Vegetarian lifestyle. Veganism. It’s not that I had never been in touch with these ideas. Movies of maltreatment of animals in mass food production were shown to us as early as junior high. Two in my family are vegetarian and stick to it religiously, even though we celebrate almost every birthday at our favorite steakhouse. I’ve always believed that you are what you eat, and I have quite a history of experimenting with nutrition to optimize my health. But never have I ever seriously entertained the thought of becoming vegetarian, even vegan. Never.
That changed when I found myself jumping right in to take “The Vegan Challenge” of my health coach, co-traveler and dear friend Kara Mosesso. 4 weeks of plant-based whole grains lifestyle while traveling the world and being in different places almost every week! It seemed like a Mission Impossible at that point. Fast-forward to today, I’m finishing week 6 as I’m writing this. And surprise, I’m planning on keeping going. Here is why.
I’d like to be able to tell you that my love for animals was the main reason, but that would be a lie. Like everyone else, I had been very touched by seeing movies like “Earthlings” or the German documentary “Our Daily Bread”. The horror of how we treat other species in order to satisfy our never-ending appetite for meat is disgusting and has always felt like that for me. And yet, for most of my life I have been perfectly able to compartmentalize this sensation when smelling fresh bacon or biting into a juicy steak. Not sure if that’s the German in me, but I have to admit it: I love the taste of meat! Love it. So much that my disgust for animal maltreatment apparently wasn’t enough. The environmental effects of meat production were too much of a purely rational matter to trigger such a fundamental change in my lifestyle. So for the egotistically motivated person that I seem to be, it happened to be a different reason: Feel better and maintain perfect health!
I was convinced and constantly reassured by media (I even had scientific proof through genetic analysis) that I need a lot of protein to stay healthy, slim and optimally nourished. My diet in a nutshell was: No processed carbs, no gluten, no sugar, high protein. Before the challenge, my classic food day looked as follows: A 1-egg-2-egg-whites omelet with some veggies for breakfast, a whey protein shake after workout, tuna sashimi salad for lunch, chicken steak and veggies for dinner. I had cut out dairy anyways as I am lactose intolerant like the majority of Westerners. Sounds pretty healthy, right? So, the shift to vegan definitely concerned me at first, as none of these dishes were able to remain on the agenda, not one single one! Where would I get my protein?
Within only the first few days, I had two big realizations: Firstly, it is incredible how meat and animal products are literally in everything, everywhere! Looking at a standard restaurant menu, I kept asking myself how many animals are dying for a typical day in this place. Secondly, I could not believe how many plants, nuts and grains actually contain significant amounts of protein that are enough to keep your intake at very healthy levels.
Here are the three most fundamental changes I’m seeing after 6 weeks, and they go far beyond what I had expected:
I am more focused and aware! This came as a total surprise. I was convinced that the lack of protein would throw me off and I would feel weak at least for a couple of days. The exact opposite was the case. One big reason might be that my sleep improved, but more on that below. I also feel like my energy is more sustainable. When in the past I would have massive energy highs and lows, now I seem to be able to maintain a constant level throughout the day, which also massively reduces anxiety and stress. I remember that during all my meditation retreats, and especially my 10-days Vipassana retreat last year, the diet was fully vegan, and now I realize how much it has helped my practice, not only from a spiritual but simply from a physical and mental perspective.
Better sleep, better skin, and no chance for Asian germs! After only a few days, my previous problems of sleeping through the night started to disappear and, even better, I woke up well rested and ready to start the day! You know how you have this default of how you wake up? Either super positive and smiley, or rather anxious and worried? Well, for some reason I went from the ladder to the former in only a few days, and it kept going. I don’t want to blame everything on the diet, but it is a pretty impressive coincidence, don’t you think? Even better, my skin got much better, more elastic and feels more hydrated, and, other than most people in our travel group, I did not get sick once from any of the multiple germs flooding our privileged Western bodies here in Asia.
Me and my body became a team! As I have to think through my food choices more consciously anyways, it becomes almost natural to choose very healthy options that contain tons of veggies. It almost feels like my body woke up in that process and started giving me feedback about a lot more things. The feeling of your body embracing a fresh green smoothie with almond milk and the slight difference in energy levels and vibrancy was unnoticeable to me before, but now it is the most wonderful sensation. Also, I now get body cues far ahead. Slowly getting more tired, feeling slightly thirsty, being able to separate appetite from hunger – all of these were new to me. Before, my body would just go-go-go and then finally crash when it was exhausted and drained of energy.
One other thing I want to mention is a mind-shift that seems incredibly obvious but hadn’t been for me: Meat is a dead animal! Duh. Well seriously, my unconscious brain was very successful in suggesting that there was no such connection as soon as it was a steak on a plate. All I saw was deliciousness. Now I see deliciousness… and the pictures of chicken being killed on an assembly line. Maybe this happened in the process of me educating myself around veganism while reading up and watching a lot of documentaries about animal treatment in mass meat production facilities and the impact on our environment and global warming. Seeing those movies again I teared up multiple times and cannot believe that it had completely left my memory.
Will I be vegan forever? I have no clue! All I know is that it has improved my game enough to decide to stick with it, and knowing that you’re doing the planet and a lot of animals a big favor helps. A lot! And even if I should happen to go back to eating meat and dairy in the future, it would now happen in a very conscious way, accepting the fact that I might be eating things that mess with my body, and very well knowing what I’m causing on the front end of my splurge.
If you’re still reading, and any of this sounds interesting to you, you might want to consider a similar challenge. It’s worth it, at least for the experience of it. Make sure you check out my friend Kara Mosesso’s challenge website. It also contains an interview with me on the changes and challenges I had going through 4 weeks while transitioning from a meat-heavy diet – click on the image below to see it!