My Year As A Vegan
The vegan year, ahh yes. Or, should I say, nearly a year. 363 days to be exact. It was a time of great confusion in my quest for the coveted Six Pack…great confusion indeed. If you’ve read my weight loss transformation story, you may know that going vegan was well-intentioned, but definitely not well-executed.
You see, I may have been the only vegan on the planet who doesn’t actually like vegetables (still don’t, and don’t really eat them that much). No, no vegetables for me. So if you take the “veg” out of “vegan,” what does that leave? The opportunity to get creative. And boy, did I ever. French fries are an obvious choice. Want to throw some Daiya cheese on those bad boys? Sure, why not. Bud Light? It’s vegan, let’s do it. Hot dog with soy-based meat and ketchup and mustard? Boom. Sounds like a healthy lifestyle, right?
I even went so far as to buy a recipe book called the “Vegan Stoner Cookbook.” I’m not much for partaking in the cannabis, but I’ll eat like I’ve got the munchies if it means I’m being “healthy.” At least, what I think is healthy. Needless to say, my diet wasn’t what you would call “on point” and instead of achieving the physique of my dreams, I ended up gaining 30 pounds that year.
Looking back with the clarity of a (slightly) older man, it seems so obvious now. But it didn’t at the time. So Future Steve is here to break down what went wrong with Vegan Steve’s misadventures into the land of no animal byproducts.
Like I said earlier, my motivation was well-intentioned enough. My thought process was as follows: I want to be healthy and fit, vegans are healthy and fit, therefore if I eat like a vegan, I will be healthy and fit as well. Add in the fact that I’m not contributing to any animal cruelty as a result of patronizing the commercial meat and dairy industry, and you have a one-way ticket to getting ripped and feeling great about your altruistic life choices.
Now, first off, I want to make it clear that this is not a putdown of vegans or veganism in any way, shape, or form. I admire anyone that aims to have a positive impact on the lives of other living creatures and on our planet. Nor do I think veganism is necessarily an unhealthy way of life from a dietary perspective. What I did was unhealthy. But veganism in and of itself is not necessarily unhealthy. It’s simply all about the choices you make. (Isn’t everything.)
Alright, so, back to the story. I embarked on my mystical journey into plant-based living in May of 2014. I had already lost a bunch of weight (about 40 pounds) via a keto diet called MediFast, but had put some of that weight back on. I was living in Los Angeles at the time with my then-girlfriend (now wife) and we were going out with friends fairly often, eating, drinking, and generally “doing the L.A. thing.”
For years I had been in search of a set of simple rules I could live by and get shredded without counting calories or thinking too much about my diet. I didn’t want to have to think about what I was eating; I just wanted a system I could follow that would help me lose weight by default.
My first foray into rule-based dieting was when I dove head-first into the “all smoothie diet.” I think I watched some videos on YouTube from someone named Freelee the Banana Girl lauding the benefits of a “monofruit diet.” Freelee was in great shape and all the ate (she claimed) was bananas. That’s it. Something like 30 or 40 bananas a day. While I wasn’t prepared to commit to that level of (insanity?) dedication, I was intrigued by limiting myself to just fruits. I really love fruits. Vegetables? Not so much, but fruits? The more the merrier.
After some quick research online, I stumbled across a woman who had lost 20 or 30 pounds by going on an all-smoothie diet. She sold a recipe book, but I thought I’d just wing it, throw some bananas and some kale in my Vitamix, and watch the pounds melt away.
And thus the descent into veganism began. I would make three or four smoothies every morning, head off to work, and drink them throughout the day. It didn’t matter that by the time I got to smoothie number three, it had become warm and congealed and gross (my first sign this might not be a viable long-term diet) because I was dedicated. And if you’ve ever had a warm kale-based Slurpee after it has been sitting at room temperature for 5-6 hours, you know what I’m talkin’ about.
The issue I ran into was that, while I had enough energy throughout the day (actually, an ABUNDANCE of energy), I was starving by the time I came home. It wasn’t uncommon to find me, after a long day of work, walking in the front door and eating an entire bag of Dorito’s in one sitting (certain flavors are surprisingly vegan).
You see, the biggest problem with my all-vegan experiment at this was that I had not yet discovered the magic of MACROS.
I was basically on an all-carb diet at this time. And while you can definitely lose weight on an all-carb diet (though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it), my issue was that I was simply over-eating. My all-smoothie days would lead to binge-eating nights in order to finally feel satiated. At one point, my smoothie addiction had gotten so bad, I was buying up bananas 30-40 at a time. I definitely recall receiving some odd looks from the Trader Joe’s employees during those days. Ahh, but anyway…
There’s another problem with smoothies that I didn’t learn until a little bit later, and that has to to with fiber. Most people have heard of fiber, but many don’t know what it is or, more importantly, what its purpose is. And most Americans definitely don’t eat enough of it.
Alright, boys and girls, it’s time for a science lesson. Strap in.
If you take a fruit such as an apple, you’ll find that it has two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. When you take a bite of said apple, you’re getting a load of sugar, as well as both types of fiber. As you digest the fiber, the soluble and insoluble types mix together to form a sort of paste that slows down the absorption of the sugar by your liver, making it easier to process by your body and resulting in a steady stream of energy and more even blood sugar levels. You see, sugar isn’t really such a bad thing. Drinking it in the form of a Coke which has ZERO fiber is bad. But getting it from natural sources such as fruits and vegetables which have a decent amount of fiber? Not too shabby.
