My Vegan Challenge – What I’ve learned so far

Well folks, I’m in week 3 of my month-long vegan challenge and with just a couple of exceptions (like when Parker bought me ice cream on my birthday with his own money), I’ve been pretty strict about sticking to a vegan diet. In case you were wondering, there was one primary reason that I’d chosen to be a vegetarian instead of a vegan and that reason was CHEESE.

I’m not going to lie, I love cheese. From feta to cheddar and Gruyere to mozzarella, I adore it all. I love it on my pizza and in my lasagna, I love it in my burrito and on my nachos. I do love cheese here and there, I do love cheese everywhere…. Sorry, I’ve been reading Parker a lot of Dr. Seuss lately! But seriously, cheese has been my dairy Achilles heel and for that reason alone, I knew that I had to try to live without it. It’s a control freak kind of thing. As soon as I have the slightest inclination of attachment to something, I go running for the hills. Anyways, back to my vegan challenge. I thought that I would share with you all what I’ve learned over the past 3 weeks and naturally, I thought I would start with cheese.

Lesson #1: I will not die if I don’t eat cheese. I know, I couldn’t believe it either! But alas, it is true. I stopped eating cheese and the earth did not implode. What’s more, a couple of weeks into the challenge, I stopped craving cheese altogether. Instead of reaching for a cheese stick, I grabbed a handful of almonds and instead of topping my pizza with mozzarella, I loaded it with caramelized veggies instead.

Lesson #2: Tofu is not the devil. I don’t know what my psychological aversion was to tofu, but after my husband took the initiative to bring a package home from the grocery (!!), I decided to use it to replace the eggs in my Sunday morning veggie omelet. And then I used it to replace shrimp when I made stir fry. And also as a sub for fish in my street tacos. As longtime tofu eaters already know, it’s amazingly versatile and it really does take on the taste of whatever it’s paired with. I thought I would be adverse to the texture, but surprisingly, I didn’t even notice it.

Lesson #3: My energy levels increased. This has probably been my most startling revelation of this challenge. Prior to this month, I had very obvious ebbs and flows in my energy level throughout the day and I was flat out dragging ass (sorry mom, but it’s true) by dinner time. For whatever reason (and I need to explore this further), over the last three weeks, I have felt energized and downright alert right up until bedtime. As a mother of two children, (and one still an infant) this is mind-blowing to me.  For this reason alone, this challenge was completely worth it!

Lesson #4: Habits (for better or worse) are formed very quickly. Week one of this challenge was very hard for me. I was so used to living with cheese, butter and eggs as a regular part of my life that I had to make a very deliberate adjustment to my diet. Once I figured out some common sense replacements for those things, the next two weeks were smooth rolling. I’m going to definitely try to make some of those replacements permanent.

Lesson #5: Animal products and by-products are in, like, everything. Since I so rarely eat out, I wasn’t really aware of how difficult it might be to maintain a vegan lifestyle outside of my kitchen. From the vast majority of baked goods to soups to breads, I inadvertently broke the challenge on a couple of different occasions simply because I wasn’t entirely knowledgeable about the full ingredient list in what I was eating. And attending university events or office parties? What I brought myself was about the only thing I could eat. That there are millions of vegans out there is a testament to the fact that it can be done if one is committed enough, it just makes going out (especially in a small town) a bit more difficult.

With all that said, I’m encouraged to keep a number of the changes that I’ve made to my diet when this challenge is over at the end of the month. Will I ever be a strict vegan? Probably not, but I’ll be a heck of a lot closer than I was just a mere 30 days before!

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