One morning about ten years ago, I woke up and thought, “hey I think I’m a vegetarian now.” And that was it. A few months later I went vegan and I have never looked back. It wasn’t about animal welfare, I wasn’t concerned about greenhouse gasses (if I even knew what they were), and I hadn’t just watched any documentaries about diet-related diseases. It was just pure intuition.
At the time, I had no way of knowing what a positive role this decision would play in my life.
This momentary insight over a decade ago was the best lifestyle choice I have ever made, without question. Of all the changes and improvements in my life over the years, this one really stands apart as the most impactful.
I just realized that I passed my 10-year veganniversary (lol) this year, so I thought I would share what I consider to be the biggest benefits, observations, and takeaways of being a vegan for the last 3,650+ days…
1. The world has changed.
Can you even remember what 2009 was like? Forks Over Knives, What the Health, and Game Changers hadn’t been shot. The millions of plant-based book/cookbook bestsellers hadn’t been written. Even Dr. Greger of NutritionFacts.org only had like 4 videos online.
Lewis Hamilton just won his first F1 title and definitely wasn’t posting #vegan #foodporn messages to his 13 million followers on Instagram (which also didn’t exist yet).
Restaurants and grocery stores had no knowledge, desire, or incentive to provide vegan options. The idea of Beyond Meat Del Tacos and Impossible Whoppers were laughable (maybe they still are?) and Veggie Grill was a single-location experiment.
What has happened in the meantime has been nothing short of a plant-based revolution. Compared with 2009, the nutritional world is completely transformed.
I mean, if you told me a decade ago that I could ask for non-dairy milk in a cafe and have the barista reply, “sure, would you like soy, almond, oat, hemp, rice, hazelnut, or cashew?” I would have thought you were crazy! 🙂
In addition to the practical benefits of broad access to plant-based food at restaurants and grocery stores, the psychological benefits are immense. As all marketers know, “social proof” is the biggest driver of action. So when your neighbor, your grandmother, and your favorite celebrity are all going vegan (not just those crazy hippie kids), it makes you take it much more seriously.
For me personally, I was able to make it work in those dark ages just as well as in today’s paradise, but my ability to spread this message and help others improve their diet has gotten dramatically easier and more credible in the last decade.
In retrospect, it is obvious that this was going to happen. The nutritional science was already well established ten years ago, it just hadn’t yet gone mainstream. The groundwork for this revolution was being laid in numerous ways, but people just weren’t ready. From my perspective though, having been vegan this whole time, it’s pretty nuts to step back and realize just how much the public consciousness has shifted in the last decade. We have a lot of work to do, but the signs are encouraging. Well done, humanity.
2. It’s a lot harder for those around me than it is for me.
Personally, eating a vegan diet has never been a big deal for me and I’m not at all vocal or preachy about it with others. I can’t remember one time where I insisted on eating at a certain vegan restaurant or preached to anyone for their dietary choices. Nevertheless, it has been a HUGE deal for some bigoted people with whom I have come into contact. When you go vegan, suddenly everyone in your life becomes deeply concerned about your diet – even more than their own. They have no idea what’s in their food, but they sure know what’s in yours!
A friend once called me selfish and egotistical for always eating “special food” … I’ve overheard several people criticizing me (in terms of my diet) behind my back … others have been obviously concerned that I may be malnourished and protein deficient … and not to mention the illogical yet pervasive ideas that real men eat meat, which I jokingly tackled in this article (8 Scientific Reasons Why Vegan Men Are More Manly) to a chorus of insecure men leaving me toxic comments.
3. Vegans have a secret club.
All the above might sound… awful, but it really isn’t. Making conscious choices in your life creates immediate clarity. The people who are wrong for you will leave. This is great. Just think – if you knew that someone in your life would viciously criticize and reject you for making a positive health choice down the road, wouldn’t you love to know that now? Wouldn’t you love to clear them out of your life, instead of continuing to invest in a mismatched relationship?
As with any conscious lifestyle choice you make, your relationships will become more extreme. Some people will hate you, some will love you, and you’ll clear out those people who think “meh” of you. That might seem difficult, but it’s an immensely positive thing.
Just as it can turn people off, it can also bring new people into your life who are much more aligned with your lifestyle and values. One of the greatest things about being vegan is that I’ve been able to connect instantly and deeply with other vegans who would otherwise be total strangers. It’s like a secret club where all the members are respected and appreciated right off the bat.
