“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice”.–Albert Einstein
I have a lot of friends right now who are struggling with plant-based eating and trying to transition to a healthier lifestyle. Sisters and brothers, I feel your pain! I f’d up so many times on this path that I can’t even keep track any more. Do not give up on yourself! The rewards are worth all of the struggle. If I knew then what I know now, it would have been a far more struggle-free path for me. So here’s the top 10 mistakes I made along the way. I started this journey in 1994 and was not successfully vegan until 2010. If I can do it, anyone can.
1. Diet Mentality
Plant-based, healthy eating is not a diet. Veganism is a compassionate lifestyle, not a diet, and it extends to all areas of my life. When I start restricting my food and getting all crazy, the next thing I know I am skipping down the primrose path to hell, AKA the binge/starve and binge/purge cycle. I take the “Skinny” right out of “Skinny Bitch” really quick—go straight to Bitch, do not get out of jail free, do not collect $200. I need to eat well-balanced, adequate meals at reasonable intervals or I start making bad choices and I end up hurting myself. Just as I have compassion for the suffering of animals, I need to have compassion for myself. Dieting is not compassionate, period (no matter what the “Skinny Bitch” acolytes tell you).
2. Not Planning/Not Cooking For Myself
If I expect healthy vegan food to fall out of the sky and into my mouth, I am going to be sorely disappointed and I’m probably going to screw up. I go grocery shopping, I carry snacks in case of emergencies, and I plan my meals. ‘Nuff said. Get a cookbook, get in the kitchen and don’t be afraid to make mistakes! I use the Happy Herbivore, the Forks Over Knives companion book and of course Engine 2 and they are all lifesavers.
3. Not Asking For Help/No Support System
It takes a vegan village to keep my ass out of trouble. I got myself a vegan mentor, I surround myself with positive, vegan buddies and I go to a 12 step support group for people with food issues. Invaluable.
4. Trying To Negotiate With Binge/Trigger Foods
This might not apply to you, but it certainly applies to me. Unfortunately, it applies to many foods that are 100% vegan. I find refined sugars, fried food/anything excessively greasy, crunchy shit in a bag and any kind of dairy product to be totally way too exciting for me to handle. I asked for help *see #3) and picked up a whole bunch of tools for my food addiction toolbox. I think sometimes people dramatically underestimate the addictive power of certain foods. I’ve got to quote the lovely Victoria Moran here: “If there was a stalker set on harming you, you’d notify the police and do everything in your power to protect yourself. Understand that any food you haven’t been able to eat reasonably since you cut teeth is as threatening to you as that stalker. The safest path to tread with a binge food is one that leads away from it. In other words, don’t eat it–not because I said so, but because you’d rather not socialize with a dietary hit man.”
5. Listening To Haters/Not Trusting My Intuition
I had to experiment a lot on this path to figure out which foods made me feel good and which foods made me feel like crap. Everyone’s got an opinion. I thank them for sharing, smile, and ignore whatever commentary is coming my way about protein, plants feeling pain, man being designed to eat meat, God giving us dominion over animals, don’t you want just one doughnut you’ve been so good, milking cows doesn’t hurt them, my actions being meaningless because animals are going to be killed anyway, blah blah blah. People have their own paths to walk, and I am not out to convert anyone nor do I need to justify the way I eat or live today.
I had to realize that I am human, and mistakes are going to happen. I prefer to look at them as “experiments”…sometimes experiments go awry, but I always learn something along the way. Sometimes, especially at restaurants, I’ve accidentally eaten food that had animal products, added oil or sugar. Despite my every effort to make sure my meal did not include these things, I found out later that they did and it’s OK and usually I stay away from that place or food in the future. It’s not about my personal purity; it’s about trying to cause the least harm to animals, other people and myself.
7. Making Things Way Too Complicated/Getting Fixated On Unimportant Details
I need to eat my veggies, do my yoga, meditate, take an occasional B12 and my Vitamin D, take my medications as prescribed and move around as much as I can. Everything else is a bonus. Trying to do complicated, extreme eating plans, calculating every calorie and micronutrient I eat, crazy workouts or other excessively complicated nitpicky crap is unnecessary and just makes my head spin.
8. Eating Things I Hate Because They Are “Healthy”
Life is too short to eat ugly food and it is too short to eat food that tastes like gritty hippie crap that someone cooked in a can over a bonfire at Burning Man. I have options. This is not the 90’s, people.
9. Trying To Transition Too Fast
I could not go from Sonic jalapeno poppers, frozen yogurt, cheetos, Frappucinos, veggie burgers, fries, frozen vegetarian pizzas and the occasional salad to kale/millet/aduki beans/gomasio/sauerkraut. That approach did NOT work for me. I needed to wean myself onto some comfortable vegan alternatives, like Amy’s vegan pizzas, Tings, soy lattes, baked fries made at home, and So Delicious agave-sweetned coconut ice cream. I started adding more and more veggies to every meal and eating fresh fruit for dessert. Then eventually I weaned myself off of the vegan “methadone” and started experimenting with beans, whole grains and lots of new greens. Most of my meals now are whole foods based and very simple, but I couldn’t do that when I first started; my taste buds had to adjust. There’s a reason it’s called transitioning into a vegan diet, not leaping or lurching.
10. Unreasonable Expectations
I thought that eating mostly vegan would fix everything for me. And by “Everything”, I meant my obesity, all of my other health problems and my problems with food. And then when I lost a total of eight pounds in the first year, was still asthmatic and still had PCOS, I was pissed! Where was my miracle cure, dammit? My energy levels were still sucky, I was still fat and I just didn’t feel right. First of all, I had to go all the way and really eat vegan and stop screwing around with dairy even just a “little”. Second of all, I had to do a whole bunch of other things (see 2, 3, 4, 6 and 9) before I started to see improvements. This did not happen overnight, and it takes as much time as it needs to. I can’t rush my body, but I can do everything within my power to help myself. Finally, I had to realize that just eating vegan for me is not enough, especially with weight loss. I had to really learn what “healthy” meant for me and do it! Healthy means balanced meals, lots of vegetables and not much crappy junk food, period. I also had to stand up for myself with my doctor and demand answers for certain health problems and not just blame them on being vegan (or not vegan enough). I take my medications and do everything within my power to contribute to my overall healthiness. I do not fight myself. And it works—as long as I stay out of my own way!