Going Vegan and Gluten Free?
Are you thinking of going vegan and gluten free? I have soooo much to tell you!
Have you missed me? I have taken a long break from the blog over the past few months to focus on our family. You might not see me quite so much on the internet, but don’t worry, I’m still here, and I have some exciting news! And a looong post to welcome you into the new year.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I have been struggling with my personal health issues for several years. It’s true that I have also wanted to lose weight, and I’ve even blogged about that before as well, but last year I made some very big changes to my lifestyle and they made a huge impact to my overall health. This post is for those of you who may have made a similar New Year’s resolution and are also considering going vegan and gluten free (or maybe just one or the other).
When I shared on my Facebook page that I had been successful not only losing a significant amount of weight, but also reducing the neurological symptoms I’d been suffering for the past few years, several of you asked me to do a post about the changes I made. When I wrote my post What I Learned From Posting My Weight on The Internet, I weight over 180 pounds. It says 180 in that post, but if I remember correctly I was actually 183. As of this morning, those last two numbers were inverted and I was about 138. That’s 45 pounds gone! My ultimate goal was 135 and to get back into my wedding dress. I have not hit my goal quite yet (close enough), but I DID get back in my dress!
Since you asked, hold on to your hats, this is a long one, but here we go.
Why are we here?
I want to start by saying this post is not about weight loss advice. I believe that choice is very personal and every person needs to make that decision for themselves when they are ready. I’m not a doctor or a trainer, and I am not here to talk to you about your own health. But you asked me to share what I have been doing, so here goes.
What did you do?
In 2017 I became an insufferable vegan, gluten free millennial. Yup. And it worked!
Prior to making that change, I’d spent four years on various medications trying to control the symptoms of a benign brain lesion that was getting out of hand and taking over my life, causing me to spend a great deal of time in bed and not being as active as I would have like to be. That was partly the reason I gained a bunch of weight. The other part was that I had two babies, and also I like to eat cake. Now I’m down to just one tiny pill a day and crossing my fingers that I might even be able to get off of that one this year. The thing is, the weight loss for me was sort of a happy accident. It happened because I was trying to get healthy and control my other symptoms and in finding something that worked for me, the weight also started to shed.
I started gradually. I knew I wanted to get healthy and I was finally ready to do that. Legitimately ready, which is a huge part of the process. I have tried a lot of programs in the past, but none of them worked well for me, in large part because I wasn’t fully committed and I didn’t really believe in what I was doing. I do not like the programs where you have to eat boxed, processed food and I find the ones where you have to count points tend to lead to binge eating for me because I horde my points and then find myself sitting in the fast food parking lot at 11 pm with three cheeseburgers spending all those points I banked throughout the week. I know that’s not healthy and I don’t like the person I am while doing it. That’s not who I want to be and it’s not the example I want to set for my daughters especially. I’m glad those programs work well for some people, but they just don’t work for me. However, I did want to get healthy. So in the summer of last year, I hired an online trainer and I did one round of her program. One of her suggestions was to reduce gluten and dairy, and I found that I felt SO much better when I did that, I was sort of amazed. The numbness in my extremities went away immediately, as did my vertigo, and my headaches were reduced significantly. I wasn’t supposed to weigh myself on her program, but I could tell just by the way my body was reacting that something positive was happening.
At the same time, I went to a week-long conference and many of the people there were vegetarian or vegan. We ate cafeteria-style and there were a lot of food options available to accommodate that choice, so I was able to test a few.
I watched a few documentaries and then I read the research about how a plant-based diet is known to have a positive impact on people with autoimmune issues, and I figured it couldn’t hurt anything to try it out. What did I have to lose? So I told myself I was going to go vegan and gluten free for 100 days, just to see what kind of a difference it could make. That was six months ago. I’m still doing it, I feel awesome, and I have no plans to go back.
Ok, that’s nice and everything. But what do you eat?
Surprisingly, a lot of stuff. A ridiculous amount of burrito bowls, for one thing. I just don’t put meat or cheese on them anymore. I still go out to eat, often to restaurants like Moe’s or Chipotle, and I’ll get a bowl full of rice and beans and literally every vegetable option they have. This week I made a big pot of vegetarian chili at the beginning of the week and ate that for several meals. Sometimes I eat it over a rice or a baked potato or baked sweet potato fries, sometimes I just eat it by itself. I eat salads, but not as often as you’d probably think. I eat soup or black bean burgers, or gluten free pasta with tomato sauce. I eat smoothies, or gluten free oatmeal, or nuts. I eat a lot of vegetables and a lot of fruit. There is a ton of inspiration on Pinterest, so I go there and make things I find that look yummy. There is also an app called Happy Cow you can put on your phone that will tell you where vegan and vegetarian restaurants are. I’m fortunate enough that I do not have any actual food allergies, so for me this is only a preference, which enables me to eat at restaurants without much worry and not have to be as diligent about things like cross-contamination.
I swear to you, it’s not bad. If it was, I wouldn’t do it. I still get to eat nachos, I just have to remember to order them sin carne and without cheese. (I thought I’d really miss cheese. I don’t.) Ben and Jerry’s even makes dairy free ice cream now, so this transition has been relatively painless. Here are a few things I’ve eaten over the past few months:
This lunch was a black bean burger on a corn tortilla with tomato and spinach. I had some strawberries and sweet potato chips on the side.
We had some leftover vegetables and rice from dinner, so the next day I threw them in a pan together and made myself a vegetable fried rice for lunch.
