Setting healthy goals and turning to a vegan diet

I’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile now and as we have just entered a new year, it seems a great time to talk about health goals and veganism.

Every year, one of the most common goals I see being set is to “become healthy.” Seeing as getting healthy is a long process for almost anyone, that’s an entirely too broad of a statement or goal and it can be really overwhelming to set yourself up like that. I find it’s better to set goals throughout the year as you replace one bad habit with a better healthy one.

There are so many reasons to be vegan and I am passionate about all of them (environmental, health and ethical reasons) but for the purpose of this post, I’ll keep it to how transitioning to a vegan plant based lifestyle can be done with ease.

Most of my readers know that I became vegetarian as a child and a couple of years ago went vegan. A common misconception is that a vegetarian has a much easier go at getting to a healthy mindset and becoming vegan. Looking back, as a vegetarian, I can see a lot of the habits I thought were healthy were really just slightly healthier than a SAD (Standard American Diet) lifestyle. Most of my meals revolved around cheese.

Cheese contains saturated fats and can lead to diabetes and heart disease. To say nothing for the fact that cheese can contain pus from cow’s bladder infections and that cheese can even be addicting! So, dairy had to go, in order for me to be healthy. I know my omnivore friends will say “I couldn’t ever give up cheese,” because I certainly said the same sentence to myself and others before I finally made the decision to educate myself and give it up for good. In fact, ask any vegan and I’m sure they will tell you they said the same thing!

I am aware that omnivores and many vegetarians think a vegan plant based diet is extreme. Ground flax in place of eggs when baking? Chugging kombucha? Almond based cheeses and milks? “Buddha bowls?”

It can all seem really intimidating and like vegans are some overly big health fanatics that scrutinize every bite they take. That isn’t really true, of course, of most vegans. Actually all of those “weird” healthy habits were most likely picked up over time when they were replacing one bad habit with a healthy one. For instance, I was still chugging Diet Coke about a year and half ago when my sister mentioned she gave her Diet Coke habit up because of how horrible it is for our bodies. Everyone knows Diet Coke is terrible for you but it was the last truly bad habit I had leftover. I decided to give it up, too. I turned to lemon water and carrot juice and eventually added kombucha as one of my daily drinks, as well. I figured, if I’m going to give up something awful, I might as well experiment with drinks that are actually beneficial to enjoy it’s in place.

That’s really how most things go for me, as far as getting healthier. It’s just a constant transition to healthier habits that will ultimately lead to a completely healthy lifestyle. When you’re going into the new year with a goal of “becoming healthy,” it’s going to be easier (and more realistic!) if you tweak that to “becoming healthier.”

So, going vegan. Once you make the choice that you’re going to give up meat, dairy and eggs, you should set some small goals for yourself to keep your body healthy so you’re not feeling overwhelmed with every little decision you make.

In the beginning you might find meat and cheese replacement products to be a lifesaver and get you through the transition stage, but those things aren’t always the best for you either (even though so many of those products are absolutely DELICIOUS). One of the goals I set for myself when I first went vegan was to stop calorie counting. Not altogether, but to stop counting calories when it came to fruits and vegetables. So I might have eaten oil-free roasted veggies several times in a day, along with a large fruit smoothie, some mixed berries as a snack, and a midnight baked potato. That was in addition to prepackaged vegan goods I would prepare. The point was not to go crazy on the pre-packaged vegan foods, keeping those to a minimum, and to make sure I was getting most of my fuel from produce.

It’s a really freeing thing when you stop worrying about every single bite you take, and when you’re filling up on fresh fruits and vegetables you’re going to feel better mentally and physically.

All too often I see newer vegans counting calories clear down to steamed broccoli on their plate. I beg you not to do this because as a vegan, you will NEED to eat more food than you did as an omnivore or vegetarian. Which brings me to another point. When you fill your plate up as a vegetarian or omnivore, you go easy on the sides because those calories add up fast when those sides are loaded with butter and cheese. Without all that dairy weighing your sides down, just go crazy with it. Don’t let yourself be hungry! Fill up on those baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, roasted zucchini and rice. Oh, and btw, now you’ve created a “Buddha bowl!”

Another thing that can seem extreme for many Americans is the thought of eating out less. We have busy, hectic stressful lives and limited time to cook. It’s just so convenient to order a pizza or swing through a fast food drive-through on your way home from a busy day. This is one habit that just has to go if you want to be healthier. For most people on a vegan diet, it’s also necessary to stop this routine, as most of us don’t live in cities with easy access to vegan cafes.

There are tons of weekly vegan food prep sources out there if that kind of thing appeals to you. I’ve taken a looser approach and every couple of days when I get time to cook, I make 2 or more dishes that keep well in the fridge for 4 days up to a week. The stress is completely off when you have healthy pre-made dishes waiting for you to heat up when you get home. Try to have at least one or two grains available (quinoa, rice, pastas) and pre-soaked or rinsed beans in the fridge. Once you have a grain and a protein, adding vegetables can take just a few minutes.

I know some of the common questions that come with a blog post like this are “But what about your protein?” Or “what about vitamin b12?”

According to the Mayo Clinic, most Americans get twice the amount of protein we need. The diet industry will have you believing we all need a massive amount of protein to get through the day. That simply isn’t true. Plant have all the protein you need.

As far as vitamin b12, I would love to do a blog post on that alone in the future. I do take a liquid form of plant based vitamin b12 and feel that everyone-vegan or not- should do the same. Low vitamin b12 levels is a pretty common issue, and seeing as how most people aren’t vegan, most of those deficiencies are coming from people with an omnivore diet anyway.

I’d love to hear from my readers and invite you to join in on the conversation in the comments below. I’ll be ending this post by suggesting some documentaries (many are on Netflix, Amazon prime or YouTube) that will help you make the best choice for your health, morals and our environment.

Oh and.. Have a wonderful and healthy 2018!

Health based documentaries:

•What the Health

• Forks over Knives

Environmental:

• Cowspiracy

Ethical/animal rights:

• Earthlings