Here are two things I didn’t think would ever happen to me:
1) I would become a senior.
2) I would become a vegan.
Senior year of college was inevitable, but that did not make its arrival any easier to believe. To make the transition even more bizarre, I found myself having a strange burst of inspiration to try this new route to healthy living. I have had my fair share of food-related health goals in the past. I have gone weeks of cutting out bread, pasta, and other carbs I convinced myself were satanic, only to falter after a night out ended at T. Anthony’s. I tried Isagenix, a 30-day intensive eating system that provided meal-replacement shakes, guided cleanses, specific snacks, and a very serious limit on which foods you can and cannot consume (the only unlimited items were celery and cucumbers, basically crunchy water). This summer I tried a hip diet called starving-intern-living-in-New-York-City-by-herself-for-the-first-time. My internship provided enough of a salary for me to cut my parents slack and pay for my entire existence, but as soon as I excitedly headed to the store to buy ingredients for all the healthy recipes I had found on Pinterest, I learned the true agony of what it really takes to be healthy: lots and lots of money.
For example, every recipe I found on exercise-related sites suggested I incorporate chia seeds into my diet. Stick ‘em in your shake, in your oatmeal, in your salad, in your birthday cake (they did not suggest this but I’m sure the health icons of the internet wouldn’t shy away from doing that. If they even eat birthday cake). Do you know how much a small bag of chia seeds costs? DO YOU? Guess. Nope, more. At least where I was shopping in hipster little Brooklyn, those suckers were about $15! My resentment toward chia seeds has yet to shy away.
Needless to say, I took advantage of the free food in my office and ate a whole lot less due to my fear of losing all my money. I would suggest that others avoid this lifestyle.
Some of the diets were great. I lost some weight, I felt energized, but they certainly took a hit at my enjoyment and my wallet. Plans are expensive and the mindset they require was difficult for me to maintain. Everything was an uphill battle to reach the end of the 30 days, to win the internal war of “I shouldn’t eat this but I want to…” every time something tempted, and to fight off the guilt when I cheated. I was constantly struggling to stick with whatever I was trying at the time, and while my usual habits are inherently healthy (I am an active person who enjoys a good run on the Charles and the Warren Dining Hall salad bar) none of the plans became my lifestyle.
About four weeks ago, a new co-worker named Alex mentioned she was vegan. Yikes, I thought. How can a college student with a meal plan and zero income pull off being vegan and healthy?
“It’s such an awesome way to keep up your ideal health in college. And it’s cheap!”
That chick read my mind. I had always thought veganism, and even vegetarianism, would not be worth the costs; I’d resort to eating unhealthy snacks and too many carbs, I’d spend too much money, or I’d go hungry due to limited options on a college campus. But suddenly a person with my lifestyle was raving about it.
“I have so much more energy, and my body has been able to regulate itself in terms of eating enough, eating enough of the right things, and adjusting to the food I avoid now. There are vegan alternatives to everything, too, so while most of my diet is the right protein and nutrients and stuff, I can still have great food. Oreos are vegan!”
Oreos are vegan? Sold. Alex, my vegan spirit guide, encouraged me to start small with just a few meals for a week, but after that I was hooked. All of the mental struggles of previous diets disappeared when I didn’t even have the option to debate certain temptations. I didn’t feel a huge void without meat, and I felt way less bloated and gross from cutting out dairy (Sorry. TMI). Excessive vegetables became a great source of protein and fruit became a perfect dessert. Every now and then I allow myself to “cheat” out of convenience for others or, again, a late night ending at T. Anthony’s, but because my daily habits are so much more naturally healthy, I don’t feel the same guilt I used to whenever I slipped in a slice of pizza.
Alex was nice enough to share a little guide she’d made for how to keep it up in college, and I thought I’d share some of it here!
An essential start to your day! This should be full of carbs to power you through a workout or busy morning.
