One of my big 2020 new year’s resolutionswas to go vegan. Starting January 1st, I began transitioning from a mostly vegetarian/pescatarian diet to a vegan one using the pantry method, aka eating my way through the non-vegan foods in my fridge and cabinets and replacing them with vegan foods. The goal – to transition by Jan 31st – was a success.
How am I doing almost 6 months into 2020? There have been successes, setbacks and learning curves. Going vegan was mostly painless for me but it wasn’t necessarily easy. Here are 5 challenges to my vegan resolve and how I handled them. Maybe you’ve faced the same ones.
#1 – Cravings
Many new vegans go into withdrawal when they say goodbye to cheese and ice cream. All dairy, but especially cheese, contains casein which breaks down into morphine-like chemicals that bind to your opiate receptors. That’s why we love it so much. For the most part, my dairy cravings were pretty mild but I definitely wanted cheese now and again.
I’m not someone who will make a cheese replacement out of cashews or drop $6 for maybe 8 slices of vegan “cheese.” To cope with my cheese cravings, I made sure I had snacks like salsa and guacamole on hand for those moments. Peanut butter snacks also worked amazingly well.
The trick was to plan ahead. Anything less was planning to fail. Cravings are a predictable result of changing our diets so it’s important to set ourselves up for success by having solutions ready when the cravings strike.
#2 – Hunger Pangs
The thing that took me most by surprise was the hunger pangs that started hitting me a couple of weeks into being full vegan. I’d been mostly vegetarian for several months and had a very balanced diet that covered all the whole food categories and kept me sated. Suddenly I was hungry all the time and eating what seemed like 10 meals a day. That was really frustrating, not to mention annoying.
A vegan friend suggested eating larger meal servings, which is what ultimately worked for me. It took some adjusting to because I wasn’t used to larger servings. Basically I ate 1.5 times as much at nearly each main meal as before and that brought an end to the hunger pangs without destroying my waistline.
Another filling food I’m eating as a staple these days is the humble potato. I find that 1-2 medium potatoes fills me up and dishes made with potatoes have taken center stage, especially at dinner time. A filling potato dish stops hunger from re-emerging 30 minutes or even a couple of hours later. The effect definitely lasts a while, offering good protection against wanting an evening or late night snack.
I typically have a bean dish everyday – usually lunch – and the addition of frequent potato-based dinners makes a wonderful combo for staying satisfied and full throughout the day.
#3 – Replacing Yogurt
As a vegetarian/pescatarian running an Airbnb, I ate a lot of dairy. I kept a quart of milk on hand for guests but usually wound up making yogurt and spreadable soft cheese with it. Yogurt bowls with nuts and fruit was a staple breakfast, with a quick breakfast being plain Cheerios with banana and milk. I’d snack on whole grain crackers with the homemade cheese spread and honey. With all that taken out, I had to scramble to find something I actually liked and wanted to eat 4-5 mornings out of 7 and to replace a favorite snack.
I like chia pudding but don’t always want to make it ahead of time. Nor on a cold winter morning did I want it. Typically I would have gone for an egg dish but now it and my easy yogurt breakfasts were gone. Having 2 staple breakfasts vanish was a real adjustment. We typically eat the same handfuls of meals each week and I had developed favorite rotations I had to change.
I’d never been a fan of tofu. Modern tofu usually includes a number of chemicals and soy, its main ingredient, is one of the biggest GMO’d foods out there. I finally caved and started making scrambled tofu with turmeric and a side of Field Roast vegan sausage. While this upped my processed food consumption, it also saved breakfast and kept me vegan. I treat my non-GMO tofu like eggs and eat them on whole grain crackers with guacamole or scramble them with cabbage. I usually top both dishes with fortified nutritional yeast.
I’m not exactly happy that many of my breakfast meals contain more processed foods and chemicals but it’s helped greatly with transitioning until I can find something healthier that I like to make and eat regularly.
#4 – Eggs
Eggs have been the hardest thing to give up. They are a versatile complete protein and they are a main ingredient in mayo, my favorite condiment for making all sorts of sauces and in cooking things like veggie fritters.
Finding replacements have been hit or miss. Mostly I’ve just had to find new recipes – like eating scrambled tofu as mentioned earlier in order to have a protein-based breakfast (I’m too lazy to prep beans consistently). In baking, I find coconut milk works well as an egg replacer. Now I find myself eating more potato dishes at the times I might have made an egg dish.
#5 – Relapses
Let’s be real. Sometimes I cheat. While I haven’t eaten meat since the January weaning off phase, I have had a little dairy and a handful of eggs. In the scheme of things, they are minuscule amounts.
Most of the relapses dealt with eating my way through the remnants of guest food in the wake of Covid-19 ending my Airbnb business until saner times. I had milk, butter and cream cheese on hand and I ate my way through them, savoring every bite. I still have some butter left that I tap now and again but that is maybe a once a week indulgence until it’s gone.
I’ve also ordered pizza twice this year – eating both gluten-heavy and cheesy foods that usually make me feel a bit ill afterwards and ends any interest in ordering again for another 3-6 months.
The other slip was making a couple of baked goods with eggs and having two breakfasts of eggs Benedict or boiled eggs.
A purist might be horrified but since I’m basically 6 months in and these are my “sins”, I’ll take them. No one’s perfect and rather than throw in the towel, I move forward and work to find ways to find more recipes and decadent treats that are vegan. This is the all important arsenal that keeps me happy and full and feeling like I’m not missing out on foods I used to love. When I’m armed and busy with good vegan foods, I don’t have time for my old ways.
For many people who eventually quit, what makes becoming vegan unbearable is thinking about all the old foods they miss and can’t have. They see being vegan as a state of deprivation. One of my strengths is problem solving with an eye on moving forward. Rather than “miss” old foods, I celebrate the opportunity to find new loves. Going vegan becomes an adventure to be explored.
Will I stay vegan for life? I can’t say but it’s definitely my goal to be vegan for 2020. Despite a few slips, I consider myself vegan. I don’t shop for non-vegan foods and am always looking for new real food recipes that are plant-based. For me, real food is my true nutritional goal and as my garden produces more and more, I’ll be too busy enjoying my veggie harvest to have time for things like dairy, let alone anything else that’s an animal product. That’s the real win.
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