This makes sense because this one simple dietary choice says so much about the qualities of this person. Immediately, you know that they are much more likely to be:
- Courageous enough to put their values into action
- An intelligent free thinker who makes their own choices
- More conscious and spiritually aware (see #7)
- Someone who values their body and wellbeing
- Empathetic enough to value and appreciate life
- Healthy and energetic
- Happier and less stressed
Don’t those people sound great?! Obviously people who are not vegan can have those characteristics too (and vice versa) but it’s a quick filter to find some really great people who are likely to share a lot in common with you.
This has definitely been the case for me. I have no prejudice against non-vegan people (everyone is on their own journey), but this is why much of my social circle is now vegan. It would be really hard, for example, to have a relationship with someone who isn’t part of the club… vegan girls are just instantly so much more attractive 🙂
4. I eat a much wider range of foods (and appreciate them more).
One of the biggest ironies of going vegan is that you’re cutting out entire food groups and yet somehow end up eating a much wider variety of foods. Huh?
The reason is, there is like 10,000x more diversity in the edible plant kingdom than the factory-farmed animal kingdom. Compared to 10 years ago, I probably eat a 5x greater variety of foods.
Once you’re in the mindset of being a plant eater, a whole new world of variety opens up. You find new recipes with strange-sounding ingredients like nutritional yeast, dandelion greens, champagne mangos, adzuki beans, oyster mushrooms, quinoa, wakame seaweed, and so much more.
Not only is this fun, but it’s also really good for you. Our bodies were designed to eat a ton of biodiversity because each has a different balance of vitamins and micronutrients that we need for optimal health.
Just as important, I also began to understand and become mindful of the foods I was eating rather than taking them for granted. This led to so much more positive feelings towards food, and it’s rare that I eat a meal now without feeling immense gratitude for the nutrition and flavors, and the larger harmony of nature that supports these plants.
5. It has made my character stronger.
I think it’s dumb to play those “what if” games, but I shudder to think what my life would have been like if I hadn’t switched to a plant-based diet. I can tie so much of my positive character development to this one decision.
Putting aside the huge benefits of both health and career (i.e. this blog would have never been started), going vegan made me a better person in numerous ways…
- I am more capable of thinking for myself and making independent decisions rather than just following some pre-set social norms.
- My views of the world have expanded. I care so much more about contributing positive solutions to the world’s biggest challenges, and reducing suffering for humans, animals, and our planet.
- I feel more confident and in control of my life – I know I can take positive steps to improve my life and follow through with them.
- I have a greater sense of compassion and empathy. This is obviously true for animals, but for humans too. I find myself much more empathetic to other people’s situations and needs.
- I feel much more capable of being assertive because I have more experience defending my positions and standing up for my dietary choices.
I would suggest that if you’re looking to revitalize your life and grow your character, there is no better starting point than diet. It’s an “easy win” that will improve your confidence, clarity, and awareness so much that everything else will become easier.
6. Exercise is now fun.
This was both an immediate and long-lasting benefit. After I went vegan, I felt like I could just run forever. Within months, my speed, endurance, robustness, and recovery increased dramatically – but also my enjoyment. That look on most runner’s faces (something between constipation and terror) was a thing of the past. Running became so smooth and effortless no matter how many miles I was logging.
Every year since, my endurance and enjoyment have both increased. Today I love running more than pretty much anything else. Next year, as long as my ankle ligaments behave themselves, I hope to do my first 50-mile ultra.
For endurance sports especially, veganism is like a superpower, and that’s why such a high percentage of ultra runners and triathletes are plant-based. I just don’t know how non-vegans can compete.
[Update: I just watched Game Changers on Netflix and it does an awesome job of explaining this. If you’re curious about this topic of plant-based athletic performance, that documentary is a must watch!]
7. Spiritual awareness?
Surprisingly, this was the most obvious shift in my pre/post vegan life. Almost immediately after making the switch, I felt a pronounced energetic upgrade. I don’t know what to call it other than, maybe, spiritual awareness?
What specifically caused this is a mystery to me. Maybe it is some kind of physical energy boost from a cleaner diet? Maybe it was the lack of ingesting suffering multiple times a day? Whatever the cause, this increase in pure awareness was like taking off sunglasses I didn’t know I was wearing. Everything got brighter and clearer.
This shift was both internal and external. Inwardly, I felt so much more intuitive, clear-minded, and centered. Outwardly, the world felt so much more alive and I could notice the energy patterns around me more easily.
