Going vegan is the holy grail of healthy diets. Most devoted yogis and health-conscious spiritual gurus espouse the benefits of a vegan diet.
Personally, I’ve experimented with going vegan a couple times since college and couldn’t find ways to make it stick. The first time, I ate falafel nonstop until I couldn’t stand the sight of those little, fried chickpea balls. The second time, I felt weak in my morning yoga classes after subsisting on vegan pizzas, so I quit again.
The last time I went vegan about a year ago, I did my research so I could finally join the ranks of famous vegans like Alicia Silverstone and Gwyneth Paltrow. And I’m happy to say that this time I finally committed to it.
People go vegan for a variety of reason: to save the animals, lose weight, or help the environment. It was an added bonus that I could now live out the principles embodied in my yoga practice: all beings are divine and we should live in harmony with the earth.
Through my own trial and error, I encountered these five surprising truths about a vegan diet. Consider this a warning to all you wanna-be vegans out there. These are the things I wish I knew before I embarked on my journey towards veganism
If you find yourself thinking, “it’s vegan, it must be okay to eat,” as you munch on a bunch of vegan protein bars or vegan cheese, you’re in trouble. Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily healthy for you. Especially processed vegan snacks and food-substitutes like vegan meats, cheese, and dairy products can still have a lot of calories, fat, and carbohydrates. All of these factors combine to make some vegan foods a pathway to gaining weight instead of losing it. A lot of people start a vegan diet in order to lose weight, so pay a lot of attention to what you’re putting in your body. To counteract these forces, make sure to eat a lot of vegetables, fruit, and natural sources of protein like beans, chickpeas, and quinoa.
This is one of the most annoying parts about being a vegan! Everyone will suddenly feel like they have the right to critique your diet and ask you a lot of questions about how much protein you eat. Nobody cared what I ate when I was an omnivore, but now that I’m vegan, people scrutinize every aspect of what I eat. People will look over my plate tell me that they never could be a vegan while they scarf down a bacon double cheeseburger.
Another recurring theme is people asking, “is that really vegan?” everytime I go to a restaurant with my friends. People get really defensive when the fact that I’m a vegan comes up. They presume that they think I’m better than them or that I’m judging the way they eat. In fact, I chose to be vegan for myself and not for what others think about me. I’ve gotten used to these questions, but they’re still a little annoying.
Meat used to be the most expensive part of my grocery trips. A pound of salmon or pork cost around $7 in my local grocery stores. I thought I’d substitute most of my meat with much cheaper options like beans and grains. Unfortunately, going vegan has had the opposite effect. I’ve become a bit obsessed with going to local farmers’ markets, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s. I try to buy organic foods when possible. I also need to buy high-cost vegan substitutes like coconut yogurt and cashew cheese. Because I became more cognizant of what I put into my body, I’ve decided that it’s worth it to spend a bit more on high-quality versions of the food I can eat. Also because I need to eat a larger quantity of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains, I buy more too. Overall going vegan hasn’t been the biggest friend to my wallet.
After going vegan, I started noticing I was fatigued, not sleeping well, and not performing well in workouts. Everything felt a little off. I wasn’t able to do chaturanga as easily as before. I talked to some other vegans and they suggested tweaking my diet by adding some supplements. In particular, people recommended a B12 supplement because that’s physically impossible to get in a vegan diet. If you can, visit a physician and they can do lab work to determine what you’re missing. Vegans will also typically miss iron which is an essential mineral in making us feel wide awake and alive. This is common for most vegans at first, but with a little tweaking you can feel as vibrant as you did as a meat-eater.
I’ll be completely honest here: sometimes it gets a little lonely being a vegan. All of a sudden, you can’t eat at the same restaurants as your friends. You’ll get invited to a dinner party or potluck and the host didn’t factor in your vegan dietary requirements into the food spread. Suddenly you’ll feel left out and alone. There’s even a name for this syndrome: the lonely vegan. Especially if you don’t live in a big city like San Francisco or New York City, there aren’t many places you can go that affirm your lifestyle with a lovely vegan menu. Luckily in this era of digital communication, you can find wonderful vegan communities online. You’ll need these friends to continue to commit to the vegan lifestyle. Online forums and blogs have been a lifesaver for me.
It’s been difficult to transition to being a vegan, and there’s a lot that you won’t know before diving in. Luckily, you’re not alone and there are other people out there trying to align their values with their diet by going vegan. This article isn’t meant to scare you off, instead I hope to provide a realistic version of what it is actually like to be vegan, outside of the Instagram pictures of green smoothies. Going vegan is a serious commitment, but with this knowledge in hand, you can be more informed about your transition to veganism.