I must confess: when I first started out, I was a junk food vegetarian. What does that mean? Well, for me and a lot of people it meant that I basically just replaced meat in my diet with cheese. I was also seriously lacking in the variety of foods I ate and relied a lot on processed meat substitutes. You can imagine how all of this turned out for my waistline.
I strongly suspect that my experience is extremely common among newbie vegetarians and probably has a lot to do with why so many people eventually go back to an omni diet, often citing poor health as a reason. I mean yeah, if you’re piling on the processed food, eating tons of high-fat, high-calorie stuff and depending on various forms of potatoes as your main source of veggie exposure, then you’re probably not going to look or feel too awesome – regardless of whether you’re including meat in your diet.
Thankfully, I was able to pull it together before frustration/temptation got the better of me and became a healthy vegetarian who obviously eventually took it to the next level with veganism. Interestingly enough, even though my switch to veganism was much more thoughtful and carefully planned than my headfirst dive into vegetarianism (I didn’t even eat beans – of any kind – when I first when veg for cripe’s sake!), I still experienced a minor weight gain when I first transitioned.
The reason for that was similar to the challenge I faced when going vegetarian. Though I ate a much wider variety of foods, I had been using the lowest calorie/fat versions of dairy available and still wasn’t stepping too far outside the box when it came to experimenting with less common protein sources and veggies. Once again, this restricted my options way too much to achieve a good balance of calories, protein and fats. When coupled with the bump in calorie and/or fat intake from my new dairy substitutes (almond milk, Daiya cheese, etc.) this resulted in a few very unwelcome and frustrating extra pounds.
However, just as I did with vegetarianism, I quickly figured out how to re-balance my diet and get back to a completely healthy routine. For vegans, this often means incorporating a lot more whole food into the mix and sometimes learning new ways to cook and flavor foods. The cookbooks I’ve collected have gone a long way in helping me to achieve both of those objectives -as well as an important third step, which is experimenting with new, less common foods. There are so many things I love about being vegan, but having become a (way) better cook and developing a taste for new things are right up there at the top of the list.
If you suspect you might be a junk food vegan or vegetarian, I strongly suggest picking up a handful of vegan cookbooks – starting with The Kind Diet from Alicia Silverstone. In addition to tons of great recipes, Alicia’s book is also a fantastic primer on a healthy and varied vegan diet. The entire first half of the book is packed with really valuable educational info that was extremely helpful to me. I think you’ll agree.
Another great tactic for breaking out of the junk food rut, start reading as many vegan blogs as you can find. I know that sounds like self-serving advice, but it’s inadvertent, I swear! Keeping myself in the loop and exposed to an endless stream of new and inventive recipes and meal ideas is really vital to helping me stay healthy and excited about being vegan. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already doing a good job on that front, but here’s a good sampling of some of the great vegan blogs out there just waiting to fill you in and fill you up!
One last thing that is super important to keep in mind: being a “junk food” vegan or vegetarian is almost always associated with being a new kid on the block, so if you’re dealing with this challenge, go easy on yourself! Making small changes, one step at a time, is way better for you, animals and the environment than getting frustrated and quitting because you got in over your head. Stick with it and you’ll get there!