If you're not caught up, catch up here. Super long story super short, I'm no longer vegan, so here's an update on how my body and mind are making the change (and loving it)!
My original "plan", which I tried to keep loose and flexible and barely a "plan" at all, was to begin with just eggs - maybe one or two every couple days. Then, I'd try a bowl of yogurt and maybe some cheese, carefully adding in lactose because I knew my body had certainly lost most of its ability to digest lactose (via the lactase enzyme) after two years without the need to. Then, maybe I'd consider some fish, and maaaaaaybe some chicken after that.
Thank God for instilling within me the confidence and strength I didn't know I'd need - I definitely moved this process along much quicker than what my original "plan" laid out, which probably just goes to show that this diet change was, well, meant to be. My first step was a fried egg with dinner one night (with one of my newest yet closest friends), and then about one or two a day for the next week. Immediately, I felt much more satiated and much less bloated after each meal. I didn't feel as though I was still craving a little something more. I didn't think about when my next meal or snack would be.
I purchased my first tub of Greek yogurt - Siggi's, to be exact, because everyone raves about it - less than a week later and dove right in the way I used to: mom's strawberry jam, fruit, and a heaping scoop of nut butter. Man, I missed that. I'd forgotten all about my favorite breakfast bowl! But I made up for lost time and made sure to squeeze some version of it into my day as either a snack or a meal. Just too. dang. good.
Ahhh, and here comes the unexpected step. So, in my original "plan", meat did not have a place, at least not so soon. But, I did not tell my body "no" to anything and I didn't rush into anything, either. I was visiting my best friends up in San Luis Obispo and we planned a night out for happy hour + dinner at the farmers market. Before I even went vegetarian (halfway through my freshman year of college), my absolute favorite thing to get at the market was a grilled chicken teriyaki bowl from a local, family-owned restaurant. I remember it being some of the tastiest chicken I'd ever eaten and one of the most feel-good meals I'd ever found at BBQ/street-fair-type thing (the awesomeness of our weekly farmers market in a nutshell). Keeping my mind as open as possible, I didn't set my thoughts on that as dinner, but I couldn't stop thinking about it, and I'll admit that a small part of me tried to convince myself out of it because meat wasn't in my "plan" this soon.
I shoved the thoughts out of my mind, let myself have a jolly ol' time with my friends - sipping mojitos and munching on the best d@mn jalapeno cornbread that has ever entered my mouth - and before I knew it, I was drooling over my favorite chicken bowl once again. Of course, my friends had to document the event of my first bite of chicken in over two years. Nonetheless, I enjoyed every. single. bite. and I felt genuinely good when I finished. I loved it. And that was that.
Throughout the rest of my visit, I discovered gems I hadn't tried yet, but that everyone seems to love in SLO - Batch ice cream sandwiches, Sally Loo's breakfast burritos and grilled chicken sandwiches, locally grown eggs and dairy products (which are also sold at several of the local restaurants), and more. Again, no tummy issues presented themselves, just feelings of satisfaction, satiation, and pure happiness.
I came back to SoCal to my parents' house and we all decided on grilled salmon for dinner, which also used to be one of my favorites. To say I was excited would be an understatement. Salad, bread, and veggies accompanied the grilled favorite, as they usually do, and I took my first bite and fell back in love. A big smile forced itself upon my face and contagiously spread to my parent's faces, too :)
So, that's about as far as the story goes, in terms of my progression in re-introducing animal products. Onto the questions!
WHAT WERE THE EASIEST FOODS TO RE-INTRODUCE? THE HARDEST?
The first thing I ate was a fried egg, whipped up oh-so-perfectly by my girl Jeannette. My first bite was a liiiiiiittle strange, as I did come to find egg yolks kind of disgusting, but I kept an open mind and actually ended up loving it! From there, I went on to eggs more often (one or two everyday) and then a little bit of fancy cheese. From what I can remember, the cheese didn't give me any stomach aches.
Surprisingly, I didn't really struggle to re-introduce animal products. Red meat has never really sounded appealing, so I don't see that coming into my diet any time soon, but other than that, with only a little hesitation the first time, I've bitten into plenty of old favorites like grilled salmon, fried eggs, fancy cheese, and ice cream without a second thought!
HOW DO I PREVENT DISORDERED EATING THOUGHTS/BEHAVIORS TOWARDS FOODS I HAVEN'T INCLUDED FOR SO LONG?
Take every step slowly. Breathe. Be mindful and present in the moment. Listen to my body and rid my mind of "good" foods and "bad" foods.
Those are my main reminders when I'm feeling iffy about anything food-related. Though I've never really struggled with binge-eating, I know the feeling of long-time restriction followed by freedom, and what the diet-mentality can do in that situation. This is probably the first time EVER I've been the most "free" and "flexible" with my diet. Before I went vegan, I was deep in my eating disorder, so everything I ate was just a certain number of calories, protein, fat, carbs, sugars, etc. When I went vegan, I found other ways to restrict and prolong my eating disorder. Now, I'm breathing all of that out, letting it go without a kiss goodbye, and just allowing myself to be. To eat. To live.
