The Vegan Challenge

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Note:  This post is a reflection of my week-long Vegan Challenge.  I thought it would be an interesting change of pace from the norm.  This post does not cover the ethical rationale behind a Vegan diet.

I’m not Vegan.  I’m not even Vegetarian.  I don’t keep kosher either.  When I diet, I use plans like weight watchers for the very reason that I can eat “whatever” I want.  Restriction from any particular foods just doesn’t work for me.  You should see me a few days into Passover when I’d kill for a bowl of oatmeal!

For one week, however, I took what I like to call, “the Vegan Challenge”.  The Husband wanted to go meatless for 7 days as a post-meat-eating binge-drinking-Vegas weekend cleanse of sorts and I figured I’d do it with him.  But then I thought, meatless is too easy, why not take this to the next level?

Let me tell you, that isn’t just one level.  I’d argue that there are a lot of little steps between avoiding meat and going full-out Vegan that make the latter extremely challenging.  Among other things, you can’t eat fish, dairy, eggs, or even honey.  There are probably a ton of other rules that I don’t even know, but those were the basic guidelines I used.

To be honest, I didn’t think that one week would be hard.  I often go days or weeks at a time without eating meat or fish so this didn’t seem like a big deal.  I also already eat a lot of nut butters, nuts and beans, so I could keep those protein sources in my diet.  However, I am highly dependent on dairy (Greek yogurt and string cheese) and eggs for protein as well, especially for snacking.

dough balls 1

Here is a recap of my week in terms of what I ate and how I felt:

Day 1:

Pre-workout snack- Apple with almond butter

Breakfast- Oat bran with almond milk, pumpkin, chopped apple and chia seeds topped with peanut butter (fairly consistent with a normal breakfast)

Lunch- Lentil soup, chopped pineapple

Snacks- vegan protein bar; baby carrots; apple; almonds, dried fruit bar

Dinner-Pasta (eggless) with beans and a nutritional yeast sauce

Thoughts: Forgot that there was only cow’s milk in the office and had to drink black coffee.  Felt very hungry all day but could have been related to morning workout.  Happy I happened to have a vegan protein bar in my desk at work! Being Vegan makes it easier to turn down office birthday cake since no one can challenge you on declining a piece.

Day 2:

Pre-workout snack- Banana

Breakfast- Oat bran with almond milk, pumpkin, chopped apple and chia seeds topped with peanut butter

Lunch- mixed vegetables with beans and nutritional yeast sauce, roasted butternut squash, soy crisps

Snacks- almonds; low carb wrap w/ nut butter and banana; mini protein bar*

Dinner-Kale chips sprinkled with nutritional yeast, soy meatballs w/ tomato sauce

Thoughts: Picked up almond milk for my coffee, though not quite as good as regular skim.  Was very hungry all day again.  Was starving at night at the office and ate the *protein bar.  As soon as I finished I realized it wasn’t Vegan!

Day 3:

Breakfast- Oat bran with pumpkin, chopped apple and chia seeds topped with peanut butter

Snack- apple

Lunch- roasted butternut squash, low carb wrap w/ nut butter and banana; high protein cereal w/ almond milk*

Snacks- Peanut Butter & Chocolate Larabar**

Dinner-Lentil soup

Dessert- mango

Thoughts: *Lunch was a little weird but very filling! Had to start getting creative with my protein sources.  **As soon as I finished the Larabar I realized it wasn’t Vegan (because of the chocolate chips).  I had figured it was since most flavors are.  I wasn’t as hungry in general but starting to miss my dairy!  Definitely realizing how it is a little easier to “restrict” “bad” foods since there aren’t as many available to eat on a Vegan diet.

