I stumbled upon veganism at a curious time in my life. I had just gone through a rough break-up with my longtime boyfriend, I was a few months away from graduating college, and I was in the process of deciding which side of the country I was going to live the following year.
On top of that, I was battling severe stomach problems that had plagued me my entire life. I had been to every type of doctor and nutritionist in the book, and no one seemed to have an answer. I was in a place where I was more comfortable starving myself until it was unbearable, than eating food because most foods made my stomach feel so terrible, nauseous, and bloated.
At this point, I had come to understand that if I wanted to start feeling better, I needed to turn inward and pay attention to what my body was telling me. It was telling me one thing, loud and clear, and that was to change my diet in a serious and sustainable way.
Cutting the Crap
The first thing I did was cut out all the crap. I knew that dairy, wheat products, and anything greasy or oily ripped my stomach apart and made me feel gross. I had already cut out red meat when I was a teenager, so this new routine left me pretty close to following a plant-based diet.
I also started paying closer attention to my portion sizes. Half of a sandwich with a glass of water settled in my stomach a heck of a lot better than a full sandwich with a side of chips and a huge iced tea. I started feeling better and noticing a significant difference in my energy level, confidence, and the number on the scale.
However, I still knew there was room for improvement. Certain foods still left me reeling after I ate them (Shrimp ravioli on Christmas Eve 2012? Never again!), and I started to feel frustrated that I had made so many positive changes and was only partially reaping the benefits.
Cleansing with a Plant-Based Diet
That’s when I stumbled into a five-day plant-based cleanse. I say “stumbled” because I had no idea what eating plant-based entailed, and I certainly did not think it would lead me to being a vegan. It was a cleanse for the New Year that my mom and I agreed to do together to detox after the holidays, but I was secretly hoping it would hold some more profound answers for me and my tummy problems.
On the cleanse, the only foods we were allowed to eat for five days were fruits, vegetables, and nuts. After just three days of eating that way, my stomach was content and I felt lighter and more energized than I had ever felt.
By the end of the week, my mom and pretty much anyone who had been around me told me they had never heard me complain less and that I would be crazy not to adopt this diet long-term. I completely agreed and decided to carry the diet on into the next week, and the next week, and the next.
I started doing research on plant-based veganism by reading books like Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman and Whole by Dr. Colin T. Campbell. I found myself having a new outlook on health in general, from alcohol consumption to exercise.
It’s important to note that before I made this change, I was a predominantly clean eater leading a healthy lifestyle. I didn’t eat junk food, wouldn’t touch a fast food establishment with a 10-foot pole, and exercised every day. That’s why it was such a shock that veganism actually changed everything I had been trying to change for so long. It whipped my body back into the state it needed to be in, and what I now believe is my entirely natural state.
Starting the Vegan Life
As my love affair with veganism took off and I started looking noticeably healthier and thinner to people who knew me, I got a surprising amount of flack. I was called everything from an extremist to obsessive-compulsive to anorexic (that was a silly one, because veganism only made me fall more in love with food) to someone who was “just going through a phase.”
It was hurtful to see that although I was the happiest and the healthiest I had ever been, some people had trouble supporting me because they saw veganism as such an extreme way of life. In this way, the lifestyle change helped me reevaluate the types of people I wanted to surround myself with, and for that I am very grateful.
The first several months were a learning experience. I spent a fortune and a half at Whole Foods and juice bars around Los Angeles like Moon Juice and Kreation Kafe. I didn’t eat out for two full months because I didn’t know where to go or what I could order. Then I came across the vegan blogosphere.
And oh, let me tell you, that is when things began to change. I discovered vegan bloggers like Fully Raw Kristina, This Rawsome Vegan Life, and Oh She Glows. I started following hundreds of other inspirational health food bloggers and everyday vegans on Instagram, and I developed a growing appreciation for food photography and innovative recipes.
By May, I was so avidly making vegan food and photographing it that one day, it hit me: I need to start a vegan Instagram account and blog.
The Start of The Blonde Vegan
In June 2013, I created my own Instagram account, @theblondevegan. I hashtagged the crap out of my pictures, filtered them to make them look pretty, and spent countless hours cooking and arranging my food to make it presentable.
It wasn’t long before people started coming to me with questions and concerns about transitioning into the vegan lifestyle, and before I knew it, I had evolved from a total vegan newbie into someone who kinda-sorta actually knew what she was talking about.
Then along came the blog, which was a game-changer for me. When I started it, I had exactly zero vegan friends. My friends and family were happy that I had found optimal health and peace with my stomach problems, but they still viewed my lifestyle change as a bit of a sacrifice. The blog served a gateway into a community of like-minded individuals that I had no idea even existed.
In the meantime, I graduated college, moved to NYC, and started a graduate program for creative writing. Yet no matter how many changes came my way, I felt very grounded in my lifestyle choices. I have found an awesome community of vegans and health food bloggers in the city to bounce ideas off of and try yummy vegan restaurants with.
So, let’s recap. Before I went vegan, I was uncomfortable, bloated, sick to my stomach, and unhappy with the way that I felt. I suffered from migraines and ADHD. I took Adderall and Advil daily on top of other supplements that I believed were benefitting my health.
After being vegan for two weeks, I went off all of my pills, stopped getting migraines, felt a noticeable increase in energy, and my stomach problems disappeared. It has now been 13 months and I still feel incredible.
Meals: Before and After
â–º Breakfast: A whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter slathered on both sides and a scoop of cottage cheese.
That probably doesn’t sound so bad. However, between the wheat and the dairy, the meal often left me feeling sick to my stomach and I would be in pain for the rest of the day. Plus, no fruits or vegetables at all?
â–º Lunch: By lunchtime, I probably wouldn’t have eaten anything to try to cure my stomach pain. My go-to was normally a tuna sandwich with cheddar cheese and arugula on sourdough bread.
â–º Dinner: Trader Joe’s four-cheese raviolis, a Chipotle chicken burrito bowl, or, if I was trying to be “healthy,” a frozen yogurt with toppings from Pinkberry. Where the heck were my greens? (Or no dinner at all, because my stomach was in so much pain by the end of the day.)
â–º Dessert: A “Jell-O” pudding or a Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich.
â–º Breakfast: A green smoothie made of banana, kale, blueberries, almond butter, and almond milk. It leaves me feeling fueled for the day without making my stomach hurt. I wake up excited to have it.
â–º Lunch: A mixed greens salad with berries, avocado, carrots, and walnuts. I use fresh lime or lemon juice as a dressing.
â–º Snack: A piece of fruit, nuts, or a Larabar.
â–º Dinner: Roasted vegetables with a grain like quinoa or brown rice, or a veggie soup made in my Vitamix.
Jordan Younger of The Blonde Vegan blog is a yogi, writer, and lover of all things vegan.