Again, I'm not saying that a vegan diet is horribly restrictive and creates eating disorders. It was actually helpful for me in recovering from mine in some ways. But, I'm just following what God puts on my heart and, right now, He's leading me out of veganism.
HOW DO I FEEL IN SOCIAL SITUATIONS?
Ten times better. Ten times happier. Ten times more included. Now, I'm not saying that going vegan will automatically exclude you in social situations and change your relationships for the worse. For me, however, food is HUGE when it comes to community. I see it as a way to bring loved ones and friends and even strangers together. When the menu wasn't vegan or, worse, didn't have any vegan options, the community aspect for myself changed.
When I ate vegan, specifically with others (i.e. at restaurants, family dinners, get-togethers, etc.) I often felt like the "odd one out". Sometimes, I'd be eating a simple meal of tofu and veggies and the like, and other times I'd find a yummy vegan burger or something. The former often left me feeling more excluded than the latter, yet both options seemed to do the same, to some extent. During my first year-and-a-half-ish of being vegan, this didn't bug me as much as it did recently. I knew that my vegan food choices benefitted the environment and the animals I care about, benefits that outweighed a little bit of perceived social exclusion. And that's all I thought it was - perceived. But, the more I saw others enjoying their meal and sharing it with each other - exchanging bites off of plates and "mmmm"-ing at each dish, the less perceived and more real the exclusion felt.
Being a vegan, social situations and gatherings didn't always offer plenty of vegan options, aside from salad and veggies, for me to do the same. However, as of late, I began to resent that exclusion more and more and feel that God was telling me it isn't just perceived. It's real and it's affecting my enjoyment of time with loved ones, especially around food, which is probably my favorite type of social situation.
Now that I'm not vegan, I feel more relaxed in all food-involving social situations. I feel more included. I no longer feel like I'm standing outside the circle, looking in, at everyone else. I don't feel like "the weird one" over there eating tofu (which isn't weird to me, but its not uncommon for others to see common vegan options as weird) and whatever else is meat-, dairy-, egg-free.
I forgot, until recently, how much I absolutely LOVE appetizers like fancy cheese and sardines, though the sardines are mostly a thing between my dad and I. I forgot how powerful of a rope food is when it comes to tying people together. So, all in all, I'm loving the cheese before dinner. I'm loving the salmon at dinner. I'm loving the ice cream dates with friends. I'm loving that I can say "yes" when offered a bite of someone's cheesy grilled chicken panini from my favorite local cafe. I'm loving the "mmmmm" I can share with everyone at the table :)
HOW HAS MY BODY HANDLED THE CHANGE?
Like. A. Champ. And as I said before, I'm taking this as God's way of assuring me and encouraging me in this change.
I feel stronger, like my muscles are loving the added protein and iron. I feel more energized and focused, like my mind isn't constantly thinking about food/when my snack or meal is/how bloated the last meal left me. My skin did breakout a little bit during the first week, probably because of the dairy, but it wasn't unbearable and it has disappeared. Other than that, I'm easing myself into meat because the protein is definitely filling me up quicker than tofu/tempeh/beans did and eating too much protein is just not fun.
Oh, and I'm not saying correlation = causation here, but there's gotta' be something to the fact that I can run again?! I'm not logging 10-15 miles a week like I used to, but even the 2 miles I am running feel amazing and I'm excited to see where this could go!
HOW AM I STILL KEEPING SUSTAINABILITY AND ETHICAL TREATMENT IN MIND?
I'm buying local as much as possible. Lassen's is just down the street from me at my place in SLO, and finding locally produced eggs and cheeses is easier than I thought! Meat hasn't yet made it in my shopping cart, but I know of a few local farmers who produce chicken and the like, so I will have a friendly face to turn to when I'm ready.
Some have asked me how I can stomach animal products when I now know the "truth" behind animal agriculture. Honestly, I didn't think I ever could, but God has showed me that, right now, my own physical and emotional health and my relationships with loved ones are more important than worrying about animal agriculture. Besides, how much of a difference would I be making or not making by switching from vegan to a diet that is most just eggs and yogurt, some meat here and there? I don't know. I can't explain much of this answer, but all I can say is that this is what God is calling me to in the moment. I can't control animal agriculture, but I can control the products I purchase.
So, that's all I've got for this update! I hope anyone going through a similar transition found it helpful - you're not alone. I hope I haven't offended anyone, but that I've encouraged you all to follow the directions God lays on your heart because, though they may seem scary sometimes, He will not mislead you.
Still have questions? Comments? Leave them below or send me an email. I love to hear from you!