Day 4:

Pre-workout snack- Apple

Breakfast- Oat bran with pumpkin, chopped apple and chia seeds topped with peanut butter

Lunch- roasted butternut squash, low carb wrap w/ nut butter and banana; high protein cereal w/ almond milk*

Snacks- pear; Peanut Butter & Jelly Larabar

Dinner- Edamame appetizer; Salad with avocado, pepitas and salsa as a dressing**

Thoughts: *Repeat of the strange lunch because it worked the first time! **Dinner was challenging because we went out to eat.  Luckily I had looked at the menu in advance to strategize.  I had to order the salad with a few alterations but I do that all the time anyway.  There was only one other Vegan option on the menu.

dough balls 2

Day 5 (Saturday!):

Breakfast- Oat bran with pumpkin, chopped apple and chia seeds topped with peanut butter

Pre-workout snack- Banana

Lunch- low carb wrap with veggies and hummus, roasted butternut squash, cereal with almond milk and blueberries

Snacks- low carb wrap with peanut butter and blueberries; pop chips; kale chips with nutritional yeast*

Dinner-Baked sweet potato with vegetarian baked beans

Dessert- Peanut Butter Dough Balls**

Thoughts: *I was really snacky/unsatisfied.  I was also starting to get very cranky as a result of the restrictions.  I didn’t like having a limit to what I could eat and didn’t know what to eat anymore.  I especially missed my high-protein Greek yogurt as a snack.  **These saved me, see details below.

Day 6:

Breakfast- Oat bran with almond milk, banana, blueberries and chia seeds topped with peanut butter

Mini-Lunch- low carb wrap with veggies and hummus

Pre-workout snack- almond butter

Snacks- leftover edamame; popcorn

Dinner-Toast, vegetarian baked beans, corn, butternut squash and broccoli

Dessert- Blueberries with peanut butter, Peanut Butter Dough Balls, Trader Joes Cat Cookies*

Thoughts: *Day 6 was extremely challenging.  I had a super hard workout that left me hungry all afternoon and really needed a big protein boost.  Instead, I ended up grazing my way through “dessert.”

Day 7!!!!!!:

Breakfast- Oat bran with almond milk, pumpkin, blueberries and chia seeds topped with peanut butter

Mini-Lunch- Butternut squash, low carb wrap with banana and peanut butter

Snack- Protein bar*

Dinner-Salad with blue cheese and grilled shrimp**

Thoughts: I didn’t mean to finish Vegan week on such a miss, but I was travelling for work and had limited options.  I had packed lunch but thought there would be Vegan- (or AT LEAST Vegetarian) friendly options at the airport.  *When I didn’t find anything that worked, I ate a non-Vegan protein bar.  **Dinner didn’t take place until late at night at a hotel in Oklahoma City (not exactly veggie-town).  There were no Vegetarian or Vegan options on the menu.  The only thing that could have worked would have been a plain house salad which would have left me starving.

In summary, I am really glad I took the Vegan Challenge.  It helped me take a closer look at what I put into my body.  You might have noted that I ate very few processed foods and that definitely was a positive.  I really enjoyed the abundance of fruit and vegetables.  Although I do eat a ton of that regularly, I liked that there was even more of an emphasis on this.  Additionally, I was very diligent about taking my vitamins.  I’d probably take more vitamins if I were to eat like this on a regular basis.  On the downside, post-Vegan week, I went a little out of control with some desserts in my freezer.  I think that was in part the result of a week of restriction, but also some stress I was dealing with.

The thing I learned about being Vegan is that you really need to plan in advance.  This actually goes for eating healthy as well, but even more so on a Vegan diet.  I tried to stock up on Vegan-friendly foods for the week, but even so, I didn’t feel like I had enough options.  The other major theme was that it isn’t very flexible.  It is really hard to go out to eat at the average restaurant and find something Vegan and filling.dough balls 3

As far as planning goes, one of the best resources I used was Mama Pea’s blog! Whether you are Vegan or not, her blog is wonderfully written and very funny.  Oh, and she has the cutest little girls ever.  Her Peanut Butter Dough Balls, while not the healthiest option, were the highlight of my Vegan eating.  I’d eat them any day!

Do you follow a Vegetarian or Vegan diet? Have you ever tried it?

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31 Responses to “The Vegan Challenge”

  1. DessertForTwo January 26, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    I really enjoyed this post. I read a lot of blogs where people chronicle what they eat everyday. I’m not sure why I’m so into it (maybe I’m nosy?), but I find it fascinating.

