In 2012, I set out on a 30 day Vegan challenge. I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about.
Would I have crazy energy?
Would my digestion be out of this world?
Would my hair glow and the world sing a song as I walked into a room?
Maybe you’ve considered becoming a plant based athlete based on a friends experience or some of the great new info out there, or simply because you made it a New Year’s resolution try new things for health or the waist line. To help you out, I’m updating and republishing some of the best advice long time vegans had during that 30 day challenge.
Going through these posts, also reminded me how much I learned during that time about food! I haven’t remained vegan, but it certainly gave me a lot of new food options.
- It’s easier than you think to get enough plant based protein
- Eating tons of fresh produce feels really good
- It takes planning, but isn’t terribly hard to turn almost any meal Vegan
- Leaning in to the change is much easier than an overnight switch – start by removing red meat, then dairy, then eggs and so on. (depending on your personality)
Tips for the Transition
A number of my friends also provided some initial tips on how to make the transition a little more smoothly and without any guilt if you have a slip up.
Use Fake Meat
While the ideal solution long term is to focus on whole foods, these are a great way to switch from meat based meals and ensure you are getting enough protein as you figure out new meals.
Listen to Your Body
As with changing your exercise patterns, changing your diet can be an adjustment. Early in my veggie days, I found myself craving hamburgers and quickly learned that was my body telling me I needed to get more iron into my diet.
Understand Being Plant Based
People often decide to eliminate animal products, without thinking it through, especially when it comes to nutrients. Being vegetarian isn’t as simple as just cutting out meat, you need to get protein and iron elsewhere, and you also need to figure out what will make you feel full without piling on the carbs!
Tell your Friends
Then tell them again. Eating out can be a challenge for vegetarians, especially in small towns or when eating at a friend’s house. Don’t expect your friends to pick up on a comment you dropped in a conversation weeks ago when you are heading over for dinner. Remind them at the time of the invite of exactly what you can eat. It never hurts to plan ahead and bring something!
Depending on your personality, it could be better to go cold turkey or ease in to it.
Start by having vegetarian meals several times a week, which will help you build up a base of favorite meat-free recipes. Or if your goal is to become a vegan, you could start by cutting out all meat, then slowly cutting out dairy, egg and honey products. Little steps give you time to adjust and create a lifelong way of eating.
Experiment and find things you love!
Try prepared foods at salad bars or grocery stores like Whole Foods to find what you like, and to get inspired for ideas. You may surprise yourself and enjoy foods you didn’t expect to, like tofu or eggplant. Pinterest has made it easier than ever to find ideas!
Keep it Clean
Cutting out meat and/or dairy does not necessarily equal a healthier diet!When many people first begin cutting out animal products, they lean on processed foods to fill the void. Use as many fresh, unprocessed ingredients as possible, and be careful to include plenty of protein in the forms of lentils, beans, nuts, eggs, etc to stay satisfied.
Answering Common Questions
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of questions about my eating style (veggie heavy, no dairy), but my friends who have committed to the long term Vegan lifestyle seem to be bombarded.
Here are some of the top questions and their responses to help ease your way. Following is a summary of the responses I received from my long time vegan friends, including Helen who is a mom and multi-time Ironman finisher.
Can you go out to eat?
Not only are your friends wondering what the heck you’ll eat, but truth be told they feel guilty eating a juicy burger in front of you. First you need to let them know you respect their choices. Next….
Do some pre-planning
- Check restaurants online menu to see what can be adapted for you
- Don’t stress about asking the waiter for a change, you’re the paying customer
- Every once in awhile you may be stuck with a blah side salad, which just meas more room for vegan ice cream later
What do you eat?
While the quickest answer would be to say, I eat what you think is a side dish. The best way to answer this question is to think of some dishes your friends and family love, then describe your vegan version using words like filling, delicious, and scrumptious.
You need them to understand that you enjoy your way of eating, you aren’t missing out on flavors and you feel really good. Talk to them about switching up your diet based on the season because you can buy great locally grown produce giving you way more variety than most people have.
Where do you get protein?
Protein has become a hot topic due to the Paleo diet, but the truth is most RD’s say we’re getting plenty. Vegans can easily find it in tons of vegetables, beans, edamame, hummus, tempeh, quinoa, eggplant, mushrooms and avocado.
Examples: a cup of broccoli has 4 grams, a cup of vegetarian baked beans has 12.
Can you do distance events and be healthy?
Interestingly a growing number of pro athletes that are vegan or vegetarian, like Scott Jurek and Michael Arnstein (ultra runners). Carl Lewis (sprinter), Dave Scott (Ironman) and Rich Roll (Ultra/Ironman). None of these athletes seem to be protein deficient and I’m sure they do a whole lot more training than we ever will!Any athlete needs to spend a little time focusing on getting enough protein and nutrients, regardless of whether you’re plant based. One potential issue for Vegan runners who are focused on whole foods is a low calorie count, which may not provide enough energy for your runs.
Add in more nuts, vegan protein powders or add a little more to each meal to keep your body fueled.
It takes some work initially to change to this kind of diet.
Spend a little more time planning meals to ensure you don’t default to packaged foods at the store.
As I said at the beginning I really think this challenge is a GREAT way to learn some new healthier, “plant strong” meals.
If it is too hard to go 100% Vegan then maybe set certain days during the week where you’ll eat vegetarian. There are endless medical statistics about reducing the likeliness of certain diseases, lower body weight and less illness in those who eat a more heavily plant based diet.
Why can’t you eat meat?
Ahhh this is the real crux of what most people want to know. Many people don’t buy in to the idea that there are some massive health benefits, so it’s up to you how far down the rabbit hole you want to go.
You can explain you’re ethical reasons, the environmental impact and the health reasons, but they may not really hear you. It’s a little like when people talk politics, they’re tuned in to their own ideas.
Instead, some more general ways to explain it
-Not only do I maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle without the meat, but the extra vegetables help me to recover faster for better training.
-If I can get all the nutrients I need through plants, then I’d prefer to do that.
– Studies have shown dairy produced by cows or any other mammal, are really meant for their babies to continue growing into large animals…and for most of us that’s not the goal!
The 21-Day Essential Guide to Healing Your Mind, Body and Spirit by Kathy Freston – I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I started reading it at the beginning of January when I was choosing to make some major shifts in my food choices after the holidays. Kathy tackles the process with great detail, emotional support and ongoing tips to help you lean in to a new lifestyle without criticism or fear.
No Meat Athlete – He’s a long time runner dedicated to sharing the plant based life, who has helped create a great running community for vegans that need some support.
Rich Roll – He frequently has Vegan athletes on the podcast and recently released a new book called the Plantpower.