Lifestyle tips

How strict of a vegan should I be?

Ok so you are interested in adapting the plant-based diet (vegan diet) but how strict should you be? Is it enough to avoid meat, eggs and dairy or do you have to be extra careful not to ever touch anything that contains even traces of animal products or which has been in contact with animal products during the manufacturing process? Can you eat meat once a year in Christmas or Thanksgiving? How about once a month?

Well there is lots of debate (and confusion) about this. There are lots of vegans who think that you must be 100% pure vegan all the time on all aspects of life to call yourself a vegan. If you eat meat once a year you are not vegan. If you wear a leather belt you are not a vegan. If you kiss someone who has eaten meat you are not a vegan. Et cetera.

This debate exists because people have so many different reasons to be vegan. I talked about this in my earlier post. It is quite natural that if someone is a vegan because they fight for animal rights their opinion will be different from someone who is a vegan because they believe that meat and dairy are unhealthy.

In my opinion, it is your personal choice. You decide that how strict you are going to be.

I personally do not believe in puritanism because I do not like extremities. Puritanism is the belief that everything is absolute. So to be a vegan means that you follow the principles of veganism absolutely at all times. If you do not, you are not a vegan and have no right to call yourself a vegan. I do not like this mindset in general, not in philosophy, in religion, in politics, in life and definitely not in diet. When you have this mindset the principles of veganism (to avoid animal products like meat, dairy and eggs) becomes a dogma and that’s when veganism starts to look like a cult or a religion. Veganism is not a religion. It is a diet. I think that refusing to touch food that has been in contact with animal products at some point during the manufacturing process is unnecessary, paranoid even.

I personally follow a vegan (plant-based) diet for health reasons. Even though (dietary) veganism is a big part of my minimalist lifetyle the main reason why I became a vegan was health. I was convinced that animal products are not healthy. But eating animal products in small quantities now and then is not dangerous. It will not kill you.

To illustrate this I like to use an analogy about alcohol. Everyone knows that alcohol is not healthy. Everyone knows that what is the outcome of heavy alcohol consumption. But consuming a glass every now and then is not dangerous. It can even be fun and fine alcoholic beverages are a gastronomic field on their own. When does alcohol become unhealthy? It is a matter of quantity and frequency. How often you drink and how much.What is the basis of your diet and what you consider a staple, what is normal to you. Is it normal to you to have a glass of vodka for breakfast or do you enjoy a glass of red wine once a month when you dine with your friends?

When it comes to vegan diet it is important to look at the big picture and not to nitpick on every single little detail. How healthy is your diet overall? If you eat a little piece of meat or put some cow’s milk in your coffee every now and then it is not dangerous and it will not ruin your diet and health.

Life is not only about following a dogma. Life is also about enjoyment. I would rather eat well than stress myself to shreds. I allow myself to bend the rules, especially at a restaurant and a party, as long as I do not do it too often. It is the big picture that matters. If my everyday diet is healthy and vegan it does not matter at all if I go to my friend’s wedding party and eat steak. Just don’t allow it to become your new normal. Besides, according to my experiences, when informing catering services about dietary restrictions it’s better to order vegetarian food and not vegan food. Most catering services understand what a vegetarian is and can cook delicious vegetarian food but they fail miserably at vegan food unless you have the opportunity to personally describe to them exactly what you want to eat.

If you notice that you eat steak every day or a couple of times a week then you definitely have slipped and have to think again. It does not matter if you drink glass of vodka once a year. But if you find yourself at the bar several times a week (let alone every single day) it is a different matter.

I know that many vegans think that because of my views I am not a vegan at all. I am not even a vegetarian. Well, I guess I am not, if we start to argue about precise definitions. But that is the reason why I do not like the term “vegan”. I like the term “plant-based”. I am not interested in dogma, I am interested in becoming healthier. “Plant-based” means that something is based on plants. That’s what my diet definitely is. My diet is based on plants and I follow a vegan diet most of the time, almost always.

I like to think that meat is a luxury product. Eggs and dairy products are luxury products as well. That’s exactly what they have been in history throughout the times. When did they become a staple food? In the modern times, after The Second World War. That’s also when modern health problems started rising. Many diseases like diabetes and alzheimer were almost unheard of before the war and that’s what they still are today in the developing world. Meat, dairy and eggs are not supposed to be a staple food, meaning that we are not supposed to consume them daily or even weekly. But I also do not believe that we should NEVER consume them.

You should view meat, dairy and eggs as luxury products, festive food or delicacies. I think that it is perfectly ok to have a “cheat day” every now and then. Remember that when you were a kid your parents allowed you to buy sweets once a week? On other days you were not allowed to buy sweets. You can adapt this to your new lifestyle. Follow a vegan diet but once a week you are allowed to eat whatever you want how much you want. This can actually help you transition because you will know that if you just stick to your diet in everyday life there will be a reward.

But how much is too much? It is your choice really and depends on your personality and goal. In my opinion a cheat day a week is enough. If you start having cheat days all the time then you are not really on track. Sometimes it can be easier to just eliminate the temptation completely. And of course, if being 100% vegan is what you want to be then go for it. Just don’t stress yourself to shreds about it. That’s how many vegans crash and burn and can even develop orthorexia or other eating disorder. Eating disorders are unfortunately common among vegans.

Do I have cheat days? Sometimes, yes, but not even every week. After being on vegetarian diet for a while I lost all appetite for meat and I don’t even miss it. After adapting the HCLF plant-based diet I noticed that I don’t really want to eat dairy and eggs either or any junk food or sweets. My only personal weak spot is going to cafes because I hate being alone at home and cafes don’t always have vegan options, especially cheaper ones. My most common “cheat” is to put cow’s milk to my coffee because vegan milk is not available but that’s about it. Vegan food just is so much better than non-vegan food. :)

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