re willing to eat if and when that time comes. I know what, in my heart, I’ll feel comfortable eating.
5.) I don’t make my friends of family or clients become vegan.
My honey and I have been undeniably lucky. Through this whole process, the majority of our friends and family have been wonderfully supportive. When we became vegan, we decided to be very intentional in making sure that our friends and family knew that our dietary choices are not a judgment of theirs. We’ve had several people in our lives that get defensive (or offensive and rude) when they learn that we are plant-based. My choices are my own and have nothing to do with yours. No, I don’t care if you eat a bacon cheeseburger around me. Darn, it smells delicious! No, I don’t want to eat it. I want you to eat well to live well in all of your beautiful uniqueness. That’s it. No judgment here.
6.) But I do encourage them to learn more and try eating plant-based every once in a while.
Our decision to go plant-based was four-fold: healthy eating + animal advocacy + environmental protection + personal choice. It was a beautiful blend of wellness and eating what our souls felt good eating. We wanted our dietary choices to be good for our bodies and our world. On the wellness and environmental fronts, researchers continue to find that cutting back on meat and dairy can have a seriously positive effect on your health and that it’s one of the most effective ways to cut back on emissions responsible for climate change.
When my husband and I decided to begin our plant-based adventure over two years ago, we went cold turkey. We were all in. Since then, I’ve expanded my palate and gained a greater appreciation for how my body works in tandem with what I’m feeding it. I’ve finally learned how to cook and know, for the most part, where and how my food is sourced. But the most important thing that I’ve learned? That I don’t need to be limited or defined by a label.
Author: Kate McCarthy
Editor: Travis May
Image: via the author, from Death to the Stock Photo, used with permission