It also extended to nature. Hiking through a woodland and feeling the harmony of the birds, grasses, sunshine, soil, air, water.. it’s all so alive. This is something I never would have even noticed ten years ago, but is now one of the things I appreciate most.
I don’t even notice this as often anymore because it has become so normal, but the effect is definitely still there, and it has enhanced my ability to appreciate life immeasurably.
8. I got better at cooking. Obviously.
Before I went vegan, cooking was a cool idea. I thought it would be nice to someday learn how to cook something. I think I even tried to follow a recipe one time…
On a vegan diet, cooking more of your own meals from scratch is inevitable. True, there are more and more ready-made vegan meals available now, but it would still be nearly impossible to eat vegan without knowing how to throw meals together on your own.
Since the default SAD (Standard American Diet) no longer applies to you, you’ve got to take control over what you’re eating on a daily basis. That often means much more cooking – and also more awareness of exactly what you’re eating. Both are super positive side benefits of a plant-based diet
I may have taken this idea a bit farther than some, but that’s really the entire mission of this whole business – to help you find new things to cook so that a plant-based diet can be both sustainable and delicious.
9. Losing weight is easier than gaining weight.
On a whole-food, plant-based diet, it is nearly impossible to overeat. Why? Because the calorie density of the food is low enough that our stomachs get full right when we’ve had enough calories. On the other hand, if we eat processed oils, sugars, and animal products, we could fit more than a day’s worth of calories in one stomachful. Hence, most people end up overeating without noticing.
The low density of plant food is like nature’s built-in guardrail that allows us to fill our stomachs with real food without ever overeating. It’s kind of like stomach-stapling without the staples…
I didn’t start particularly overweight, but I wasn’t very lean either. I had probably an extra 15 pounds of bulk that I have since lost. BMI isn’t super accurate for me because I’m quite tall and thin, and I run endlessly, so healthy for me is always going to be lower than average, but I started at about 21+ and now I’m stuck at 19. Month after month, year after year, it never budges.
That’s the weird thing – the unintended weight loss happened pretty quickly (within 2-3 years). Since then? My weight never fluctuates outside of a 2-3 pound range. I eat as much as I want of any whole plant food without even thinking about it, and I exercise as much as I want, but my weight never changes. If anything, I have to remind myself to eat more throughout the day to keep up my weight.
This can be frustrating when I occasionally feel like, “ah I’m too lean, I need to bulk up and add a few pounds of muscle!” I’ll lift weights and try to eat hundreds of extra calories, but after a month of “hard work” I might gain 1-2 pounds. Bah. There are plenty of vegan bodybuilders though, so this may be more about my natural physique than my diet. Ultimately, this kind of weight stability is good for metabolic health so I’m not complaining.
10. Veganism is boring.
It may be surprising (especially given my career) but I pretty much never think or talk about veganism. To me, it’s old news. I rarely think of it as a subject worthy of conversation or debate.
In terms of “spreading the message,” maybe I am a bit jaded, but I have never convinced anyone to change their diet. Ever. It’s a lost cause. If someone tells me they’ve gone paleo in order to eat clean and get healthy, cool. Oh, and you tried going vegan but were “so tired” and it just “doesn’t work for your body.” cool.
In my mind, veganism is such a settled issue. Literally all the research (and all major health organizations) recognize that a plant-based diet is super hella effective at everything, for everyone, so what is there to talk about? Either you’re onboard or you’re not and nothing I say is going to change your mind. If anything, my example has done a lot more than my words to help others become more veg-curious.
While I try to answer people’s questions and be supportive, I just don’t think of veganism as a “thing” anymore. It’s not a cool, new, trendy, interesting topic. It’s not a curiosity or a fascination or something that makes me special. It’s just the only logical thing to do, and therefore, quite boring.
As I reflect on these 10 years and these 10 takeaways, one thing really stands out to me…
The major selling points of a plant-based diet are personal health (it has so much power to reverse and cure dietary diseases that are killing more people than anything), animal welfare (it’s horrific), and environmental benefits (a huge proportion of greenhouse gasses and ecological harm are related to animal farming).
What I find so fascinating is that those towering issues didn’t even hardly factor into this list. It’s not as if I made a personal sacrifice and lived a lesser life in order to achieve better health and do my part to make the world a better place. No. A plant-based diet has expanded my life in dramatic ways. It is for those reasons, even more than the larger issues, why this has been my best decision of the last decade.
What about you? If you’ve been vegan for a while, do you have any similar or different experiences? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!