Advice From A 10-Year Vegan

by Courtney on November 30, 2015

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I’m a little late in posting this; the late summer of this year marked 10 years of veganism for me! There are so many ways people write “veganniversary” blogs, but for mine, I decided to create a Q&A with common questions people ask of me. So let’s dig right in!

Q. What were hurdles you went through in the first year of being vegan?

A. I was still struggling with overeating when I first went vegan. Compulsive eating, overeating and binge eating had been a problem I had struggled with my whole life (well before veganism as well as a bit after too) and so I tended towards a lot of vegan junk food, and even though I was learning how to eat vegan in a balanced way, I often didn’t do what I knew I should do. So though I was feeling much better as a vegan than I did before I was vegan, I still didn’t feel totally balanced. A vegan diet of chocolate and dates and bread does not serve to make one feel great. ;) Finding balance was the biggest challenge, though that wasn’t really something that inherently had to do with veganism, but rather an ongoing thing for me.

I wouldn’t really call this a “hurdle” but there was a learning curve with discovering how to make good vegan food. I recommend to everyone who wants to go vegan–even if you don’t like cooking or being in the kitchen–to invest some time in learning yummy recipes.

Q. Do you get meat cravings? If you do, what to do about it? Is there a place with a vegan diet for mock meats? Or have we not released the desire for meat yet?

A. I don’t crave meat, at all, ever, and haven’t since I had my big emotional shift reading the book “The Food Revolution” by John Robbins, which was the book that “turned me vegan”. I understand lots of people miss animal products when they first go vegan, and I think that can happen for a several reasons. One reason may be that we haven’t had a full emotional shift about eating meat (or dairy, eggs, etc.), because I think when we do, it just becomes unappetizing. It’s kind of instant and seems magical, but it really does happen and you can get to a place where you truly don’t ever miss them. I also think sometimes people still desire meat because they have beliefs or fears that they aren’t going to be healthy or satisfied without it. Those kinds of fears can definitely still be there even if one has gone vegan in practice.

Regarding “mock meats”: they are still much more ethical and loving than anything from animals. So people who argue against going vegan because they observe people trying to replicate meat products (or dairy, or eggs, etc.) are really missing the point. It’s more moral to eat mock meats for animals, for the environment, and for other humans (as eating animal products affect other people so much). Some are healthier than others; ie. tempeh is much healthier and simpler than a highly processed wheat or isolated plant protein product, and so we need to look at whether what we’re eating is balanced for our bodies. Mock meats didn’t really exist when I first went vegan (unless you consider tofu to be a mock meat, which, if you’ve ever seen or tasted a raw block of tofu, it’s kind of funny to think it’s a sub for meat), and I didn’t mind. I never even tried to make any mock anything; I just learned entirely new recipes. Now that the mock products have come so far, I do think some of it is kind of fun but I don’t feel like I need it to remain vegan.

I also think a lot of the textures, spices and overall tastes that we associate with meat (and dairy, fish and eggs, etc.) are not actually exclusive to them anyway. Most people only like meat when it’s been cooked, seasoned, salted, maybe combined with sauces, etc. But who thinks plain raw meat with nothing on it is appetizing?

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Q. How do you balance enjoying eating out with others without asking for multiple adjustments to dishes?

A. When someone proposes going to eat, I first always google the restaurant and look at their menu, which these days in the USA I can almost always find. If there is not an item specifically marked vegan, I’ll often call the restaurant as far ahead as I can, and ask if they have anything that can be made vegan. It’s usually a short conversation and I can find out quickly without wasting much of the employee’s time. If it sounds like there is still no option after that, I’ll let the people who invited me to a meal know that unfortunately it doesn’t look like a place I could eat at, and if it’s just one person I’m trying to meet with who is not attached to where we go, I’ll suggest an alternate place (having already done research).

If there is a group of people already planning to go there and it’s not up for changing–I never want to force people do something they don’t want to–then I have a few choices. I can eat my own meal before, so I’m not hungry, and go for the social aspect and just drink water or tea when I’m at the dinner (which I know sounds odd but I have done many times). I can also choose not go at all, and I know “But I’ll miss out on social stuff” is a protest of a lot of people considering veganism, but I think I could probably count the amount of times I’ve had to make that choice in 10 years on the fingers on my hands.

In the situation of finding oneself at a restaurant more impromptu and talking with a waiter about vegan options, I’ll ask what’s vegan, and always clarify what that means, as I’ve had so many waiters who have thought veganism included eating dairy or eggs, etc. They also sometimes forget about things like chicken stock, or fish sauce, or lard. In fact, just a couple weeks ago I was at a restaurant, and had a conversation with a waiter that went like this:

“I was curious if this item was vegan?”

“Yes it is vegan!”

“Ok, so it doesn’t have butter or eggs or milk or any dairy?” (it was clearly at least vegetarian)

“Oh, no it does have milk.”

