Be the change you wish to see in the world...

- Gandhi

Monday, December 31, 2012

How I Went Vegan

The new year is a great time to take stock of your life and current choices, reflect on what you want to improve, and set a course for new directions.  My path on a vegan lifestyle took place almost three years ago just after the new year.  The journey has been challenging (not for the reasons you think), but my decision to embark upon it was immediate.  I literally stopped eating any animal products from one night to the next after reading The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone.  My husband was shocked (to say the least) and my kids a bit confused..."Why isn't mommy eating cheese pizza?"  It was the best decision I made, leaving me feeling more energized, healthier, and positive.  The transition may not be easy, but I promise you this: it will be rewarding.  Here's how I did it:

1. Get informed: When I chose to go vegan, I knew right away that I wanted to do it the right way - a plant based diet with whole grains.  I didn't want to make my family the same food and just skip the chicken on my plate.  I was looking for a whole transformation - and not just in my food, but also what I put on my skin and body, in my home, etc.  I needed information.  I immediately started seeing a nutritionist for about 2 months to make sure I was eating the right way and getting the nutrients I needed.  It also introduced me to vegan proteins that I had no familiarity with - tempeh, seitan, tofu, as well as other vegan pantry mainstays like Vegannaise and nutritional yeast that changed my world in yummy ways I never imagined.  Hiring a nutritionist was one of the best things I did and I highly recommend it.

I also read a lot...a whole lot.  Cookbooks, guides, blogs, magazines, websites, you name it.  I wanted to arm myself with information to make sure I understood everything behind the choices I was making. I already mentioned The Kind Diet.  Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Diet and VegNews magazine were two of my other favorites on my reading shelf (and still are).

2. Join a plan: Lucky for me, PCRM's 21-Day Vegan Kickstart was launching right around the time I decided to go vegan.  This wonderful program is free and provided weekly menus and recipes to help me know what to eat.  It was a great way to train me how to plan meals and cook vegan.  This is a great way to jumpstart a vegan change in your life.  PCRM restarts the program on continuous intervals.  Check out the link above to see how many days until the next one starts.

I just learned that Colleen Patrick-Goudreau also has a 30 Day Vegan Challenge Program.  With your subscription (at a minimal cost), you get daily messages, videos, audio podcasts, and recipes.  I recently signed up for this myself to keep expanding my vegan knowledge.  I love it.

Cooking with Trader Joe's Skinny Dish also has a weekly meal plan in the beginning of the book that I think is fantastic.  It helped me with my meal plans at the beginning of my transition.

3. Arm yourself with food and recipes: I found myself with a void the first few months after my transition.  My arsenal of recipes and culinary magazines became useless instantly.  Years of tried and true favorites and familiar sources were no good to me.  My ease and comfort in the kitchen, which usually brought me such joy and passion, were replaced with stress and anxiety.  I had to start from scratch and find a new comfort zone in the kitchen.  I stopped my old subscriptions and signed up for VegNews and Vegetarian Times.  I scoured the net for vegan food blogs (so many!) and signed up for some newsletters that sent weekly recipes.  Last, I browsed Amazon and bought myself some new cookbooks.  I spent the next few months getting into a rhythm, but did find my groove and built up a new arsenal in no time.

4. Connect with others: The most challenging part of becoming vegan for me was the isolation I felt.  I knew no one else in my immediate circle of friends or family who was living the same lifestyle.  When at parties or get togethers, I immediately became interrogated and made to defend my new choice.  At the same time, I was feeling so alive and well that I wanted to share my choice with others, however quickly learning that not everyone was as enthused with the prospect of what a vegan lifestyle could bring.  

I found some groups to connect with and it got better.  It made me feel like I was part of a community and not some "weirdo" that no one understood.  The Kind Life has a great forum for vegs to post questions and help each other.  Neil Barnard's Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) also has a nice community.  

Whatever your path, I encourage you to stay on it.  There are so many resources and groups to help you  be successful.  If you are considering going vegan, I congratulate you and please let me know if I can help you on your journey!