I would love to say that I became a vegan out of some noble concern for the environment or the world’s animal population, but that wouldn’t be true. I became a vegan as the result of watching a movie.
Last December I saw The Game Changers, a film that makes a compelling case for transitioning to a whole foods, plant-based diet. The health benefits seemed clear, and more importantly, it seemed that eating this way might allow me to finally lose the extra weight I had been carrying. Along with a handful of friends, I decided to give it a shot.
Why not? I had tried just about every other diet available on the open market.
A not-so-brief recap of a few of my failed diets:
Weight Watchers: Nearly every red-blooded American woman has tried this diet; it was tough for me because the strategy is to limit what you eat (huh?) through their “points” program, a calorie-counting approach that was a “fail” for me. I often reached my allotted quota of 23 points by lunchtime, and the rest of the day was a free-fall of consumption. In other words, one tire went flat, so I let the air out of the remaining three.
The Dukan Diet: This gem was made famous by Kate Middleton, who allegedly lost lots of weight she
couldn’t afford to lose needed to lose before her royal wedding. I read about her success and headed straight over to Barnes & Noble™ to get the book, thinking, well, if that schlump Kate Middleton can do it, I certainly can. (Anything she can do, I can do better…) Then I stocked up on expensive meats and vegetables — the only two food groups on this diet — which you’re allowed to eat in unlimited quantities. Binge away!
On Day 1, as I sat in front of a plate of steak and eggs, my third meal of the day at 10:30 a.m., I was disgusted.
“I’m out!” I emphatically declared to no one as I sat at the dining room table in my empty house.
I went over to the garbage can, fished out my receipt, smoothed it out (I had arrogantly crumpled it the night before, certain that I would be using the book for more than three hours), and drove back to the bookstore to return the book.
“Reason for return?” the clerk asked politely.
“Oh, I won’t be needing this.”
The Ideal Protein Diet: This was my shortest diet foray, in that I quit before I even started. I dubbed it The Astronaut Diet because for a mere $600, you are given an attractive tote bag filled with silver pouches containing meals with names like “Lemony Soy Puffs” and “Nacho Cheese Dorados.”
Before you begin, you have to meet with a medical professional/shill for the company who is legally obligated to share your potential health risks. She began by asking if I’d ever had any “trouble” with my gallbladder. Apparently, the diet might cause a gallbladder attack.
I wasn’t even sure where my gallbladder was located. When I asked if I would I have to go to the hospital for this type of attack, she did her best Kramer impersonation.
“Oh, you’d want to get that checked out.”
She went on to say that fainting was also possible. I immediately had a vision of dropping like a sack of wheat in front of my class of high schoolers (“Sorry, kids! I was just trying to take off 10 pounds in 7 days!”), but I still left with the packets. I had a planned start date; however, after staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m. worrying about the sack of wheat thing, I decided not to even try this diet.
Not today, Satan!
Vegan: I made an attempt at being vegan seven years ago after seeing the film Forks over Knives. This came to a screeching halt on Day 3 when I started feeling weak and just generally awful, with a wanging headache.
I decided to give it a go again this past year the day after Christmas. This time, I was more prepared, having done a fair amount of reading and planning before I started. Lo and behold, four months later, I’m still going strong-ish. I heard the label “imperfectly vegan” recently, and that’s how I would describe myself. I definitely don’t have it all figured out, but I can honestly say that I love eating this way.
One of the main reasons it appeals to me is that it’s very straightforward. It’s actually similar to how I get myself dressed myself for work.
I pick a pair of pants in the morning. I have the same pants in multiple colors, arranged in order by shades, light to dark.
Then I select one of the hanging shirts or one of the polo shirts in the drawers.
Finally, I choose a pair of man shoes, and voilà! I’m ready for work.
If you concluded that a closet arranged this way implies a certain rigidity in its owner, you would be correct. The need for this level of organization is explained somewhere in the DSM-5, but here’s the thing — over the years, I’ve struggled to figure out wtf to wear to work, and I’ve also struggled to figure out wtf to cook. Give me a plan, a roadmap, and I can follow that.
There’s a simplicity to eating vegan that really works for me. You take the core foods and just put them together. There are grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Those things can be combined in a wide variety of ways. Mix and match. Take the stuff from the jars and combine them.
Now, I don’t actually just throw a bunch of grains and nuts together. There are thousands of gourmet recipes you can follow, and I have actually been much more interested in cooking than ever before. I even bought a shiny new pot for cooking soups. I never thought I would utter the words “I’ve been enjoying cooking,” but it’s kind of true.
Oh, and also, I feel great. Better than I ever remember feeling, in fact. There just might be something to this push to eliminate processed stuff and avoid anything that once had a face, a mom or dad, or swam or walked or crawled.
As for weight loss, without ever being hungry or counting anything, I lost weight slowly but surely over the first couple of months. Being home-bound for the last five weeks has definitely put a kink in the progress. There is a surprising amount of junk food that officially passes as vegan, and I have consciously used it to smooth over the rough edges on a number of occasions. (I’m looking at you, Oreos and Coors Light.) I will also admit to a handful of cheese relapses on rainy days.
Pandemic-induced comfort eating and drinking aside, my plan when I started all of this was not to be perfect, but to allow myself the occasional pizza, which truly makes my life better, to eat whatever is served when I’m at someone else’s house (because I’m polite like that), and to be flexible when the need arises.
I don’t think there is a diet program that is The Answer. I do know that while I was busy bouncing from one diet to the next over the last 20 years, I packed on an inordinate amount of weight. Being vegan is not a weight-loss program, per se, but so far it has been successful for me in that I feel really good, I have dropped some weight, and it’s easy for me to follow.
Plus, now I get to hang out with other vegan lesbians and declare, “I don’t eat animals!”