Vegan for 1 Year: My Story and Journey (So Far)

It has officially been a whole year since making a major lifestyle change to better my health and mind.  I have never felt better in my life and am so grateful to have adapted to a vegan lifestyle.  I have gained health and mental clarity as well as a new perception of life and the way society works.  Tonight I went to Seabirds Kitchen in Costa Mesa for dinner to celebrate.  This restaurant is completely vegan and I decided to order the grilled “cheese” with avocado pesto and fries.  This was probably the most flavorful and delicious grilled cheese I’ve ever had.  Let me explain how I got to where I am today in life:

Starting back in my freshman year of high school over 5 years ago, I started to realize often that I wasn’t feeling very well.  There were different symptoms I experienced, such as stomach aches, heartburn, and acid reflux, and after realizing that these symptoms were consistent, I started to get anxiety because I thought I had health issues.  My dad believes that doctors appointments are unnecessary (to an extent) and doesn’t agree with medicine and prescriptions.  I used to think he was just stubborn and didn’t know what he was talking about, but after coming to veganism and doing extensive research on the human body and health, I finally understood his views.  Anyways, since I didn’t go to the doctors, I always thought the worst possible things were wrong with me whenever I had pain or weird symptoms.  I dealt with this all throughout high school and I was constantly complaining to my parents about the stomach aches and severe heartburn I was experiencing.  Rolaids became my best friend because they were the only thing that could help with the pain I had.  Often times it got so bad that I would start to panic and get bad anxiety attacks.  It got to a point where I feared going out and doing certain things with my friends because I didn’t want to have an anxiety attack or freak out in front of people.  My dad was the only person who could help me through bad anxiety, so I rarely wanted to leave the house.  Eventually, during my freshman year of college, I got so frustrated dealing with this constant pain that I begged my parents to do something about it.  I went to a total of 5 doctors appointments at different offices and no one could help me.  I had X-rays taken of my organs, had blood work done, and had a few other examinations but everyone I saw said there was nothing wrong with me, or they wanted to give me drugs to help with the pain, which I did not want because it was not a permanent solution nor did I want to put those substances into my body.  I was so upset during this time in my life because I thought I was going to have to deal with this constant pain forever.  I even saw a counselor a few times at the college I was attending at the time to see if they had any suggestions on how to cope with stress that may have been contributing to the symptoms, but it didn’t do much for me.  Around March of 2016 I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I disregarded the doctors who said I was “fine” and started researching.  I began by considering things that may cause the stomach issues and the most common things I read related to stress or certain acidic foods.  I knew I was somewhat stressed out because I was a full time student with a part-time job during this time, but I didn’t think of myself as an extremely stressed out person.  I considered the foods I was eating and tried to cut out most acidic foods that contribute to heartburn and acid reflux.  I cut out foods such as tomatoes, yogurt, citrus, pizza (sometimes) and onions.  I got frustrated because I enjoyed eating these foods but I thought they were all making me sick.  After testing this for about a week, I didn’t notice any major changes so I went back to square 1.  I decided to do research on foods and their affects on the body.  I read many references that said a lot of people experience stomach problems because of dairy.  This was such an ah-ha moment for me, because after reflecting on my diet, I always felt the worst after eating my favorite things such as cereal, pizza, fettuccine alfredo pasta, and ice cream.  I knew what I had to do, and I knew it was going to be hard.  I switched from dairy milk to almond milk and pretty much stopped eating ice cream all together, as well as attempted to cut out dairy from my diet completely.  After doing so for about a week and making mistakes throughout, I did notice changes but it wasn’t enough for me to say that I was better (because I did not fully commit to cutting out ALL dairy).  I basically self-diagnosed myself as being lactose-intolerant, since dairy products irritated my body so much.  I had been somewhat familiar with vegetarian and vegan diets just by hearing the terms throughout my life, but I always thought those people were weird and were restricting themselves.  After my attempt to cut out all dairy, I decided to go vegetarian and see how I felt by doing so.  I cut out all meats, but I went back to eating some dairy products in moderation.  I stuck to this for around 3 weeks and was still was not happy.  I then furthered my research on vegan diets and soon after decided to give it a go.  I started following a few vegan Youtubers and watched their videos for meal inspiration.  Some of them also talked about the ethical side of veganism as well, which I had never really considered, but it definitely caught my attention and made me shift my mindset about the world.  Many of them recommended watching the documentary Forks Over Knives (available on Netflix), and I also watched many other Youtube videos including Gary Yourofsky’s “The Most Important Speech You Will Ever Hear.”  These videos alone completely shifted my perspective and opened my eyes to things I had never even imagined.  After learning so much information in just a matter of a hours, there was no way I could ever look at animal products as appetizing again.  The way animals are treated by being confined in cages just to end up being brutally tortured and slaughtered, the amount of chemicals and antibiotics they are forced to consume that end up in the piece of meat on your plate that makes people sick, the active rise in global warming due to vast emissions from animal agriculture, the endless list of illnesses, diseases and cancers directly linked to the consumption of animal products: all of these things could be turned around simply by eliminating animal agriculture. Everything about animal agriculture made me sick to my stomach.  I was still “vegetarian” at the time and after doing so much research I pretty much went vegan overnight.  It was definitely hard at first, and in the beginning my family thought I was crazy and “overreacting.”  That was hard to deal with, but I knew that I was going to stick with this no matter what anyone thought about it.  I knew so much more than what they did about the meat and dairy industry, and I tried to share some of my knowledge with them but they didn’t seem to care.  It bothered me because I realized how brainwashed America really is: the media is the strongest tool our society has and they have been feeding us lie after lie as long as the media has existed.  I would love to do a post in the future expanding on this topic to expose the media, or else this post would be a novel.  

