I’m the girl who made fun of vegetarians. To their faces (I’ll address how this came back to me later). I’m the girl who downed a 20 piece McNugget and 4 BBQ sauces in under five minutes. I’m the girl who raced to Bruster’s ice cream store at the first drop of rain for that extra free scoop. I’m the girl who had never tasted kale or quinoa or coconut.
But I’m also the girl who had dizzy spells and bloating, and constipation (just getting real here). I looked great on the outside (I credit youth and a healthy obsession with running) but was miserable on the inside, relying on Laffy Taffy and 6 Diet Cokes (true story) a day to get me through the grind.
So it’s pretty comical that I’m now the girl who is writing a blog post about being a gluten-free plant based vegan. If you’re like I was just a year ago, THAT word vegan is a crazy word, a buzz word, maybe even a four-letter word. But bear with me here. I’m going to tell you about my experiences, my story….BUT I promise I won’t tell you to become a vegan too. The pressure’s off. Just read 😉
*Being a vegan doesn’t mean you also have to be gluten-free. I’m gluten-free for medical reasons!
Before we move on, let’s talk about what being vegan actually is so we’re all on the same page.
A vegan is a person who does not eat any animal products—including meats, butter, cheese, dairy milks, or eggs. Vegetarians, on the other hand, eat dairy and eggs but refrain from eating meats.
There are typically two types of vegans: dietary vegans and ethical vegans. A dietary vegan is one who follows the principles of vegan diet while an ethical vegan extends beyond the dietary belief and lives a vegan lifestyle, including using animal-free products, clothing, etc.
Since April 2014, I have been living what I would call a “mostly dietary vegan lifestyle.” I use the word “mostly” because there were times in this transition that I used honey in my morning tea, could not avoid butter at a restaurant (this girl can’t starve), or felt as if I would die if I didn’t eat a bite of goat cheese.
I didn’t decide to become a vegan just to be one or to go on a cliché ride on the bandwagon. In fact, I didn’t even know ONE vegan in my area at all until I started this journey. I was genuinely curious about how it would affect my energy levels, taste buds, cooking style, overall health, and skin.
These days, I’ve been calling myself a plant-based vegan because, well let’s face it, fried potato chips are vegan. Fritos, Jolly Ranchers, Dr. Pepper, and Nabisco Oreos are too. There’s plenty of junk food out there for vegans. So—I make the distinction—I’m a plant-based vegan, meaning my diet is full of various whole, real foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and [gluten-free] grains.
I was originally introduced to this concept through the documentary Forks Over Knives. I realize it’s biased and most likely slanted for a purpose, but nonetheless, I was extremely intrigued by the information presented in it.
You understand, especially if you know my family’s story. Two of our three precious boys have a rare esophageal disease called Eosinophilic Esophagitis, and life has changed dramatically for us over the last few years. I don’t have time to go into it in this post, but feel free to check out more here. Essentially, this disease is a white blood cell disease, and my mom had Leukemia, a white blood cell cancer. I was nearly thirty and feeling stuck in-between, wondering when I’d get bad news myself. I started researching preventative measures for heart disease, cancers, and other ailments, and the consensus was more fruits and vegetables.
Our third son, Beckham, has not been diagnosed with the same disease, but he’s still egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and peanut free. He eats meat, so he’s not a vegan, but I had to learn to cook dishes without using all the normal dairy & egg ingredients, so it was easier for me to eat like Beckham to save myself from having to cook another meal. I would just leave the meat off my plate, and add a salad to whatever I made Beckham. Slowly, I started feeling different, amazing, light, refreshed. I noticed when I went back to eating meat or dairy, the bloating, burping, etc. returned.
I guess I’ll never really know if I AM preventing anything. I guess time will tell me that. But I know this—I feel great, and I absolutely LOVE the food. I’m happy. And that matters to me.
What did I eat?
