1. Let’s get this one out of the way first: yes, you can get adequate amounts of protein.
Without getting too deep into the rabbit hole of how much protein is enough and how the body metabolizes different kinds of protein and whether or not you can get adequate micronutrients and all of that, it is completely and totally possible to eat enough protein to maintain muscle mass and keep your body healthy. “But like, where do you get it?” Tofu, tempeh, hummus, beans, edamame, so much hummus I want to cry into my family-sized tub of Sabra every now and again, some vegetables (really!)… you get it.
2. People are really specific about what a lifestyle means to them — and by extension, you.
Want to watch a really fun (and by fun, I mean sort of totally mind-numbing) fight that has absolutely no conclusion? Put a vegan, a vegetarian, a vegetarian who eats eggs, a pescatarian, and someone who eats Paleo in a room together and tell them to figure out who has the best lifestyle. You will go around and around in circles forever, because everyone has a different idea of what works best for their own life. And that’s fine! That’s great! You know you have a good lifestyle change when it’s sustainable for you, and not everyone else has to follow suit. Still, though, I would get a lot of side-eye for wearing pieces that had leather because I was and still am phasing out my wardrobe (and went plant-based not for animal rights reasons — though I do care about those — but rather for my health and the fact that I just wasn’t eating any of it to begin with), but more on that later.
3. I found myself not defending my choice… but rather, apologizing. A lot.
Whether it’s because you are choosing not to partake in something that someone cooked — but how were they to know unless they specifically asked you or there was an opportunity to let them know beforehand? — or because a restaurant is just not going to have any options for you and can the group go somewhere else, it’s inevitable that you’re going to ask for a favor or two somewhere down the line. And I felt really bad about that every time I did, because I didn’t want my choices to encroach upon everyone else’s hospitality and good time. A lot of vegetarians and vegans (and even lactose-intolerant people at pizza joints) are like that.
4. Yes, I lost weight.
But not without actively trying. Do you know how easy it is to only eat junk food as a vegan? So easy. Like, the easiest. The classic example of course is Oreos (without getting into the nitty gritty of is or isn’t sugar vegan), but there’s french fries and potato chips and bread and trail mix. And all that hummus you’re loading up on? Not exactly low calorie. Part of the reason why I went vegan is because I wasn’t eating any animal products anyway, so putting a label on it just made me that much more conscious of actually eating right. (It was more psychosomatic than anything, but it worked.) But then again, fewer fries and more vegetables is going to help anyone be healthier, whether or not you make a radical shift.
5. And yes, I get cravings for the foods I gave up.
About once every two weeks, I’ll miss cheese like crazy. It hits like how I imagine those folkloric 2 a.m. pregnancy ice-cream-and-grilled-cheese cravings strike, and I’m basically left in the Whole Foods cheese section, bargaining for my life. It’s not pretty. I also miss Chef Boyardee ravioli, but that is my super-not-classy cross to bear and I’ll have to ride it out for the rest of my life. Everyone’s got their thing. Mine just happens to be low-quality canned pasta ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
6. Your tastebuds do change though.
If I don’t have something green once a day, my body basically goes into revolt. I’ve cut down on coffee (though, I mean, I still drink enough to power a mid-sized town) because my body was just… naturally rejecting chemicals. Kale is great. Braised kale is even better. I did a 3-day juice cleanse, switched to the all-green juice plan halfway through, and didn’t want to rage over it. It takes a while – in the beginning, the mere sight of broccoli was enough to make me angry because it felt like all I was eating was broccoli — but slowly, your body not only gets used to being so plant-centric, but it ends up wanting plants. You might even wind up being the kind of person to call fruit an adequate dessert, and while I know that sounds like sacrilege, it’s actually not so bad at all.
7. Giving up the food wasn’t the hardest part.
It was giving up the makeup that has beeswax. And the clothes that are wool or leather or silk. And shoes and bags that don’t wear out after five uses. (If I had the money to spring for Stella McCartney, I would, but let’s be real here. I have student loans.) I actually wound up sourcing a lot of things from fast fashion retailers — H&M has a pair of pleather shorts that I snagged a few weeks ago and absolutely love, which is something I never thought I’d say — but I’m mostly just letting the pieces I had in my wardrobe before I made the switch to vegan wear out naturally before I replace them with alternatives. A friend of mine who’s been vegan for four years told me that’s what she did, and it was significantly less harsh on her bank account. Obviously, this is a point of contention for people who then think you’re not being a real vegan, but I haven’t actively bought anything leather or wool in a very long time, so it’s a starting point.
8. When in doubt, bring something for yourself.
If I’m heading to a friend’s apartment to watch a football game, I’ll show up with a few slices of pizza for myself (and for whoever else wants in on it; there’s always someone who’s adventurous enough to try it). I also always offer to bring something if someone has invited me over for dinner to mitigate the burden of cooking for a bunch of people and a vegan, and I usually stash a snack or two in my bag in case I’ve been out and about for a few hours and am not anywhere near vegan-friendly food. (But again, I live in New York City, where juice shops are basically around every corner, so it’s pretty easy to find something here. It might not be so easy in a city that’s not as unique-diet-friendly.)
9. It’s a turn-off to a lot of people.
Honestly. There have been multiple occasions where someone will ask me out, he’ll suggest a restaurant, I check out the menu and profess hesitation because it doesn’t seem like there’s much there for a vegan to eat, and then he’s suddenly busy with work and we never go on a date. And that’s fine. If dating someone you can go to a barbecue joint and a steakhouse and a hog-on-a-spit party is important to you, then by all means, find that person and go to those places with them. I don’t get creeped out or mortally offended by my friends eating meat in front of me, but I can understand why someone might feel limited if they love meat and their significant other didn’t.
10. Weirdest of all — my skin cleared up.
I have had frustratingly combination skin for my entire life. Rosacea, folliculitis, acne that has plagued me from the time I was a teenager until about a year ago — it all began clearing up the minute I got dairy out of my system for good. My skin is nowhere near perfect, and I’m not about to post a #nomakeup #nofilter #Iwokeuplikedis selfie to Instagram any time soon, but I feel less self-aware when I leave the house without any makeup on. Baby steps, y’all.
11. It’s actually a pretty sustainable way to live — if you’re prepared.
They say that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but overhauling a huge chunk of how you live your life is going to take a little longer. But it does get easier to plan out what you’re going to eat every day — I’ll either cook a dish that will last me a few days, or I’ll just eat the same thing every day to take out the guess work. I take a B-12 supplement and a vegan multi-vitamin. Making vegetables the base of my meals is second-nature now (pun only partially intended) and I can see myself living like this for… well, if not the rest of my life, then at least a really, really long time. I’ll probably be the old lady with the Stella Falabella. I’m fine with that. Because I’m also going to be the old lady who looks like she’s 40 when she’s really 60.