Forget saving the planet. Forget compassion for animals. The truth is, none of that was my motivation behind trying a plant-based diet in the first place. No, I was completely self-absorbed. I wanted to know what a plant-based diet could do for ME. Screw the rest of the world.
So I gave vegetarian a try in January of 2009, and six months later I ended up vegan. I found that those diets worked great for me. Here’s why you should get selfish and try them, too.
1. Practice self-discipline
I believe in building positive habits. The more you practice something, the more ingrained it becomes. Before you know it, it’s second nature. You can’t accomplish much in life without self-discipline, and self-discipline is something I get to practice every meal and snack time thanks to veganism. I know all that practice has helped me in other areas of my life. I’ve become very good at forming new habits and sticking to plans I make for myself.
Of course, you can practice self-discipline at meal times without being vegan. Maybe you cut out gluten, or you use the Weight Watchers point system, or you don’t eat anything with primary colors. While not every restrictive diet will be good for your health, it will help you build some self-discipline muscles.
2. Less choice, more happy
If you’re vegan, you’ll undoubtedly have less menu items to choose from when you go to a typical restaurant. I see this as a good thing. Less choice leads to less indecision and less regret. Before I was vegan, I would often spend ten minutes scouring a menu, then order the chicken dish while wondering if maybe I should have ordered the meatballs or the fried shrimp instead. But these days I usually only have a handful of options to choose from on the menu, so I can order faster and not worry so much about the opportunity cost.
See, more isn’t always better. Smart people call this type of thing the paradox of choice, noting that folks are usually happier when they have less to choose from. That could be you!
3. Focus better, think clearer
The main thing that attracted me to plant-based diets initially were the reported mental benefits I heard from various people who had already made the switch. Sure enough, I also found that I could think more clearly and focus better once I cut animal products out of my diet.
One explanation I’ve heard for this is that animal products require a lot of energy for your body to digest, energy that could otherwise be used for mental functions. Foods like fruit and vegetables are digested much faster and more easily. I believe this ties in with modern cancer treatments, which increasingly involve putting the patient on a plant-based diet so the body has more energy available to fight the disease.
Please note that I have no scientific evidence to back this up, so take my words here with a grain of salt. All I know for sure is that I’ve experienced these mental benefits after switching to a plant-based diet, and many others report the same. Try it yourself and see if it works for you.
4. Embrace change
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.” – someone not named Charles Darwin
Routines and habits are important, but it’s equally important to try new things regularly and push yourself out of your comfort zone. That’s how we learn and grow. I believe my experiments with plant-based diets were among the best learning and growth experiences of my life. I learned a lot about food and the food industry, discovered the truth behind a lot of veg myths, and met some great new people. More importantly, I got to know myself a hell of a lot better. Change and adversity will do that.
Beyond those four, there are lots of other positive things veganism can do for you. For example, you’ll undoubtedly become a better cook, your skin and overall health will improve (as long as you’re not just eating vegan junk food), and you’ll find it easy to fight the flab (how many fat vegans do you know?).
So get selfish. Be good to yourself and try a plant-based diet for 30 days, see how it makes you feel. I’d advise against going straight from omnivore to vegan though. Take the vegetarian bridge to avoid overwhelm.
(Want to learn more about going veg? I wrote a lengthy piece about my experience here.)