Thinking of switching to a vegan diet? Nutritionist Jenna Zoe lets us in on the highs, lows and status quo of adopting a plant based lifestyle
If you've ever considered going vegan, I have some great news for you: it has never been easier to do than it is today. Perhaps most importantly, veganism is now cool. If you even have the slightest hunch that it could work for you, take advantage of the fact that there's no stigma attached to it and just try it out.
When I went vegan a few years ago, there were no hip healthy eateries. No sugar-free chocolate bars. And the only non-dairy milk was of the soy variety. London didn't even have a Whole Foods yet. After having spent a year in New York where chicken tasted like breast implant to me, I started eating less meat and became curious about what full veganism would feel like. So I decided to conduct a month-long experiment of no meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs. I never expected it, but eating a plant-based diet felt like what my body was designed to do. I slept better, my chronic acne cleared up, my digestion improved, and I felt lighter. I was a convert.
That's not to say that it didn't come with its challenges, of course it did. But if you see everything as a learning curve you only need to face the challenge a few times before figuring out a way round it. People always ask me how I make it so easy, so here are some of my favourite tricks that I hope will help you too if you're considering trying vegan eating for yourself.
Ease into it
Some people feel like they need to go all-out vegan or it doesn't 'count', but that’s just not true. In fact, the all-or-nothing approach often sets you up for a massive backfire, so I usually advise people to lean into it instead. You can get most of the benefits just by centring your meals around fresh produce.
Figure out your 'why'
If you're secretly hoping veganism will be an expressway to weight loss, it won't be sustainable long term. It won't fix your body, or your emotional relationship with food, but it just might feel like the most natural way for you to fuel yourself and feel your best.
If feeling your best is always your 'why', you can't really go wrong as you will always make empowering lifestyle decisions. Trying out veganism is just a tool to help you get one step closer to becoming your most balanced, thriving self. It doesn't matter if a vegan diet ends up becoming your final stop on the road of self-discovery, or just a temporary detour that helped you know yourself better. Empower yourself first, then experiment.
Get out of the restriction mindset
When we're struggling with body image, it's easy to mask our issues behind the guise of eating super healthy. When I would be feeling less than great about myself, I would tell myself that a few days of green juice for breakfast, fruit for lunch and zucchini noodles for dinner would fix my problems. When you're eating mostly natural foods, you don't have to be so conscious about calories, because your body has a great way of self-regulating its energy needs.
Don't use force
If there's one thing I now know for sure, it's that all the willpower in the world can't override the body's innate wisdom. Chronically under-fuelling our bodies drives us to binge later on, slows our metabolism, and let's be real, it's a form of self-loathing made manifest. Respect your body enough to give it the fuel it needs and try to listen to its innate wisdom - you are your own best guru. Never impose arbitrary rules on your body just because some guru said it was the best thing to do.
Just because it's vegan, doesn't mean it's healthy
If I could save you from one of the biggest mistakes I made on my vegan journey, it's this one. Vegan brownies and dairy free ice creams might contain healthier ingredients than their omnivorous counterparts, but that doesn't mean they will add to your overall health. Those things are still treats, and please don't let anyone convince you it's ok to gorge on anything, no matter how good for you it is. The gorging in itself is not a kind way to treat our bodies and ourselves.
Narrow it down
The range of vegan foods is now so big that at the beginning you might end up being more confused as to what you should eat. Grains or no grains? High carb or high fat? Is fruit ok?
My advice is to let your tastebuds dictate your choices. Get to know your favourite vegan foods so that you can always have a few staples on hand that sound good to you. A surefire way to fail at any lifestyle change is to make yourself eat things you don't look forward. So make it delicious, and make it exciting.
Don't self-deprecate or be apologetic
Many people are apprehensive about the judgment and negative comments they might receive from friends and family when trying veganism. Truthfully though, people pick up on your energy and their behaviour follows yours. If you feel confident and secure in your decisions, and don't make a big deal of it, most people won't even notice. However if you doubt yourself, you invite judgment in, because people sense an insecurity in you, which they will mirror back with their own insecurities. It's on you to set the tone by being at ease with yourself.
Smile at your waiter
Sometimes you'll have to modify your order at restaurants in order to make it a totally plant-based meal. The worst thing you can do is be self-conscious about being a pain in the ass. Be nice, ask nicely with a smile, and waiters will usually be happy to get you what you want. The only thing that guarantees spit in your food is diva-like behaviour (vegan or not!).
Dinner parties are the only time when it's a bit tough
When you're accepting someone else's hospitality, it's more difficult to 'go with the flow'. If it’s a close friend, offer to bring a dish; if not, eat a substantial snack before going, such as veggie and hummus, a protein bar or shake, or some fruit with nut butter. That way you won't get hangry, and hey, if you get stuck with the steamed veggie side dish it won't feel like the end of the world.
Practice radical self-acceptance
Veganism isn't for everyone. Don't listen to anyone who tries to tell you you're less than perfect just because you can't follow the lifestyle they follow. We all have different metabolic types, blood types, cravings, and preferences. The only seal of approval you need is your own to live and eat the way that makes you feel your best.
If you find yourself really missing steak, don't judge yourself for that. If you can't define yourself as a full vegan because you sometimes love eggs for breakfast, or never want to turn down a piece of your friends' birthday cake, who cares? It doesn't mean you can't be 80% vegan, or 60% vegan. You get to make your own rules: don't hand that power over to anyone else.
Find out more about Jenna on her website