One year as vegans

We have been vegan for a little over a year now and we would like to share our different stories about why and how we made the decision to become vegans and why we are still choosing this lifestyle.

Stiina:

The last 12 months have been extraordinary for me in many ways: I’ve met incredible people, gone to places I’d never thought I’d go, done so many things I was scared of before, made tough choices, let go of most of my belongings, spent more than four months sleeping outside and more.

12 months ago Kristians and I decided to go vegan, too. I had never been a big fan of meat and especially cutting or cooking meat (unless it was processed and didn’t look like a piece of an animal) – I have never liked ham or bacon and I’ve especially hated all seafood). For that reason and in order to lose some weight I became a vegetarian. But you need to understand that even besides not liking meat I’d always been a very picky eater: I didn’t eat mushrooms, bell peppers, rice, beans, canned peas, corn, beetroot, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.

As I’d been a vegetarian for years it wasn’t too difficult for me to picture being a vegan. What I didn’t picture, though, was how it would broaden my menu drastically and make me fall in love with baking again; how it would make me feel better than ever and a better person. My digestive system got very regular and I always felt light after a meal. I started to gradually taste new things, such as cauliflower, lentils, couscous, butternut squash, zucchini. Later on, in the jungle, I learned to eat rice, beans, corn, yucca, plantain. I made my own almond milk and vegan mayonnaise and patties.

Being vegan has also got me aligned with my core values – I feel like a better person internally. It hasn’t stopped me from doing anything, whether it’s running marathons, surviving in the jungle, hiking hundreds of miles in deserts or climbing rocks and mountains.

In the beginning I was one of those more annoying types of vegans who drown you in facts and guilt and try to convert you. I’ve thankfully learned to accept other people’s choices without negative feelings and only get into a discussion when asked. I am thankful to everyone for understanding my choices in life – let’s see what happens, it’ll be a journey!

Kristians:

If you would have told me a couple of years ago that I would be a vegan I would probably laugh heavily. I was a big meat eater and loved dairy & eggs. It was like this: if meat wasn’t part of any meal the meal was not fulfilling.

But then something happened: one day I felt sort of sick of meat, I didn’t want to cook it or eat it, even though our fridge was full of meat. So I simply didn’t and the next day I felt the same way, so I just thought it’s fine – I will just try not to eat meat for a week. It was a bit surprising that that feeling stayed with me – furthermore, I literally felt better and had more energy. That aspect really hooked me as I was training a lot at the time, mostly running.

You know that feeling when you come home after work, load yourself with a heavy dinner and then feel like you have to take a nap? It’s because your body is already tired from the work day and then when you load it up with meat your digestive system has to spend a lot of energy in order process the meat. And that’s a serious amount of energy if it is enough to make you tired and sleepy. That is not always the best option, especially if you have something important to do. So I just noticed that after dinner I felt more energy than when I ate meat, which was awesome, it pretty much made me less lazy (which actually was on my to do list, anyways). So I decided that my body doesn’t need meat – I mean I can sacrifice the satisfaction of the taste buds for more energy that I can use to get shit done. So that was my first step of conversion: I became vegetarian. And I remained a vegetarian for about 5 and a half months.

On a little bit more humorous note there is a simple test in order to determine if you are truly a meat eater – Next time when you see a roadkill happening try noticing if that sight makes your appetite go up and you have an urge to eat that fresh dead thing. 🙂

How I got into the second phase was a bit different: I had always been environment-conscious and knew that we somehow have to take care of it. So I was pretty satisfied with being a vegetarian as that gave me already so many bonuses, including health, environment and of course our friends – the animals. But still by consuming animal products such as eggs and dairy you only helped the environment and the animals partially as you still created the demand for the animal to be farmed by buying its products. I wanted to do more so I was thinking that by becoming a vegan I would have done what I could to fight the industrialized farming system. Additionally I would have my conciseness clean that I am not the part of the large scale harm and suffering that is being generated every day. The problem isn’t that much because people eat meat, but how much of it they eat. And if you have ever been in a slaughterhouse even a civilized one the way animals are being treated is not very appetizing. And I am not talking about those farmers that grow a few animals for themselves, friends and family in my opinion it’s fine that they do it. But again it’s the large scale of the industry what is bothering. All of this I already knew while being a meat eater, but I just chose to ignore it. I think becoming a vegetarian has made me more honest towards myself so I was willing to go a step further.