I know what you’re doing right now. You’re doing one of three things. 1) You’re still in shock and you think I’m crazy. 2) You assume I ate virtually nothing since April. 3) You think I must’ve hated every meal since April. Or maybe you’re a vegan, and you’re doing a little dance. We vegans get excited about food like that.
Let me set the record straight. Yes, I’m crazy. But I think we’ve all known that for a while 😉
To address the others, I have actually eaten more food since April than I have in my entire life, yet maintained my weight. I am naturally a very petite person, and pretty much always have been. But just like everyone, I’m susceptible to gaining weight—I’m under immense pressure and stress each and every day thanks to that stupid disease that has invaded my two sweet babies. But I made a decision to use food to nurture and heal my own issues—rather than an emotional escape from my life. Eat to live, not live to eat. Whew. Let me tell you how that principle changed me.
No longer could I say, “Man, I’ve had a bad day; I deserve ice cream!” or “Man, I did awesome today. I deserve ice cream!” Food stopped being a reward for good and bad behavior. Food was just a part of my life, so if I wanted ice cream, I ate ice cream (mine is frozen bananas in a food processor).
The anxiety that food used to give me suddenly escaped. I didn’t feel pressure—I felt freedom. I could eat as much or little as I wanted depending on how I felt because I knew that everything I was eating was nutrient dense and rich, and not empty calories packing on weight and piling junk in my cells.
My perspective is unique, though. During this time, one of my sons, Sawyer, was so ill that he wasn’t able to eat food at all and drank a medical amino acid formula to survive. At 3 years old, he drank his formula for 6 months straight without the aid of a feeding tube in his stomach. He’s a rock star, and he’s one of my little heroes.
So, I had no room to complain. Each time I tasted a peach or even spinach, my soul felt so blessed to have such nourishing, simple food to eat.
And believe it or not, my taste buds have changed so much that I’m enjoying the taste of real food like never before. I no longer need four BBQ sauces to wash down the oil and salt. I taste food. Real food. And I love it.
I even tried new things that I had never eaten in my life EVER—like jalapenos, coconut, quinoa, bell peppers, beets, leeks, cauliflower, dates, kale, and many more foods!
Here a some examples of what was on my menu!
Morning time is most likely the busiest time of my day for me. But, as a mom of three young boys, I guess every moment of my day is crazy! I really just feel the pressure in the mornings—everybody is going in a thousand directions. Three different breakfasts to fix, three different lunches to pack—all the while never touching anything with the same spoon or without washing my hands in between. It’s a lot to remember. So I always need something quick and easy.
The temptation is always there to skip breakfast—and with my life—I know that’s completely justifiable. But just like mama taught, breakfast is really important. For me, it’s important because it either messes up the rest of my day if I don’t get proper nutrition (headaches, dizziness, frazzled behavior) or it makes me spend more money than necessary to grab a snack while I’m out.
Before I give you some examples of what I like to eat for breakfast, let’s talk about my old breakfast routine. When I was a high school teacher, I had a 45 minute drive to work, so I ate breakfast along the way every day. On my menu? Fruit loops (try eating a bowl of cereal AND putting your mascara on in the car!), apple cinnamon pop-tarts, Boberry biscuits, Quaker granola bars, and of course, Diet Coke.
The problem here is that there was little nutrition. I had no energy because I wasn’t feeding myself anything that would give me energy. I had a sugar high until it faded, and used candy in my desk, or a diet drink during a class change to give me what I needed to keep going.
My new menu (just examples)
-homemade granola & almond milk
-sprouted grain toast with almond butter & jam or Vegenaise & avocado
-crepes & fruit
-apples & almond butter
I usually don’t get to sit down for lunch until about 1:30 (because I’ve got a kid to pick up at 12 and at 1—life of a mom!), so lunch has to be simple!
My favorite thing to eat for lunch is a big ole’ salad. I always have a couple different homemade dressings in my fridge because, let’s face it, you gotta have variety. Plus they are so easy to make—there’s no sense in using ones full of bad stuff when it only takes a mason jar, a few ingredients, and a shake or two. You can check out my favorites in our Salad tab!
Toppings I love on salads? Red pepper, dates (my absolute fav!), roasted chickpeas, avocados, beans, carrots, seeds, nuts—and the list could go on and on!
I also love a bowl of soup with my salad, but that can get old quickly. When I get tired of soup, I’ll change it up and have some hummus, or one of my favorite cold salads, like mock “tuna” salad, Asian salad, or cranberry-quinoa salad. These are easy to make once at the beginning of the week, and will last for a few days!
These lunches fill me up, but don’t leave me feeling bloated or tired, and I have plenty of energy to get through the afternoon!
This is the meal of the day where I usually get creative. Most people eat their largest meal in the morning, and the smallest meal at night, but I do the opposite. I’m just keeping in line with my crazy.
After lots of personal research, I know that digestion is one of our largest energy suckers. Our body must use so much energy to digest food, so I’d rather my body do that while I’m sleeping, not while I’m trying to get through my day. Dinnertime is probably my favorite meal of the day because it’s the one I’m most proud of.
Homemade Marinara sauce over rice noodles (walnut meatballs when enough time) topped with cashew parmesan & a side salad
Homemade pizzas (either with tons of veggies and no cheese, or a homemade cashew mozzarella) on rice tortillas
Soup & Salad
Veggie burgers with roasted potatoes or homemade onion rings
Roasted veggie plates
Mexican rice bowls with fixins
1. Do you still eat sweets? OF COURSE!!!! I am a former sugar addict, so I know I couldn’t do any lifestyle that didn’t allow me to eat sweets, or I would go crazy. I make lots of healthy treats, like our Chocolate Chip Cookies or Rice Krispy Treats, or pretty much anything from Detoxinista (her vegan recipes) and Oh She Glows.
2. Do you eat chocolate? UM, YEAH!!!!!! Chocolate technically has no dairy in it–only milk chocolate. Chocolate actually comes from the cacao tree (pods that grow from the tree hold a sweet juice and seeds–which are the cocoa beans used to make chocolate). I stick to a high quality organic Dark chocolate bar or Enjoy Life chocolate chips for baking. Simply put: I don’t live in a world in which there is no chocolate. Daily. 😉
3. What foods do you miss? I love vegan food so much that I really don’t miss much…The few things I miss are bacon, goat cheese, and mall Chinese food (I know, right?!). I think I would have a harder time if I didn’t have the passion to create, cook, and enjoy.
4. What “milk” replacement do you use? You can use many replacements for milk including rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, and almond milk. My favorite is unsweetened almond milk! I use that to make hot chocolate and as a 1:1 replacement in baking and cooking. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really simple!
5. How do you make “cheesy” like recipes? There are processed vegan cheeses out there like Daiya cheese, but I’ve got to be honest–I think they are NASTY! But there are ways to make a cheese-like flavor using cashews, nutritional yeast, and other ingredients. My all-time favorite vegan cheesy dish is Detoxinista’s Queso Dip….seriously, it’s incredible and fools our friends every time!
How did I feel?
Though I haven’t been a vegan for very long, I’ve been eating extremely clean for almost two years, so a lot of my physical changes happened when I made that plunge. Nonetheless, I really did feel wonderful. I felt full, but light, rarely hungry.
All of my bloating went away, my energy levels rose, and I had very little anxiety about food (except when eating out). I ate freely, yet maintained my weight. I feel like I have a general glow about my skin, though it isn’t 100% perfect.
Emotionally, that is a different story. I am absolutely blown away at how people treated me during this journey. Maybe people in my past made fun of me behind my back, or I was oblivious. But for some reason, people took the liberty to make fun of me right to my face (payback, maybe?!). It’s crazy to me how opinionated people were about my PERSONAL DECISION to become plant-based. Hurtful, hurtful comments from people who just don’t understand, or can’t have an open mind. I realize that I’m “asking for it” since I’m so public about my journey, but I really hoped that people could have a “to each his own” kind of attitude. I’m not a pushy vegan. I cook chicken, turkey, and other meats every day for the rest of my family. I’m not against meat. I’m simply on a personal journey to find what works best for me and what gives me the best quality of life.
