I am currently trying to transition from being a pescatarian to a vegan. I was a vegan once before, but I became very weak and sick soon after not eating meat. What advice can you give me to help me transition better? Where can I start? Any cookbooks you would suggest? And my children… What do I do?
Overwhelmed but Ready
Hi, Overwhelmed but Ready!
Let’s see if we can do a little something about that overwhelmed part, shall we?
Let me start by saying that I am not a nutritionist, nor do I have any specifics about your medical history or what you might have been eating—or not eating—to specifically address why you would be feeling sick or weak on a vegan diet. I can, however, speak generally about a couple of things that are not uncommon when some people transition.
First of all, you might not realize one of the most awesome perks about eating a plant-based diet… you need to eat more than you are used to! Plant-based foods are not as calorie-dense as animal-based, so we get to eat more to keep our energy levels up. I may be all in on a vegan diet for the animals, but I must say that eating more is something I will always happily sign up for!
Second of all, you need to eat well. We all crave familiar, comforting foods and as vegans it’s pretty exciting to see the overwhelming variety that’s available to us these days… everything from treats that are “accidentally vegan” like Oreos and Fritos, to just about every faux meat like chick’n sliders, BBQ ribs and even bacon. Yes, all that salty, fatty, slightly caramelized goodness isn’t just for carnists anymore! So it’s really easy to load up on these processed foods and expect to sleep with a clear conscience because no one died to satisfy you. But alas, sleep proves elusive because you’re jacked up on a sugar high or you’re dealing with a stomach ache.
Now, as I say this I am munching on a bag of Trader Joe’s cinnamon apple snack sticks… totally processed… but I also just ate a huge salad of quinoa and greens for lunch beforehand. The point is indulging in these amazing options we have is fine on occasion, but remember to stay focused on eating a diet mainly of whole foods. These should provide you with the calories, protein and iron you need to avoid feeling tired, weak or sick. Oh, and then there’s the infamous vitamin B12 which helps make DNA, nerve and blood cells, and is crucial for a healthy brain and immune system. After, “Where do you get your protein,” asking about B12 seems to be the next go-to move people shoot at us to prove we “need” meat. Granted it takes conscious effort to get vitamin B12 from non-animal sources, but you can look for fortified cereals or soy milk, and take vitamin B12 supplements. Easy peasy, just like Wonder Woman deflecting a bullet with her magic bracelets.
I could talk cookbooks for days! Since you mentioned being pescetarian, I immediately thought of But I Could Never Go Vegan by Kristy Turner as it actually has a chapter entitled, “Can’t I be Pescetarian Instead?” (Nope!) My new favorite is Eaternity by Jason Wrobel, which you might find useful as it has a chapter dedicated to eating for energy, and tons of information about all kinds of superfoods to help boost your immune system. Color Me Vegan by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is a beautiful and helpful resource that groups foods and recipes by color to correspond to the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in plants so you can customize what you eat with what you might feel your body needs. Lastly, a fantastic blog (as well as cookbook) is Oh She Glows, which is a wealth of whole food recipes to help you eat well, and eat more because Angela Liddon creates deeeeeelish dishes.
If you are concerned about your children being healthy on a plant-based diet, put that worry to rest immediately! Just think about what most kids in this country are fed… fast food, processed convenience foods with lists of ingredients a mile long that none of us can pronounce, meat full of antibiotics, hormones and cholesterol, dairy full of cancer-causing casein… and the lifetime of illnesses and unhealthy habits that could lie ahead! Your kids will be fine as frog’s hair on a plant-based diet, full of fresh, colorful, seasonal whole foods. If this is a big change for them, my best advice (although this is coming from a cat mom!) is get them involved with the cooking. Talk about new ingredients, the colors, the textures, the cultures that use them, and let them get creative and add to or make up recipes. If they are interested in the process, they will be more excited to try new things.
Thank you for being open to transitioning from pescetarian to vegan, and striving to live more compassionately. Studies show that our water-dwelling friends are way more social, emotional and complex than we once believed; they have every right to enjoy their lives as we land-dwellers do! Eat more, eat well and have fun in the kitchen with your children—all things to look forward to, yes? Please follow up and let me know how it’s going!
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