When I decided I would go vegan, I had to decide to rid myself of as much negativity as I could in my life. It turns out there was a lot of it. The moment I started telling people I was going to stop eating animal products, I got a wave of negativity that I had never really experienced before. People who had seen my struggle so much with diabetes and obesity, were rolling their eyes, telling me it was unhealthy, and making fun of my decision. If I was not so strong, and did not have a completely supportive husband, the switch would have been really hard.
It seemed the more I got into it, the more certain people would get more vocal about their meat eating pride. The more comments would come in on how I was a hippie, or crazy, or way too liberal. I was told by many that it was okay as long as it was only for health reasons (as if the other reasons to go vegan were not acceptable). There were some who would make fun of when I had the tofu and not the burger, and who would constantly tell me that they would “never” stop eating meat and dairy. There were those who would make off handed comments about how they ate a giant meat filled meal to counter my vegan efforts. I sat at dinner after dinner, where I sat with a plate of plain tofu while everyone dined on something that took hours to make in the kitchen. And then there were the doctors. I remember the day I stopped taking insulin, I called my Doctor, and told him about it, and he just paused for a while, and said that it was not realistic, and that I should continue to take insulin because chances are I would not be able to stay on such a strict diet. So many people questioned the health part of it, as if saying that I was not smart enough to do the research on my own. This was my health, my life, of course I was going to do every bit of research that I could on it, and of course I was not going to do anything that was harmful to my health.
I was met with a lot of negativity from people in similar health circumstance as I was in. People who had a lot of weight to lose, or had diabetes did not want to hear the answer I had when I said “I’m off of insulin, I’m losing weight”. They wanted to hear anything but that I had gone vegan. It was mind boggling how things like “the cabbage soup diet” and “Atkins” and other hard core unhealthy diets did not seem to make people flinch as much as “going vegan”. I suspect it is because people know that going vegan is something that is lifetime, every thing else is a fad.People who are well on their way to having diabetes would tell me that they would rather die than stop eating cheese or meat, and all I could think were that these people just didn’t have it bad enough. I sat in doctor offices crying as they told me that an infection in my leg could cause amputation, or that I could lose my eye sight because of nerve damage, I was in the emergency room as my husband and I worried if I would make it through dangerously high sugars, that could have easily have taken my life. I was not willing to die in order so that I could continue eating meat and dairy. Nothing tastes that good. And the number of people who half heatedly joke about it, still makes me incredibly sad, because at some point they will have to make that choice – will they really die before changing their eating habits? Do they really want to suffer countless years of insulin injections, blindness, possible amputations, all for a big mac? I began to realize that having people like this in my life was not healthy.
I started to find and surround myself with positive people. I found a coach before I went vegan, who is nothing but positive. She and I quickly became friends, and my life hasn’t been the same since. She continually told me to be selfish, to take care of myself first, to put every thing else aside, and focus on what could make ME healthy. I have a friend who is a brilliant woman, teacher, yoga master and happens to be vegan, who constantly encourages me and reminds me of all that I am doing that is good. My husband became a constant cheer leader, he was with me through the temptations, through the hard parts, through the worst of my diabetes, he has never once put down anything regarding going vegan. He has stood by me, has defended me, has shielded me from negative people, and has told me over and over, that I am so strong for doing all of this. I found online community, people who had been vegan for years, or who had just started, who congratulated me on a daily basis for making the change. By far the most positive people I have met are other vegans, who when I say “I’ve been vegan since August” I am always met with a huge smile and a “CONGRATULATIONS!” like I have unlocked a door that they have all been waiting for me to go through.
I started to change my environment. I told family members around the holidays that we would not be eating meals with them. This was met with not the greatest enthusiasm, but my good friend Mary would remind me constantly that I needed to do what was best for me, and what was best for me was not being around bad foods, or being made fun of for eating differently. I started hanging out with healthy people (mainly at my gym) a lot. It was by far the most supportive environment I could be in. Everyone, from the receptionist to the trainers smiled and cheered me on as I worked out every day.
And, finally, my husband and I made a huge life decision to leave the area we had been living for so long. We had lived in the Washington DC area for years, and it just wasn’t the best healthy environment for us. We decided to head west. We knew that my lifestyle choices were just more accepted out west, and so that is where we headed. We sold every thing, put a little bit in storage, and packed up our small 2 door car, and left every thing behind. We decided that we were going to start living the healthiest life we could. With in the first few days of hitting the ground in California we met a friend of a friend who took us out to dinner, and with in the first few minutes he started talking about health, and going vegan. He had made the switch and has not turned back, and was helping lots of others make the switch as well. We talked for a long time that night about health, and somehow in those few hours I knew that the decision to move out West for health reasons was a good one. My husband and I decided to travel full time, I am a photographer, and so we pick gorgeous locations, and spend a lot of time outdoors every day. We decided to focus our sites on healthier cities, places where there were numerous vegan options, to be around and to talk to people who are on similar health quests. Each city we travel to is like a new health adventure for me. I have been able to find great vegan and health options in all of the cities we have been to so far, and have also found a lot of vegans who have been excited to hear my story, and to offer their positive support.
I know that not everyone can just up and leave the city they live in. But I would encourage you to make drastic changes to your life, in order to be surrounded by positive people. Do whatever it takes, cut the ties, leave, stop calling people who bring you down, stop going out to eat with friends who make fun of what is on your plate. Do what is best for you, and let nothing come in the way of that. You will find people who want to be in your life, who want to support you, who want to encourage you. You will go through moments of feeling lonely in the process, but I assure you those moments will be nothing compared to what is at the other side of all of it. You can make this change, you can continue on this path, and you can be confident in the choices that you are making.