I Was a Junk Food Vegan
Original Pringles? Vegan. Blue Sky Cherry Vanilla soda? Vegan. Soy Delicious Peanut Butter Zig Zag ice cream? Vegan. Eating a Vegan diet? Yes. Eating healthy? Not if you’re a junk food vegan. I know. I’ve been there.
It’s easy to rely on prepackaged products when you begin a vegan lifestyle. Without a dairy-and-meat-free culinary culture to draw on, it’s hard to figure out just what to eat. That’s why it’s so easy to fall back on foods that are similar to the foods we used to eat (like the Soy Delicious ice cream instead of Ben & Jerry’s), or to load up on hearty, oildrenched pastas. So much for health. Perhaps it’s not quite that dire, but focusing on these foods will keep us from achieving the vegan grail of good health, a trim body and an abundance of energy.
People turn to a vegan diet for many reasons, including ethics, the environment and health. For me, it was my health. I was diabetic before I was 30 and weighed more than 325 pounds, in dismaying contrast to the thin, healthy body of my youth. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn that I was diabetic until a couple years after I had manifested symptoms like lethargy and failing eyesight. It was while I was being treated for a separate (but, it turns out, related) ailment in a Texas hospital that the attending physician told me I was diabetic. Being scared that my strong family history of diabetes had caught up with me at such an early age, I searched for a solution. A friend had cured her diabetes by going vegan, so I quickly made the transition from a vegetarian to a vegan diet.
For me, that meant replacing all the foods I was accustomed to eating with nondairy versions. I thought I was doing OK. What I forgot to do was to cut back on the refined foods I was eating, to cut back on the sugar, the white flour and the calories. I simply didn’t think about it.
Fortunately, I grew healthier anyway. It’s hard not to do so when you don’t consume high-fat, calorie-intensive items like cheese and milk. Sure, maybe I was drinking too much soy milk the way I used to drink too much cow’s milk and maybe I was using cheese substitutes more often than I should have, but they were still healthier foods. And, I was starting to look for better, natural cheese substitutes, like avocados. My diabetic symptoms started to disappear, my weight started to drop and my energy started to increase.
However, it wasn’t until I cut back on a lot of the other unhealthy processed foods that I really saw a major improvement. Cutting back was easier than I expected it to be, too. As I went down the road of being healthy once again, I wanted to eat healthier foods. It was as though my tastes changed to encourage me to continue the process of regaining my health. The trick was to learn how to replace the processed foods. That’s when I really started to explore using fresh vegetables to make a good, hearty meal. Once I did that, my weight dropped dramatically (over 100 pounds) and I was able to cure my diabetes. Now, when I’m at the market, I look for a piece of fresh fruit to eat rather than look for a can of Blue Sky Cherry Vanilla soda. I dream up an interesting dish with the in-season fresh vegetables instead of reaching for the can of Pringles.
Don’t make the same initial mistake that I did and think that simply cutting out dairy is an instant ticket to health. It’s not. The real change comes when fresh fruits and vegetables become the focus of the table. Original Pringles? Not anymore. Blue Sky Cherry Vanilla soda? Rarely. Soy Delicious Peanut Butter Zig Zag ice cream? On special occasions. Eating a vegan diet? Yes. Eating truly healthy? Finally.