"I never knew it was possible to feel this good."
That's what I tell my family and friends when they ask me what it's like to eat a vegan diet. A lot of that has to do with being able to breathe now that my allergies are under control (with no medicine) and being able to eat without fear now that I don't get headaches, stomach aches, and heartburn after a meal. Dropping 25 pounds in the process was a pretty nice bonus, too.
I started experimenting with going vegan in January 2010, but I went strictly vegan in June 2011. It started because my environmental allergies (trees, pollen, etc.) had gotten so bad that I was sick and could barely go outside for almost half the year. I was talking to a good friend about it and he told me that he had recently had to give up dairy because of an ulcer and when he did he noticed that when he woke up in the morning he didn't have all of the congestion he was used to, especially during allergy season.
I doubted that giving up dairy would have the same effect for me. I'd been allergy tested and never showed a dairy allergy. Plus, my allergies were more severe so I was highly skeptical that they could be controlled with diet. I looked into the connection between eating dairy and suffering from environmental allergies (pollens, dust, and mold) and found some correlations but nothing earth-shattering. Still, I was desperate and willing to try almost anything, so I eliminated dairy from my diet from January 2010 and the results were almost immediate. I woke up without congestion and I stopped sneezing all the time.
Still, I thought, let's see what happens in the Spring when everything starts blooming. When Spring hit, instead of having to take 2-3 medicines just to get through each day, I only had to take an antihistamine on the days when the pollen count was really high or I spent a lot of time outside. I can count on one hand the number of times I actually needed to take an antihistamine that Spring. I had to take an antihistamine a few more times that fall during ragweed season, but it was a huge improvement over taking a bunch of medicine every day and still feeling miserable. It was a life-changer.
I had already been avoiding meat most of the time, other than chicken and turkey occasionally, and my family avoided anything with egg because my daughter has had an egg allergy since she was an infant. So, I ate a vegan diet about 80% of the time for about 18 months. Every once in a while I would partake of some meat or cheese, but I started becoming more aware of the fact that when I did I'd feel sluggish or congested or get a stomach ache or a headache. But, my biggest weakness was baked goods. I have a wicked sweet tooth and almost all desserts are loaded with butter and eggs.
In the Spring of 2011, I finally got sick of yoyo-ing between feeling pretty good and feeling off-kilter. My life was too hectic and intense to waste time not feeling good or being knocked out for an hour by a headache or stomach ache. I was working 60 hours a week, my kids had reached the age where they were in lots of activities, and I was trying to dedicate more time to developing my craft as a writer.
In June, I went to a strictly vegan diet. I also eliminated caffeine (chocolate has theobromine and not caffeine, by the way), drastically reduced desserts, starting doing a combination of walking/running at least 25 miles a week, and doing a daily 15-minute routine of five strength-training exercises. The results far exceeded my expectations:
- Much higher and more consistent energy level
- Allergies under control (with no more daily medicines)
- No more regular headaches (previously had several severe headaches a month)
- No more indigestion, heartburn, or stomach aches
- Lost weight, and once I got down to my target weight it was a lot easier to maintain it
I literally never realized that this was how good normal could feel. My only regret at this point is that I didn't do it years ago. I could have been a lot more productive and enjoyed a lot more of my limited time on this little planet. But, you can't change the past. You can only change today.
During this process, I also discovered that some of humanity's most productive and creative people were vegetarians. Here's a partial list of some of them:
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Benjamin Franklin
- Albert Einstein
- Henry Ford
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Isaac Newton
- Nikola Tesla
- Thomas Edison
- Louisa May Alcott
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Henry David Thoreau
- Albert Schweitzer
- Mark Twain
All of that said, I'm not a zealot and I'm not trying to push veganism on anyone. Out of respect for vegans, I don't typically even say "I'm a vegan," but rather, "I eat a vegan diet" because true vegans don't buy any animal products. I still have leather shoes and a leather chair in my home office, for example, so I'm focused on the vegan diet. Or, as my five year old says it, I'm a "vegan eater." (I've tried to explain to her, "No, honey, I don't eat vegans.")
By the way, I still enjoy food immensely and find lots of great food to eat. If you want to see some of the things I eat, check out my Food board on Pinterest.
I'd also like to give a few shout outs to companies that are particularly vegetarian/vegan-friendly and have helped make this journey a lot easier and more enjoyable: