I spent about a year living as a vegan a while ago, and though it was a great experience and I learned a lot, I ran into a few problems that made me finally come to terms with the fact that vegan just wasn’t for me. Not right now, anyway. I of course, fully love and support anyone who chooses a vegan lifestyle, and I won’t make this a deep ethical debate cause I’m just talking about some simple food things today.
What is the difference between plant based and vegan?
Oh, the reasons I went vegan. They are many. As a compassionate human that loves animals on a deep level, I cannot stand to see suffering and pain. It angers me to a point that few things can. So, of course, I don’t support factory farming, mistreatment, poor living conditions, and all of the things that most people out there probably wouldn’t be clapping for. It’s a big messy circle that we started, by centering out diets so heavily around meats, and we kinda created this huge demand. I really wanted to be a part of helping to reduce that demand and change the way things are now, so going vegan was one way that I felt I could make the biggest impact.
Now, there were a lot of reasons besides compassion that I chose to adapt a vegan diet and lifestyle. I was going through a lot of health problems at the time, trying to figure out if something in my diet was off, or causing me issues. I wanted to eat healthier, I was curious if I could do it, and I really wanted to reduce any way that I was financially supporting causes that I truly didn’t want any part of.
Not that I put myself on a pedestal AT ALL, but I had hoped I would sort of inspire people to eat better, or be more conscious about their food choices. But during the year I spent vegan, I began to realize that it wasn't going to be a sustainable way for me to live forever, and a lot of people felt really weird around me about it.! Not the inspiring one....nope, I was just the weird vegan with all of the restrictions, and no one wanted any part of that. Not the impact I wanted. to have on changing the world.
Plant based, for me, is far more lenient, and has been a more sustainable way for me to continue eating a primarily vegan diet with exceptions when I want them. I don't follow rules, I just listen to what my body wants and eat intuitively. And while being vegan wasn’t a sustainable way to live for me, I did make a lot of lasting changes to my diet that were a direct result of the good experiences I had during that year.
Whatever way you choose to define plant based, there are some big key differences between plant based and vegan. Being vegan is so much more than a diet choice, it’s how you live your life every day. Not wearing or using anything containing any animal products, even down to charcoals and sugars. This also includes avoiding things like honey, since bees produce honey. Vegan is a specific and, I guess you could call it restrictive term, because it involves choosing to exclude things without exception. Plant based is a much looser term having to do with mainly just diet, but not necessarily every life decision.
So nowadays I pretty much eat the same as I did when I was vegan, with some flexibility, If I want meat or dairy, no big deal, but honestly most of the time I don't use it. Maybe only a few times a week instead of every meal. I probably use dairy a bit more than meat, because I do use yogurt and goat cheese often. But I have cut back SO much from how I was eating prior to my stint with veganism, and I'm glad that a lot of those changes have stuck around. I think the flexibility of allowing myself what I want has been the main reason I've been able to maintain this for a few years now. I'm conscious of what and where I buy things, and always try to support good farming efforts.
Some of the benefits I found in being vegan were:
Sanitation issues kinda went out the window. If you’ve never taken a food safety class, I will spare you the gnarly details. If you have taken one, then you know the horrific, vile, nightmarish things that can live in dairy, poultry, meat, and seafood gone wrong. During the time I was vegan, I didn’t have a dishwasher, so not being able to sanitize things freaked me the eff out. Once I ditched the animal goods though, that was no longer a concern. I was able to clean things with minimal or no soap, and less water.
I also cut back a lot on processed foods. I didn’t eat a ton of them prior, but once I had to start reading the ingredients in everything, I realized how much stuff I was buying that was pre-made. Sitting on shelves for who knows how long. Most processed foods have some sort of meat or dairy product, so all of that convenience was kind of out the window. Keep in mind this was maybe 5 years ago before there were so many vegan products around. I had to redefine what were convenience foods for me - learning that a big piece of fruit or some nuts can be just as filling and convenient was an “AHA”. I learned to be more prepared by keeping healthy snacks that I like with me, which is something I still do now. It keeps me from those bad impulse decisions….usually.
A big plus was that I generally spent quite a bit less money at the grocery store. I never realized how much I spent on meats and dairy. Once I stopped buying those things and I had that extra money, I started using it to treat myself to more expensive fruits, veggies, or specialty goods I might not normally buy.
I felt better and less heavy, even after big meals. I had a lot of pretty bad stomach problems at the time which I think may have been partly from going vegan overnight rather than making a slow transition to change my diet. I can’t say that I always felt amazing because truthfully I felt very weak and tired a lot, I threw up a lot, I had awful stomach pains. I can’t say for sure what caused all of that, but I do know that I often wasn’t eating enough for a variety of reasons (that’s a whole other issue) or supplementing correctly….mistakes I wonder how many other vegans make.
Obviously being vegan I was eating more fruits and vegetables because I need to eat something! Not only was I eating them more than before, but I was eating them SIGNIFICANTLY more than before, a change I am so glad has been here to stay. I love that my grocery cart is always mostly full of produce, and I spend very little time in the middle aisles with the processed food.
Once I got through a year of being vegan, and was still alive and functional – I had this amazing realization that I didn’t actually need to center my every meal around meat. Who would’ve thought! My whole life I had built that as the primary component of whatever I was eating, but suddenly when I had no meat, I had to put something else in its place...and I could. Then once I gave myself the leniency to eat what I wanted, I realized I didn’t really want meat all that much because I was really enjoying the new way I was eating.
So now, I eat meat and dairy when I want. I usually don’t buy it at the store, but if I feel like having some, I won’t deny myself. Without the restriction, plant based definitely feels like more of a choice than a “rule I’m trying to live by”, which can get hard. I didn’t find completely cutting out meat and animal products completely to be a sustainable way to live for me forever…but cutting BACK is absolutely something I can continue to do.
One of the reasons I’m really into sharing my shopping and meal guide is that it is heavily plant based, with freedom to add meats and dairy if you want. It’s not restrictive, but it is a good guide with suggestions on ways to eat without adding meat to your plate. It can be hard to think of things spur of the moment, especially when you are making diet changes or trying to work with whatever you have at home. This guide makes it easy to work with what you’ve got. (If you’re interested in learning more about my grocery list and meal guide, find it below!)
Whatever your diet choices, I hope this helps clear up some of the differences and benefits of being plant based and vegan! Every one and every body is different, so no diet is going to be right for all of us. I hope you find what works best for you and makes you feel your healthiest, whatever label it may have.
Want to give a plant based diet a try? Check out my grocery list + meal guides, PLUS bonus cheat sheets including How To Make a Vinaigrette Out Of Anything.
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