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30 Thoughts From a 30-Day (and then some) Vegan Challenge

Because you learn a lot of things during 30 days without animal products.

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Chances are you know a vegan or two. Some of them may be trying something new, while some of them have been plant-based for more years than they can count on their fingers (and maybe toes, too.) Veganism is on the rise and products are taking over grocery shelves everywhere.

A few months back, I decided to see what all of the hype was about by eating vegan for 30 days. So that meant that for 30 days I planned to completely cut meat, dairy, eggs, and any other animal products from my diet. The 30 days flew by, it's now been four months, and I want to share a few things I learned along the way.

*Disclaimer: This is not 30 reasons to become a vegan, just some thoughts I've had along the way.*

1. Baby steps are okay

It may seem impossible to just wake up one day and no longer eat meat, cheese, eggs, etc. That's a pretty stark contrast to the diet of many people, and it may be easier to slowly eliminate animal products one by one, instead of going cold turkey... or, should I say cold tofurky? (Be prepared for a lot of those jokes in this post.)

2. Pinspiration

Ah, the internet is a wonderful place. You're not in this alone, and you don't have to rack your brain for ideas on vegan meal inspiration. Check out vegan Instagram accounts, or the plethora of meals on sites like Pinterest to get yourself started.

3. You don't have to bid adieu to chocolate / Via

This is one of the first things I hear a lot of people voice concern over when trying out the vegan lifestyle. It's understandable, because it's chocolate. The good news is, there's plenty of vegan-suitable chocolate on the market, and all it takes is a quick scan of the ingredients to verify that there are no milk-based products hiding in there.

4. Tofu is friend and food

Minimalist Baker / Via

A lot of people are freaked out by tofu. I think my mother once described it as a "flavorless sponge". When cooked properly, however, tofu can be a blessing in disguise.

5. BYOE - bring your own... everything

You'll learn that you have to bring your own snacks to a lot of things - potlucks, parties, road trips, etc. If you're just beginning your vegan journey, a lot of friends may not know or remember that there's things you won't be able to eat. But you'll never go hungry, since you have some vegan snacks packed away, just in case.

6. Hello, clear skin

While being blessed enough to grow up without much acne, I'm definitely not immune to bouts of breakouts. One of the first things I noticed when I started eating vegan was that my skin cleared up almost immediately! As it turns out, I have had a sneaky little dairy allergy hiding for years. While my allergy is slight, those dairy products weren't doing my skin any favors.

7. Accidents are going to happen

Halfway through a bag of snacks, you may read the ingredients and find something not-so-vegan listed. Or there may be a day when you wake up and are told you drunkenly ate half of a cheese pizza the night before. Before you panic, I promise it will be okay.

8. Label Reading 101

Gluten Free Will Be / Via

Dairy and eggs are probably hiding in many of your favorite snacks, even if it seems impossible (I'm looking at you, pretzel Goldfish). You'll quickly learn the importance of scanning labels, and there is typically a little bolded section of common allergens in a product on its packaging.

9. Accidental vegan products

A lot of your favorite snacks are "accidentally" vegan - which means that while it wasn't intentional, there are no animal products in them. Oreos, Ritz crackers, and unfrosted Pop-Tarts are just a few of the products that made me jump for joy when I found out they were vegan.

10. Taste the rainbow

HealthAdvocate Solutions / Via

And no, I'm not talking about Skittles, (even though they're accidentally vegan as well.) Eating vegan opens up the door to a world of bright and beautiful fruits and vegetables. Your plate will see colors that it never has before.

11. No protein woes

Whenever someone finds out that I eat vegan, they immediately ask about protein. Lentils, tofu, beans, quinoa, oats, chickpeas, broccoli, nut butters... Trust me, there's more than enough delicious vegan sources of protein.

12. Fries, glorious fries

Sometimes I walk in with a fast-food bag and get strange looks. No, this isn't from a double bacon cheeseburger. The majority of fast-food chains (but not all) serve french fries that are suitable for vegans. And at many of them, that may be the only item on the menu that you'll be able to order... Not seeing the problem, tbh.

13. Meat substitutes rock

Gardein / Via

While there are many brands of fake meat on the market, my personal favorite is Gardein. And while "fake meat" may sound disgusting, I would argue it's better than the real deal.

