As I started my last year of undergrad, I found myself reflecting on the changes I’ve undergone during my time at the University. Some were for the better, some for worse and some seemingly random — each far more impactful than I would’ve ever anticipated. However, I never thought I would overcome perfectionism by living a dairy-free life, or become a more thoughtful planner by limiting my on-Grounds food options.
It all began when I decided to try being vegan just for a week. Veganism has always appealed to me, as there are many proven benefits from personal health to environmental impact and cost — so I started my “vegan week.” That week turned into a month, and that month has turned into the past nine months.
Once I started, I just didn’t want to stop. Part of me wanted to test how long I could keep up the diet, and part of me felt weird about going back to eating meat, dairy and eggs. Veganism is impactful in so many facets of my life now, so it would be difficult to stop at this point. I’m so proud of myself for the ways I’ve grown because of this lifestyle change — I don’t want to stop.
Like with any new diet — or any new thing, really — I was nervous about the changes I’d have to make and the work I’d need to do to accomplish my goal. I was worried about not getting enough protein or never being full — when I started, I was almost never full. Since plants are so much less calorically dense than meat, it’s important to eat more — but unfortunately, nobody told me that.
It was a long process of learning how to cook substantial meals with a source of protein in them, assessing how much of that substantial meal I needed to feel full and so much learning about what was in the food I ate every day. Sure, it was a lot of work — but once I got the hang of it, I was able to have fun with learning new recipes and trying new vegan snacks.
I was also worried about my love for cheese and how I would be able to live without it. Overcoming this is still a daily challenge, and sometimes I give in. I had to learn that it’s OK to not do everything perfectly. Although I’ve since found countless satisfying alternatives to dairy products, there is nothing that can fill the baked brie-shaped hole in my heart.
However, my biggest concern was that my college lifestyle would make vegan life difficult. Because of clubs, classes and work, I have very long days when I can’t cook at my apartment. I need to plan my meals accordingly, and I always make sure that I have a granola bar and some almonds in my bag to snack on throughout the day.
In some ways, veganism integrated pretty well into my lifestyle. For example, I love Roots (who doesn’t?), and my favorite pre-vegan bowl had chicken and feta in it. I still go to Roots way too often — I just order the same bowl without feta and with mushrooms in place of the chicken.
In other ways, veganism was wildly dissonant with my lifestyle. I’m a big fan of late night Cook Out runs for milkshakes (again, who isn’t?), but milkshakes aren’t exactly dairy-free. While it was hard to give them up, I learned that I can still go on the Cook Out runs with my friends, and it’s just as fun to order fries. OK, maybe not just as fun, but I’ve definitely lost some weight by ditching the shakes.
I’m not saying that I’m making healthy decisions all the time — I am so guilty of eating fries for a meal, or mowing through a whole bag of chips in one sitting. Sometimes I will get that milkshake — and that’s OK, too! I’m not perfect, and I’m going to slip up and eat some dairy every once in a while — that is so OK. Again, I had to learn that I didn’t need to do something perfectly in order to do it.
What I’m getting at here is that life lessons come in ways we don’t expect. I didn’t think when I went vegan that I would have strengthened my self-control as much as I have, or that I would become so much more adaptable than I was before. I didn’t think I would learn so much about my body — and the food that I put into it — and the way that food is processed. I just thought I was going to eat some plants and maybe lose some weight while I was at it. In reflecting on the impact veganism has had on my personal development, I’ve since become more aware of how each change I’ve made in my life has taught me new lessons and skills.
Riley Creamer is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.