    I guess I thought that your body would adjust to not feeling full after a few days, but it looks like it didn’t. When I return from Texas (a non-stop eating binge), it takes my body a few days to re-learn that 1 piece of toast is breakfast (as opposed to grits, fried eggs and sausages). I’m starving for a few days at first, then my body ‘remembers’ my normal eating pattern.

    Thanks for this post :)

    • KeepItSweet January 26, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

      Thank you! I was hoping people would like it even though it is so different from my usual posts. I think part of the reason I was so hungry was that I didn’t have enough protein. Sometimes I have Vegan days by accident with no issues. I also like seeing what people eat for ideas!

  2. Bethany @Bridezilla Bakes January 26, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    This was an eye-opening post… like you, I assumed that because I go meatless for days/weeks at a time, vegan might not be too far of a stretch! But there is SO much more that goes into it than that… I think for me, it would definitely have to be a gradual shift.

    I agree about those dough balls… sign me up for some of those!

  3. Veronica January 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    I loved reading this! I’m curious do you normally eat so healthy or was that a by-product of the vegan diet? When I was vegan, I did eat a lot of meat subsitutes like boca burgers, soy crumbles, fake sausage,etc, and that stuff prob isn’t too healthy, esp b/c of the high sodium. I have been both vegan and vegetarian at different times and kind of evolved into a flexitarian and try to get my meat, when possible, from local farms that raise their animals humanely. But I’m not a stickler on this point. I found it very hard to stick to a vegan diet and only lasted three months. It wasn’t too hard to give up meat, but dairy was another story. If it weren’t for a carnivorous husband, I think the bulk of our meals would be vegetarian.

    • KeepItSweet January 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

      I do TRY to eat that healthy on a regular basis, but there definitely are moments that I’d probably be embarrassed to share… I do like Boca burgers, etc. as options and think they are good to have on hand but try not to eat too much soy since there is a lot of debate around the effects on the body regarding cancer risk.

      Over the last couple of years I’ve tried to make the majority of our meat purchases organic. We joined a CSA last summer, too, which was an interesting experience. I’d eat Organic even more often if it wasn’t so expensive!

  4. Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic January 26, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

    Hey Lauren, great post!! Very interesting insight into a “vegan week”. I try to be vegetarian/pescatarian during weekdays but rarely eat pure vegan meals. I guess (the non-chocolate) Larabars are my only regular vegan meals hehe. Like you I also eat a lot of dairy and eggs! If I did go vegan for a week, I’ll probably eat a lot of tofu. And yes, peanut butter dough balls! ;)

  5. Jenn (Cookies Cupcakes Cardio) January 26, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    You didn’t think that it would be hard? Before I had even read 5 sentences of your post, I was thinking how much planning you had to put into each meal, every day. Well done! Eating healthy is so much harder, and requires much more work than just grabbing something off the shelf. I’m very impressed!

    • KeepItSweet January 27, 2011 at 7:22 am #

      Haha. Well, I figured I could do anything for 7 days but I guess not:-)

  6. TheHealthyApron January 27, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    I would say I am 80% vegan, 95% vegetarian (if that makes sense). I will still eat cheese and eggs and occasionally meat but not on a daily basis. I try to limit my “animal intake” to twice/day. However, if I exceed this I don’t beat myself up! How has this changed my eating? LOTS more produce (plus) + Way less processed foods (plus) + LOTS more homecooked meals (plus) + MORE meal planning (plus/minus). It can be challenging to live without certain processed or animal foods but it is not impossible and there are alternatives to EVERYTHING! It just takes a little planning!! Great job!

    • KeepItSweet January 27, 2011 at 9:59 am #

      I did see your blog post on dairy and want to take some time to read it again. I am not convinced that I would benefit from limiting low fat dairy products in my diet, especially because of the protein and calcium I get from it. I agree with you on the benefits you listed of eating this way, though. Thanks for your feedback!

  7. Rachel @ The Avid Appetite January 27, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    Wow, this is a fantastic rundown! I love that you were extremely honest in what you ate and how you felt the whole week. I admire you for doing this! I went vegetarian for a week and it was not that challenging, and actually, I still haven’t gone back to eating meat. Vegan is a whole new level! Congrats for making it through! Oh and I could totally eat those dough balls day in and day out :)

    • KeepItSweet January 27, 2011 at 10:00 am #

      I definitely ate more dough balls yesterday when I was back to my “normal” eating!