14. Meals for two

Sometimes it's difficult for friends, families, and significant others to accept this change in lifestyle. It can be particularly difficult when trying to come up with dinner plans and not being able to find something that is vegan and still seems appetizing to someone who is not vegan. This is when meat, cheese, and milk substitutes really come into play. I've cooked some vegan meals for my friends with substitutes that they couldn't believe weren't real meat and cheese.

15. Dairy substitutes

I was raised drinking at least one glass of milk per day, because "it builds strong bones." By the time I got to college, I was sick of it. Because of this, substituting milk with dairy-free varieties such as almond milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk was easy to do. It's all about finding the one that tastes good to you.

16. Don't scream about ice cream

Ben & Jerry's / Via

I'm a huge ice cream fan and didn't think I could live without it. I could easily grab a pint of ice cream and accidentally eat it in one sitting. Thankfully, Ben & Jerry's has come out with several non-dairy flavors, and they are amazing. Also, So Delicious has great varieties as well, made with all of the various dairy substitutes. Someone give these companies a medal!

17. Don't reject "meat-eaters"

One day, a newly vegan friend of mine made a comment about how "disgusting" meat is... even though only a month or so before, she had been eating the exact same meal and enjoying it. While you are making changes to your lifestyle, make sure to not judge the eating habits of other's too harshly.

18. Twenty questions

As people learn that you're eating vegan, they're going to have questions. A lot of questions. Why are you doing this? Do you like it? Do you notice any changes? How do you get nutrients? Take a deep breath and answer all of their questions with a smile. Some people still won't get it, and that's okay. This is your lifestyle, not theirs!

19. Vitamins are important

When eating vegan, it is possible to miss out on some important nutrients, especially if your plate isn't diverse. Sometimes I don't eat enough iron, and as a result, I bruise easier than a peach. It's important to research your new lifestyle and make adjustments accordingly, whether that be through vitamins, meal supplements, or foods packed with nutrients.

20. Brew can do it

Trial and Eater / Via

If you're like me, you have to start your morning with some coffee. If you're like me, you also may not be able to drink your coffee black. Dairy-free creamers are a #blessing because without this Silk almond milk creamer in my coffee, I would be dragging all day.

21. Good for animals

No animals were harmed in the making of your food! That's got to feel good.

22. Good for you, too

There are many known health benefits to eating vegan, such as lowering your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. You also start to feel more energized after a while, because you're getting necessary nutrients like protein and fiber, without the things that make you sluggish, like cholesterol and saturated fats.

23. Pastry perfection

You will love vegan desserts and pastries, and I'm just going to leave it at that.

24. Rockin' around the restaurants

Orlando Style / Via

While you can find something to eat on nearly any restaurant's menu with a bit of digging, stumbling upon a place with a completely vegan menu is a gem. Special shout outs to Sweet Pea Cafe in Tallahassee, and Valkyrie Donuts in Orlando. Yum!

25. Don't sell out for salads

A quick glance at a menu will make you think that salad is the only vegan option there. I've learned that many restaurants will work with you if you request things like "no cheese" or "on the side", and you can turn many menu items into a vegan option. I think I ate more salads before going vegan than I ever do now.

26. Awareness is key

Being vegan doesn't make you a perfect person, and your goal shouldn't be to guilt others. It's about being aware of where our food comes from, how it gets to our plates, and how our food production impacts other creatures and the environment around us.

27. The cravings go away... eventually

At the beginning, a lot of people may ask you, "Don't you miss ______?" And at first, you may miss them. You may crave a ten count chicken nugget meal, followed up by a chocolate milkshake. But they go away, I promise.

28. Your body is going to react to the change quickly

I can always tell when I accidentally eat something with dairy in it now, because it makes my stomach upset. This didn't happen when dairy used to be a regular part of my diet, which is why I have stayed with the "challenge" long past the 30 days I originally intended.

29. Grocery shopping is easy

Savy Mama / Via

A lot of people think it's expensive to eat vegan, but if you buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, you'll be amazed what happens to your grocery bill. I work at a grocery store and still get surprised when I ring up a package of meat for $15-20. Farmer's markets and backyard gardening are also great options.

30. Progress

If you end up trying out a 30-day vegan "challenge", you may decide this is a lifestyle you want to stick with. You also might find that this isn't for you, and that's okay too. By even testing this out, you'll learn to try new things, incorporate healthier foods into your meals, and cut back on animal products that once seemed vital to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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