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Conversations with Health

I’m trying to go vegan, but being French I’m having a very difficult time avoiding cheese since I just love it so much. Do you have any advice? --Corine

I’m trying to go vegan, but being French I’m having a very difficult time avoiding cheese since I just love it so much.  Do you have any advice?  --Corine 

It’s important to have a good understanding why you want to become a vegan.  Is it due to an ethical position on animal rights, the environment?  Is it an issue of spirituality or religion?  Are you merely experimenting with the many benefits that go with being a vegan?  If it’s about experimenting, then I suggest you play with the idea of being predominantly vegan while enjoying without guilt, though perhaps only on special occasions, your favorite cheeses.

This, then, would require little else of you than the willingness to detach from one of the many labels we tend to place on ourselves, in this case, “I am a vegan.”  These labels, by the way, are nothing other than constructed identities, entirely false, that lock us needlessly into rigid or constricting behavioral patterns, where the familiar mantra is “I can’t do this,” or “I can only do that.”  At their worst, they diminish us in the context of our greater and more complex selves, which can’t so easily be summed up in predictable, ready-to-tell stories about who or what we are.  

If, however, your motivation is a moral/ethical one, then you’ll need to figure a way to align your higher ideals with your cravings, which isn’t always so easy -- we all know how powerful cravings can be.  But there are strategies that will help.  I’ll suggest one in particular because it works well for all cravings, especially those more unconscious ones (smoking, for instance).  It goes like this: the moment a craving arises, look directly at it with your mind’s eye.  Find exactly where it’s coming from.  Literally point right at it if you can.  Try to see what it looks like.  What is its color, its shape, its texture?  Be totally present and aware while doing this.  In shining the light of awareness on your craving, you’ll find that it has seemingly vanished, at least for the short-while, until your awareness once again fades.  In the meantime, you’ll have found the momentary power to overcome it, which is a major accomplishment when it comes to cravings.  The good news is, the more often you do this the more effective it becomes in reducing cravings.  Of course, it’s always helpful to have other snacks nearby that might equally sate your desires, for instance -- since you are seeking an easy vegan alternative -- a plate of baby carrots drizzled with fresh lemon juice and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.  Voilà!  Who needs cheese?  

With a little more effort, you can also make your own vegan cheeses from nuts.  It’s time-consuming but not all that difficult, and some of the recipes can be very good.  Or you can go the easy route and buy non-dairy cheeses in health food stores or even online.  Though I must say, I haven’t found one for purchase that is anywhere near as good as the traditional cheeses we’ve come to love.

With that said, I think it’s important to caution against any movement into veganism that isn’t fully conscious of your body’s fundamental needs, which are complex and interrelated.  A common problem with poorly planned vegan diets is that they tend to be seriously deficient in vitamin B12 and omega 3 fatty acids, the both of which play an important role in long-term mental and physical health.  Other common deficiencies are vitamin D, calcium, iodine, and iron, to name a few. 

So if your plan is to go vegan, my advice would be to do so with an awareness of both its benefits and potential risks, which can be varied and perplexingly different for each individual.  To that end, becoming a vegan can be a great opportunity for understanding the unique and ever-changing needs of your own body.

Christopher Hassett is a mind and body healing practitioner who works with clients around the globe.  Learn more about natural approaches to improved health at www.threeperfections.com.  Do you have a question or concern you’d like Christopher to respond to?  Please email him at: conversations@threeperfections.com.  

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Ava August 18, 2012 at 10:36 AM
If you are looking for vegan options to go with your wine - try homemade guacamole or just some avacodo slices instead of cheese on your crackers. Olives, homemade hummus or bean dip are also great alternatives. I would recommend staying away from a lot of the faux cheeses as they are highly processed and a poor substitute taste-wise. If your looking for health benefits, whole foods (rather than processed ones) will serve you much better. Good luck!!!
Dr. Sarah Alward August 19, 2012 at 01:22 PM
I have never felt as good as I do now that I am eating vegan. I thought cheese would be the hardest thing but there are sooooo many wonderful, flavorful things to replace it! Hummus, olives, salsa, guacamole . . . I also think you don't have to be super difficult about it - if you decide one day you want to eat some cheese, then the world is not going to come to a screeching halt. Like Christopher said, I guess that depends on your reasoning for becoming a vegan. Good luck! You will feel amazing!
S.B. Bonacker August 20, 2012 at 06:54 PM
I find that thick slices of chilled extra firm tofu are a great subsitute for fresh mozarella cheese, especially when layered with slices of heirloom tomato and basil, then drizzled with a good olive oil and some sea salt - you never miss the "real" cheese!
Al Smithers August 25, 2012 at 07:20 PM
I'm italian, and we love our carbs...but vegetarian is easier to manage than vegan....start there.
highhatsize August 25, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Be careful with soy. I ate soy imitations of non-vegetarian foods for decades and became allergic to soy! I can't but wonder my allergy was caused by excessive dependence on convenient ersatz soy products (e.g. tofurky, soy franks etc.) Perhaps if I had varied my diet (at the cost of spending more time in the kitchen [Eeeek!]), I wouldn't have become sensitive.

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