7 Things I Learned From Going Completely Vegan for One Week
Ever since I watched the documentary Food Inc. in 2012, I gave up poultry and red meat and landed somewhere between vegan and will-eat-sushi-just-this-once. Then, in 2015, I quit my day job as the food editor at Reader’s Digest and enrolled in the chef training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City (now part of the Institute of Culinary Education). There, between nutrition lectures led by a registered dietitian and an almost completely plant-based curriculum, I became enthralled by the benefits of a vegan diet.
Still, I couldn’t seem to let go of those many weekends of succumbing to sushi allegedly once a year or the occasional bagel with cream cheese. Fast forward to this year, and I’m now about 90% vegan, but despite leading this mostly vegan lifestyle for so long, I’ve never gone completely cold turkey (ahem) for any noteworthy period of time.
Now, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, I figured it was as good a time as any to give the fully vegan thing a whirl. If nothing else, I figured, I have more time on my hands to cook and it would be nice to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of another long, monotonous week of quarantine life in NYC. So what were my takeaways from a completely vegan diet? Keep reading to find out—and perhaps you’ll become inspired to try the challenge yourself.
1. Have a plan from the outset.
Before I embarked on my seven-day quest, I used The Beet’s sample week of healthy recipes. It provided me with a simple M.O. and held me accountable for mapping out my meals before I started, which proved key when those late-night mac-and-cheese cravings hit (thankfully, I had leftover walnut pesto pasta on hand).
Since the coronavirus crisis made certain ingredients harder to get than normal, I was kind to myself about ingredient substitutions and even had fun getting creative in the kitchen. Chickpea and lentil burgers became “chickpea-and-a-lot-of-mushrooms-I-need-to-use-up burgers,” but the end result was just as tasty and nutritious. Bottom line: Without a general outline of what my week of vegan meals was going to look like, I would have been a lot more likely to stray from my goal.
2. Befriend miso paste and try new flavors.
Never have I loved this umami-rich condiment so much as miso paste. Whether I added a heaping tablespoon of miso paste to a stir-fry, veggie burger, or soup recipe or slipped it into a brownie recipe (yes, really), the fermented paste added much depth of flavor to my meals. Even though my week-long challenge is done, I know I’ll be spooning it on my dishes for many suppers to come.
Another new favorite? Umeboshi paste. Made from puréed, fermented Japanese ume plums, I love the tart, bright flavor it lends to a variety of savory dishes, and the extra pop of acid it gives to vinaigrettes.
3. Treat yourself a little.
To reinforce just how absolutely delicious vegan cuisine can be, splurge on a special meal or stock up on a specific snack you love. Once sticking to a plant-based diet becomes second nature to you, you may not need the extra boost, but to feel inspired during your initial shift, it’s an important motivator to keep on track with your new diet.
For you, maybe it’s a nightly bowl of popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast and smothered with vegan butter. Or perhaps you order some tasty smoothies from Daily Harvest. Whatever you settle on, space these indulgences out so you have something to look forward to every day of the week.
4. Reach out to all the vegan friends you know.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I couldn’t have done this without the support of plant-based pros in my life. Whether it was texting my chef friend to ask if I could substitute pumpkin seeds for walnuts in a pesto recipe (yes!) or having a veg friend who lives miles away in Virginia email me pictures of her meals for inspiration, connecting with others was a great source of encouragement throughout the week.
If you don’t know any vegans personally, check some of our favorites out on social media and sign up for The Beet’s newsletter to feel more part of a community.
5. Expect your energy to improve.
Look, I’m writing this from my childhood bedroom floor in a Manhattan apartment with no outdoor space. With all of us staying at home these days, it’s a Herculean quest to have massive amounts of energy, let alone your baseline levels. But by the end of the week, I already noticed I was sleeping better, I was able to endure a 10-minute weightlifting YouTube session followed by a vinyasa yoga class (Thanks, YoYoga! for streaming!), and I felt all-around better. I’m not sure if it was all that nootropic chocolate or the vegan diet, but either way, I’ll take it.
6. Think about what you’re adding to your diet, not what you’re taking away.
When you take the plunge, it’s easy to think of all that you’re giving up: omelets, cheeseburgers, caesar salads...whatever tugs at your heartstrings the most. Instead of focusing on these items, I found it helpful to think about what I was adding to my culinary repertoire (see tip #2) and get excited about experimenting in the kitchen with different cuisines than I am used to.
And if you’re still missing those artisan cheese platters? Check your grocery receipts. If seeing how much more affordable your tab is when you go vegan isn’t a serious booster, I don’t know what is.
7. Check off every successful day in a calendar.
It’s a simple act, but marking my calendar with a giant blue checkmark at the end of every day I stuck to 100% plant-based eating during the challenge gave me a jolt of happiness. Seeing all those blue checkmarks in a row in my plan book at the end of the week was so encouraging, in fact, that I’m looking forward to keeping the challenge going for another week. Who’s ready to join me?