If you had told me last year that I would mainly eat plant-based food by now, I would have declared you crazy. For more than twelve years, I was a ‘phony vegetarian’, meaning that I ate no meat, but fish, eggs, and dairy. My journey as a future plant-eater began in April, during the Business Bootcamp (a two-day training for solopreneurs). Not the kind of location, where you would expect the start of such a journey, right?
My encounter with ‘The Plant Eater’
Boele Ytsma is a well-known vegan in the Netherlands. After being a farmer for many years, he quit, became a vegan, and started a new company, where he helps people with courses and programs to make the switch to a plant-based diet.
During this Business Bootcamp, we started talking. Back then, I did not know that he was quite famous in the Dutch vegan world. With astonishment, I heard him talking about his lifestyle. He even took his own food to the event. To be honest, I found this a bit too much. “I would never do that,” I thought. At the end of our conversation, Boele gave me his book “Ik ben een Planteneter, net als jij” (I am a plant-eater, just like you) as a gift. At first, it ended up on my bookshelf, but became a great source of help and guidance a couple of months later.
Get in shape with more plant-based food
Shortly afterwards, I got in contact with a plant-based lifestyle, again. I wanted to lose some kilos and signed up for the “Get in Shape” program in my local health club. Part of the program was to reduce the consumption of animal products to a maximum of four times a week. This meant, for me, not more than four portions of cheese, fish, dairy and eggs per week. As a big cheese lover, this was quite a challenge for me, and to be honest, I didn’t want to do it. Change is pain, right? But I wanted to lose weight; therefore, I needed to change my habits. As Albert Einstein said: “If you do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” Eventually, I decided to give it a chance. After all, the program lasted only for four weeks, long enough to find out if it worked and short enough to look forward to a wonderful piece of cheese.
A feeling of coming home
The first week was really difficult. Next to much less animal products, I was not allowed to eat sugar. After seven days, I was on my last leg. I was angry and sad, at the same time. Would it always be like that? I asked myself, desperately.
Luckily not, after seven days, it was over. My body gave up its mental and physical resistance. With every day that went by, I enjoyed the pure, healthy, and tasty food even more. I started experimenting with different tastes and combinations of food. Our fridge burst from all the colorful fruits and vegetables. Instead of chocolate and biscuits, nuts and dates found their way into our cupboards.
I cannot describe it in another way than a feeling of coming home. This way of eating felt like it belonged to me. I always liked cooking, but this was a very different experience: I fed my body, instead of just filling it.
“You are not going to eat like this forever, are you?”
If you ask a plant-eater what they find the most difficult about maintaining a vegan lifestyle, most will answer: “That others aren’t plant-eaters.” And indeed, this remains the biggest challenge for me, as well.
I don’t see my own family that much, as they live in Germany. Luckily, my family-in-law took over the skeptical questioning for them. “So few animal products,” I heard my sister-in-law say, “Is that even healthy? How do you get enough proteins?” and: “You are not going to eat like this forever, are you?” “No, it’s only for a month,” I heard myself answering. “It does not seem very sociable to eat like that forever.” But from the inside, I felt that something had changed fundamentally. And still, there were doubts. My family-in-law was the mirror of my own fears.
The four weeks flew by very fast. The combination of eating healthy and moving regularly showed results quickly. I reached my goal of losing five kilos easily. Even more, the following weeks, I kept losing weight. I felt stronger, fitter, and the spare tire around my waist disappeared.
What’s it gonna be?
In August, my boyfriend and I went on a motorcycle trip through Europe for three weeks: One couple, two motorcycles, twenty days, eight countries, and 3847 kilometers. We slept in our tent or, sometimes, in a wooden cottage on a campground. Before the trip, I was worried that eating healthy would become a real challenge. Obviously, we didn’t have a fridge on our motorcycles. I wanted to stay in my flow of healthy and nutritious food. Therefore, chocolate bars and sugary snacks were not on my list. However, pretty quickly, I discovered: For healthy, plant-based food, you do not need a fridge. My boyfriend had more difficulties with his meat and cream cheese cravings. Peanut butter, pure chocolate, avocados, dates, bread, vegetables, and fruit were my best friends during this trip. However, now and then, I also enjoyed a delicious pizza in a remote village of the Italian mountains.
The end of our journey came close and with it, for me, the moment to decide how I wanted to eat in the future. On one side, I did not want to come across as asocial or make it difficult for people at dinner parties or visits in restaurants. But on the other side, I felt bad about animals suffering due to my eating habits. Eventually, I decided to take on the challenge to eat plant-based from now on.
My social life as a plant eater
I was prepared well. We were invited for a weekend at my parents-in-law. I was looking forward to it, but at the same time, quite curious/worried how they would take the way I eat now. My mother-in-law was already informed and let me have a say in the food planning. The choice for breakfast was easy: bread rolls with peanut butter, fresh banana, and apples. The lunch: bread with avocado, tomato, and some onion. And in between: vegetables, fruit, and nuts.
Dinner was a bit more of a challenge. French fries, chicken wings, and salad were on the menu. Luckily, there are meat substitutes. My choice in this case: Falafel. Furthermore, I offered to make baked potatoes from the oven, instead of French fries, and mayonnaise from cashew nuts. Healthy and tasty, at least for me.
It is not very common in the Netherlands to bring your own food to a weekend at your parents-in-law. But I believe we managed it well by communicating openly. During the weekend, it became clear that everyone was okay with it. Though, they were still a little concerned about my changed eating habits. Even the word ‘eating disorder’ came up. Honestly, I had thought about this myself already. After all, it had begun with a program to lose weight. However, we are a couple of months down the road now, and I feel healthy and fit. My weight balanced out, and I concluded that there is no danger of an eating disorder. If anything, I appreciate food even more than I ever did. And of course, now and then, I savor something unhealthy. However, in order to make it a little easier for myself, I thought something out.
Don’t be to strict with yourself
It is good to stand for something and to live by your beliefs. I live by a saying of Rumi, a Persian poet of the 13th century: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
But, how do you make sure that you do not go to far with your own beliefs? With regard to a plant-based diet, I thought of the following: 99% of my food is plant-based. The rest gives room for exceptions. What would be such an exception? For example, someone made the effort to bake a cake. Or, if I go out for dinner and, by accident, something non-vegan ended up on my plate, I will just eat it. Although, eating fish and meat remain a taboo for me. I recognize that I can live more relaxed if I give myself this 1% of leverage.
Are you a vegan, vegetarian or do you eat different than other people? What are your biggest challenges? Share your experiences in the comment box below. I am looking forward to read from you!