One Small Change
The Verdict on Going Vegan
For the last 31 days I haven’t eaten one speck of beef, poultry, dairy, eggs or honey. I grilled waiters and gave food labels the same focused attention I once gave Playboy as an adolescent. And along the way, I learned about seitan and soy cheese and all the new pseudo-foods developed to fuel the rise of the vegan race.
Now that the experiment is over—excuse me a moment while I dab this spot of gravy off my keyboard—I wish I could say it changed me dramatically. But I didn’t lose any weight, my energy level never flagged and, as far as I can tell, there was no drop in my exercise performance or fitness. Physically, I emerged from this month-long experiment just as I had entered it. But that doesn’t mean I was unaffected. Here are some final observations, a few revelations and, most important, a verdict on what you should keep in mind if you ever attempt to go vegan:
Revelation! My wife, who turned vegan with me, may actually have discovered she’s lactose-intolerant. For years, she’s been bothered by stomach problems and never considered that dairy could be responsible. When she eliminated it from her diet, the stomach grumbling stopped. We’ll see what happens when she gradually reintroduces it and what her doctor says at her next check-up.
Observation: Steve-O, the Jackass star who once put a leech on his eyeball, stapled his scrotum to his thigh, and snorted wasabi, is a vegan. Make of that what you will.
Revelation! My diet may have been making me stupid. After eating a hefty steak, a thick burger, or a hunk of mom’s signature pork-kraut roll, I used to feel like one of those balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But when I was eating vegan, I never felt big, slow, or bloated. I could eat an entire 16-inch cheese-less pizza and still not feel full. Clean, unprocessed, vegan food doesn’t fill you up like traditional fare does because it’s so quickly combusted. Personally, this is great to know (although the thought of a vegan Thanksgiving where all my relatives remain awake is harrowing.)
Observation: To my ears, the word vegan sounds too similar to geek, meek, weak, freak, and a bunch of other beat-that-dork-up terms. I never once felt proud telling anyone, “I’m vegan.” It’s time to give this diet a new name—one with some muscular syllables that commands respect. How about vegivore? I could picture myself (or Arnold) swaggering into a restaurant and demanding, “Is that made with chicken stock?” without feeling the least bit apologetic. Let’s start a movement right here, right now….
Revelation! I actually like my coffee better with vanilla soy milk. Hummus is a far superior bread and sandwich spread than butter or mayo. And, I gotta say—although this is going to sound like sacrilege—I think I prefer pizza without cheese. If you find one with a good crust and a rich sauce and load on plenty of vegetables, it actually tastes better.
Observation: The Food Network needs to showcase more vegan chefs. They’re the real rock stars of the kitchen. It takes far more skill to create great-tasting dishes with wheat meat and almond milk than it does with sirloin and cream. What this country needs is not more Bobby Flay, but a Tofu Iron Chef.
Revelation! Quite a few products in the supermarket “health-food” section aren’t healthy. Since I started examining ingredient lists so closely, I found that even those in vegan-friendly foods are often long and unrecognizable. “I’m not a big fan of veggie hot dogs, patties, cheese and meats,” says Danielle LaFata, MA, RD, CSSD, CPT, a nutritionist and education specialist with Athletes’ Performance. “If you look at all the ingredients in those things…I mean, no! The Asian population, which is one of the healthiest in the world, doesn’t eat veggie burgers or veggie cheese, they eat tofu, miso and tempeh. I think it’s gotten out of hand.”
The Verdict: I am ecstatic about being able to eat fish, tacos, ice cream, cheese, and honey-sweetened bread again. It feels so good to open the refrigerator and pull out ingredients for dinner other than beans, rice, and freezer frost. And I can’t tell you how relieved I am to be able to stop thinking about everything I put in my mouth so intensely. Food had become an adversary, something I was trying to outwit, and that’s just ridiculous.
If you approach veganism solely as a diet then you’re going to find it just as challenging as I did. What’s needed to make it stick is the ethics—a deep-seated compassion and respect for living things that extends to their consumption. In other words, it has to be more than a way to lose weight or get healthy; it has to be a life philosophy. Trust me. If you don’t have that kind of conviction, you’re not going to be able to overcome your bacon addiction.
Despite my struggles, I am not finished with being a vegan, though. I think I will return to it every now and then whenever I’m feeling fat and feel the need to cleanse my system. The discipline it requires, even for a week, is beneficial. And although I lack universal compassion for all living things, I can still make a statement about animal cruelty by limiting my consumption of meats and dairy or choosing brands that at least treat their animals humanely.
So even though I don’t think veganism is for the majority of busy people, you should at least try it. It’ll make you smarter about nutrition and food, more aware of how it all makes you feel, and it’ll reaffirm that you—and not that slice of cheesecake—is in control. Like any type of training, it will make you stronger.
About The Author
Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.