Pile of Greens

Since mid-January, I’ve been eating a plant-based diet. Three months later, I want to reflect on some thoughts I’ve had since going vegan.

The Good

Let’s start with the good. First and foremost, this decision has been one of the best things my wife and I have done. The benefits of eating this way far outweigh any bad that can be associated with it.

Within the first month and a half I dropped twenty pounds. I couldn’t believe how fast the fat melted off my body and I felt more energized. I couldn’t imagine how much better I felt overall, simply from changing how I ate. I had even slacked off on my workouts for a while, so I can wholly attribute the weight loss to the change in diet.

With that, I have become a lot more conscientious about the food I put in my body. While at the grocery store, I now primarily shop on the outside of the store, where the fresh produce is. When I venture into the inner aisles, I am careful to read labels to see what’s in the package. I now look for the vegan symbol and make sure I know what is going in my body.

Another benefit has been finding my new favorite grocery store: Natural Grocers. Even though their prices are expensive for some things, they have just about everything we need and want for living this lifestyle. Now, we buy a lot of our specialty items (and vitamins) from there, while getting our produce at our regular grocery store.

As a whole, I feel better about what I’m eating and putting in my body, and that’s a good thing.

The Bad

For as much good as I’ve found in eating a plant-based diet, there are some drawbacks.

Without a doubt, the first drawback is the price. Eating this way is expensive! Our bi-weekly grocery budget has grown by a third. Before the change, we would typically spend about $150 every two weeks on groceries. Now we are spending more than $200. Fresh food is more expensive than its boxed and preservative-laden counterpart. But, the way I see it, I’ll either pay for it now or later, so might as well pay the cost now. Eating healthier should mean fewer doctors visits and need for medications. Plus, it’ll prevent health complications later in life that result from poor dietary habits that can prove costly or life-threatening. So, I’ll take spending more on food any day, even if it hurts my budget in the short term.

In addition to the grocery bill, there are also more frequent grocery store visits. Since more of our foods are fresh, we have to eat them faster and keep less of it in the house, which means purchasing more often.

Next up is the lack of convenience. When you’re a vegan, you can’t just stop wherever you want to grab a quick bite to eat. Nearly every food purchase is a well thought out and planned process, including “fast food.” This is particularly a pain on those nights when Jaimie and I are tired and neither of us wants to cook a meal. We either have to cook it anyway (the best option), or choose from one of our limited dining out options. But, the biggest issue is when on a road trip, or the like, when you don’t have much control over what’s available, unless you’re smart enough to plan ahead.

Then, of course, there are the looks from friends and family. Not that big of a deal, but you do sometimes feel like the oddball who has to miss out on things.

Not All Vegan Food is Created Alike

Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for you. This is a lesson I’ve learned and am doing my best to break.

You see, when you leave a diet full of meat, one of the first things you do is find all the meat alternatives or vegan foods that look like meat. In doing so, I quickly befriended chick’n patties, meatless burgers, meatless ground beef, breakfast saus’age patties, soy chorizo, and vegan “pepperoni” pizza. All of these things are legitimately vegan, but that doesn’t mean they are “good” for me.

Before finding these items, everything I ate was fresh and freshly prepared. Now, I find myself taking the easy way out more often than I’d like by throwing a patty in the oven and eating a burger or chick’n sandwich. While these are good to have in moderation, I need to do a better job of preparing meals with fresh ingredients that are going to be better for me. It doesn’t make sense to go vegan and still eat just as poorly as before because I choose convenience over intentionality.

Vegetarian Cheats

Okay, so let’s be real. I haven’t eaten completely vegan over these last three months. For the first month or so, sure. I was 100% on board and didn’t cheat at all, for better or worse. But, as time has gone on, I’ve slacked off a bit on my plant-based ways.

But, it’s not all bad. When I’ve cheated, I’ve kept it vegetarian. I’ve been able to successfully avoid meat (more on that in a bit), and I haven’t really missed it. Sure, I crave a burger or bacon on occasion, but I’m fine once the craving passes. But, with a pregnant wife whose appetite is what it is, sometimes I’ll cave and grab some mozzarella sticks from Sonic while picking up a burger for her. But, it’s things like that and I don’t feel bad about it. I feel like if my cheating is vegetarian, I can’t complain too much. But the fast food, is another story.

The Weekend I Stopped Being Vegan

Now, back to the meat for a minute. This weekend was my anniversary weekend. My wife and I have been married two years. And this weekend I finally caved and ate meat. But, it’s not all bad or a total loss. I knowingly made the decision and did so with purpose.

First was Friday night, the day of our anniversary. My wife had a rough day of pregnancy and our dinner plans got canned. So, we ordered in some Thai food. My go to dish is the fried rice with chicken. I could’ve gotten tofu or veggies, but I decided to get my usual. I figured it was my anniversary and I could splurge and live a little. The dish was great, as always, but the chicken was not as appealing to me. I ate everything in the bowl, but left more than half the chicken. It tasted fine, but the chicken had little appeal to me.

Then there was Saturday afternoon. Jaimie really wanted Cracker Barrel, so we went as a family. Unfortunately, unless you’re getting a veggie plate, nothing else on the menu is vegetarian. So, again, I opted to go for one of my favorites: grilled catfish. Like the chicken, the catfish was good, but not satisfying. I could have lived without it. My tastebuds enjoyed the fries, mac & cheese, and broccoli far more than the fish.

Finally, there was tonight. I didn’t feel like fixing dinner, so I ordered a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut. This was by far the most satisfying meat dish I’d eaten all weekend. I had to hold back from eating the entire pizza. It was that good!

The biggest lesson I learned in eating meat this weekend is this: I’m okay with having meat on occasion. I just didn’t miss meat like I thought I would. My primary day-to-day diet will continue to be vegan with the occasional vegetarian cheat. But, a handful of times a year I will allow myself to eat meat in small portions with moderation.

Back to Vegan

Tomorrow I go back to my plant-based ways. This will be good because my weight loss has plateaued and I need to amp up my workouts. And I know my diet will play a key role in my continued success. It was fun to experiment with meat and learn some valuable lessons, but I like the thought of being more aware of what I consume.

While I enjoy food and find joy in eating it, I must remember that first and foremost it is fuel.

Will I champion a vegan lifestyle and shame others who don’t eat this way? No. It’s a decision my family has made, and we will share the benefits with others; but, we will not force our beliefs on anyone. It’s like sharing my faith. Yes, I firmly believe you should repent and place your faith in Jesus Christ and I will do my best to explain why you should, but I can’t & won’t force you to change or do anything you don’t want to do. The same is true of my vegan lifestyle.

So, until next time, happy eating!