Joshua Keel

How to Go Vegan in 6 Short Years

July 13, 2018

If my email inbox is any indication, I first became interested in raw foods in late 2009. I was extremely overweight, and looking for a way to fix myself. When I stumbled across people online who had lost enormous amounts of weight eating nothing but raw fruits, vegetables and nuts, I thought maybe the raw food diet was right for me, too.

At that time, if you knew anything about the raw food community, you had at least heard of Harley aka Durianrider, and Freelee, a vegan fitness power couple. They ran two YouTube channels: Durianrider, and Freelee the Banana Girl. Harley was a very in–your–face, tough love kind of guy, and I was immediately attracted to his message. They were both extremely active, and ran their bodies mostly on raw fruit. They showed me what was possible, and I swallowed hook, line and sinker, thinking this was it, this was the best diet for humans, and it will make me feel amazing and look lean like they do.

Problem was, I never could stick to a raw diet for more than a few days. The longest I ever made it was 21 days, and that was during a brief coaching stint with Doug Graham, author of The 80/10/10 Diet, a bible of the fruit–loving wing of the raw foods community. For a period of months, I would bring home huge quantities of raw fruit, gear up to start my diet, only to experience miserable “withdrawal” symptoms after just days on the program. I would feel like I had the flu, with terrible headaches. They would come on predictably after two or three days, and it would take me a week or two to get back to normal, after giving up the diet.

So I never stuck to raw foods, and eventually gave up trying. But all the time I spent in the raw community, lurking and posting on message boards, reading blogs and watching YouTube videos, had educated me about the ills of factory farming and the way we treat animals. I had started to become sensitive to the fact that when I ate meat, an animal somewhere died so I could eat it.

I remember one particular car ride with my sisters (I must have been down visiting them from DC), I went on and on about the immorality of killing and eating animals just for our own pleasure. I was trying, stupidly, to convince my sisters that eating animals was wrong. Not only was I misguided in my approach, I was soon to find myself a hypocrite.

After a long period of trying raw food diets, then cooked vegan weight loss diets, I gave in and started eating meat again, with little guilt. I suppose I rationalized this turn by telling myself it was just too hard to be vegan and eat these restrictive diets, and I shouldn’t feel guilty for doing what comes natural to me, which is eating meat.

Funnily enough, it wasn’t until I went back to a “normal” diet and got some help from a therapist and dietitian that I started making weight loss progress. I lost over 100 pounds, started running, then discovered weight training and was hooked. I left behind all thoughts of eating vegan, and relished huge portions of chicken and beef, for protein. I was happier and fitter than I’d been since my early teen years—maybe ever.

For some reason, I seemed to date mainly vegetarians and vegans. Maybe I was attracted to what I believed it said about their personality or character. Regardless, I found myself on several dates with one of these veg women. I chose restaurants based on their vegan options, and I even tried not to offend her by ordering anything too meaty, although she protested that I should eat whatever I liked.

Because of our budding relationship, I started looking into veganism again. I kept seeing references to one book in particular: Animal Liberation, by philosopher Peter Singer. Apparently it was the book that started the modern animal rights movement. I bought and read it, and by the end, I was convinced. Singer’s arguments were strong, and I was checkmated. It seemed I had no choice but to put my newfound beliefs in action and go vegan. And I did, almost overnight, in May of 2015, nearly six years after first hearing about raw food diets.

One of the best ways to go vegan must surely be to get yourself a vegan girlfriend, boyfriend, or partner. My girlfriend opened me up to a world of possibilities I never knew existed. The first time I tried a vegan wrap and thought wow, this is really good!, I realized that I had never truly had amazing vegan food, but that it definitely existed. I had been too worried about following a strict diet in the past, and the world had changed a lot since then. Veganism had become much more mainstream, and companies like Beyond Meat and Field Roast sold their vegetarian meat products everywhere.

It was completely possible to go to any Whole Foods, and many other grocery stores, and pick up so much delicious vegan food you didn’t know what to do with. I probably gained 10 or 20 pounds those first few months of being vegan. I just let myself eat anything I wanted, as long as it was vegan. And I’m glad I did, waistline aside. It was deliciously fun to try vegan pizza, ice cream, burgers, Chinese food, Thai, Indian, Mexican, and more.

Far from feeling restricted, I actually felt as if new horizons had been opened to me. When there are limits on what you can eat, it’s a treat to find something like a vegan donut. The reward is greater, and it’s more exciting. There’s a bakery in Salt Lake City I want to try that serves all–vegan French pastries. I can’t wait!

Just a couple of months ago, I celebrated—or actually, forgot to celebrate—my three year vegan anniversary. In those three years, I have faced new challenges, but there’s never a thought given to going back to my old ways. First, it would feel entirely unethical, and second, it’s not even desirable. I don’t want meat in my house, or to cook meat, and definitely not to eat it. I eat a lot more vegetables as a vegan than I ever did as a meat–eater. I believe I’m healthier, overall, although weight loss has sometimes been a challenge. I think partially because protein on a vegan diet requires a little more thought and planning, it can be slightly harder to lose weight as a vegan, for some people.

However, vegans taken together do have slimmer waistlines than people who eat meat. And although my weight has crept up, that’s more a result of stress and lifestyle factors than it is being vegan. It’s perfectly possible for me to lose weight as a vegan, it’s just hard, as it is on any diet.

It’s amusing how circuitous my route to becoming vegan has been. I started off cheerleading a fruit–based vegan diet, failed miserably at that, swore it off, and then was convinced by a book to go vegan in a way that made it stick. I realized how being vegan doesn’t have to mean—and really shouldn’t mean, for sanity—eating a highly restrictive diet. Eliminating meat, dairy and eggs definitely makes things a little more challenging for newbies, but you get the hang of it pretty quickly. These days I’m an old pro. There’s really nothing to it. It’s the new normal.

Yesterday, I had my signature chocolate peanut butter oatmeal for breakfast; a vegan cheese and chick’n quesadilla for lunch; lentil pasta with tomato sauce, homemade vegan parmesan, zucchini, and red bell peppers for dinner; and a couple of homemade chocolate muffins with almond milk for snacks. I’m not hurting over here, folks. It’s a good life. And amazingly, it keeps getting better, with new restaurants popping up and products coming out all the time. It took me six years, and I didn’t plan this at all, but I’m so happy to be vegan. It’s a fun, kind, tasty, and—once you know the ropes—easy way to live your life. I highly recommend it.