The questions I get most about going vegan are when I went vegan, why I went vegan, and how I went vegan. And it is usually really hard to respond because there is no short answer! For anyone interested in the long answer, you will find it here.
At 12 years old, I had never considered a vegetarian diet, and I did not even know about veganism. A family friend of mine loaned us the documentary Food Inc., and, being the easily scarred-for-life person I was and still am, I had zero appetite for meat after watching it. My parents thought it was just a phase, as I had been a meat-loving child all my life. After going several months without it, however, my parents realized I was pretty serious about never eating meat again. At that point, I became a proclaimed vegetarian. I still ate fish occasionally but primarily because I had no idea the health and environmental detriments eating fish can have.
Before I was certain that being vegetarian was something I wanted for the rest of my life, I had a few realizations that kept me on the path to this lifestyle. In the early days, there was one time that I ate meat by choice and several occasions where I ate it by accident. What I noticed while eating it was that I had completely lost all desire to do so, which, over time, evolved into disgust and nausea at the mere sight and smell. Worse than that, after eating meat, I would get a horrible stomach ache and have diarrhea for several days (TMI?). It occurred to me that if my body was rejecting something I ate, even just a bite of it, I probably should not be putting it inside of me in the first place.
I also realized that being vegetarian made me a lot healthier. During the biggest growth spurt of my life, I was losing weight, not gaining it, and I had the energy and drive to move my body like never before. I have always been particularly horrible at sports, but I went from being very bad to semi-decent at the sports I did play in just a few months. It was not so hard to run anymore. In addition to that, I had an unbelievable boost in mental clarity. I kid you not, it was like I was blind and then I could see. My grades in school went from Bs and As to straight As without even trying that hard, and I was moved up a level in math. I even realized that some of my lifelong friendships were not having a positive impact on my life, so I gave those friends up and made new ones. I felt great, and I did not want to go back.
Although I have no idea how I found out about veganism, I know I started getting interested in it around age 14. My younger brother, who never really liked meat but became vegetarian right around the time I did, and I watched Vegetated, a documentary about the vegan lifestyle, and we were really compelled to try being vegan because of it. I ate much less dairy and eggs after that, and I really wanted to stop eating fish so I could at least be a full vegetarian. Unfortunately, my parents did not like this at all. When I asked my mom if she would support me going vegan for Lent in 2014, she said no. I did it anyway, and I loved it. What I remember liking most about being vegan was that I could eat a way larger volume food without feeling like I ate too much (due to vegan foods being less calorie dense). On Easter Sunday, I ate a little bit of egg, but I knew at that point that I wanted to reach veganism eventually.
One of the biggest reasons I did not go vegan right away, other than my parents, was that I was about to study abroad in France in the summer of 2014. If you don’t already know, France is not vegan friendly at all. I barely got by as a vegetarian, and almost everything I ate had either butter or cheese. I did manage to find almond milk to veganize the breakfast cereal my homestay family fed me in the mornings, but they packed me a cheese sandwich for lunch literally every day. I was so desperate for something dairy-free that I once called my homestay family, told them I would not be home for dinner, went to the grocery store, bought a massive carrot and some other raw vegetables, and just sat outside savoring the fresh, cheese-free produce. When I got home, I ate salad for three days. I never wanted to eat cheese again. Can you believe it?
Slowly, I went vegan over the next six months. I started noticing that what meat had done to me in the early days (stomach ache, etc.) was happening with dairy. And this I was glad about because it meant my body was making the transition. I was 16 years old. Because my change to vegan was so long and slow, I did not have any immediate results or surge of epiphanies like I had when going vegetarian. This may be what led me to under-eating. I would wake up, eat a banana on my walk to school, have a small bag of nuts for lunch, and come home starving for calorie-dense foods. That’s like 300 calories. By no means was I eating abundantly like the first time I went vegan (any avid Lent fasters see the irony?). Mental clarity was fading away, and school was unbearable.
Eventually, actually around the end of Lent in 2015, I stumbled upon some YouTube videos about the high-carb, low-fat vegan lifestyle, and it really appealed to me. The guidelines are to eat around 10 percent or less calories from fat, 10 percent or less from protein, and 80 percent or more from carbohydrates and to eat as much food as you want. I tried it. Although I found it extremely difficult to keep my fat intake that low in the beginning, I really did start feeling better because I was eating more food. Mental clarity came back, will to exercise got much better, and I could actually make it through the school day.
At the present, I am still high-carb, low-fat vegan, and I eat as many raw fruits and vegetables as I can. The more I eat the better I feel, and I am still healing my body from previous diet mistakes. I am convinced that eating abundantly vegan is the best way to live.
As I have mentioned previously, being vegan is not just a diet but a lifestyle. It includes vegan food, vegan clothing, vegan cosmetics, and choosing cruelty-free companies whenever possible. Before I was vegan and discovered all this, I did not really know just how many products use animal skins and ingredients. Since then, I have eliminated all hygiene products that are not cruelty-free, replacing them with purchased vegan or homemade vegan products, and I no longer buy clothing that is not vegan. I still wear my leather boots and down coat, but as soon as they are worn, I will buy outerwear that is vegan instead. As for cosmetics, I do not wear makeup and I never plan to. If I change my mind, be sure it will be completely vegan.
In all honesty, I do not have an answer for why I went vegan. It just seemed like a natural step in my life, like moving from one grade to the next. I am thankful for all that led me here.
I know why I stay vegan. I love to eat, and I can eat more and taste better because I am vegan. My brain and body feel great on a vegan diet. Exercising is fun. I feel like I am making a difference by my choices as a consumer, saving the lives of animals, and promoting something that will change the world. It is fun. It is interesting. It keeps me motivated and confident. It can be a real challenge at times, but it is worth it. I recommend going vegan to anyone trying to enrich and improve their health lifestyle.
I already broadly discussed how I went vegan, but I would like to expand the conversation a little to include anyone interested in going vegan him/herself. In my eyes, there are two approaches: Jump Right In and Take Your Time. I used Jump Right In for becoming vegetarian and for going from unhealthy vegan to high-carb, low-fat vegan, but I did the Take Your Time approach for transitioning from vegetarian to vegan. Both are good, so choose whatever feels natural. In my case, Jump Right In worked best when I was emotionally invested, but Take Your Time was good when I was experimenting and not yet passionate about veganism. If you know your body does not react well to big changes, then go slow, making one change at a time. If you just threw away all your non-vegan food in an emotional rage after binge watching food documentaries, you should Jump Right In while you are still on a roll.
For anyone under the jurisdiction of parents who will not support lifestyle changes like these, I do have a few suggestions. Do not ask them if you are sure they will say no. I know that sounds like horrible advice, but trust me, it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and going against them will cause too much conflict. Instead, use the Take Your Time approach. Start eating less meat, or completely stop eating meat, and, if they ask, tell them you want to see if it helps you feel healthier, lose weight, cure acne, etc. If you have parents who want to control what you eat, they probably care about you and your health, so explain that you think this one thing will help with that, and talk about it like it is an experiment. Do not reveal your master plan of going completely vegan/vegetarian. Remember, not talking to them can sometimes be the best option. When they begin see the improvements in your health, they will support you. This could take a very, very long time, so be patient. In the worst case, you will have to wait to make changes until you either go to college or move out. However, your parents may be more lenient than you think, so give it a try!
That’s my vegan story. Questions or suggestions can go in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from anyone who benefits from my story, my advice, or the vegan lifestyle in general.