Well, it’s January 1st, and that means an avalanche of salads are being eaten today. People are jogging in frigid temperatures, joining gyms, and dusting off forgotten exercise machines in an effort to lose the pounds they put on over the holidays, or over a lifetime. The number of diet and exercise books sold between Christmas and Groundhog day could (and used to) fill a forest!
I don’t recall at what age I started making New Year’s resolutions, but I can tell you that the first thing on my list for many years was “lose weight”, “get in shape”, “lose 15 pounds”, “get a flat stomach“, or some other variation on that theme. Ironically, it wasn’t until I stopped dieting that I lost weight, dropped body fat, and felt truly healthy for the first time. It didn’t happen until I was vegan.
Further irony lies in the fact that I didn’t go vegan to lose weight, or to be healthier. To me, veganism was not a diet. It was a moral imperative. I had read the facts, watched the gruesome footage, and knew what I had to do, even if it meant suffering from protein deficiency. (Which, of course, it didn’t.)
By that point in my life, I had come to peace with my several extra pounds around the waist, but a strange thing happened when I started reading labels and paying attention to what I ate: without ever trying, without touching a treadmill or counting a calorie, I started losing weight. And I kept it off. Not only did the gut I’d had since my chubby childhood vanish, but I stopped feeling tired halfway through the work day, stopped getting sick every time one coworker got a cold, and stopped suffering from chronic digestion problems.
Ruefully, I think of how much of my life I spent feeling trapped behind the fat, even though there wasn’t that much of it. How self-conscious I was, how afraid to go swimming (I never learned), afraid I wasn’t attractive, afraid to relax (belly flab might stick out), to have my picture taken (the double chin). Over 5 years ago, my then-boyfriend bought me a floor-length, backless gown for me to wear out on a fancy date. Instead, I had an emotional breakdown over how fat I felt, and wore a “safe” shirt and skirt. I wore that dress for the first time at a party several weeks ago, and loved how I felt in it.
Americans are sick. Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are all caused primarily by eating poorly. Our health care system is about to collapse under all the weight (pun intended), and the answer doesn’t lie in protein shakes, calorie counting notebooks, or infomercial exercise gimmicks. (I’m ashamed to tell you which ones I tried.) Plants are the answer: high in fiber, vitamins, and anti-oxidants, and low in fat, cholesterol, and calories.
If I sound like I’m selling the latest diet craze, let me make one thing clear: veganism is a way of life, not just a way of eating. But it has undeniable health benefits. Maybe it’s karma. Maybe I had 25 pounds of guilt around my waist. Maybe it’s the fact that I finally had a reason to eat veggies instead of cake. But what I know is that now I eat guilt-free 100% of the time, and I’ve never loved food, or the way it makes me feel, so much.