- Eating outside of the home: Living in bigger, more metropolitan cities tends to be more conducive to diversity, especially with food. But in Augusta, GA, whew. It was a struggle. Because of our family situation, I eat most meals at home, but for the few times I did eat at a restaurant, it was struggle. Even once I went to my favorite farm-to-table restaurant, and talked extensively with the staff to create a meal I could eat, and they brought out a beautiful plate of veggies with a huge hunk of cheese on top. Since my journey began, we’ve had a couple places pop up (1. A vegan juice, smoothie, and lunch place—wahoo! 2. Whole Foods Market—game-changer!) that have dramatically changed my frustration levels! Ultimately, I think that eating most meals at home is actually healthier for me because I tend to only eat until I’m full, rather just eating just to eat. Plus I know how to make meals extra clean—and with restaurants, I don’t have control over that. I love that it forced ME to get in the kitchen and figure it out. I wasn’t relying on anyone else to do the work for me. I would work so hard creating a meal—that I enjoyed every single bite. Such a labor of love. For me, that is all a part of my journey, too.
- Cost: Well, I can’t even begin to tell you how expensive it is to eat a whole foods, plant based diet. Our grocery bill each month is monstrous. BUT, we also don’t have a typical family. I can’t make one big pot of soup for us all to eat on for a few days. Because of the boys’ disease, I make 4 separate meals at EVERY MEAL. It’s extremely stressful every single day to make sure I have all the ingredients I need to make something for everyone at every meal and every snack. So, our bill would be outrageous anyways. It has been for years. But I do believe that eating plant-strong is more expensive. Unfortunately, we live in a world where what’s good for us is expensive and what’s bad for us is cheap, so eating poorly is 100% justifiable. For me personally, my health cannot be compromised. I see my children suffer on a daily basis, and it gives me such perspective. So I honestly don’t cringe anymore when I spend $8 on a bag of cashews or $4 on a head of cauliflower. I have had a couple of random viruses and what not over the past few years, but in combination with my whole foods, plant-based diet and essential oils, I haven’t been treated by a doctor for an illness since before my 3rd son was born (and he’s almost 3!). Prior to my transformation, I was sick all the time, and had strep throat at least 2-3 times a year. I haven’t had strep throat since I changed my diet. Crazy? I don’t think so. For me, it’s confirmation.
- Judgmental people: I touched on this earlier, so I won’t go much into it, but for me, this was one of the hardest parts of the journey. I honestly wish people could be much more accepting of personal choice. I had to make a choice every single day to push those negative thoughts aside, and just be me. Being a vegan doesn’t mean that I look down on anything else. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to eat the food you have cooked. It just means that I’m different than you. That’s it. My husband and I live a beautiful life coexisting and respecting one another’s choices, and it works wonderfully.
- Community: When you walk a journey, most people long for community, to have others walking beside them—to discuss failures and successes. Without that community, your journey can be lonely, especially if you are encountering negativity on top of that. Since I don’t have a very large vegan community where I live (though I have found a few people to share with), I have turned to social media for help. My FAVORITE way to connect with other plant-strong vegans and to be inspired in a positive environment is Instagram. Oh it’s so beautiful. My point here? I could sit around and be lonely, or frustrated that I don’t have more resources in my area, but I choose to be different. I follow many vegans on Instagram and it makes me feel like I have a community around me! I also like to share my love of plant-strong food with my friends. I love to host and cook, and so I always find ways to have a group of friends over. We might grill some grass-fed burgers too, but you better believe we’ll have some killer veggies or vegan queso dip that gets people’s attention. I’ve found the best way to share my love for all things veggie is to live by example. Make awesome food. Period. (Like my Buffalo Beer Battered Cauliflower Wings & homemade ranch dressing). People can’t deny that. Share the love.
