I got mixed reactions from friends when I told them I was going vegan.
Some were supportive: “Oh, you can make so many great vegan meals!”
Some were aghast at the idea: “Why would you do that?!?!”
But no matter what, I was determined to stick to my diet for a goal of five days (Monday-Friday).
A vegan diet consists of foods derived strictly from plant products. Vegans don’t eat meat, or any other animal-derived foods such as eggs, dairy and honey. Some people go vegan for ethical reasons, while others may do so with weight loss in mind.
What I Ate
For breakfast, I had whole grain cereal, banana and almond milk fortified with protein. This isn’t much different from my regular weekday breakfast. The only difference was swapping almond milk for dairy milk.
To get me through the week, I made myself a large batch of salad. I added ingredients to make it more filling. My meal consisted of mixed greens, sliced almonds, quinoa, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, avocado, and olive oil and vinegar. I loved this meal. It was delicious and filling. Again this isn’t much different from a typical lunch for me. The only difference was cutting out cheese.
A typical snack was either veggies and hummus, trail mix, or an apple and peanut butter.
Dinner consisted of frozen vegan meals or pasta. I made a whole wheat pasta with lentils and tomato sauce. On the side was a spinach salad with walnuts and green apples.
How Did I Feel?
I craved dairy the entire week. Whether it was half-and-half in my coffee, a handful of chocolate candies during an afternoon slump, or adding some parmesan to my pasta, all I could think about was dairy. I also felt hungry most of the time and never quite satisfied after meals. I did enjoy eating healthy meals but never quite felt they were complete.
Mental acuity (1-5)
3 (not bad for a Monday)
2.5 (crankiness has settled in)
Mood Ring color
Green (does this thing EVER change)
Green (not surprised)
According to my highly scientific measurements, I did lose 1.5 pounds. But I can’t necessarily attribute that to going vegan.
The (Almost) Breaking Point
On Wednesday after work, I went for a 38.5-mile bike ride. Halfway through, I stopped and drank water and had some vegan trail mix (dried fruit and nuts). I knew I was doomed. This was not satiating enough to get me through the rest of the ride. When I made it home, my legs were cramping and I was experiencing the worst hanger (hungry/anger) ever. I needed food NOW and nothing in my mini fridge was going to be satisfying. The closest restaurant to my house is a burger place. I went in and was ready to order a giant slab of meat. Luckily, they had a tempeh burger option. With that and a side of sweet potato fries, I would live to see another day.
Tempeh is made by fermenting cooked soybeans with a mold. It’s sold in flat, rectangular pieces. A ½ cup of tempeh is about 160 calories and packs 15.4 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of fiber. For a post-workout meal, it is a great option. And for vegans, it’s a great meat substitute, along with other soy products like tofu.
I will admit that I ate very healthfully this week. My meals had so many fresh fruits and vegetables, and for the most part, I enjoyed eating them. Living in Washington, D.C., I am lucky to have a plethora of restaurants that have vegan options (not just a salad bar). I also planned out my meals and ate with purpose.
For me, the hardest part was giving up dairy. I include dairy in almost every meal, especially snacks. One of my go-to favorites is Greek yogurt. It is the perfect mid-afternoon snack to give you energy for an evening workout. Without that option, I had trouble keeping hunger at bay and my options felt limited. Without dairy, I was also missing key nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D and I probably should have been more aware of getting those nutrients from other sources. The other thing missing compared to my regular diet was the probiotics in the Greek yogurt I eat almost every day. If I were to stay on a vegan diet for longer, I would have to make more of an effort to look for alternate sources of these nutrients.
Also, the unforeseen restrictions placed on my diet left me grumpy. Celebratory cake at the office? Off limits. Impromptu milkshake run with friends? Don’t even think about. Food is something to be enjoyed with friends and family. I didn’t like having such (what felt like) harsh restrictions placed on my diet.
I don’t think this is a sustainable diet for me. Currently, I’m training for a triathlon, I rock climb a few times a week, and I love being outside. To feel full, satisfied and energized for my activities, I need to include all the food groups and want as many options as possible. But incorporating more vegetables and fruits, and trying alternative foods, was fun and tasty. I now confidently know that I want more options than less when it comes to food.