  8. Rachel @ Baked by Rachel January 27, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    I could in no way ever do that. Even if I had to give up milk I’d have a hard time giving up eggs or butter. Meat – take it or leave it depending on the day. But truly there is so much more to it than the basics that makes it even that much more overwhelming when you think about it. I mean vegans typically will even try to avoid leather – any kind of animal biproduct, products tested on animals etc etc – or at least from my experience/personal knowledge. Totally changes everything and unless you have good local resources it can be extremely difficult to pull off. The beauty of choice… I’ll stick to my butter and bacon loving ‘diet’ ;)

    • KeepItSweet January 27, 2011 at 10:03 am #

      I actually didn’t even think about not wearing leather until after the fact. I would never be able to stick to a diet where I couldn’t keep creating decadent delicious recipes like the ones I blog! While I do think that you can make some delicious Vegan desserts, I think there is definitely a limit to the range. Butter and bacon will never be 100% cut out for me!

  9. The Taster January 27, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    Lauren couldn’t wait to get her mouth around those balls!

    • The Taster January 27, 2011 at 8:50 am #

      But seriously, Lauren going vegan was a big problem for me. I had to do a lot more of my own food planning than usual! Being vegetarian was not that hard becuase I decided I could eat fish. However, on day 5 I couldn’t take it anymore and had a hot dog, whoops!

      • KeepItSweet January 27, 2011 at 10:04 am #

        It definitely got a little harder to find something Vegan to eat that would work for both of us! Neither of us wanted a diet full of tofu and soy products which added to the challenge.

  10. Crepes of Wrath January 27, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    A very interesting read, indeed! I often go days without eating meat, but I don’t think I could ever go vegan – I, too, love my Greek yogurt and hard boiled eggs! Kudos to you for giving it a try and lasting a whole week!

    • KeepItSweet January 27, 2011 at 10:04 am #

      Thanks, it was definitely more challenging than I thought it would be!

  11. One Healthy Apple January 27, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    Great summary of your challenge, and great blog (I’m new)!

    I don’t follow a vegetarian or vegan diet but I eat meat or fish less than 3 times a month, so most days are meat free simply because I don’t like it. I am doing somewhat of a cleanse now and I eat a loss less processed foods than before, so that is a nice change for me.

    I’m not sure I could be a vegan forever, but I can see doing it in spurts.

    • KeepItSweet January 27, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

      Welcome to the blog!

  12. Joanne January 28, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    I am so so so impressed with you for doing this! I’ve often wondered if I could really go vegan because I know that I could definitely do a vegetarian diet if I needed to…one of these days. Maybe when I’m done cooking through the Michael Symon cookbook I’ll do it for a while. Hmmm.

  13. Peggy January 28, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    I would personally find this so hard to do, but I know I’d be better off for it! Great job on making it through! It sounds like you ate some pretty amazing stuff!

  14. Nicole @ Making Good Choices January 30, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    I’m not vegan or vegetarian but I try not to eat many processed foods. I enjoyed reading about this adventure you took and what you got out of it!

  15. Jen @ keepitsimplefoods January 30, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Wow! Good for you! I am an everyday vegetarian but I don’t think I have the discipline to go vegan-not even for a week. Congrats!

  16. Caroline @ chocolate and carrots February 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Hey Lauren!
    I’ve had a recent interest in chia seeds. I’m thinking about buying them to try them in my baking and oatmeal, but what do they taste like, at least texture-wise? Are they just like a gel surrounding a seed? more like flax seed? Or do they just dissolve when combined with a liquid and just get mushy?

    Thanks!
    Caroline

    • KeepItSweet February 1, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

      Hi Caroline- I put them in oatmeal when I make overnight oats or when I am cooking the oatmeal. They basically soak up some of the liquid and make whatever it is thicker. As a result, you can use more liquid for more volumous oatmeal. They don’t really have a flavor, though. Flax seeds are different and, when whole, are crunchy. Ground flax does have a little bit of a similar effect in terms of soaking up the liquid but not as much. I hope that is helpful!

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