I was starting a new job and running on empty, thanks to a teething toddler. If you told me that now was a good time to dip my toe in the vegan pond, I would have licked my hand and smacked you. Hard as I damn well could.
But here I am, knee deep in vegan waters. To say that this is unchartered territory is a gross understatement. Here’s why.
I’m a girl of Lithuanian blood. I can LOOK at a meal and gain 10 lbs. I attribute my round face to my cultural roots, but really, I like pasta with my parmesan and a bit-o-bagel with my cream cheese. Cheese is a food group. Put that shit on everything. And carbs? Pssh. Non-negotiable – I’d surely die without them. I once tried the Atkins diet for 3 days before giving in to an entire party-size bag of Munchies. I think I cried, too. Surely that mix of Cheetos, Doritos and pretzels was not what my body was asking me for – a rather sobering thought as I licked the cheesy powder from every last finger.
Any eating plan I followed had been to lose weight and rock a smaller pant size. Duh. Following my buffalo chicken calzone fetish in college, I hit the Weight Watchers scene. And 25 lbs. later, I felt great, but not the kind of great you’d expect to feel when you’re 25 lbs. lighter. It wasn’t enough somehow.
A few years later, before my wedding, I did what every bride-to-be does, and started living on a prayer. That was pretty much it…for real. Water, air, I-will-fit-into-that-dress-dammit, and some leafy greens. I remember leaning against the fruit stand at Stop & Shop the day of the rehearsal dinner thinking, fuck, I should have eaten something. My fiancé actually hid the scale from me because I became so fixed on a number, without taking inventory of how I felt.
Then the big day came. Wow, I felt beautiful! But I didn’t feel strong. I actually felt…kind of frail.
A few months later, I went sugar-free during my pregnancy because I had a BIG baby on board. Kid ended up 10 lbs. anyway, but the plan saved me from gestational diabetes and helped me give my son a healthier start.
Following his arrival, I had no plan – period. It was eat what you can, when you can, as fast as you can. And preferably something someone else made.
You see, I’ve always seen my weight as a frenemy of sorts. You can’t ignore it. You like it sometimes, and a few weeks later, you wish you could block it out like a creepy former classmate on Facebook.
Or maybe it’s more like a bad tattoo. You lie about it sometimes. Hide it under baggy clothes. It feels good to be bad…until it doesn’t (why the fuck did I just waste my splurge on a pack of DOTS?)
So here I am. I start this job, and meet Bianca, who makes veganism look like an (egg-free) cake walk. She brings in fresh, healthy, home-cooked food and actually likes what she’s eating. She doesn’t flinch when I pepper her with the usual questions. (Well what do you do when you eat at someone else’s house? What do you do at holidays? How about traveling? Don’t you miss CHEESE?) Doesn’t phase her. She’s bright, happy and energetic. I got the happiness in me, but shit, I’m in a bit of an energy crisis here.
She feels well, and you can tell. More than satisfied with her patient, thoughtful responses and with the research I’d done myself, I thought “hey, I’m gonna try this thing.” Then I thought “hey…but I’m not gonna tell anyone, cause when I fail, it won’t be a big deal.”
I decided to try it because, these days, my goal is to feel strong and healthy. Would I love to be a size 2 to boot? Yeah, buddy! And who knows what’ll happen. But my focus isn’t on the number. It’s on the feeling. On a healthful way of creating the energy day-to-day life demands, and having some to spare.
It’s been a week and a half. I was shocked at how easily veganism came to me during the structured work hours, free of outside temptation. Oatmeal with nuts…a couple servings of fruit…handful of almonds…coffee with almond milk. It was the carefree evening and weekend hours that were more challenging, but not impossibly so. Vegetable soup, falafel, pasta (no parm!), veggie wraps, salads, guac. I did lean on frozen items, which some people aren’t crazy about. But they’re fast, and they’re good. I made a couple of amateur mistakes (dude, Morning Star veggie nuggets have egg whites in them. Who knew?). And in desperation, I counted onion rings as a vegan item and ate me some-a those.
But I’ll be damned if I haven’t felt empowered, awake, present and – may wonders never cease – FULL. Shit, these foods are actually filling. Other stuff isn’t tempting me as much because it doesn’t serve me as much. All I get when I shovel down Swedish Fish and pizza is a tired guilt and Eeyore’s voice in my head.
Veganism is scary. I can’t lie. I’m not saying I’m going to be one for the rest of my life, running off into the sunset with my long blonde hair blowing behind me. My hair’s short and brown these days, and my crystal ball tells me there’s an entire box of Mac ’N Cheese Spongebob shapes in my future.
I’m not vegan, but I sure do appreciate the effects it has on the body and spirit. And BTW, down 7 lbs. Now pass dat tofu.