Kathy Freston is a bestselling author and health and wellness activist. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Lean, Veganist, and Quantum Wellness. A media favorite, Kathy has appeared frequently on national television, including Ellen, The Dr.Oz Show, Charlie Rose, Good Morning America, The Talk, The Martha Stewart Show, Extra and Oprah. Vegan Mainstream had the good fortune to interview Kathy recently, and we focused our talk on tips for new vegans – how to make the change successfully, what to avoid, and how to be compassionate to yourself to ensure your new lifestyle lasts!
Vegan Mainstream: What do you think are the most important things someone can do when they first go vegan, to ensure their own success?
Kathy Freston: Be patient and gentle with yourself as you continue to learn new ways of eating and living. There is no need for hard and fast rules or white knuckle determination. Keep leaning forward into the positive changes you are making, and then apply that same gentleness to your family and community.
VM: You seem to come to veganism first from a health point of view. Can you talk about why you do that, rather than approaching it first from an ethical or environmental perspective?
KF: For most people, personal interest – feeling and/or looking good – comes first! So if you can get someone to realize that they will be slimmer, more energetic, and all around healthier by eating vegan, you’ve taken care of the resistance. It’s Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs… take care of the basic physiological needs first (food, health, etc), then you move to the emotional needs like love and support, and then finally you can get to a higher plane of self-actualization which includes being ethically minded (caring about the well-being of animals and the environment). So it seems that getting healthy is an excellent entry point.
VM: A vegan lifestyle encompasses an awareness of how the food and other items we consume affect our environment and other animals, but many people do come to veganism first because of their own health. How do you see the awareness of the health benefits growing into a larger worldview for people – and do you think that is a necessary progression for people to stay vegan long term?
KF: Well, the science is overwhelmingly in favor of a plant-based diet to prevent disease and premature aging. Our economy simply cannot sustain the out-of-control health-care costs that are brought about by the Standard American Diet wreaking havoc on our bodies. So by economic necessity, we will move away from eating animals. It will, of course, help people to stay vegan when they see how good they feel, and how much money they save by not going getting sick. But honestly, I think what’s necessary to really stay vegan – and to be happy about it – is multifaceted.
We have to:
1. Find delicious and fulfilling foods/restaurants that satisfy our cravings,
2. Be moved by the suffering of animals so much that we would no longer dream of eating them.
And 3. Get excited that we are at the front of a movement that is about to reach a tipping point. I don’t know about you, but I love being an early adopter!
1) We think we have to be perfect. It’s way too difficult and overwhelming (and not very fun) to switch over to a whole new way of eating overnight. I highly recommend leaning into the shift gradually, and focusing on progress, not perfection. We can switch out 1 day a week, then 2, then 3 as we become more comfortable.
2) We eat anything and everything that’s vegan, because we can’t believe cupcakes and cookies and candy can actually be vegan! Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy! My advice: steer clear of junk and sweets… lean more toward whole, nutrient dense foods like beans, veggies, whole grains, and fruits. (But still have some goodies once in a while!)
3) We deprive ourselves of our traditional favorite foods like burgers and pizza and a Thanksgiving feast, so we feel left out and unfulfilled. But we don’t have to give those things up; we can just have better versions of the things we grew up loving: veggie burgers, pizza made with nondairy cheese and veggie sausage, and meat alternative turkey with mashed potatoes made with soy milk and nondairy butter. Yes, whole foods are best, but traditions tie us to our families and communities, and we can enjoy them even as we lean more and more toward the healthier stuff.
KF: This is how I arrived at the realization that eating animals didn’t sit right with me: If I am someone who wants peace in the world, how can I make peace with my part in the system of institutionalized cruelty and misery toward animals? How could I feel peaceful inside if I continued to collude with this bringing of suffering? The more I meditated on it, the clearer it became: choosing to be vegan is not just about my physical health, it is about the wellbeing of all creatures of this planet. Being vegan is not just about health; it’s a vital part of an awake and aware spiritual practice as well. It’s not just that I choose not to contribute to the suffering of animals; my vegan choices also allow me to become more the person I want to be.
I did a lot of research for the spiritual chapter in Veganist, and saw very clearly that there is a shared directive running through all the major religions and wisdom philosophies, and it is this: cultivate compassion, and do so actively. If we do nothing else but this, our lives will be spiritually successful.
KF: Remembering what happens to animals as they become food. Watching undercover videos of chickens or cows or pigs being raised and processed in horrible conditions crowds out ANY desire to eat eggs or steak or bacon. I only have to think on the sounds they make, or the terror in their eyes, and I’m grateful yet again to be vegan.
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