21 Days: Vegan AF! Post Challenge Reflection + Q&A Video

You’d have never convinced my younger self that there was more to a healthy eating lifestyle than eating fruits, vegetables, meat for protein, drinking milk for strong bones, with occasional options for opting out of meat or just eating seafood. Since the early 2000’s, Americans have become more educated and aware of the ethics and regulations behind the American food industry.  Popular food brands were being exposed for their animal handling practices in slaughterhouses, and fast food restaurants were mandated to display nutritional facts on all menu items. In turn, households were letting go of genetically modified and processed foods, reaching instead for fresh and organic alternatives. Fast forward to now, vegetarianism is a thing of the past and veganism is the hot, new trend. People are ditching food made from any part of an animal, honey included, selecting colorful plant based and whole food diets. Veganism pushes beyond what vegetables you choose to plate.  Today, you can adopt veganism as a lifestyle.  This not only includes the apparent vegan diet, but what brands you choose to wear, makeup and beauty products you apply, and cruelty-free household items. When first moving to NYC three years ago, I became more mindful of my diet.  My first year of living in the Big Apple, I decided to become an “in-house pescatarian.”  I only bought seafood for my apartment, but when I ventured into the streets for brunch or dinner, it was fair game. How could I let go of chicken and waffles during the weekends for brunch?  Let’s be real: it wasn’t going to happen! Believe it or not, NYC is a very healthy city to live in that offers a diverse variety of food options.  Selections range from your bodega chop cheese to fruit carts on every corner and even 100% vegan restaurants and bakeries.  However, when I would decide to visit my neighborhood grocery store in Harlem, I was skeptical about that meats they were putting on their shelves. Not always did they look so fresh. My trust issues heightened as the line between brand and factory animal ethics and grocery store handling began to blur. Don’t get me wrong, the same could be said for seafood, but my confession is that I felt safer purchasing my seafood from Wholefoods or Trader Joe’s.   It was during my second year in Harlem that I began releasing dairy.  I’d never consumed much dairy from the start, but it wasn’t until my full-fledged addiction to Talenti’s Gelato (Guilt Flavor: Caramel Cookie Crunch) routinely left me feeling bloated and gassy that I chose to let it all go! Eating clean and green was my new mantra. Ultimately, becoming mindful in my eating has sparked much curiosity in what more I could do with new eating habits.  I never imagined becoming a vegan for 21 days. I was first introduced to “The 22-Day Vegan Challenge” by no other than the Queen herself, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, back in 2013 when she released her show-stopping self-titled album, Beyoncé.  I began hearing about people starting off with 21 days as a vegan and then pushing themselves to go one more day. Toward the end of 2016, I kept uttering the words vegan and 21-day challenge. I’d at last said, “I want to try the 21-Day Vegan Challenge,” and because I said it, I had to do it. More importantly, people in the black community have been sharing their stories of becoming vegan and I found that to be most inspiring. I decided I would get through the holiday season (home cooked meals and sweets) and at the beginning of the year, dive head first. January 9-30, 2017, I had locked myself in for the transformation of my life.  

21-Day Vegan Challenge: Accepted


Before the Plunge…

As I prepared to gear up for the challenge, I was extremely anxious about what I was getting myself into.  My reasoning behind taking the challenge was a little deeper than exposing myself to a new world of food and creativity; it was about self-discipline and fully committing to a lifestyle change.  There’s beauty in self-care and feeding our bodies with the proper nutrients that we often fall short on incorporating.  I was most interested in seeing how my body would react to a plant based diet.  Less bloating, going to the bathroom regularly without a strain, clearer skin and mind.  If you are wondering about weight loss, yes, that is a no brainer with doing a challenge as such.  However, my interest did not lie there.  It was a given that I would lose weight, but I did not keep track of numbers. Nevertheless, my biggest worry was that I was always going to be hungry no matter what I ate.  I did preliminary research on foods and brands that were considered vegan and how I would get the most satisfaction from a plant based diet.  Searching through blogs, instagram feeds, YouTube channels, and connecting with seasoned vegans helped build my confidence that I could actually get through it and be successful. There were so many ways I could hook up colorful meals, and the vegan alternatives had me at “hello.” I’ve never been a fan of tofu because I hate the texture of it.  This altogether drew me away from seeking meat alternatives.  If I was going vegan, I wasn’t interested in substitutes. It was nothing against what was available to me, I just wanted to see if I could go without it. In hindsight, I only sought alternatives when I dined out (more on this in following section). To help soothe my anxiety about what I would be eating for the next 21 days, I wrote down every visibly satisfying meal I came across on the internet.  Then I began to meal plan for each week (Week 1 Meal Plan & Week 2 Meal Plan + Grocery Hauls) followed by curating my grocery list.  To add a little spice to the challenge, I decided when going grocery shopping that I would try a new grocery store each week.  I strayed away from shopping at Wholefoods during the challenge to break the myth that healthy, vegan, organic or clean eating is only obtainable with a hefty budget at Wholefoods. FALSE! Just to note, I never grew up on red meat or pork, only turkey, chicken, and of course, seafood. I’m from Maryland, duh!  Therefore, taking myself off of red meat and pork wasn’t a problem that I had to face. Throughout prior months, I would only eat seafood or veggie-only meals because I simply enjoyed them.  Because of this, I didn’t expect to have a problem letting go of meat sources.

