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If you're wondering if it's possible to switch to a vegan or plant-based diet - whether it be fully or partially - then the answer is absolutely yes. It may seem hard at first, but after slowly reducing my meat intake over the last few years, I decided to try something different: I'd try eating fully vegan for one month.
I cut red meat when I started Weight Watchers back in 2015 since it is so much higher in SmartPoints due to how fatty it is. I didn't even like red meat that much, so I didn't miss it, and opted for chicken and turkey instead of beef or pork.
However, after 5 years, I got pretty bored. In 2020, I made it a goal to incorporate more plant-based protein alternatives into my weekly meal plans, and found that I really liked tofu and seitan (and so did my husband). I also noticed that on the weeks where I ate less meat, I felt less bloated and struggled less with indigestion... so, I figured I'd give being vegan a go for Veganuary in 2021. If you're unfamiliar, Veganuary is a challenge to eat Vegan for the whole month of January. There's no pressure to continue the challenge come February 1, but I went into it with an open mind for what my end goal would be once January ended.
Here are my tips, tricks, and general observations from Veganuary - so if you decide to switch to plant-based, you can be prepared.
Was it easy to do with Weight Watchers?
I follow the myWW Green plan (where everything except fruits and non-starchy veggies have SmartPoints values) and found that it was pretty easy to follow along since I was eating a lot more veggies. I imagine if you primarily get your protein from tofu, beans, and legumes, then the Blue plan would be very friendly for vegans as well!
What was the most challenging thing?
The hardest part is hidden ingredients when you least expect it! A lot of products have ingredients in there like egg or honey that you'd least expect, so once you find an alternative - which sometimes doesn't even need to be a vegan alternative, but just a different brand that happens to accidentally be vegan - then you can get into the swing of it. Just always triple check your labels since this was the hardest part when shopping.
What was it like dining out?
I have to admit - this was another major challenge. I found that unless you go to a restaurant that specializes in vegan food, your options can tend to be both minimal and disappointing. We tried a vegan place in Downtown Orlando, Winter Park Biscuit Co., and everything was delicious! But that's unfortunately not the case everywhere...
We went to Paddlefish at Disney Springs for our anniversary on January 19, and the only thing on the menu that adhered to the challenge was a pasta dish with olive oil and undisclosed "market vegetables" - and the primary vegetable was red bell pepper, which I'm not a huge fan of, so the overwhelming flavor of it was a huge let down. I normally love Paddlefish, so this was a bummer.
However, we went to Erin McKenna's bakery afterwords to get a vanilla cupcake - in lieu of our top tier of our wedding cake (we depression ate that in March when lockdown started and our wedding video arrived, ha!) and their baked goods were so, so good.
Pro tip: If you're going vegan, really research what restaurants are around and what all the options are. It'll make life much easier, and the more research you can do, the better - then you will be less likely to be let down like I was at Paddlefish.
Some favorite things I made
There are great plant-based replacements for everything nowadays. Banza makes a great pizza crust that is vegan and made with chickpeas (you'd never know by taste alone!) and I'd top it with Follow Your Heart brand mozzarella (super creamy!) and some Gardein meatless chicken strips. Follow Your Heart also makes a vegan mayo, which tastes just like normal mayonaisse.
I also really liked Just Egg, which is a plant-based liquid egg substitute. Kodiak Cakes also makes a plant-based protein pancake mix! My favorite protein powder that I've tried is Orgain - they're the least chalky plant-based protein powder that I've had thus far, and they make pretty good protein bars, too.
Two vegan food bloggers that I love are Veggiekins and Chez Jorge. I discovered both of them on TikTok and really enjoyed their recipes for a Blueberry Vanilla Peanut Butter Protein Shake (Veggiekins), Cauliflower Katsu Curry (Chez Jorge), and Unagi Don w/ Zucchini (Veggiekins).
Will I stick with it?
I'm planning on switching to a mostly-pescatarian diet. I won't completely leave chicken out of the picture, but really only plan to eat it if I'm at a restaurant or traveling (when international travel opens back up again and its safe to do so) so my options aren't as limited. However, I do love seafood and that's the only thing I missed that I didn't really find a replacement for that totally did the trick (though tofu did make for a decent crab alternative, it's just not the same).
My body felt less bloated throughout the month, and I was honestly more full thanks to increased fiber from getting a lot of protein from legumes and beans. I know some people bloat a lot when they switch to a plant-based diet from this, but I think I had just the right balance of getting my protein from that and from things like tofu and seitan to have it not be a problem.
I found that the replacements for chicken, burgers, and bacon were delicious and some of them I even liked more than the real thing. The cheese I used by Follow Your Heart on my Banza chickpea pizzas that I mentioned earlier was so creamy!
Jessica is a huge Disney and Star Wars nerd who channeled that love into motivation to lose 75 lbs.