In other words, don’t rely on waiters to know what veganism is. I know it might sound like going through the clarifications at every restaurant visit would be a big pain, but it’s not. Usually the whole conversation about finding what’s vegan is never more than a 30 second conversation, which might involve them having to go back and ask the chef, and then it’s settled, and its not difficult for most kitchens to leave out certain things to make a dish vegan.

I think the big problem most people have with this process is they have feelings of their own they haven’t resolved about feeling like an inconvenience or like it’s rude and bad to ask for an adjustment, even if it does only take 30 seconds. So I think working through the shame of having everyone at the table watch you chat with the waiter about vegan options, and possibly being the person who takes the longest to order, is the thing to focus on. I don’t advise being a demanding primadonna, and often you do have to be pretty flexible as far as what they can make vegan, but it’s really not a big deal to ask these questions and it becomes pretty second-nature after a while.

If you want to help out the restaurant and other vegans, you can go onto yelp or google reviews and write about which menu items the restaurant made vegan in order to help out future vegans looking up that particular place.

Q. How did it influence your health?

A. At the time I went vegan, I was also actively beginning some deep emotional work, prompted by having been diagnosed with depression, and a lifetime of binge eating disorder that was adding to my misery (and a short period of anorexia in high school). I bring this up because I believe the healing of my health had to do with both changing my eating to a healthier and more balanced diet and also starting to feel through suppressed emotions. Within the first year of going vegan and doing this emotional work, I no longer had extreme chronic fatigue syndrome but rather great energy all day, no longer had frequent viral problems, and my skin and hair were healthier than they’d been before. I also felt significantly clearer mentally, whereas before I walked around in a fog with a very short attention span. It literally felt like my IQ raised after going vegan. I slept less, too. And as an aside, I’m glad to say I don’t have depression anymore either.

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Q. How do you handle being around people who are eating animal products? Is that hard for you?

A. It is sometimes hard for me, but it feels different than it used to. When I first learned the truth about eating animals and their products, it brought up a lot of anger and sadness, as it does for many people when they first learn about it. The more I allowed my emotions about people eating animal products (and wearing them, etc.) and the impact of that on animals themselves, the environment, and human rights, I felt less frequently upset by being around it.

I have always been clear that it is not ok to eat animal products and am very strongly an ethical vegan who feels there is no justification for killing or exploiting animals for any purpose, and I will tell anyone that up front. But when I’m triggered by something, I allow myself to get angry and let the anger out, and cry when I need to–by myself, not projecting it at others. I think life as a vegan is a lot more exhausting when we keep all that emotion under the surface and don’t let ourselves fully go through the distraught emotions we might have. So I suppose the short answer is: being around people eating in an unloving and unethical way is more exhausting when I suppress my own emotions about it. When I feel and allow my emotions, I’m still very clear on the ethics and morals, but I am not personally so emotionally exhausted.

Q. Do you need any supplements at all for the lack of animal products in your diet?

A. Nope! I’ve actually never taken any supplements religiously because I’m the type who forgets to take them. ;)  I have taken some sporadically, including algae-derived omega supplements, non-animal bacteria derived B12 (bacteria in the soil is where animals get their B12 anyway), iodine, etc. It is important to note that none of those supplements were ones I took because I don’t eat animal products. Nothing is needed to make up for animal products.

Supplementation can be helpful for some people, particularly if they are already very deficient in something or want some physical help for a specific health issue, but it is possible to get pretty much all the nutrition we need from vegan food and herbs, particularly if we focus on healthy, nutrient-dense vegan foods and have a vegan diet rich in veggies, fruits, healthy fats, seaweed, fermented foods, etc. 10 years into it I have no health issues or deficiencies even though I don’t take hardly any supplements. The human body does not need animal products for all its nutritional needs.

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Q. What resources would you recommend for going vegan?

A. We are so lucky that in this day and age there are soooo many! I recommend starting with a resource type that most appeals to you. Do you like documentaries? Or do you like reading books more? Or maybe podcasts you can walk around and listen to? Would you prefer getting a e-newsletter with a short article you could read each week? Pick a medium and start there. An internet search of “vegan podcasts”, “vegan books”, and “vegan documentaries” will yield ample results. That being said, the book “The Food Revolution” by John Robbins was the one that convinced me to go vegan. As far as documentaries, some of my faves are “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” and “Forks Over Knives” (both on Netflix). And if you need nutritional advice for going vegan, you’re in luck, because that’s what I do for a living–contact me here for info.

Q. Do you have any recommendations for connecting with other vegans?

A. Yes! It is really fun to have some friends you can exchange recipes with and who don’t think you’re crazy for being vegan. I have many non-vegan, non-vegan shaming friends, but potlucks with vegans are more fun. ;)  I have found community through:

  • Vegan groups on www.meetup.com in my area
  • Facebook vegan groups (even better if they’re area-specific; search for your city or state)
  • Local animal rights or vegan organizations. Again, just search something like, “vegan organizations Denver” or “animal rights organizations Melbourne”, etc.