- Cereal: grape nuts/rolled oats with almond or soy milk and lots of fruit
- Oats: these should be your go-to breakfast, GREAT before a workout!
- Maple syrup
- Fresh or frozen berries
- Cocoa powder
- Hash Brown Waffle with mixed veggies
- Toast with jam, low-fat peanut butter, Engine 2 hummus, veggies, etc.
- PRO TIP: your bananas should be a little spotty for optimal digestion and nutrition (they also taste better)
The bulk of this should consist of a grain/starch, vegetables, and beans/legumes.
- Basics: rice or potatoes, veggies (fresh or frozen, at least 2 cups), beans/lentils
- Idea: Burrito bowl: rice, refried beans (TJ makes a great vegan kind), veggies, salsa, whatever you want!
- Sushi wrap or bowl: rice with avocado/carrot/cucumber in a seaweed wrap or a bowl, add soy sauce, sriracha, wasabi, or anything else.
Rice, beans, and veggies can get boring if you don’t change up the flavors you’re adding!
- Oil free dressings and sauces
- Hot sauce
- Garlic powder/onion powder/paprika are my favorite spices to add while cooking
- Nutritional Yeast
- Maple syrup
A lot of people think this lifestyle is “boring” because it can be repetitive, but most Americans cycle throughout the same 4 or 5 meals…just saying.
Reminders & Eating Enough
- It is SO IMPORTANT that you are eating enough!!!! You shouldn’t be feeling weak or hungry and if you are, start eating more food.
- A lifestyle change like this is a big adjustment and it takes some time and getting used to but it is SO worth it. If you are ever feeling unsure, remember why you are doing this and how great you feel, your body will thank you.
- It does take a while to figure out how much food you need because you’re now eating much less calorically dense diet, give it time and do what makes you feel the best.
- You should never feel deprived! If you are hungry, eat a snack!
- Eat intuitively, eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full; don’t obsess about calories and macros. If you are constantly hungry/thinking about food, you aren’t eating enough.
- If you are craving something specific, it’s ok to treat yourself (to a vegan treat, i.e. TJ’s coconut based ice cream/vegan snacks) every now and then but look for a healthy option most of the time.
- Don’t be overly concerned about protein, if you are eating enough calories, you are getting enough protein.
- Drink a BIG glass of water every morning right when you wake up! It’s a great way to feel awake, get your digestion going, and get hydrated!
- Bring a piece of fruit or a bar with you everywhere you go! Being hungry sucks so always be prepared!
- When eating out, breakfast tends to be the most difficult meal to order; my go-to is normally a few slices of dry wheat toast with jam or avocado or a bowl of oats with a big side of fruit!
- A high carb lifestyle such as this is actually ideal for active and athletic people, you will feel so strong and energized during your workouts!
- CARBS are your main source of energy so try to eat a serving of whole grains/starches about 60 minutes before a workout.
- You can have a serving of protein after a workout if you feel your muscles really need the help with recovering, but you don’t need things like protein shakes or powders as much as you may think.
And so, four weeks later, here I am: a senior vegan. Sure, it hasn’t been so long, but the improvements I’ve felt through something that has seemed so easy makes me confident in keeping it up. This is the first time a health change hasn’t been a conscious burden. I do not feel restricted about what I can eat nearly as much as expected, much thanks to the diversity of BU Dining options, killer salad bars, and the affordability of meatless options (really! Saving money is motivational! Woo!). I also have liberty to eat as much of the healthy stuff as I want…you can never have too many vegetables, so I really don’t ever feel hungry. Easing myself onto this lifestyle has been a very positive experience, and I’ve managed to do it at college no less. Hey, it also helps animals and the environment! With all my previous inhibitions busted, I can’t even remember many of the negatives.
If you’re thinking of trying vegan out, give the above guide a try, know that your food will not taste like cardboard, and enjoy the feeling of an energized, low-stress, refreshingly healthy lifestyle. Have a great year and stay healthy, kids.