For this week's health and happiness challenge, I decided to focus on nutrition and adopt a vegan diet for the week. For background, I have been steadily moving towards a plant-based diet over the past few months. My desire for meat has largely disappeared to my surprise. I still eat fish and seafood when dining out, but I rarely prepare it at home. Mostly because I have a tiny ass kitchen with little-to-no air ventilation (thank you, NYC), and the thought of going to bed 10 feet away from the smells of the salty ocean is not very appealing. Since I've mostly eliminated meat from my diet, I have felt healthier in a few different ways. First, I've noticed a slight uptick in my energy levels. Second, I feel healthier in a very vague, general sense. I can't pinpoint the exact feeling, but I like the feeling, so that's all that matters. I also feel pretty righteous about my meat-free diet, and I try to boast about my minimal carbon footprint and cruelty-free lifestyle every chance I get. Just kidding. I don't do that. That would be the worst.
Since I've already been working towards a plant-based diet, I thought it would be easy to maintain a 100% vegan diet for the week. I was wrong. Well, sort of.
Being prepared was key to my success as a vegan. So was cooking my own meals. When I was prepared and had access to my own food, eating a vegan diet was pretty easy. I did slightly miss eating fried eggs or soft-boiled eggs for breakfast, but preparing gorgeous smoothie bowls for breakfast helped me get over it.
The lunches and dinners I prepared for myself were full of vegetables, plant-based proteins, gluten-free grains, and healthy fats, with various textures and flavors for variety. These colorful and hearty meals kept me satisfied with my diet for the most part. Except I did have recurring thoughts about cheese. Melted cheese, sliced cheese, crumbled cheese, creamy cheese. The cheese thoughts were relentless.
I've mentioned this before, but food is life for me. As such, I've never been able to eat plain chicken breast and a garden salad and call it a day. I need variety, and I need my food to look beautiful and taste very flavorful. Otherwise, I'm just going to eat an entire pizza and a pan of brownies everyday. Sorry. But not really. Unsurprisingly, things got a bit hairy this week when I didn't have access to my delicious home-cooked food and I had to rely on the outside world to provide me with vegan meals. One day this week, I forgot to bring my lunch to work, so I was forced to visit Just Salad, one of the few vegan-friendly lunch spots near my office. It didn't help that the guy behind the counter looked at my salad and said "no cheese, today, mami?" No, Roberto, no queso today. I mean, the salad was still good, I guess. In the same way that water tastes good.
An hour after eating my unfulfilling salad, I developed a relentless craving for dessert. I was ready to eat every pastry and donut I could track down. Eventually, I reminded myself that the above-mentioned pastries and donuts were definitely not vegan, so I moved on to Plan B: vegan dark chocolate. Sure, there are a handful of bakeries that sell vegan cupcakes and the like, but that would've required me to do some serious Yelp research, and I needed my heroin fix immediately. Errr, sugar fix.
I sprinted to the gourmet market near my office, which sells every brand of dark chocolate under the sun, and bought myself a luscious 85% dark chocolate bar with sea salt. From the second I swiped my credit card to pay for the chocolate bar, I knew that I was going to devour the entire bar in one sitting. The experts' advice to "occasionally treat yourself to a small square of dark chocolate" has never made sense to me. Just a square? What will happen to the rest of the chocolate bar? Surely, the rest of the squares will get lonely, so I might as well eat all of the squares together. Duh.
I also dined out on Friday night, which is when I realized how difficult it must be for vegans to navigate a meat-lovers world. For the first time in a long time, I came across countless restaurant menus where there wasn't a single dish I could eat. I ended up having to pick an over-the-top healthy restaurant where the entrees are so small they look like they belong on a children's appetizer menu, and the options are so vegan-friendly and gluten-free-friendly that when you order the one solitary dish with meat, dairy, and gluten, the server gives you stink eye like, What. A. Cow. I ordered the vegan "mashed potatoes" as part of my meal, and I'm sad to report that it tasted nothing like mashed potatoes. It was simply boiled potatoes that had been mushed together and refrigerated until hard and crumbly, and then sprinkled with chopped almonds as an afterthought. Yes, almonds. In mashed potatoes. I know, the world is ending.
Despite these difficulties, my vegan diet was going pretty well. That is, until I walked into an Austrian restaurant. One of Max's family members owns an Austrian restaurant in New York City, and I had plans to visit on Saturday afternoon to do some of the restaurant's food photography. For the unlearned, Austrian food is to vegan food as oil is to water. And in case you didn't catch that SAT analogy, let me just say that Austrian food is probably the least vegan-friendly cuisine of all. Popular Austrian dishes include Wiener Schnitzel, Goulash, and Spaetzle. Vegans, beware.
When I arrived at the restaurant, I had a very idealistic vision for the afternoon. I planned to photograph dozens of dishes as they came out of the kitchen, working the entire time, except for short breaks to replenish my glass of rosé wine. But as the first dish came out, it became impossible to stick to the plan. My friends, who had accompanied me with empty stomachs, began to chow down and the restaurant owner was eager to feed me for my services. The first dish also happened to be a decadent Brioche French Toast, which I can never turn down. As soon as the French Toast came out, I told myself that it was okay to cheat on my vegan boyfriend with my lover gluttony, and well, the rest is history. After the French Toast was demolished, out came a giant pretzel with house-made cheese, a burger with potato fritters, creamy risotto, and deep-fried Brussels sprouts. This feast was followed by crepes with chocolate & hazelnuts and a Linzer Torte with raspberry jam for dessert, all served with giant dollops of fresh whipped cream.
I am proud to report that I didn't eat any meat that evening, but it certainly wasn't a vegan feast. Later that evening--after the eggs, butter, and cream began to settle in my stomach--I met my friend Amy for a glass of wine in the West Village. Afterwards, we started chatting about Victory Garden, a nearby ice cream parlor that serves ice cream and yogurt from fresh goat's milk. The shop markets itself as a healthy alternative to traditional ice cream, but when you're eating salted caramel ice cream with chocolate sprinkles on top, I'm not sure there is much of a difference. I could think of no better way to end my very un-vegan day.
The next morning, my belly ached with fury, as it made a half-assed effort to process the day's refined carbs, sugar, and dairy. Just five days of eating a healthy vegan diet was long enough to teach me that my digestive system functioned best on a clean plant-based diet.
Although I was a bit disappointed that I didn't make it the full week on my vegan diet, it was a great experiment and I'm glad I tried it out. It made me realize how much better I feel when I eat healthy food on a consistent basis, as opposed to my usual One-For-One Diet. The One-For-One diet, by the way, is short for "One Donut for One Salad." It also reinforced the fact that I don't need to eat meat to feel satiated. And finally, eating a vegan diet helped me understand the struggles that vegans endure on a daily basis. This shit is bananas.
Do you follow a vegan diet? Or interested in following one? I'd love to hear from you!
Next week I'll be moving on to meditation to see whether 20 minutes of daily meditation can help me feel healthier and happier.
Until next time,