Voiding Veganism: Why My Plant-Based Eating Challenge Ended Early

Eating disorders are all about control. At this point, even the fluffiest, most People Magazine resources recognize that. I didn’t see it that way at the time, but I do now. I felt like I couldn’t control what food went into my mouth, so I tried to settle for controlling what I digested instead.

When I was a 24-year-old, I would sometimes go have lunch at Costco, home of the only acceptable pizza in Las Vegas in the eyes of this snobby New Yorker. (I know, but just roll with it.) Every lunch would be the same: I’d eat two slices and have instant buyer’s remorse.

Those slices are so big, how could I? I’d mentally commit to throwing up when I got home. And, since I was going to do that anyway, I may as well go all out and get a frozen yogurt while I was at it. Seriously, every single time. The one trip to Costco that was different in any way was the one where I nearly choked on a string of cheese that got stuck in my throat on its way back up, which I somehow dislodged with a toothbrush.

What’s the moral of that story? Food-related discipline is something that requires a lot of effort for me. And that I love pizza. Oh, and that I was a moron when I was 24. Being nearly a decade older, probably 25 pounds heavier and feeling saner, I see now what I couldn’t see then: My jawline was freaking awesome.

*Sigh*

 
 "I wasted the entire time I looked like this thinking I was morbidly obese." Photo credit: Mike O'Brien

"I wasted the entire time I looked like this thinking I was morbidly obese."
Photo credit: Mike O'Brien

 

Vacationing in Veganism

My vegan challenge was hard. Surprisingly, it was less because I missed scrambled eggs and more because abstaining from all animal products was frankly a pain. Before I started, I pictured myself being a vegetarian who also avoided eggs and cheese. I didn’t actually realize how much logistical strategizing a vegan diet calls for.

I didn’t realize that animal products are hiding everywhere, from the eggs that hold veggie burgers together to the milk that’s in minestrone soup for some reason. Living in a big city, I’m accustomed to being able to get anything at any time. I also didn’t realize what an adjustment it would be to give that up.

I did it, though. It started out as confusing, with me texting "Chef" Orky from Whole Foods like, “Hey, what should I get?” and blindly buying whatever she said, without actually knowing how to prepare it. Or even necessarily what it was. (Now I know that tempeh is, in fact, made out of fermented soybeans and not corrugated cardboard.)

 
 What do  you  think this looks like?

What do you think this looks like?

 

On my first workday as a vegan, I went to lunch at Chipotle because I didn’t even know what to make. I learned that tofu is actually pretty good, provided it’s seasoned and marinated to no end, and that cheese is a superfluous addition to burrito bowls. There’s so much happening, I didn’t even notice the lack of cheese.

But while it was hard, I only experienced that for a few days. Somewhere around the third or fourth day, eating vegan stopped being something I had to think about. I just did it. And I was genuinely surprised by, and honestly proud of, my resolve.

The Protein Predicament

Plot twist: I stopped after 10 days.

Vegans are sometimes defensive like, “We have just as many protein sources as you do!” But the quantities are skewed. A chicken thigh has 28 grams of protein, the same amount you can find in an entire can of black beans. A salmon fillet has 40 grams of protein, equivalent to a pound of tofu.

 
 Via chefscornerstore.com

Via chefscornerstore.com

 

On the one hand, it’s not hard to get enough protein. But how much is enough? It’s recommended to eat 0.36 grams per pound of body weight for the average man, according to the Dietary Reference Intake. However, the average man is sedentary and I am not. After rock climbing, I would find myself sorer than I’d normally be, and for longer. My arm was even sore after playing in my dodgeball league, which had never happened before.

That was the beginning of the end.

The End

Going vegan was ostensibly about health. My goal was to complete my challenge to prove to myself that I could, and then inspire Future Me with this reserve of willpower I didn’t necessarily realize I had. But, ending early was also ostensibly about health.

I couldn’t figure out a third option beyond “Get less protein and recover from workouts slowly (as my arms deflate)” and “Overeat, in order to get enough protein.” Neither of those really worked for me.

And so, I started eating animal products again. And in the subsequent week, I’ve noticed that I’m better at delayed gratification. So, I still consider my challenge a win.

What "wins" have you found even when you haven't reached your nutritional goals?
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