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Thursday, January 30, 2014

10 Tips for Living a Healthy & Kind Vegan Lifestyle

The hardest part of anything is getting started. Gaining momentum. Staying motivated. Trust me, I get it. I am only able to say that because I've been through it. Let's face it, it is mighty difficult to change your ways, the things you've grown accustom to and have done for most of your life because that's what society has dictated we must do. On today's post, I am going to share my 10 very best and most practical tips to get you going on your journey to optimal health so that you can begin living the life of your dreams without the burden of debilitating health problems. These are lessons I have learned along the way and wish I would've known from the start. I also thought I'd include a personal touch and post (silly) pictures with each tip. I hope you enjoy them and a few cameos of 2 of my favorite beings in the whole wide world. :-D 

10 of my most practical & easily-integrated tips for living a healthy & kind vegan lifestyle:

1. Make slow, gradual changes.

This is first and foremost. Taking one small step, daily or weekly, toward a lifestyle change is tons more effective than undergoing a large overhaul overnight. The latter will likely send you on a frustrating and seemingly never-ending vicious cycle going something like this: excitement, contentment, temptation, deprivation, resentment, giving in, disappointment, depression, hopefulness, excitement, contentment and around and around it goes. I know this first hand. At the very beginning of my journey in January 2012, I did a one-week detox and it seriously wreaked havoc on my body. I cut out a lot of foods in such a short period of time and as a result, I experienced serious fatigue, constant cravings, breakouts, depression, indigestion, stomach aches, discomfort, you name it.

Once I learned to integrate 1-2 small changes a week into my diet, my body was able to ease into the transition without all of the detox symptoms. Being kind to myself and taking my time enabled me to organically experience the positive changes that were happening physically, mentally and emotionally. I began to appreciate my body more, realizing that it knows what it needs. I am just here essentially to read the signs and do my best to interpret them so that I can nourish my body properly. Over time, my taste buds have changed dramatically. You'll experience this, too. I now enjoy more subtle flavors and simpler dishes. I no longer desire or crave an overwhelming amount of sugar or salt. This alone has allowed me to enjoy real food and its natural flavors in its natural form without harmful additives. Your body will adjust & it will thank you in the process for taking care of it. Think of how long you've been eating unhealthfully. You cannot reverse the damage done overnight. It is going to take years. But always remember: it's a lifestyle change, not a one-week-detox-go-back-to-old-habits-after-detox deal.

My sweet angel, Coco. :-)
2. Do not be a junk food vegan.

There are a scary amount of processed vegan foods out there, namely in the frozen/refrigerated food section and chip/cracker aisle of the grocery store. Honestly, I have never fallen into the trap of processed vegan foods and that's because the first person who inspired me to get healthy, Kimberly Snyder, is adamant about concentrating your shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store for fresh, whole, unadulterated foods found in nature. When certain ingredients like milk, cheese, and meat are taken out (and therefore fat, which provides flavor), often other health-depleting ingredients are added in such as salt, sugar, preservatives, artificial flavorings and colors, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. 

Sure, I buy some canned/packaged items like almond milk, beans, nut butters, tomato sauce, kale chips, olives, etc. but I am an ingredient detective and look at every single ingredient on the list. If one ingredient is unfamiliar to me or I have trouble pronouncing it, I don't buy it. I also make sure to buy mostly organic or buy products with the GMO-free project label if non-organic, products with BPA-free packaging, and products with a maximum of 10 ingredients (though they must all be quality ingredients). Many junk-food vegans are more unhealthy than people who are non-vegan because many non-vegans do balance their animal foods with plants. To ensure you're getting all of the nutrients you need, eat a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds and rotate them around in your diet. Another good tip: the longer the shelf life, the shorter yours. Click here for an awesome guide to smarter grocery shopping. 

4 of my favorite green smoothie ingredients: spinach, pear, apple, banana.
3. Eat foods you like and leave the rest, but do experiment.

