Why I Went Vegan (And Back)
It wasn’t for ethical reasons. I have to admit though, that when I went vegan I found myself inadvertently exposed to content advocating ethical veganism and it did open my eyes and change my mind about the related issues quite a bit, but let’s start from the beginning.
I’m a somewhat impressionable person, if something makes sense to me. I try to keep an open mind about the things I have little to no information about. Needless to say that when I was 40kg (~88lbs) overweight, I didn’t really know a whole lot about nutrition or healthy lifestyle choices in general. At the point I started to turn myself around, I gathered all the information I could about this particular topic and if you ever tried doing that yourself you will soon have realised that this is relatively hard, considering there are a lot of people out there, trying to sell you their weight loss miracle products or convince you to buy their meal plans.
The first diet I put myself on was a pretty classic paleo diet. This made sense to me because of it’s simple premise of “this is how nature wants us to eat”. The premise has some obvious flaws, but it still makes sense. So there I went, no simple carbs whatsoever (that includes fruit), nothing with a label on it (that didn’t work on all the stressful days). I lost all my access weight on this diet in just about seven months (which most people will tell you is faster than healthy, but I didn’t know then) and was very pleased with that.
During this time I never stopped gathering information about nutrition and it dawned on me that paleo might be great for losing weight (obviously), but the high fat contents are still bound to clog my arteries and thus, this might not be a long-term solution.
When I made the decision
Around 6 months in, I made the decision to switch from paleo to vegan as soon as I enter the normal BMI-range, which I did. The argument for a vegan diet were (and still are) compelling.
- It gives you all the nutrition you need (except for the infamous B12, which all vegans and most non-vegans should supplement).
- It’s practically impossible to gain weight if you keep the sugar intake somewhat under control.
- It keeps your cholesterol in check.
- You’re no longer exposed to the poisons, antibiotics and growth hormones in animal products.
- Later during my vegan year I also started to take pleasure in the thought that my diet doesn’t rely on products of exploitation and slaughter.
Most vegans – ethical or not – will be quick to answer the question about whether it’s hard to be vegan with a tirade about other people and society. I agree to some level. As someone who believes in a free market, I respect that not all restaurants, biker bars and bowling alleys will have vegan options on their menu, if the demand is just not there.
As an individual it can be quite frustrating though. Not just once I had to leave evening events with a growling stomach, which is especially hard for events that last the better part of the day, like weekend seminars or weddings. Even harder if you plan a wellness vacation, ask the hotel about vegan options in advance, get a false “yes” back, leaving you to eat rolls, margarine and tomato salad for four days (dessert: fruit salad). Being vegan is easy if you can make your own shopping and can enjoy the diversity of supply of a big city, but as soon as options start to become scarcer, vegan options tend to die first.
It also hate the feeling that everyone has to accommodate me and my quirk. Every dinner party, every afternoon tea I’m invited to – even if the host wouldn’t ever admit it – I’m a slight pain in the ass.
Why I quit
This is exactly why I quit. After a year of disappointing restaurant visits and a couple of starvingly uncomfortable vacations I am now bowing to social convention for the sake of my own (and my friends) convenience. This very last weekend I ate my first meat in over a year. I was at a barbecue. If this would have been a couple of weeks ago I would have told the host not to calculate meat for me, I would have brought some weird BBQ-tofu and and a seitan “steak” and would have asked them to put it on the grill for me. Everyone at the party would have found that a little odd, but would have accepted it. For about two months now, I was planning to stop being that guy and made the decision to start in August.
There is however a second reason. It (unsurprisingly) turns out that a diet can be both vegan and unhealthy. In the last weeks, that’s what my diet was. Vegan, but full of cookies, ice cream and convenience products. I was ignoring the reason I started this whole journey. I needed to go back.
Healthy and sane
I really liked the taste of the meat at that barbecue. I loved it, in fact. Still, I don’t see myself cooking meat at home, as a casual meal, let alone as a snack, because I can’t un-know what I know about meat production and it’s effects on health. At the same time I have rediscovered the need to completely steer clear of refined sugars.
It all comes down to making sensible decisions. I will choose a vegan meal over any other every time I have the chance to, for the animals, the planet and especially for my health. On the other hand I won’t castigate myself anymore if there is none. Props to those who do.