Here’s the chili I told you about. (Before I cooked the liquid out)
Sometimes I just throw whatever we have on a plate. This is black beans, avocado, and pineapple salsa.
I eat a lot of spinach. In salads and in smoothies.
This smoothie is frozen berries, coconut water, a handful of raw spinach, and protein. You can buy vegan brands of protein powder, like Vega.
This is just a bowl of oatmeal with fruit and nuts.
I have leanred that I am pretty awful at making my own pizza crusts, but I don’t mind homemade cheeseless pizzas with BBQ sauce and a bunch of veggies on top of them. (I usually buy gluten free crusts at the store now, though. There are several local delivery places that also do GF crusts, so sometimes we order pizza and I’ll get one without cheese and topped with veggies. Unfortunately, I have found that pizza is just one thing that is not the same when it’s not in it’s original form, however.)
I didn’t even have to give up chai lattes. I just make them myself at home now with dairy free milk. They are cheaper that way anyway.
Um, that is a ton of beans. Do you have a lot of gas now?
Haha. You’d think so, right? But actually, no. I am much more, ahem, regular than I ever have been before, but I was surprised to find that after the first two weeks or so I felt much less bloated.
How do you do this with an entire family?
My family was not interested in giving up meat. Eddie and my mom both eat less meat than they did before, but I am the only one in our family who is eating a fully plant-based diet. Sometimes that means I make something like that big pot of chili I told you about or a pot of soup, and I’ll eat that as an alternative if the rest of my family is having something I don’t eat. Other times it means we have a lot of options and I can eat most of them. For example, if we have steak, potatoes, spinach, and salad on the table, then I can eat everything but the steak. I might make myself a black bean burger or something instead. It helps to have things like that prepared in advance so you can just take them out of the freezer and heat them up. On taco nights I fill a bowl with rice and beans while everyone else fills their taco with meat and cheese, then we all share the same toppings (corn, salsa, avocado, etc). We still have spaghetti night, I just switched out the box and buy gluten free pasta now.
Is it expensive?
If you buy all of the specialty gluten free items in the health food aisle, a lot of pre-packaged food, or organic everything, then yes. It’s going to add up really quickly. But it doesn’t have to be expensive at all. If you think about it, the most expensive things in your grocery budget right now are probably the meat, milk, and cheese. For example, it’s now cheaper for me to make the vegetarian version of that chili using beans than it was when I used to make it with meat. It’s about 1/3 of the cost to make chickpea salad instead of chicken salad. And it’s cheaper to just have spaghetti with marinara without the meatballs. You get the idea.
Have there been any other changes you’ve noticed?
The one negative thing I can say I’ve noticed is that I have a lot more breakouts around my chin area now. I’ve read that this happens sometimes. For most people it goes away, but for me it’s still happening. However, overall, my skin is much improved. You can see in the before and after photos that it’s remarkably different. There is noticeably less redness and I think I look younger now than I did four years ago. My nails and hair are also stronger. I am also less irritable, overall, I think. Eddie says I seem like an entirely different person.
Why are you cutting out gluten too?
The reasearch I read was mostly about going plant-based when you had auto-immune issues, and I have noticed after a lot of experimenting that my neurological symptoms seemed to be triggered mostly by dairy. I can’t speak for anyone else. The few times I’ve “cheated” either on purposed or by accident and something had milk or eggs listed as an ingredient, those days did not end well for me. I decided to cut out gluten at first because I thought it would be a good way for me to cut back on the sweets and breads that were a big stumbling block for me in my weight loss journey. (And that is true, it has been! I eat WAY fewer desserts now.) I’m not nearly as careful about gluten as I am about being vegan. Sometimes I shrug and splurge a little bit on something that has wheat in it. But do notice that when I decide to splurge on those gluten treats, my tummy lets me know for the rest of the day it has strong feelings about that!
This seems so overwhelming, how did you even start?
It is. Anytime you make a huge change, it is overwhelming. I started by making sure I had a positive mindset about the shift in my lifestyle. I knew it would be easy for me to get discouraged and start to focus on all the things I miss. (And I DO miss things. Man, I want a Chick Fil A original chicken sandwich on some says. And greasy mall pizza. And a cheese steak sub. And a brownie sundae….)But rather than focusing on all the things I can’t have, I made a conscious choice to focus on all the awesome things I can have.
I literally sat down and made a list in alphabetical order of every single food I could still eat that I liked and ideas for recipes I could make with those foods. Then I went to Pinterest and found even more ideas.
You can download a copy of my food list .
There are plenty more options available, these just happen to be the ones I started with and the ones I knew I liked. I also put together a list of a few simple meal ideas to get myself started.
Vegan Meal Ideas
GF Vegan waffles/pancakes
Soups (Corn chowder, black bean, vegetable)
Sandwiches/Wraps (veggies, nut butter & jelly, etc)
Burrito Bowls/Taco Salads
Black bean burritos
Vegan Pizza/flatbread (GF)
GF Pasta with meatless meatballs
Roasted or grilled vegetables/ stir fry
Chips (potato, corn chips, sweet potato, carrot, etc.)
Celery with peanut butter
Roasted chick peas
Dairy free ice cream
Homemade peanut butter cups
I am no expert and I will never claim to be. If you decide you’d like to make a big change like this, I highly recommend you talk to a doctor and consult a trainer and a dietician first. I did all of those things for myself and I do not regret it.
I’d love to hear about it in the comments or over on my Facebook page if you do decide you’d like to make the change. I’m always looking for more recipe ideas!
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