Answer by Dannielle Owens-Reid

Just so we're clear, it took me over 10 years to be a functioning vegan and even still, I don't really qualify or pay that much attention to the word "vegan." I played with the idea for like a year back in 2008, but I basically ate either two PB&Js or tofu pad-see-ew for every meal, so I was vegan, I guess, but not the kind that is good for you! I think the way it happened for me was cool because I took my time, only did things I actually wanted to do, and congratulated myself on the smallest accomplishments. Which I still do constantly. It means a lot to me when I am proud of me.

I think you have to start small and you have to be realistic. 

In 2007 I stopped eating meat because I realized the only meat I even liked was any kind of fried chicken (especially chicken nuggets and fast food chicken sandwiches), so, I was like, "Oh wait.. that's not good for you." I stopped eating meat, but kept eating poorly. I have always loved bread and cheese, ALWAYS. Pizza is my favorite food. Here is an example of my food habits in 2011:

- Breakfast - Bagel with cream cheese and tomato, coffee with soy milk and 2 sugars OR scrambled eggs with cheese, and toast
- Lunch - Tofurkey and cheese sandwich, another coffee
- Afternoon Snack - Triscuits, Wheat Thins, or Chips
- Late Afternoon Snack - M&M's, gummy bears, some sort of candy
- Another snack - Usually just a block of cheese
- Dinner - Dominos Pizza, Digiorno Pizza, or Veggie Burger with Curly Fries

Now, at this point in my life I thought I was doing pretty well. I didn't eat fast food, I didn't drink soda, I didn't eat meat. But it's just not that simple. 

I had bad acne. My skin was total shit. I felt bloated all the time. I was unbelievably moody. I had terrible heartburn or acid reflux throughout the entire day. I had a cold probably once a month. The food I was eating was effecting me in a bunch of different ways, but the thing I hated most was my bad skin. I was so embarrassed all the time and I was making videos WITH MY FACE on a regular basis. I couldn't stand the way it felt. Every time I tried a new face wash it would either dry out my skin completely or make me break out more (usually the latter). AND IT HURT. It wasn't just tiny pimples everywhere, there were these huge cysts underneath my skin that hurt so bad, if I accidentally brushed my face I would want to cry.

I started to do a shit load of research and found that one of the biggest links to bad skin is eating animal products. Now, I ate some sort of dairy product for every meal. And every thing in between those meals. I wanted good skin and I would have done nearly anything. I thought about cutting out dairy, eggs, whatever, but I didn't know how. Like... what other foods are there? And how do you make them? What's more, how the fuck do you find these foods at restaurants??? 

In 2012, I read this book by Kathy Freston called VEGANIST and it was one of the most helpful things I've ever done in my life. She has a really cool way of looking at it. You're not cutting anything out, you're just adding so many good things into your daily routine, that you just kind of forget to eat bad shit. Now, I'll be honest, I only read it because Ellen recommended it. And I don't think I even finished the book, but I read a good chunk and I got out of it what I needed. Which was that I could slowly replace things that felt easy to me and eventually (whether it takes 3 months or 3 years) my eating habits would just BE really good, and I wouldn't have to try. I made a small change (or replaced an item) every week or so and three and a half years later, that is my life.

I started by cooking with coconut oil instead of cooking spray.
I started drinking water LOL - I got a big water bottle and just made sure i filled it 2 - 3 times a day. 
I started slowly putting less sugar in my coffee.
I replaced soy milk with almond milk. 
I used organic preserves instead of jelly.
I started to get REALLY into avocado - which curbed my obsession with cheese and butter.
I used Earth Balance instead of butter and got into Vegenaise. 
I starting buying a shitload of produce. An apple and some grapes could easily replace a snack.
Carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, orange peppers and hummus could easily make up a lunch.
I made sure I ate something green everyday. 
I started snacking on dried fruit and salty nuts instead of candy or chips. 
I still eat candy, but it has all natural ingredients- ingredients I understand.
I started eating a banana with almond butter, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds every morning.
I replaced sugar in my coffee with a little bit of agave or honey. 
I learned to cook. I taught myself to cook even better. I fell in love with someone who could cook the best.
I started ordering a bunch of veggie sides at restaurants.
I started making cool things with lettuce. Lettuce wraps and lettuce tacos are fucking delicious.
I started paying attention to ingredients, if there was a weird preservative, a creepy food dye, or a word I just couldn't pronounce, that food wasn't coming into my home.
I got obsessed with black beans. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING WITH THEM. 
I started eating two green things at dinner each night. 
I started drinking my coffee with just almond milk, or totally black. 

In 2004, I stopped eating fast food and drinking soda. In 2007, I stopped eating meat. In 2013, I stopped eating dairy & eggs. In 2014, I started eating more produce than I had ever eaten in my life. In 2015, I started to buy foods with all good ingredients (or at least ingredients I could recognize as real food). In 2016, I'm happier and healthier than I've ever been in my life. My skin is clear, my digestion is on point, I have only been sick once in the past two years, I have so much energy, I'm more aware and conscious. The way I eat truly changed my life.

The best part is, my gf and I are not militant about anything and we have treats all the time. I am always so excited about the things I'm eating. Julia is writing more in depth about that RIGHT NOW. In fact, her piece might be even more comprehensive than this one. Neither of us really care about being "vegan" we both just care about eating things that make us feel good and saying "vegan" is the easiest way to get people to understand we like vegetables lol.

I guess my overall advice is this: Every time you go to eat something, make the choice that will make you feel great. Choose the food that will help nourish, replenish, and heal your body. And feel really fucking good about the choices you are making. Congratulate yourself CONSTANTLY. 

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