When you're first starting out, introduce 1-2 new foods a week into your diet. Think of it as an experiment because it is. When you begin to eat more of a plant-based diet, you'll find that a whole new world of foods is available to you, foods you wouldn't have ever known about or tried otherwise. I compare it to Christmas morning. Most of the time, you don't know what to expect but you're excited to add something new to your life. There are many foods I LOVE that I used to HATE and so many foods that I had no idea existed that I would have really missed out on had I never changed my way of eating.

Among many other negatives, eating a mostly processed, junky diet is boring *yawn*. It is the same thing over and over. With plant-based eating, there are endless combinations of flavors and the best part is, it's a win-win. Healthy fare is tasty AND nutritious. Junky fare is tasty (if that's all you know) AND disease-causing. That's a win-lose. We want to win across the board. Trying new foods and falling in love with many of them has been one of my most favorite things about eating an abundance of plant-based, nutrient-dense foods. On the flip side, you certainly won't love everything, so don't force yourself to eat something just because it's the hot thing to do. If you do, you're likely to travel back to your past and eat something comforting and unhealthy. For example, I do not fancy kale but everyone else is obsessed. Therefore, I put it in my green smoothies to hide the taste and avoid it otherwise. You will not stay on track if you do not enjoy what you're eating.

I swapped artery-clogging fast-food fries for homemade
 sweet potato fries!
4. Recreate your old favorite dishes.

I have done this quite a bit on my blog. It has definitely been one of the most exciting and rewarding things I have done throughout my journey. At first, I hated the thought that I'd have to give up my favorite foods that were "win-lose." Quite honestly, that thought kept me from committing 100% to a plant-based vegan diet. Once I started to experiment in the kitchen with healthy vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, and refined-sugar free recipes, I found that though it may take a little more patience and an open-mind, I could absolutely enjoy healthier versions of my favorite dishes and be completely satisfied without any tinge of a craving for the unhealthier version, because I made it taste just as good. Find alternatives to your favorite dishes - I promise they're out there!

5. Cook once, eat two or three times.

This tip will make all the difference for all of you super busy folks out there. Make a big batch of your meals so you have enough for leftovers. You can freeze most things or keep most meals in the refrigerator for up to a week. This is a major time-saver and stress-reducer. The other important part of this is to plan ahead. Pick one hour out of a day once a week and write out the meals you want to make over the next week and use it as a rough blueprint. Be flexible. It can be changed throughout the week - don't over think it. Then, create your grocery list. I typically cook one meal big enough to yield leftovers on Sunday so that I have one meal down for Monday and usually Tuesday. I wholeheartedly believe in meal prep! It'll make your life much easier. Choose a free day and a few hours to pre-chop veggies, cook a big batch of whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, millet) and/or beans and legumes (lentils), then store them in the fridge so that you can pull them out whenever you need them throughout the week.

I now understand why they say to never be an animal photographer...
6. Come prepared to social gatherings.

Food is a huge part of our lives. Most things we do revolve around it, especially social gatherings. If you know you're going to be tempted by the food spread at a party, a breakfast/lunch/dinner date, or family gatherings/holidays, eat something beforehand to reduce your chances of bingeing on junk food. Another great idea is to bring something to the gathering. That way you'll have something to eat but you can also feel good knowing you're sharing healthy food with others. Not to mention, it's the perfect conversation-starter, too. By the way, most restaurants will accommodate your dietary needs. Just speak up. Or, do a quick search on Google for healthy (and vegan if you can find them) restaurants in your area. Also, take a look at the menu online before you go to a restaurant so you know what to expect.

