In recent years, I found myself completely dismissing the idea of ever becoming vegetarian or vegan. After traveling to the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas, I found that eating vegetarian isn’t half as bad as I thought. However, in a recent turn of events, going vegan (slowly but surly) has seemed to be the way to go for me.

For as long as I can remember, food and eating well has always been a big part of my life. From holiday’s with my mothers side of the family, what’s an Italian dinner without pasta loaded with cheese, or meatballs doused in gravy? Or visiting my fathers side of the family, how can you say no to abuelita’s beef empanadas, steak and onions, arroz con leche soup, or even her famous fish fritters, or bacalaito? Growing up, saying no to food was a universal insult throughout my entire family.

However, my parents didn’t forget to educate me on the importance of eating right. So growing up, I never denied any sort of food that was offered to me. Although I didn’t eat meat every single day growing up, nor did I always drink milk or eat cheese, animal products still played a very important role in my childhood years. If we’re being honest, I am a huge fan of cheeseburgers (topped with avocado, barbecue sauce, onions… yum…), grilled chicken, shrimp, clams, crab, and I even love a good steak every now and then. However, recently it has come to my attention the unfortunate circumstances that animals are living in, and the beyond cruel treatment they are unknowingly facing– and the fact that I’m eating these animals on a daily basis is heartbreaking.

I followed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on Twitter a few months back, on a whim, after watching a video titled “Your Chicken Dinner in Reverse.” After watching that video, to say the least, I didn’t eat meat for two weeks. I began voicing my newly found knowledge on the harsh treatment of animals, and what goes on behind the scenes when preparing our everyday meals. Most people I spoke to had the same response, and it was something along the lines of “there are plenty of animals out there,” or “as humans, we need our protein,” “what I don’t know doesn’t hurt me,” “I enjoy food too much,” or simply “if it’s not me, then who cares?” 

I began taking it upon myself to do even more research on becoming vegan, the benefits, and ways to substitute meat and fish for other sources or protein. Believe it or not, there are more than enough ways to stay healthy while not eating any animal products. So, I began watching my intake of any animal products. I immediately cut out meat without a problem. Yes, of course I could go for one of my mothers fantastic meatballs, but to be quite honest, I’m feeling even better without it. I baked a few vegan things (vegan muffins, vegan cookies, etc.) and found that it’s easier than I thought to substitute eggs and milk in my favorite kinds of recipes, and get the same, if not better tasting results!

After cutting out meat, I began to watch my intake of milk, cheese, and other dairy products. Milk was easy, because I’ve always been a way bigger fan of almond milk and/or soy milk rather than skim milk, or whole milk, which makes my tummy ache. Cheese seemed to be hard, because I found myself putting it on pasta, salad, or I was even dying to make a turkey and cheese sandwich at times, but I just fought the urge and stopped. I began getting creative at the dining hall at school. I would make my own stir fries, with tofu and rice and vegetables. I would make pasta, big salads, or just eat a ton and ton of veggies and beans (to make up for my protein).

The hardest thing personally is cutting out eggs. I love eggs– I could probably eat scrambled eggs with cheese everyday. So, since I cut out cheese, I treated myself sometimes and fried up an egg in my stir fry. Sooner or later, I noticed that I don’t need it as much as I thought. Not only did I become more conscious of what I’m eating for meals, I noticed myself checking my snacks and drinks for dairy, gelatin, etc. It quickly became a habit.

I can’t say I was never a conscious eater, because I would consider myself to be a very conscious eater all throughout my life. I ate vegetables with every meal, I always enjoyed fruit– overall, all of my meals would always be proportioned perfectly with carbs, protein, vegetables, etc. However, I am much more educated about what exactly I am intaking, rather than thinking it’s just a few hundred calories, and that has made me an even more conscious eater. I also noticed myself stress eating, eating out of boredom, or just eating something because it looked good and I thought I was hungry. Plenty of times I would grab a few chicken tenders in the dining hall just because– then, I would feel bloated and gross afterwards. Now, I’d rather be full off of a cup of vegetables, or a salad.

I’ll confess, however, I did slip up. My favorite deli sandwich is called “La Sucia,” and it has cheesesteak, chicken cutlet, avocado, and chipotle mayo– so one of the last few nights at school, I had to get one. After eating it, although I enjoyed every bite, I realized that I wasn’t missing much.And, in the past few weeks, I dropped 4 lbs., going from a healthy 126 lbs to an even healthier 122 lbs. I wasn’t planning on it, and I most certainly didn’t have to– but it also didn’t hurt. I noticed (after eating more vegetables paired with working out everyday per usual) my body not only lean out and tone up, I also feel much healthier, energetic, and happy. I haven’t eaten meat in almost a month. I haven’t had milk. I haven’t had fish. I have slipped up and had some cheese. I haven’t had eggs. I am trying. And I am loving it.

Who ever said “I can’t be a vegan, I enjoy food too much” is eating the wrong things. Just because you aren’t eating animal products doesn’t mean you’re missing out. Too each is own. In celebration of my journey continuing, today I went to Trader Joe’s and bought tons and tons of vegetables, fruits, rice, veggie burgers, etc., and I am excited to eat it all.

You may call it a phase, but I call it growth. I am happy with what I am doing, and I am happy with what I am eating. Animals lives are much more important to me than a McDonalds burger. Maybe one day I will cut out all animal products completely, maybe I won’t. No matter what I am doing, I am happy– and you should be to. No matter if you are vegan, vegetarian, paleo, an over eater, or a conscious eater, you should be able to love yourself regardless.

I’ll try to post every few weeks about my journey– and if anyone has any stories to share, tips, tricks, or recipes, please do share as well. As I continue this journey to becoming the most happy and empowered version of myself, I hope to inspire you all!

Until next time!

Om shanti, om peace!