I don’t overdo my resources because that’s overwhelming. The following people/websites happen to be my favorites because I love their ideas, food, and photography! Keep it simple. Find what you love. Seek inspiration, and go do something about it J
Kris Carr: I love following Kris’ journey because it’s almost like mine. She was a former junk food addict turned veggie lover when she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. She’s alive & well & thriving now and sharing her knowledge with the world. I love her food tips, her books, her recipes…
Angela Liddon: I’m pretty sure all vegans know about this awesome woman over at Oh She Glows. Hands down, she has the best recipes, the best photography, and best vegan blog (in my opinion) of anyone. If you want to make some amazing recipes, this is the place to start. Plus she just came out with a cookbook, and it’s incredible. I love her positive spirit—the vibe from her site is of love. She’s definitely a person I’d like to meet one day!
Detoxinista: While this is NOT a vegan blog, she makes many vegan recipes that are SIMPLE. And that’s the key in this world, unless you have a ton of time on your hands. She’s one of my favorite places to go when looking for a dessert—hers rock! If her recipe is not vegan, she usually gives suggestions on how to modify. One of my all-time favorite vegan appetizers that fool my guests every time is her queso dip. Oh. My. Cheeze. (well, vegan cheese).
Even if you aren’t a vegan and/or never want to be one, these websites are still awesome!
I firmly believe the reason why my vegan journey was successful was because I believed in it. I think that’s why most “diets” fail—because people are looking for a quick fix and don’t really understand WHY they are doing something. The thing about this for me is that it’s not a diet. It’s truly a lifestyle. I’m comfortable in it, and I love it.
But, I don’t necessarily think it’s for everyone. It’s time consuming. There are a lot of dishes to wash. It’s expensive. But it’s also my love, my hobby, my passion so it’s where I love to put my energy.
I actually just got off the phone with my brother, who’s also on his own personal food journey, and he described the way he felt: more energy, not hungry, feeling great….the same description of my veganism. He eats meat, but also eats a diet rich in organic fruits & veggies and no junk.
If you research food, you’ll find that there are colonies of people around the world that survive and thrive on various diets. Some groups only eat meat. Some groups only eat veggies. Some groups eat a mixture. They have little reports of disease, of cancer, of many ailments we see here in the US. What’s the common denominator here? It’s not veganism. It’s the absence of the Standard American Diet. It’s the absence of food in a box, and oil, and fast food, and food made in a lab, and refined white sugar.
My personal food philosophy is that you should do what works for YOU, not something that works for me. I believe in whole, real foods that are as close to their nature source as possible. Eat meat? Awesome! Go for a grass-fed, open range, preferably local option. Don’t eat meat? Cool! Load up on as many varieties of organic plants as you can.
Eat less from a box—and more from the earth. Whatever journey you choose, you will see a change. We aren’t destined to feel awful—to have low energy. Our bodies were designed to thrive off of food—to use food as a vehicle to give us the proper nutrition we need to have energy to work hard for our families and our communities.
People often ask me if I will continue to be a vegan. And my answer is that I don’t know. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a vegan just to be a vegan for a label. I’m a vegan because I feel great right now. As my body changes, as I get older, that might change. And I’m willing to change with that.
As weird as it may sound, I’m so thankful for the horrible things that have happened to our family over the last few years, because it woke us up. We spend more time together in the kitchen and around the dinner table than in the car. We support our local farmers and feel good about our personal contribution to making our community thrive. I feel vivacious, and inspired, and passionate. This, my friends, is what this life truly is about. For me, it took a rare disease and a journey to veganism to find it. Be a vegan, don’t be a vegan. But whatever you do, find a perspective and combination that makes you feel ALIVE, and live it. Live it fully and in abundance.