Okay Steve, but how does this relate to smoothies?
Well friend, I’m glad you asked: you see, when you make a smoothie, your blender is so good at chopping things up into tiny little bits, that it essentially takes that insoluble fiber and makes it SO SMALL that it is effectively rendered inert. It can’t do its job of slowing the absorption of the sugar by your liver. So while you may think, “Hey, I’m drinking this fruit smoothie and now I’m healthy AF,” as far as the sugar content goes, you might as well be drinking a Coke.
Now, are there tons of micronutrients (AKA vitamins and minerals) that are good for you in that smoothie of yours? Yes of course. So in that sense, it is somewhat superior to a liter of soda, but it’s not AS GOOD for you as it would be if you were to eat the fruits raw without pureeing them first.
Okay, science lesson over. Let’s get back to the story.
After a few weeks of trying the all- (actually, mostly-) smoothie diet, I gave up the idea and transitioned into veganism. You may be asking yourself, “But Steve, why straight up veganism? Why not try going vegetarian first?” And the answer is, because I’m hardcore. And in the immortal words of Jack Black, you’re not hardcore unless you live hardcore, and the legend of the rent WAS WAY HARDCORRRRRE!
Ahem. But honestly, in my backwards way of reasoning (which is sort of my trademark, at times), I thought that if going vegetarian was going part of the way, which would lead to partial results, and going VEGAN was going ALL THE WAY and would lead to the best results. It would be the quickest and most efficient path toward Six Pack Glory.
But did I eat healthfully? No, of course not. What I did was try any and every way to eat as shitty as possible without breaking my self-imposed rule of going vegan. Plenty of beers are vegan. And there are lots of delicious substitutes for anything you can imagine: vegan bacon, vegan burgers, hot dogs, nachos, you name it. Speaking of nachos, a delicacy in our house at the time was a little creation we liked to call “Tofachos;” nachos with fake cheese, salsa, and tofu.
So, in short, I wanted to look like a chiseled Greek god, thought going vegan was the answer, but wasn’t really ready or willing to put in the REAL work to make it happen. I played myself. Deep down I knew the truth of what I was doing, but I wasn’t ready to actually confront it. On top of that, I wasn’t seeing any real measurable progress, but I was trusting in the lifestyle and was hoping that it would come in time. Man oh man, can our brains can be tricky beasts.
And so I carried on this way for the better part of a year. Actually, as I mentioned previously, 363 days to be exact. Two more days and I would have made it a full year, but I just couldn’t do it. It all came crashing down one (annoyingly) sunny Sunday morning in L.A.
We had gone out the night before with some friends, and, as I was wont to do at the time, had loaded up on animal-free liquor and was nursing a nice-sized hangover. I had a massive headache, was severely dehydrated, and needed something, anything to eat to try and make myself feel better.
Melissa (future Mrs. Neske) had had some leftover Chinese food in the fridge. (In her superior wisdom, she had followed my descent into madness for only a few short weeks, not the near-year I had tread down this dark path.)
I stumbled to the refrigerator, swung open the door, and that’s when it happened…
I tore open that Chinese food container with the ferocity of a sub-Saharan lion tearing into its prey. I dumped the contents into a bowl, slapped it in the microwave, and sixty seconds later…I was no longer a vegan…and in that glorious, glorious moment when the sugary-sweet meat touched my lips…I was born again. A carnivore. A meat-eater. A beast of prey.
Colors came flooding back into the world. The laughter of small children at play tickled my eardrums as it wafted in from somewhere in the outside world. I think maybe even the Kool-Aid man burst through the wall of our apartment and shouted, “Oh yeah!!!” Or maybe I was just still drunk…anyway…
The strangest part was that it was like I was never gone at all. I had no indigestion, no upset stomach. Nothing.
Now, is sauce-covered orange chicken the healthiest thing in the world? Absolutely not. Was I just simply trading one unhealthy set of behaviors for another? Pretty much. But what it DID teach me was a lot about myself. It taught me that, unfortunately, there is no One Guiding Principle to which I can affix myself to and achieve my goals. (In this case, a six pack.) Why? Because my brain will find any and every which way to circumvent the TRUE purpose of the goal just to satisfy the rules that I’ve set up for myself. I can tell myself that I’m being healthy all I want, but at the end of the day, I’m really just getting fatter.
Instead of going vegan in a healthful manner, my brain deviated from the true goal and did everything it could to still satisfy the rules of being vegan, all while continuing me to eat like shit. It wasn’t being a carnivore that had made me fat. It was the fact that I wasn’t eating healthy. Not when I was eating meat, and not when I was eating vegan. I totally missed the mark. I wasn’t really committed to health, but instead I was looking for a shortcut. An easy way to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. And I failed miserably (though not really, because I gained so much insight from that little experiment, and learned so much about myself).
I ended up gaining 30 pounds that year by being “vegan.” However, one thing it DID reinforce was my ability to go hard at something I put my mind to, which would come in handy down the road when I finally DID get ripped and achieved that Six Pack Glory I had been looking for. I was committed, and at no point during those 363 days could you say I wasn’t eating vegan. Not once. No cheats. No excuses. I did it. And when I finally cracked the code on health a few years later, that focus and commitment would end up being my best friend and serving me quite well.
And that, my friends, is the story of how I gained 30 pounds one year while eating carbs almost exclusively. Now I don’t know about you, but I have a sudden craving for tofu nachos…