There's a common misperception of plant-eaters: that we all loved kale and ginger shots and tempeh from Day One. Like we just shot out of the womb crying for green juice instead of breast milk. Or like when we endured our first heartbreak we ate a bowl of quinoa instead of a pint of Ben & Jerry's.
Umm … no.
It took me probably a FULL YEAR being vegan to actually like eating plants.
I know, right?
It's really easy when first going vegan to focus all your attention on what NOT to eat (dairy, eggs, fish, meat, pork, poultry). Every meal becomes a challenge to figure out how to "veganize" what's already in your normal diet. Breakfast becomes cereal without dairy milk, lunch is a sandwich without the cold cuts and dinner is pizza without the cheese. It seems much easier to keep as many habits as possible and just make small tweaks to them, rather than totally overhauling your diet.
At least that's what I did. I spent the first year eating a mostly animal-free diet, which I now know, years later, does NOT provide the same life-changing effects as a real plant-based diet does. There's so much I know now, thriving on a plant-based diet, that I wish I had known starting out. Here are 12 of those things:
1. Pizza without cheese is not dinner.
It's neither healthy, nor filling, for a dinner to be comprised of 90% bread (even if it's gluten-free) and 10% veggies. You can't live off of cheese-free pizza (and meatless pastas) for too long before you start feeling and looking like crap. Life without a 9:1 carb to veggie ratio is so much better.
2. Plants don't typically come in packages.
The freeze-dried fruit, microwavable cheese-free burrito, fakin' bacon and bag of vegan cookies … those aren't plants. They might not contain animal by-products, but they are not plants and won't give you the energy, glowing skin, weight-loss and improved digestion (among other health benefits) that plants will.
3. Smoothies are the greatest. (And you really do need a blender.)
Nothing is more magical than throwing a bunch of fresh fruits, frozen fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, sweeteners, seeds, and nuts into a blender and pouring out a filling, nutrient-dense, delicious meal. Smoothies will become a daily (or twice-daily) staple. Embrace this and learn to improvise smoothies without using a recipe.
4. Juices are good, too.
Those expensive juices in the trendy juice bars? They're worth it. Drink one in the morning on an empty stomach. Try to phase out the sweet fruity juices. Go ahead and make this a daily habit, but don't panic and think the world will end if you miss a morning or two or seven.
5. Yes, you CAN get enough protein, don't worry.
Unless you're an extreme athlete or bodybuilder, there's no need to agonize over your protein intake. Just try to get some plant-based protein with every meal or snack. Like protein powder in your breakfast smoothie, nut butter on your snack apple, beans on your lunch salad, quinoa in your dinner entrée. It's not impossible or even challenging. Just make sure you do it.
6. Green stuff is easy to sneak into non-green stuff.
Avocados, spinach, kale and other healthy greens that people rave about can be hidden in some of your favorite foods. Avocados can be spread on bread in a sandwhich without impacting the taste, spinach can be processed into pesto without altering the flavor and kale can be blended into a smoothie (minus its stems) without ruining the texture. Experiment and you will succeed.
7. You CAN acquire tastes.
When first going plant-based, the bold flavors of the pure ingredients might overwhelm your dulled taste buds. Give it a little bit of time. The air-popped popcorn with coconut oil, the frozen banana-based ice creams and the collard green wraps will go from being "weird" to being a craving. As crazy as it sounds today, know that it'll happen.
8. You CAN'T acquire textures.
Seitan, tofu and zucchini pasta might always creep you out. Don't force yourself to love them. And don't beat yourself up that you're the only vegan who "hates tofu," because you're not.
9. Even though Mother Nature makes candy, that doesn't mean you should eat it all day every day.
When you start eating loads of plants, you'll find bananas and dried fruit popping up in recipes left and right. Smoothies, baked goods and ice creams will call for frozen or ripe bananas. Granolas, energy bars and raw desserts will call for dates, and figs galore. Sure, bananas and dried fruits are healthy. But they are also incredibly sweet, loaded with sugar, and undesirable for your waist if you eat too many.
10. Plants are cheap. Superfoods are not.
Vegan diets get a bad rap; people think they're expensive. When was the last time you went to a grocery store and freaked out over the price of an apple? Or a bunch of kale? Or a few oranges? It's the bags of superfoods that makes your jaw drop when you're at check-out. Remember: You don't need all the superfoods all at once. Pick and choose. Start with flax, chia and hemp seeds. Try some goji berries a few weeks later. Or spirulina. Save up for some maca or or treat yourself to some camu camu on a special day. You can thrive on a plant-based diet without superfoods being a staple.
11. You're going to spend a lot of time in cookbooks, your kitchen, and the grocery store.
Unless you grew up in a plant-based household, you're about to venture into very uncharted territory. And if you want to stay there, you're going to have to chart it. Enjoy the learning process! Buy fun cookbooks and go online to connect with the authors and fellow fans. Play around in your kitchen, experiment, lick the bowl and laugh at your mishaps. Navigate the grocery store like a tourist in a new city, do your research, ask for directions and don't be embarrassed looking a little lost.
12. It's going to be worth it.
Eating a mostly or a fully plant-based diet is worth every dollar, spilled smoothie, bag of goji berries, and yes, pizza without the cheese. Once you start receiving that endless energy, glowing skin, ideal pant size, vanishing digestive struggles, alleviation of anxiety and mood swings, improved sleep and all the other rewards that come with eating loads of plants, you'll understand.