Anyways, beginning a vegan lifestyle was definitely difficult, but no one is perfect when trying new things- it is the conscious effort that matters.  I got in the habit of reading food labels of everything I ate, which is important, as well as always asking the waiter/waitress if certain foods contained any animal products when going out to eat.  I started doing my own grocery shopping and tried to purchase as many whole foods as possible, eliminating processes foods when I could.  I made mistakes in the beginning of my journey such as forgetting to check the ingredients of foods and realizing the item wasn’t vegan, but it takes time to build habits and expand your awareness.  I think that often times when people want to try to go vegan or vegetarian, they give up too quickly because they make mistakes, but changing a habit from something you were taught your whole life takes time to adjust to, and also requires a shift in mindset.  I learned this by hearing other people’s stories on Youtube, so when I started out I kept that information in the back of my head, that its okay to mess up as long as you are giving your best efforts to make a change.  In the past few years, veganism has grown extensively and it makes me so happy to see the growth of such a compassionate movement.  Veganism is not just about food, its about saving our planet, bettering/saving your health, and not exploiting animals.  All of those factors can be achieved by adjusting to a vegan lifestyle, and I think that’s pretty amazing.  There is a common misconception about vegan diets- that it is highly restrictive, there’s nothing good to eat, vegans are malnourished, and you’re always hungry.  That is the furthest from the truth!  I now eat an abundance of whole, nutritious foods every day and I rarely feel sick or have anxiety attacks like I used to.  In today’s world, there are vegan options for EVERYTHING such as “meats” made from soy, tofu, or vegetables (they are not gross either, whats gross is eating rotting animal flesh!), “cheese” made from an almond, soy, or cashew base, a wide range of plant-based milks and ice creams, and so much more.  The most common (and most annoying) question I get from people is “Where do you get your protein?”  A lot of plant foods have more protein in 1 serving that a piece of meat- here are some examples: broccoli (7g), baked potato (7g), lentils (15g), black beans (13g), tofu (10g), spaghetti (6g), peanut butter (6g), soy milk (7g).  Incredible isn’t it?  People should have no excuse that they “can’t go vegan!” Literally ANYTHING can be made vegan, so might as well make the switch!  My family and friends are now all very supportive of me and maybe one day they will follow my example.  As I reflect on my life before coming to veganism, all I can remember is feeling miserable and I’m just so thankful that I’m not suffering anymore and that my body has healed.  If you are wondering where I got my information from, a simple Google search on those topics will provide articles from credible health specialists and doctors, as well as Youtube videos and documentaries.  If you have any further questions about my story or tips for transitioning to this lifestyle, feel free to leave me a comment below!  I hope this post was helpful or even inspires you to make changes in your daily life, whether it be on a small or large scale.  

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