Jonathan Bechtel ~ My road to a dairy-free diet is mostly unremarkable. No serious illness or life-changing event, no pre-existing condition that shook the foundations of my life. No significant other that whisked me off my feet and put me on the road to good health.
Nope, for me a dairy-free diet has been the result of a slow, steady drum beat that began in my adolescence and has slowly crescendoed over the years into a fairly restrictive diet that excludes meat, dairy, and most processed foods (although I do cheat on some convenience items from time to time!) …
Advice Worth Following
When I’m looking for advice and inspiration from others, I’ve always had mixed feelings about remarkable stories. On one hand they stoke the emotions and get you fired up, but on the other, remarkable people are often the worst ones to offer advice because their success often involves feats that aren’t easily repeated by others.
Inspiring? You bet. Practical for you? Not so much.
But luckily for us, that’s not me in the least. My dairy-free diet is the result of a 7 year “nudge” that’s been all but imperceptible to outside observers. I didn’t intend to go dairy-free when I began reforming my diet, and to be honest, I didn’t have a well defined rationale for the move when I decided to exclude it. I had been slowly removing food groups from my eating regimen, and dairy just seemed like the next thing that ought to go. The rest is history.
The move began with the teensiest of lifestyle changes. I was a little fat in high school, so I began to do pushups in my bedroom in my free time. That’s it. I quickly started to enjoy the success that came with repeated accomplishment, and like clockwork I slowly added additional behavioral changes into the fold. Pushups turned into running, which eventually turned into 5k’s, which eventually turned into marathons, which eventually turned into ultramarathons.
My dietary habits followed a similar path. Sweets and processed foods left, then bread, then meat, and then finally dairy when I made the decision to become an all-out vegan (about 90% of the time).
For me dairy was by far the hardest exclusion to make. I was already healthy, and dairy foods offer the most rewarding taste sensations.
Or in other words…..I. Loved. Cheese.
But for these same reasons the exclusion of dairy from my diet has also been the most beneficial.
Because in order to make the jump I had to incorporate other lifestyle skills that had alluded me for the previous 25 years. Instead of simply relying on willpower and the buzz that came from forward progress, I had to think hard about how to still be able to eat the foods I loved. Cheese has always been my weak point, and I knew I wouldn’t stick with the change unless I knew I could still eat creamy foods from time to time.
Luckily for me dairy-free authors like Lindsay Nixon at Happy Herbivore began writing daily on how to make tasty plant-based recipes that included creamy alfredo-like sauces and other savory dishes that didn’t require large amounts of time or money to prepare. The Vegan Zombie also has a great YouTube Channel that I’ve used for inspiration. Vegan pizza? Yum!
I’ve since gotten to the point where I often do my own recipe development (which is the most fun of all), and am even preparing my own video cooking channel. I most definitely lack the culinary graces of my better prepared amateur chef contemporaries, but I’m looking forward to the challenge of adding my own twist to the world of holistic health…..even if I end up looking a little silly doing it.
Tips To Get Started
So what advice do I have for people who are just starting out on the journey?
1). Start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’s much easier to take off small bites. Don’t put unrealistic time frames on your changes. Small steps also make it easier to get started and experience real gains. If you’re on the edge and just starting down this road, then this is huge.
2). Forgive yourself. All too often we get in the habit of chastising ourselves for our daily mishaps, which are often the result of unrealistic expectations to begin with. Remember, the years see what the days cannot.
I have a reputation as someone who has remarkable discipline and self-control, but the truth is I make a lot of mistakes. I just don’t get too down about it and try my best to surround myself with positive people.
3). Invest in your cooking skills. Knowing how to make 5 simple recipes that you really enjoy will greatly increase your chances of success. You might feel full of willpower right now, but the truth is that’ll run out at some point, and you’ll have to enjoy your dairy-free diet in order to stick with it. The health benefits will certainly help, but we all love to eat, and enjoying your food shouldn’t be an ascetic pleasure that you sneak in when no one’s looking.
Alisa does a great job with her dairy-free recipes section, and Go Dairy Free in general is a good place to start. Aside from those mentioned above, uncooking101 is another great resource if you’re looking to incorporate more raw foods into your diet (which are also dairy-free).
All of these websites also offer great support communities for people who are doing the same thing as you. You’re not in this alone.
Taking the Plunge
Our bodies are our most important assets, and I’m always taken back at how many people really want to do what’s best for them, but are simply looking for a little guidance and inspiration to go from point A to point B.
I love the benefits that a dairy and meat free lifestyle have brought me, and am permanently in love with the challenge of sharing its benefits with other people who were in the position I was several years ago.
So if you’re on the fence about making the leap to a dairy-free diet, relax, give yourself a hug, get in touch with people who want to help, and take that first small step. You’ll be glad you did and you’ll actually make yourself a role model for others looking to take control of their health.
You can do it!
Article by Jonathan Bechtel. Jonathan is a vegan and lifelong health enthusiast. He owns Health Kismet, a health supplement company that makes a green superfood powder called Incredible Greens. It condenses 35 different types of raw produce into a sweet tasting powder. His company blog covers health, nutrition, and the benefits of a plant based diet.