When Ethan Tyo first decided to become vegan, he just wanted to make a healthy lifestyle change while studying abroad in London. Forced to buy his own groceries and cook for himself, he only bought plant-based products in the hopes that he could make a positive impact on his body.
One year later and one hundred pounds lighter, Tyo feels it’s one of the best decisions he ever made.
And Tyo is not alone. In a recent Food Services study that compares dining hall vegan food consumption from 2015-2016, 8.1 percent of students have increased their vegan/vegetarian intake to 3-5 times a week. Overall, one in five students regularly eat from the vegan and vegetarian section and 20 percent have reduced their meat consumption, according to Malcolm Philogene, a Master of Public Health student that works with Food Services on Meatless Monday statistics.
The health aspects of converting to a vegan diet can be extremely beneficial, so long as it’s done correctly. Dr. Tanya Horacek, Professor of Nutrition Science and Dietetics, says a well-mapped vegan lifestyle can bring high nutrient-dense habits and weight control.
“You do have to plan out that you are getting a good variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains,” said Horacek. “You’re cutting out all dairy, all meat, so to actually get the nutrients in is hard. You can fall into the trap of getting calories by eating something that might be a snack food and be vegan, like potato chips, but that might not be high nutrient density.”
For Tyo, the transition was easy. The junior Information Management and Technology major simply added more fruits and vegetables to his diet, and dropped the first 30 pounds almost instantly. Now, he runs a highly successful raw-vegan Instagram (@plantbased_alien) where he promotes his recipes to 6,700 followers daily. He hopes to inspire his followers to make healthier choices by giving them simple, minimal ingredient recipes that are delicious and nutritious.
“For me [going vegan] it was new, and it was also a creative outlet where I had all these new food options I had never touched before,” he said. “After that, I started posting on Instagram, just because I wanted to keep a food journal for myself, keep things going, and see my progression through this…all I know is that I really like food and I like motivating people to eat healthier food.”
When people seek his advice about turning vegan, Tyo said they often don’t understand the nutrition behind it. Food’s not supposed to be just for fun, it’s supposed to fuel your body, he explained. It took him a while to grasp the concept, but once he did, he started dropping weight and losing his cravings.
“Once your body gets what it really needs, you don’t need the junk,” Tyo said. “You don’t want it. You don’t crave it. A lot of people want to lose weight but can’t stop binging on this or snacking on that.”
But just because Tyo eats raw doesn’t mean he can’t have treats. One of his favorite recipes is brownie batter banana “Nicecream.” A few frozen bananas, dates, cocoa powder and almond milk is all it takes to create a sweet, creamy desert that tastes like the real thing but comes without the guilt.
“I think that’s really what compels me to continue this lifestyle the most,” said Tyo. “You can really think outside the box with your food. And in the end, all of it’s healthy, all of it’s good for you, and you can’t go wrong.”
Christina Foundos, a junior Education major and Nutrition minor, also saw veganism as a way to improve her diet. She began back in February, making an impulsive choice to try it one day while she was shopping at Wegman’s.
“I’m lactose intolerant so I already don’t eat dairy,” she said, “and then one of my roommates is vegan and she’s talked about it before, so one day I said, ‘you know what? I’m just going to try it.”
As an avid gym-goer, Foundos felt she was consuming too much meat for her protein source. Forcing herself to eat more fruits and vegetables has allowed her to not only feel better about her diet, but also lose weight as well. She now replaces ground turkey with tofu (buffalo-marinated is her favorite) and swears by curried rice and beans, her preferred meal to date.
However, Foundos acknowledged the transition hasn’t been easy for her.
“There are some foods I really love that I really want to eat…I love grilled cheese, that is my ride or die food. That and mac n’ cheese. I eat like a four-year-old,” she said, laughing. “But I found dairy-free cheese…it tastes terrible by itself, but when you melt it and put it in the grilled cheese it tastes really good. It’s not the same, it’s not as great, but it’s doable.”
Cravings aside, she says the diet has helped her health drastically. She hasn’t gotten sick since she started, has more energy and always feels full and satisfied — something she never felt she accomplished while eating meat.
While Foundos and Tyo agree that the dining hall has a lot of great vegan options, they both have a problem with Meatless Monday, one of Food Service’s most prominent efforts to encourage healthy-eating.
“I think it’s a great idea, but they serve a lot of pasta, which is still loaded with dairy,” Foundos said. “I understand the purpose — they want people to make healthier decisions — but loading up on Fettuccine Alfredo is not a healthier option than having grilled chicken or a little bit of steak.”
Overall, however, both students and Professor Horacek agree that there are far more vegan options for students now than there have been in the past few years. With Marshall Street restaurants like Strong Hearts and Core offering plenty of vegan and vegetarian options in addition to the dining halls, Tyo said becoming vegan is more and more easy to do.
For future vegans in the making, Foundos and Tyo suggest starting out slowly, and knowing and accepting that the commitment isn’t easy.
“If you’re out with friends and you decide that you want to have something, have it,” said Foundos. “With everything in life, if you cut it out completely, it’s just going to rebound. So I just find that you should try your best, do the best that you can, and know there’s room for error.”