Avoiding The Call of Vegan Junk Food
by Rachel Mohan
Go ahead and take a look in your freezer. Is it full of containers of leftovers you made in your kitchen? Is it a cold and barren place, much like northern Siberia? Or is it full of convenience items like single-serve burritos, TV dinners, vegan pizzas, oven snacks, your favorite fake meat?
Possibly your pantry resembles the state of your freezer in terms of the amount of convenience items. There is a remarkable and unhealthy belief among many vegans that cutting out all animal products automatically purifies one’s diet; that by simply going vegan, one is ensuring one’s good health. Let me tell you, several bitter pounds later, I learned the error of that way of thinking.
How many of us work one or more jobs, are responsible for at least occasionally feeding kids, and have to go in a million directions for a million little tasks that make slow cooking seem like an irrational way of life? It’s become a relief to be able to come home and pop a frozen burrito in the microwave, or to open the bag of ‘kettle fried’ potato chips (but they’re vegan!) to go with the vegan burger patty on a white bread bun.
Now, I won’t throw stones and lecture about the evils of fast food lifestyles, especially with fries from In-N-Out sitting heavily in my stomach as I write this. We all have our excuses that, though generally unconvincing, we use to justify our unhealthy habits. That brings me to my point, actually: Some of us assume that a vegan lifestyle, even based on convenience foods, will automatically prompt a shedding of those extra pounds. I have done a little informal testing concerning this matter, and all I really proved was that one can most definitely gain weight as a vegan by cutting corners in the name of convenience.
Based on my experiences, I’ve formulated some regulations for myself. I call them regulations rather than laws so that I don’t break them on principle, but they’re still punishable. If I violate a regulation, I can’t bemoan my resultant expanded waistline to my boyfriend since I willingly consumed the french fries. My regulations are:
1. If it makes you feel poorly, you probably shouldn’t spend $4 or more on it, especially if it’s not even vegan! And I violate this regulation more than I care to admit. When you’re gripping the counter at work because you’re doubled over with sharp pains in your stomach from eating something with dairy in it, and everyone is staring at you like you’re about to give birth right there on the floor, then it’s probably not a good idea to reward a week without dairy by consuming a giant slice of cheesecake. Don’t reward yourself with something that will punish you later, or that violates the health regulations you’ve worked so hard to maintain!
2. Vegan does not automatically equal fat-free or low-calorie. No kidding? Well, dietitians and logical thinkers have apparently known this, but the rest of us just hopefully assume we’re alright so long as there’s no animal involved. But that’s simply not the case, especially when your diet is unbalanced. Guess what? Vegetables are no longer to be the supporting actors on your plate. You must make them the Tom Cruise of the dinner table and pay them oodles of attention. Grains are good in moderation. That means you cannot eat the whole vegan loaf of bread all by yourself and consider it to be a decent breakfast. And highly processed foods pack the least bang for your buck in terms of nutrition. Those vegan fake chorizo taquitos can find their way onto your thighs if you eat the whole box.
3. They don’t want you to look at the serving size, so be sure you DO look at it. I have to use a little reverse psychology on myself sometimes, but examining serving sizes and eating accordingly is very important. Picture it: you decide to indulge a little after a very good week, and total denial can be unhealthy too, you reason, so you pick up a snack size bag of your favorite chips. And oh, what the heck, let’s just see how many calories there are…and then the horror…as you place the last chip in your mouth and surreptitiously swipe your finger around in the bag for the last little chiplets in the bottom corner, you see that you’ve just eaten one snack sized bag which contained almost three servings. Wait! It looked like a one-person bag! There were only eight whole chips in it anyways! Inattention and even willful ignorance will help you pack it on if you’re a snacker or big eater.
4. It really doesn’t help matters if you’re sitting around all the time while you’re eating this stuff. For Pete’s sake go move around a little! You know you’re not a natural exerciser when your parents lovingly bestow the nickname “Three-Toed Sloth” on you–and it sticks. It’s not even short and sweet, yet it still lives on. Well, here’s the thing: you don’t have to move all that fast, really, you just have to move! Get out and walk a couple of miles. Ride a bike. Or take yourself to the gym. That motivates me because everyone’s always moving so much faster than I am that it makes me move faster, trying to keep up, and I keep at it for longer. And most people don’t like to sweat profusely and eat at the same time, so there’s another bonus; if you’re moving, you’re probably not eating.
So my goal this month and next is to actually take my own advice (a bitter pill to swallow). First of all I’m going to give up cookies, which are for me a highly addictive substance. I’ll actually stick to my guns on dairy; I know I can do it because I’ve cut it out successfully before. And if I feel the need to consume large amounts of food (I’ve always been a big eater), I’ll grab a stack of veggies and some water. I lost 40 lbs going vegetarian, so I think losing the last 15 by being a good vegan would not be too unreasonable. I’ll even dust off the gym membership card from time to time, and I’ll do that walk-to-the-store thing a little more often. And I’ll spend the going-out-to-eat money on some clothes that actually fit. Wish me luck.