The First Rough and Tumble Week of Being a Vegan

Day 1: Breakfast is a piece of cake (I meant that metaphorically since I had a fruit smoothie). Lunch is even better: sautéed veggies and penne pasta. I walk into dinner with a swagger; I could easily just eat a salad at the Girls Inc’s College Shower event. Not only do they have salad, but they also have sautéed veggies and a veggie casserole, which I pile high on my plate. On second thought, do casseroles have cream? And do cookies count? Let’s pretend this was a trial run—check mark next to “Succeeded.”

Day 2: Another event--this time a BBQ. (Sigh) I am able to avoid the meat, but those crackers look so lonely without a piece of cheese accompanying them to my mouth. Check mark next to “Failed.”

Breakfast and lunch are simple since I can make something at home, but dinner is what kills me. Boyfriend almost makes me cave in for pizza, but Demarco’s had a shooting a few months back and was closed. We settle on Bar Pitti. I am drooling over his cream-based pasta with bacon. He taunts me with a fork of it. Do I want some? Internal conflict. Disciplined, self-righteous angel wins. I cry over my not-so-delicious-anymore-despite-being-homemade-pasta with veggies. “Succeeded.”

Day 4: Boyfriend wants pancakes for breakfast (he is starting to be a pain in my big left toe). He justifies it with vegetarian eggs. I’m only 1 for 4 doing this vegan thing. At least my energy level is increased, I feel lighter, my digestion is good and flowing. I made up for breakfast with veggie plates at Saigon Grill. “Failed.”

Day 5: I have my first donut in years at a graduation brunch. Two, to be exact. I also have this amazing dessert that must have been loaded with eggs and other bad things like milk chocolate. I skip the mouthwatering frozen mocha punch and stuff my face with fruit. I’m feeling extremely emotional today, able to cry over anything, just like when I did the Lemonade Diet.

Dinner wasn’t much better at the local Thai restaurant. The fried rice has egg in it. I try to pick the pieces out, which became a little exhausting. I really just want the duck curry. I REALLY just want the duck curry. I could give up now and blame it on my boyfriend for forcing me to eat pancakes, egg fried rice and I’m sure he’ll be demanding pizza again next week. I’m getting emotional again.

I have my first Recommendation for the week—never, EVER go to Fire Island as a vegan, unless you are going to cook. It’s like New York hit Honolulu—prices are through the roof for burgers, fries and fish. I had an excellent salad Friday night with fries and beer. I also shoved down some cookies while no one was looking. I keep forgetting that chocolate has milk in it. “Failed miserably.”

Day 6: I’m dying for a burger. This thought is consuming me as I gain the courage to ask the waitress if I can have pasta primavera even though it isn’t on the menu (every item had meat, fish or dairy except the garden salad). She is even nice enough to give me a choice of tomato sauce or white wine and garlic. Of course, being the wine lover that I am, I order the white wine sauce. And it came out white—creamy white. How do you send something like that back to the kitchen? A moral decision that ended up swallowed with the rest of the creamy pasta primavera. “Failed, but with an A for effort.”

Day 7: I’m not really hungry and for the first time I’m not experiencing any cravings. I know I need to increase my grains. Toast and peanut butter for breakfast. Brown rice and veggies with miso sauce for lunch. My boyfriend again tries very hard to convince me to eat pizza (tempting me with his super-salesman pitch: “What if it is the BEST pizza in the universe from Brooklyn?”) I declare a vegan uprising and tell him that he can have pizza but I will abstain. As the loving, supportive man that he is, he sets up a vegan buffet for me instead: Chinese tofu with brown rice, Pad Thai without egg, falafel salad, vegan pesto pasta salad. For the first time all week, I’m feeling the vegan groove and loving it. I can make it to week #2 with a confident smile. “Succeeded!”

Reflections on Week #1:

This sucked. Cravings came out of the wood-work from all directions. I craved meat, eggs, cheese, cream, chocolate, sugar, fish and rich foods. McDonalds didn’t come to mind, but pizza and cream-based pastas made my mouth water. I wanted cookies and rice crispy treats and chocolate and candy all weekend in Fire Island. I would have done ANYTHING to give it all up and eat a burger. Nothing satisfied me. I have been reading The Celestine Prophesy, which had the word “ravenously” written in it at one point and it perfectly describe my appetite. I constantly wanted to shove food down my throat without even chewing.

But I didn’t. I stuck in there (with the occasional dairy and egg in my food, unsuspectingly or not). I thought constantly of the danger of such a restrictive diet and how similar this was to my Lemonade Diet. I had the same cravings, felt emotional, constricted and rebellious. This is the antithesis of my philosophy for health counseling: eat healthy, but listen to your body and treat your body with kindness. Depriving my body of food is not in line with this philosophy. However, looking back, I was not depriving my body of food. I was actually eating more than usual because the food felt like it was converted into energy faster. So why was my body having such a rebellion? Why was I so emotional? Why did I feel incomplete and undernourished when this was supposed to be the healthiest way to eat?

Just like when a drug addict or smoker gives up his/her drug cold turkey, I had given up something that I had been addicted to for nearly 27 years. I didn’t slowly wean myself off meat and dairy; I suddenly took it away and all of the emotional side effects and cravings were the signs of my withdrawal. I started to eat things that I thought I would never touch again, like donuts, because anything and everything was a substitute for the meat and dairy withdrawal I was dealing with.

On the seventh day, I felt great. My digestion improved, my energy increased, and I felt lighter and clearer than before. I love to cook and am good at it, so eating at home is simple. However, I don’t eat at home every night. To make it more manageable during the second week, I will need to find some new vegan restaurants since eating at my usual spots is difficult (although still possible).

Final recommendations after a rough and tumble week #1:
Find new vegan restaurants. Cook more, explore new recipes. Drink more water.

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