First, if you are indeed motivated to go vegan, I want to congratulate you, and to let you know that the advantages are incredible. But… going on a vegan diet could be a very drastic step for anybody, especially if they’re eating the usual American fare: red meat, fries, cola and coffee. You will experience significant withdrawal symptoms, even if you are now a vegetarian. You will definitely crave all of your old favorites, and there will be plenty of times when you’ll ask yourself why. It’ll be up to you to let your mind overcome your senses, and to choose health over appetites.
No matter what we think of food, it is a drug. Although it may not come in test tubes, it is made up chemicals which trigger certain reactions in our body. Some of these chemicals are addictive. Sugar for example, is an addictive chemical. We humans will crave sugar if we get our body used to a certain quantity of it on a daily basis. Similarly, certain chemicals in red meat are also addictive. When the animals are killed, they release certain “fight or flight” hormones in their bloodstream, which quickly travel to the muscle cells that make up the meat. These chemicals remain there through the cooking process until those of us who still eat meat consume it. Once in our body, these hormones, which are still active, trigger certain sensations of well-being and raised awareness, which are then associated with meat-eating. And we probably all know about the addictive qualities of coffee…
In a similar manner, although not as obtrusively, all of the food we eat either gets associated with positive or negative feelings. That is why we like certain foods. And we don’t even have to like them to experience withdrawal symptoms, we just have to be used to eating them. Their absence in our diet will make us miss them.
It is for these reasons that a great many people fail in their resolution to stay vegan, and revert to much less healthful lifestyles. Of course, there are other, secondary reasons, such as convenience (you can get a burger and a cola pretty much anywhere, but it’s much harder to find good vegan food) or health problems caused by a lack of planning in their diets.
Being a vegan by definition means eating a variety of vegan foods: vegetables, fruits and legumes. There are certain vitamins or minerals that only certain foods can provide, and if one sticks to the obvious lettuce and tomatoes and the hardy beans and potatoes and perhaps a few apples and bananas here and there, they’re going to run into serious health problems. While proper planning in a vegan diet will be treated in another article (and I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to write it,) here I simply want to introduce the concept of dietary planning and make you aware of the dangers inherent in a lack of planning.
How does one become a vegan? Well, as you’ve already seen, one has to be fairly motivated, and the strongest motivator that one can have is the desire to stay healthy and live a long life. And given all of the health problems caused by meat and dairy-based diets, going and staying vegan is the only way to ensure that your body can function at its best.
What’s next after motivation? Putting your beliefs into practice. My advice is to take it slowly. It’s not going to be good for you to go vegan cold turkey, because you’ll quickly get discouraged and might revert back to your old lifestyle. Vegan food tastes very bland to a person who’s been eating meat. You’ll need to get your taste buds and mind accustomed to the taste of vegan food, and after a few months of eating it, you’ll finally discover the finer flavors and textures of it. You may even begin to like it. Please don’t think this sounds dreary. I don’t look forward to my meals as a bland experience, but you may. Just realize that your attitude will change, but it may take months.
So how do you do it? If you’re now eating meat, calculate how many times a week you eat it, and reduce the number of meat-containing meals, replacing those meals with either chicken or fish, or vegetarian meals. You may be inclined to drop meat completely out of your diet. Good for you! Do it, but stick in there. If you’ve switched to chicken or fish, continue on this diet for about 1-2 months, all the while reducing the number of times you eat chicken or fish per week and replacing those meals with vegetarian meals. After 2-3 months at the most, you should be a vegetarian. Sounds easy? It is, if you stick to my plan.
Now that you’re a full fledged vegetarian, start planning your diet. Make sure you include all of the veggies and fruits that you need in your diet. And if you’re still consuming milk and cheese and eggs, drop the American-made cheese as fast as you can. I’m referring to the non-organic American cheeses. They are one of the least healthy foods on this planet. They are made from the milk of cows treated with all sorts of hormones that will wreak havoc in your body. Also, as a rule, dry cheese is not very healthy. Wet cheese (feta cheese, cottage cheese, etc.) is okay. But be sure to get only organic cheeses.
Next, drop the eggs. If you like them, you may want to read about their high fat and cholesterol content, and about the hormones they use to grow the chickens. You may also want to think about the fact that eggs are really the placenta and embryo of the chicken. If you must have eggs, get the organic kind. Next, drop the milk. The non-organic milk is loaded with unhealthy hormones, and it actually causes cancer cells in your body to grow and develop into tumors, because the cows here in the States are treated with growth factors (certain chemicals which cause cellular growth). These chemicals accumulate in the milk, and they’re not destroyed by pasteurization. If you must have milk, get the organic kind.
You shouldn’t stay in the vegetarian phase too long, or you’ll get stuck there, midway. Make the move fast, within 1-2 months of becoming vegetarian. Start reading about the vegan diet, and start planning your move. Make sure you know where to buy all of the vegetables and fruits that you need at reasonable prices. Have everything ready, learn a few good dishes to get you through the first vegan week, and then take the plunge. Throw away any vestige of your old lifestyle: any stale meat in the freezer, any cheese or eggs that you might have around the house, any candy bars, any cookies or potato chips. Clean out your house, so nothing tempts you, then start being a vegan.
Now you’ll be in for a few rough weeks, or even months, as your mouth will water at the sight of old foods. Stay in there, and read about the dangers of eating the old foods. It’ll keep you motivated. Believe me, you will begin to love vegan food, and you will also feel disgust at the sight or smell of old food, because now you’ll know exactly what’s in it and why it smells and looks the way it does.