I was always athletic growing up, and even after I left graduate school and started working full-time, I maintained a pretty fit physique. But 2016 was a rough year for me, to say the least, and all the trauma and stress I experienced caught up to me. Before I knew it, I had gained more than 30 pounds, and I was suddenly living a life in which I didn't recognize myself in the mirror.
For me, this weight gain wasn't about the number on the scale. I just felt awful. I would wake up every morning feeling extremely lethargic, and I barely got through the day without feeling like I needed a sugar or caffeine boost to help me feel like I was engaged with my surroundings. Overall, I didn't feel like myself anymore, and I hated the feeling of being so unhealthy.
The first time I went vegan was in 2011, after I saw the documentary Forks Over Knives, but I didn't maintain the diet for more than a year. I remembered all the positive benefits that came along with it, and when I thought about all the ethical and environmental implications, I decided to try the diet again. This time, though, I decided to go plant-based vegan, which means my diet would consist of whole foods, and I wouldn't eat things like white flour, sugar, and packaged foods, even if they were vegan.
Here are the ways veganism helped me break free from my bad habits, build a new life for myself, and lose 30 pounds.
I Learned More About Food Than I Ever Knew Before
You can't successfully change your diet without really learning about what you're eating every day. I already knew the basics of good nutrition, like how much protein, carbs, and fats I needed to consume each day, and the importance of eating fresh greens. But I was stuck in a pattern of thinking that things like packaged granola and protein bars were healthy foods, so I would eat them in large quantities. Plus, I would still eat all the packaged junk food, totally convinced it was OK because it was labeled vegan.
I wanted to do veganism the right way this time, so I read a lot and researched the subject, and I discovered just how effective the plant-based diet could be. I gave up things like oil, sugar, and flour, and I significantly cut down on packaged snacks, no matter how "healthy" they seemed. I learned how to cook all my own meals. I developed a much more in-depth, intimate relationship with food, and I learned how to listen to my body when it was trying to tell me when it was full or hungry. This helped me control my portion sizes and make smarter choices with my food.
I Was Able to (Finally) Stay Consistent With My Diet
After I initially decided to lose weight, I tried just about everything: the Paleo diet, juice cleanses, saltwater flushes, counting my macros, and even carb cycling. None of it worked, because all of these were just trendy diets or fads that were hard to sustain in the long run. What I love about being plant-based vegan is that it's a lifestyle, not a diet. This made it extremely easy to follow, and I never felt like I was deprived or missing something major.
I Inadvertently Ate Fewer Calories
It's ironic when you think about it. As soon as I stopped counting calories and macros was the second I started losing weight. By adopting a plant-based diet, I was naturally eating fewer calories, and that's because a lot of meat and dairy are calorically rich foods. I found I could eat the same amount of, if not more, whole grains, beans, soy, and vegetables and fruits, and I still would be in calorie deficit. This allowed me to really enjoy the food I was eating without worrying about whether it would put on any extra pounds.
I Had More Energy to Work Out
One of my favorite benefits of going vegan is how much more energy I have every single morning. I never wake up feeling tired or sluggish, which makes it that much easier to get to the gym and crush my workouts — and actually have fun doing it. Because I had all this extra energy, I was ready to change up my workouts. Last year I started strengthening more. I used to do two sessions a week, but I started working with a trainer and eventually worked up to six strength-training sessions each week. Additionally, I upped my cardio to three to four times a week. This helped speed up my weight-loss process a lot.
Another positive side effect of eating plant-based is having a lot less inflammation in the body. I was recovering from workouts faster, any minor injuries I had healed quicker, and even though I was working out a lot, I continued to feel energetic and strong. Before I knew it, I was gaining muscle and shedding fat faster than I ever had before — even when I was doing CrossFit six times a week and eating a strict Paleo diet!
I Had a Clearer Mind and Fewer Mood Swings
The cleaner I ate, the clearer my mind was. My menstrual health also improved drastically. After suffering from PMDD for years, my symptoms gradually disappeared with each passing month because I was no longer putting additional hormones into my body from the animal products I used to eat. Now I rarely suffer from cramps or mood swings, and my period is such a breeze to deal with.
This surprisingly had a huge impact on my weight loss. I was able to work out when I was PMSing and on my period, and simply having a clear mind made it easier to make smart decisions throughout the day. I never expected a plant-based diet to affect my life so positively, and now I wonder why I didn't try it sooner.