It’s most fun to have in-person community, but don’t underestimate online communities, too! They can be very helpful in getting info and recipes, etc. if you live in a rural area or a particularly non-veg friendly area.

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Q. Cheese is the thing that prevents me from being vegan. How can I possibly get over cheese cravings?

A. Ohhh if I had a nickel for every time I heard that. ;) First off, know that animal cheese actually has naturally-occurring casomorphins, which have an opiate effect. Translation? Animal cheese is literally physically addictive. Recognize that there is a physical addiction with animal cheese and know that breaking it is going to be a physical process as well as an emotional one.

Then, look into vegan cheese! The world of vegan cheese is absolutely exploding right now, and there is now vegan melt-able cheddar cheese, mozarella, brie, provolone, and so much more. Some are even actually fermented from almond milk or cashews, and so you have the probiotic boost too. Try brands like Miyoko’s Kitchen, Kite Hill, Daiya and more. You could even make your own with all the recipes online! Many people who are afraid to give up animal cheese haven’t tried the variety of vegan cheeses available.

Q. Do vegan diets perpetuate eating disorders or compulsive eating?

A. No, they do not. The compulsion to restrict or have a perfectionist, obsessive view towards food has nothing to do with whether that food is vegan. Likewise, overeating and binge eating has nothing to do with whether food is vegan. There are people who are attracted to veganism due to propensities towards restriction, obsession and orthorexia and they view veganism as another tool to help them restrict themselves, even though veganism is in no way an inherently restrictive way of eating. Veganism also does not inherently lend itself to orthorexia.

Restriction, perfection, and also excessiveness with food are symptoms of false beliefs and unresolved emotions that are entirely separate from whether we’re overeating cow-based ice cream versus coconut ice cream, or whether we’re eating only salads with chicken in them versus only salads with beans. I have had both anorexia (before being vegan) and binge eating disorder (both before and after being vegan), and neither had to do with eating vegan or not. They had to do with body image beliefs, societal and family pressures, perfectionism, obsession, addiction, and avoiding a lot of my emotions. When people blame veganism for eating issues or eating disorders, they are using veganism as a scapegoat for what the real issues are. When someone feels restricted by being vegan and feel they must eat foods that require the exploitation and killing of animals, there are unresolved emotions and false beliefs that cause that, also.

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Q. What are the highlights of your 10 year journey being vegan?

It’s hard to sum up how wonderful 10 years of being vegan has been. Initially, I was stunned that such severe health issues that I had–major autoimmune issues, skin problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, and more–were all cleared up when I started a healthy vegan diet.

More so than that though, going vegan was something that embedded itself in my heart really deeply. I adore animals and love that I’m no longer contributing to their exploitation or deaths with my diet and with not wearing their skins, etc. I love that it is so much better for the planet and environment. It also affected me very deeply to learn that being vegan or not is really a human rights issue: animal products monopolize crops and food that could be fed directly to starving populations but are fed to animals instead–animals who are only bred to be exploited or killed for “food”. Animal products require massive amounts of water compared to plant crops, and contribute to climate change and pollution of all kinds, which is an issue of environmental health, animal rights and also human rights. So it is incredibly exciting to me to now know and live in the truth that the whole world could be fed, and can be fed, if everyone were vegan. It could take a huge chunk out of the causes of climate change, pollution, droughts, etc.

It is one of the most empowering things I have ever done, and it just feels better on all levels. :)

Love,

Courtney

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Lawrence Bakur December 3, 2015 at 7:35 am

Great advice Courtney, and Happy Veganniversary!

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Courtney December 3, 2015 at 9:49 am

Thanks so much Lawrence!

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Sarah December 3, 2015 at 9:01 am

Fantastic post! Loved learning more about your 10-year vegan journey and how your health and spirit have improved throughout. Thank you for sharing this! Also, these food pics look sooo yummy!!

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Courtney December 3, 2015 at 9:49 am

Thank you! :)

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David Rainoshek December 4, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Yes, Happy Veganniversary, Courtney. A great read, indeed. You are a shining light!

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Courtney December 4, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Why thanks David! :)

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Nick December 4, 2015 at 8:38 pm

So glad you wrote this! So many times, I would laugh out loud because you reminded me of a situation or question people have asked me a million times! My journey as a vegan started purely for health reasons but I have since stopped wearing/using leather products as well. Like Morissey said himself: “There is no reason to take a life”.

I really love your positive approach to veganism & hope one day you will either do a T.V show and/or write a book about your experience.

Bravo!

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Courtney May 17, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Well said, Nick! You never know what I’ll be up to in the future! :)

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Wolfen May 17, 2016 at 12:18 pm

This is sooooo inspiring! As a new vegan (16 months) I am so relieved to see long term vegan who does not appear insane! :)

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Courtney May 17, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Haha, I am glad!

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