How changing up my diet changed my health, my mindset, and my views on our food system.
Let me start by making one thing perfectly clear: I do not think veganism is the key to all issues and problems. However, I have experienced so many benefits that I attribute to going vegan, and that’s important to talk about. Let’s get into it!
I went vegetarian when I was a teenager. Did I know how to do it correctly? Absolutely not. I didn’t meet my protein intake, I was consuming so much dairy that my stomach ached, and I didn’t really have a passion for it – I was mostly doing it because it seemed edgy and different (and what teenager doesn’t want to be edgy?) I talked about my early vegetarian days and my plant-based journey here, so check that out for an in-depth back story.
When I started my plant-based journey, it was a big shift for my mind and body. Grabbing a cheese stick on the go was no longer a norm. Grilling burgers with my family became nonexistent. My stomach was constantly bloating from the increased fiber intake. Overall, the first month or two were not glamorous. With time, however, I started to see the benefits that a plant-based diet can provide, so if you’re going plant-based, stick it out! There is a light at the end of the tunnel, I promise.
I am truly exposing myself here. The photo on the left is me, aged 18, in the midst of my freshman year of college. I was no longer vegetarian at this point, was consuming endless amounts of pizza and ranch from the dining hall, and also drinking alcohol multiple times a week. I hit an all time low physically (and mentally.)
When I came home that winter break was when it really hit me; I looked in the mirror and no longer recognized myself. I was still exercising most days of the week, but my diet was so full of trans fat and dairy products that I was gaining weight. I went vegetarian the day after I took this photo, determined to get back on my plant-based journey for my physical well-being.
Thankfully, I found my groove and embraced the plant-based lifestyle. I started cutting out dairy products as the months went by, and soon enough, I was almost fully vegan and was losing weight. To be super clear, I don’t recommend going vegan as a diet (if you cannot stick to a diet long term, it will most likely fail.) You can eat a healthy diet with animal products, but for me, I did not have the correct balance. Eating plant-based was how I felt my best, it was not just about dropping extra pounds (that was just a nice bonus.) Let’s get into all of the physical benefits, not just losing weight.
1. Increased Energy Levels
Once I started feeding my body the correct caloric intake and protein, I felt a dramatic shift in my energy. This took time, don’t get me wrong, but it’s something I notice and appreciate daily now. Increased energy on a plant-based diet can be for many reasons, including cutting out processed meats and cheeses (full of toxins and chemicals that does not fuel the body), eating more fruits and vegetables (easier to digest, less energy used), consuming a wider range of healthy foods (improving the gut microbiome), and more.
In some of my nutrition courses at college, I learned that many plant-based foods (oats, fruits, vegetables) contain high amounts of serotonin, melatonin, and tryptophan, increasing the amount, and the quality, of sleep you get each night, which in turn helps energy levels. So if you struggle to sleep at night, this might help you!
Many athletes have also made the switch to a plant-based for the physical benefits and increased energy levels, such as Venus Williams, Colin Kaepernick, and Kyrie Irving (the face of Beyond Meat.) Don’t believe me? Watch “The Game Changers” on Netflix.
2. Improved Skin Health
My skin was, and sometimes still is, my biggest insecurity. Having acne is no fun, and for me, a lot of it was linked to what I was putting into my body. I was getting deep, cystic zits that made my entire face ache, and I had tried nearly every acne medication under the sun. This is when I took a more holistic approach and focused on my diet and finally found the relief I was desperately needing.
When I ate dairy, my skin was at its lowest point. In a recent study, it was proven that those with higher dairy intakes had an increase in acne and inflammation. For my acne, cutting out dairy was one of the best things I have ever done. I also began researching how food(s) can help clear acne, and I implemented numerous changes: I ate more fruits and vegetables for the antioxidants. I supplemented B12 and iron like it was my day job to avoid nutrient deficiencies (these link to acne!) I stopped eating overly processed foods and sugars (I still eat them in moderation, but limiting these has helped my skin look and feel amazing.) I started seed cycling (this helps balance hormones. Read about it here.) Overall, I just ate healthier and realized that I truly am what I eat, resulting in less acne and more glowing skin!
3. Disease Prevention
Although I am not currently experiencing the benefits, I know I am working to prevent disease everyday through my dietary choices.
As someone who has a family history of high blood pressure, I made it my sole mission to never let this happen to me. By following a plant-based diet, I am encouraging low-blood pressure by consuming less cholesterol. I am eating less carginogens (goodbye, red meat!) I am decreasing my chances of getting heart disease (by a whopping 45%!) I am putting my current, and future, health at the top of my priorities.
I know future me will be thanking present day me for eating plant-based!
1. Less Stress and Anxiety
Prior to going plant-based, I had no idea that what I was eating could directly impact my mental health. When I got to college, I was so thankful I made the change to plant-based eating as I sat through a nutrition course and learned how arachidonic acid (found in eggs and chicken) raises cortisol and increases inflammation. In recent years, studies have found that vegans are less stressed compared to their non-vegan counterparts. So although this may not be something I am cognitively aware of each day, it’s refreshing to know my diet is supporting a healthy brain.
By stepping back and focusing on my diet, I was able to really focus on nutrients, minerals, and all of the benefits that eating plants can give us. Allowing myself to re-learn what a healthy diet means to me, I was better able to make choices that made me feel good mentally and physically. As someone who has struggled with disordered eating in the past, eating plant-based allowed me to fully embrace my body and show it the love it deserves, helping break disordered eating habits.
3. A Sense of Community
As first, going vegan sounded scary because most of the people around me were meat eaters. Being the odd one out can be intimidating! However, in time, I found friends who shared the same values as me. I joined facebook pages for vegans. I started meeting new people at vegan/vegetarian restaurants. That sense of belonging is what kept me going for awhile, and now I have so many vegan friends that we can cook, bake, and eat together with no restrictions.
Plus, if you are someone who likes to be involved in the community, there are often vegan activist groups in major cities that run protests, find ways to give back to the animal community, and promote veganism! I highly recommend getting involved to increase your sense of community and support.
For those of you who don’t recognize this calf, let me introduce you to Calf 269. He was born in Israel and, once he grew to the appropriate size, was sent to the slaughterhouse for veal. Luckily for him, animal activist rescued him the day before his slaughter date in 2013. The 269 Activism group started once this happened, and they use their voices, and actions, to convey that eating a living animal is wrong, and the cruelty that face during their lives needs to be stopped.
Hearing this story as a meat eater for the first time brought me to tears. How could I possibly claim to love animals but continue to support cruel practices and eat them? The bottom line, I couldn’t. Going vegan for me is so much more than a diet for this reason; animals have souls, and I cannot morally consume one without consuming it’s soul (which has suffered immensely.)
Overall, veganism has made me feel connected to animals in a way that I never had before. I see cows as gentle animals, not milk machines. I see pigs as playful, not bacon. I put all animals on the same level as cats and dogs. I am their ally, and they are mine.
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