Tackling a new diet is too often something left for our “New Year, New Me”-self to handle. Unfortunately, the New Year's fitness buzz usually does not carry us over for the rest of the year or even the rest of the month. My resolution was to switch my vegetarian diet to a vegan diet for the entire month of January, but I quickly discovered that while eating vegan is easy — staying vegan is not. Despite our enthusiasm, stubborn habits or social pressure can derail our dieting resolutions.
After learning about the vegan diet over several months, I became more and more interested in adopting it as my healthy New Year’s resolution. Before I decided to do a vegan January, or Veganuary, I had already been a vegetarian for months. I thought to myself, "If I could become vegetarian practically over night, I could easily go vegan for a month. "
Beyond animal welfare, the benefits of a vegan diet on health are becoming even more commonly known. Just like Meatless Monday, simply eating vegan once in a while can have huge positive impact on the individual and the environment. Going vegan had been a long term goal of mine, so a new year felt like a great time to make the change. Here's what going vegan taught me and why I couldn't keep going with it.
Breaking Traditions Was A Challenge
I had kept quiet about my new vegan diet except with my close friends. When I went vegetarian back in August after leaving for school, my parents did not find out until I came home a month later. This, of course, was met with surprise and confusion. In my family, a typical dinner is having steak with potatoes or throwing some hot dogs and burgers on the grill.
Did my family understand why I became a vegetarian? No, not really, but they at least always gave me a heads up when we would be having meat for dinner.
Flash forward to December when I decided that going vegan for a month would be my New Year’s resolution. After already having to decline my dad’s offer of special Christmas turkey several times the week before, I was not looking forward to having to explain a vegan diet to my parents.
So I didn’t mention it to my older relatives. I figured I would be going back to school just a few days into the New Year. I could get by silently avoiding all dairy and egg products while also still avoiding meat. This meant having to say no on New Year's day to a trip to IHOP — delicious but not very vegan.
Trying New Recipes was Exciting
Soon enough, I was back on campus enjoying all the vegan dining hall food I could get. December had been a month of binge eating chocolate and cheese platters, so all the extra veggies and grains felt like spa day to my stomach.
I was loving cooking new vegan recipes and making vegan versions of food I used to eat like mac and cheese. For the first two weeks everything was going great!
But then it all came crashing down. Twelve days into my Veganuary, I went home for the weekend to celebrate a family member’s birthday. Unfortunately, we went to celebrate at one of my favorite local pizza places. The devil was testing me. I could have stayed home and claimed I had other plans, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to see them.
So, unbeknownst to my family, I did not plan on enjoying the delicious cheese pizza spread before. When they offered to split a large with me, I claimed that I simply wasn’t hungry. But I was hungry — especially pizza hungry. I ordered a salad and asked for no cheese, thinking that that was a safe vegan bet. However, as soon I saw the salad, I realized I overlooked the dressing, which was primarily mayonnaise.
A careless mistake now put me in a predicament. Eat the salad I ordered even though it wasn’t vegan? Hassle the waiter by ordering another salad? Or gave into the temptation and pressure from my family and eat the pizza?
Fighting Temptation Got the Better of Me
On that day, pizza won, and all bets were off. Not only did I cave for the pizza, but I also scarfed down the birthday cupcakes and ice cream. Maybe I should have told them I was vegan beforehand and endured the skepticism.
But that didn’t change the fact that I chose to eat the pizza. I went home devastated. Not only had I failed the poor animals I imagined I was saving, but I had especially failed myself. If I couldn’t control myself around pizza, then how could I accomplish anything in life?
After that day, I abandoned my challenge, but not because I didn’t want to eat vegan anymore. I realized my perspective on it wasn’t healthy: adopting a new diet for a month and expecting it to change my life was absurd.
Maybe only eating vegan food for a month would help me feel and look healthier, but that change could quickly be undone if I immediately went back to my old eating habits. And as for the cows who sacrificed their milk for pizza and ice cream, I’m sure they’d prefer if I ate vegan throughout the year instead of just during one month.
Since the challenge, I have actually continued my goal to eat healthy and to eat more vegan foods. By having cheese and non-vegan desserts every now and again, I can still enjoy my favorite foods without beating myself up over it.
No matter how ambitious my goal, I could never succeed if I couldn't sustain my new habits. By abandoning my short term, rigid plan and instead modifying it to my long term, daily life, I still managed to feel better and lose weight, all the while leaving a little room for imperfect eating.
Finding New Favorites in Old Places Kept Me Going
As for the two weeks I was vegan, I gained a better picture of what I would go through if I became a vegan permanently in the future. For the most part, I still got to enjoy food from my favorite places like Taco Bell. As the trend grows, it will only be easier for everyone to try delicious vegan food.
For now, however, being vegan means you often have to deal with awkward encounters at restaurants or at home with non-vegan family. But these little upsets are insignificant when you remember the greater impact you’re having on your health, animal welfare, and the environment.
Even though I gave up on my New Year’s resolution, I was able to adopt a much healthier way of living. Whether you’re a meat eater, a vegan, a health nut, or an Oreo addict, no one should ever feel compelled to change just because it’s a new year, and you especially shouldn’t feel ashamed for trying. Healthy life choices don’t need a holiday to happen. You can start finding your “new you” any time of year.