I didn’t initially plan on becoming a vegan, but I was interested in it so I decided to do some research. What became clear is that your body actually doesn’t need dairy nor eggs and you will still be fully functioning and even more healthy. By that time I was also starting to train for either a marathon or some triathlon, such as IRONMAN, perhaps. It didn’t really matter: all I wanted to do was to train. I also happened to read the Finding Ultra by Rich Roll, which really got me interested in this whole vegan movement. I knew that I wanted to try it but I didn’t know when.

Then one evening me and Stiina watched the movie Food choices by Michal Siewierski, which explained everything in simple language and pretty much answered all the questions that I still had – it was a good final push. So me and Stiina pretty much were on the same note right after the movie and we agreed: let’s try because the worst thing that could happen we would just keep being vegetarian which in my opinion was a “risk” worth taking.

As we both were already vegetarian all we had to do is remove eggs and dairy products from the menu. Easy to say – we were eating those every single day! In the beginning you look for substitutes for everything so you could still eat the same things but with vegan versions. But that’s actually not the point of being a vegan, especially if one of your main reasons is to be more healthy (vegan meat or cheese alternatives are very processed). Of course it is not like you should completely avoid substitutes – just avoid the processed ones as they are just as unhealthy. But if you only do it for the animal rights or environment, you would probably be ok with eating all the highly processed stuff you can get your hands on.

So what we did was that we started to make the substitutes ourselves. Obviously, in your home kitchen you won’t possibly make any highly processed stuff and end up eating much healthier meals and, as the saying goes: the appetite grows while you’re eating. And it’s true: your gut bacteria actually adjusts to what you eat and therefore you crave more of what you mostly eat. So if you are really into pizza and french fries then you will probably crave more of those things and the same if you ate healthy foods. It takes some time, though, for me it was at least two months.

I was at first really doubting my choice as I didn’t see any drastic health improvements like it had happened with ditching the meat. My body actually behaved little bit weird, which I won’t tell about in detail now. So at this point I was already training for IRONMAN and as my weekly training loads grew up to over 20-25 hours I started to feel the difference. The improvement was especially clear for the recovery times, as I sometimes had 3 trainings per day. But that wasn’t the only thing: I also felt much better, happier and healthier. So that’s when I got convinced that I had made the right choice and that I should stick with it. And I still feel the same way about it to this day.

I guess it was just the matter of being persistent and not giving up too early as you don’t know how long it will take for your body to adjust to the new terms. So if you would go vegan for a week then you might not even feel any difference or maybe even feel a bit weird. So if you do decide to give it a try make sure you give it a proper go! I definitely would suggest the plant-based diet to someone who does a lot of physical activites – it definitely made a huge difference for me.

It also makes things a bit easier in a sense that if you have done your conversion right you will not feel the temptation towards any of the foods that are being offered to you. The smell of McDonalds, cooked meat or grilled cheese simply won’t rise any emotions in you and you won’t feel like you are missing out on something. And so far I haven’t encountered a food place that wouldn’t offer you some vegan options. It might not necessarily have to be something they usually do, but you can always just make your own dish and you would be surprised how helpful people usually are regarding your dietary preferences.

Another thing I would like to add is that a vegan diet is slightly more cooking intensive as you have to prepare more ingredients yourself rather than just buy the processed stuff. But that’s only in the beginning and as you get used to it it becomes more easy. Besides the already mentioned benefits of health etc. becoming a vegan actually expanded and broadened our menu in every way. As you look for different vegan recepies for the foods you already love you find tons of awesome recepies that you want to try. While we still lived in an apartment and cooking was something we enjoyed we tried a new food or recipe every week, which was really awesome. And besides a wider menu I look at it this way: the time and money I invest now into cooking and eating healthy I will hopefully get back when I won’t need to stand in a line for doctors and buy different medications, which means the quality of life for me will be longer.

Now I can tell that being a vegan sort of makes your life easier as less is actually more. The last thing to mention is that the choice of a vegan lifestyle has to come from within yourself.

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