Vegan Eating is Not a "Challenge"
You know what buzzword really irks me? "Challenge". It's a call-to-action to do something out of character, inherently difficult, or temporarily uncomfortable. The latest dieting headlines are touting a "vegan challenge". Healthy eating should not be referred to as any of these things, so can we just STOP with the whole "challenge" thing, PLEASE!
Fine, you want to try out a vegan diet. Great! But please don't think of it as some kind of temporary abstinence or something to check off the list of cool things you tried. The most important thing to remember is that a plant based diet is probably the very best thing you can do for your body and the planet. The more plant-based food and less animal products you consume, the better. But don't be fooled that going vegan for 22 days is going to be some kind of reset or cleanse or miracle cure. Why even bother going 100% for 22 days, only to get off the wagon at the end?
I had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Dr. Neil Barnard several years ago, which was extremely enlightening. Give him a quick Google. His research and data show exactly how a vegan diet can change the cells in your body to optimize the way they handle glucose and cholesterol - even reversing type 2 diabetes. But it technically should only be true if you continue a 100% vegan diet.
So, instead of challenges, let's talk about "goals". Many diets have goals of weight-loss. Going vegan will get you that as quickly as any other diet, and you'll gain it back just as quickly when you stop. But since it's just a healthy way of eating in general, it's perfectly easy to maintain. There are no real risks in eating vegan, if you make sure you're eating enough variety to cover things like B-12 and Calcium, or supplementing where needed.
My goal is to get to a 100% vegan diet for the long term health benefits like avoiding issues like diabetes, high-cholesterol, high blood pressure and digestive cancer. The only truly difficult thing in eliminating animal products is letting go of the addiction to things we really enjoy eating. There are so many great substitutes to those things that have been developed in the last few years. However, that brings me to another issue: processed foods. I've eaten a lot of vegan food in the past years, but not until recently have I tried to eat vegan while eliminating processed foods. That means trying to go without bread, pasta, definitely any fake meats, crackers, non-dairy milks and ice creams. I even looked at Whole30 and Paleo diets and found that yup, it's pretty much not advisable for vegans (especially since those forbid beans and legumes - like this is why I say a big "WTF" to these "challenges" and "diets"). They claim that there are vegans that have done it successfully, but I really really wonder... WHY?
In our home, the adults (one vegetarian lifer and one 90% vegetarian) have very successfully transitioned to eating about 90% vegan. The kids, vegetarian to begin with, are eating significantly less cheese, and a tiny bit less dairy overall. I am introducing them to non-dairy ice cream, but I'm a bit conflicted that the additives in that are more harmful than the premium cow-milk ice cream I've been feeding them. This is one of the reasons I say "maybe" we'll get to 100% vegan, because as for processed foods, vegan ready-made products are relatively new territory. So for now, it's all about moderation.
As for processed foods, we've significantly cut down. If it's not there, it's not tempting, which has been a good mantra. I am making all of our cookies and baked goods at home. We're trying out healthier pastas on occasion, like quinoa or whole grain. I no longer offer white bread to the kids, even though that's one thing the husband can't give up. If we do go for the baguettes, they come straight from the real authentic bakery free of preservatives and fillers (our local bakery is cheaper than the supermarket chain "bakery" breads, so this kind of works out well!). Snacks are more often peanuts, pretzels and popcorn than candy, chips and crackers.
With these changes, I've actually lost 6-8 pounds in the last 4 weeks, without even needing to or trying. I didn't change any other thing besides food. So I'm really excited to move on to a fitness program, but not too excited to say goodbye to bread and fake meat, which haven't seemed to hurt so far. I'd even say that there's a possibility my 5-year old's behavior is a bit better, so doesn't that make life easier, too?
I think everyone should forget about challenges and diets and keep their sights on long term goals. Success is subjective. Do whatever you need to do to feel good, keep it within reason and based on facts not fads. If you want to do a 22 or 30 day challenge as an exploration or taste-test, go for it! I hope you find something you love, some good habits, and great recipes to incorporate going forward. Just don't be fooled into thinking that month is going to fast-track you to your long term goals. Sometimes the best races are won slow and steady, while being mindful of your limitations. Whatever you choose, just do the best you can and know that every little step toward your long term goals is worth it.