Drip, Drip, Woo, Splash!

Monday January 9, 2017, I dived in head first. Meals were planned, my refrigerator and pantry were stocked, yet, mentally, I felt like I was not prepared.  I carried this feeling of uncertainty, much like that feeling of missing something, but you literally have everything that you could possibly need.  What was left was for my body and brain to get with the program. My first day out, I had packed snacks and meals in my bag “just in case.” As days passed, I realized that I was overly prepared and that I needed to chill tf out. It didn’t take long for my body to come in sync with what was going on. The morning of Day 4, I went to the bathroom and it was like I did an overnight cleanse.  I went on about my day wondering if I would feel this “glowed up” on Day 21. That’s how good it was!  This was when the confidence started to set in.   As the days went on, to my surprise, cravings for meat or seafood did not occur. However, because I was cutting out a rich source of protein, it made me wonder if I giving myself all the daily nutrients my body needed.  It wasn’t long before I discovered that there was a thin line between feeling satisfied from a meal to straight HANGRY.  My choice of protein came, for the most part, from from beans and other protein rich vegetables. I made it a point that I would not buy bad carbs, such as rice and breads, as a quick fix to feel full. It just seemed like a bad idea. Warm bread and butter all day guarantee muffin tops. My sole concern was that my protein intake was low throughout the challenge.   Creating my own meals and playing with new food combinations was the best part.  Everything from buddha bowls, sweet potato cinnamon rolls, vegan lasagna, and veggie roasts and curry, just to name a few, were some of  my favorites, as well as household hits. My appreciation for plants and vegetables grew. I found myself practicing more patience when preparing foods in the kitchen and as I shopped for groceries.    If I had to choose one thing that I fell in love with during the challenge, it would be the alternatives!  Vegan brands, as well as other popular food brands, have heard the people when they say they want alternatives. Vegan or not, more people are seeking healthier options free of dairy, soy, meat, etc. There’s alternative butter, meat (not just tofu), cheese, chips, ice cream, yogurt, milk, desserts, salad dressings and dips, and more, not to mention the simple ingredients you can purchase for home cooking. And to name one popular alternative: instead of using eggs, reach for flaxseeds or applesauce. The world of options are endless!  

Swim Good

Monday, January 30, 2017, I successfully completed my 21-Day Vegan Challenge, and to my surprise, I went 22 days as a vegan.  On my first day out as a “non-vegan,” I unconsciously ate as a vegan. There was no reason behind it, but as they say: it takes 21 days to make or break a habit.  What I’m most proud of myself for is my willingness to try vegan alternatives when eating out. On many occasions, I did not have to think twice about trying a dish for the first time. I never gave tofu a full chance until I had a craving for Chipotle and demolished my sofrito’s bowl, or when I finally bit into a portobello mushroom sandwich from Eat’s by Chloe in NYC.  And how can I forget my first vegan pizza with vegan cheese from Blaze Pizza? One thing I learned is that even if it’s an alternative and composed of ingredients that are untraditional, it will certainly not kill you.  Why? Because it comes from plants!   Over the course of the 21 days, I learned so much about my body and the food options that are available to me. To this day, I still carry the mindset of eating as a vegan, although I consider myself  a pescatarian/flexatarian.  My source of protein is seafood and most days, I go without it. I do not find the need to welcome dairy or meat back into my diet. Still, when grocery shopping, I purchase with the mindset of a vegan. Taking care of my body is a sacred priority for me and a personal responsibility I hold.  I choose not to put garbage into my body and seek natural options. Ultimately, I want to help the black community become more aware of the food options that are available to them.  Would I like for everyone to go vegan? Sure; if that’s their choice. I could see myself living as a 100% vegan, but the diet is too strict for me. It’s hard for me to let go of my honey, and if someone offers me a piece of cake, depending on the day, I may or may not feel like asking if it contains dairy. I have a sweet tooth that I want to cater too.  What I want to help people and families with is how to seek out alternatives.  After my experience, I believe that learning about the alternatives would be a good start to healthy eating.  The only requirement is to be open minded.  To think that there was a time that we as humans only survived off of whole foods, then fast forward to now, everywhere you turn, there’s artificial foods that people survive on, is mind blowing to me. It just goes to show that we are conditioned to think and do what the FDA and major food companies persuade us to. What would it be like if we sought out to eat mindfully green and clean?  

Begin Here!

Check out PETA’s “Accidentally Vegan Food List“, which contains a list of foods and brands that you would’ve never thought to be considered vegan.  Some foods listed are everyone’s favorite Oreo’s, Doritos, Sour Patch Kids, and Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, just to name a few.  Go ahead and see what ideas you already have in your home, then share in the comments section what you’ve found!

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