7. Make friends with vegans and health-conscious individuals/groups.

If you do not surround yourself with people who have similar interests, the chances that you'll fall off the wagon are much higher. Plus, it is so much more enjoyable and worthwhile to spend your time with like-minded individuals anyway. They will accept you for you and uplift you. I am incredibly lucky that my 2 very best friends are vegans. Because our values are aligned, we understand each other on a deeper level and it has brought us closer. We do not have to worry about explaining ourselves to one another or putting up a facade trying to be someone we're not to appease or impress the other. Trying to be someone other than who you really are is exhausting and a waste of time. Our friendship is just easy-going and free. Following blogs that provide healthy vegan recipes has been incredibly beneficial in my journey, too. It's comforting to know you're not alone and the recipes shared make you excited in that you can still enjoy nutritious food that is also delicious and cruelty-free. Other than mine of course ;-), some of my very favorites are: Oh She Glows, DetoxinistaAlmonds and Avocados, Plant Powered KitchenLive Pure, and The Blonde Vegan.

Precious can't be bothered, guys.
8. Do not push your beliefs onto people. Rather, be an example.

When you first discover something new and shiny, something life-changing, you want to shout it from the rooftops for everyone to hear. You're well-intended, but it can come off as being pushy, which in turn, turns people off. They will often run off in the other direction more opposed to your argument than they were before. Educate people respectfully. Remain calm, non-judgmental but impassioned when speaking about your new lifestyle. Let your actions do the majority of the talking. Of course, we all naturally want to share what we're up to and people WILL ask questions about your new lifestyle. People are more fascinated by people who don't eat or use animals for clothing or entertainment more than anything else. Seriously. You will be defending yourself (and the voiceless i.e. the planet and animals) for as long as it takes to get the word out about how imperative a plant-based, cruelty-free way of eating and living is for the sake of our health, animal welfare and for the future of our planet. It is a big but truly rewarding responsibility to have.

For example, instead of telling people condescendingly that they're killing themselves, the planet and animals because of the food they're buying and putting into their bodies and the clothes they're wearing, give them facts in a kind, but straight-forward manner, like this: "the reason I am so passionate about living a healthy vegan lifestyle is that I feel great knowing I am helping to save the lives of enslaved innocent animals, many of whom are tortured and beaten throughout their demanding lives, and even while conscious during slaughter. There are also numerous environmental and human health consequences that are preventable and reversible with a diet and lifestyle change. Did you know research has shown that eating a diet consisting of animal products is directly linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, food allergies, and countless other illnesses?" That response is heartfelt, factual and informative. Holding back the truth will not propel us forward in changing our world so stand strong in your beliefs but be kind and understanding in the process. Also, recommend a documentary like Food Inc., Food Matters, and/or Earthlings.

We call her Ms. Ted. She looks like the girl version of Ted, right?!
9. Reframe the words "I can't" to "I don't" when you feel deprived.

Instead of saying "I can't" have this or that, use the words "I don't." "I can't" is a restriction. It makes you feel like you're limited in your choices. It makes you feel like you're missing out. "I don't" is a declaration. Instead, it makes you feel empowered in your choices. It demonstrates that you care about yourself enough to eat foods filled with disease-fighting and health-promoting nutrients. It shows that you care about the environment, the lives of innocent animals and our future. It also shows that you're forward-thinking. These 3 words alone will either make you or break you depending on which combination you use. Choose to feel empowered. Others will naturally latch on to your high vibrations, too, as a lovely little side effect. That's the goal, to create a ripple effect.

10. Write down your intentions for making these changes and constantly review them.

The one sure-fire way to have sustainable success with anything in life is to get really get clear 
about why you're doing what you're doing. It gives you direction. You can't get where you want to go without purpose or direction. Write these intentions down and display them in a spot you look at daily. Because if ever you get off track or take a few steps back, you always have those core intentions to go back to to remind you of why you're staying so disciplined in making all of these powerful, positive changes in your life. Are you doing it for your own health? Your family's health? Environmental health? Animal welfare? The future of our planet? To expose the unethical practices of agribusiness and the government in order to take back control of our own health? All of the above? Whatever it may be, refer back to these intentions as much as possible.

Wishing you true whole health, joy, clarity, empowerment, and the courage to express your authentic self freely without apologies. Don't hesitate to reach out to let me know of anything I can do to support you or assist you with. One love. ♡


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