It's a common scenario: I come home from the office, sleepy and cross-eyed from staring at the Internet all day. It's 7 p.m., and I'm ready to eat some food and turn off my brain. On the drive home, I planned to light a few candles, arrange myself a plate of crudités, and tuck into Carrie Brownstein's new book. But of course that's never how these things go. By 8 p.m., I'm gobbling microwaved macaroni, eyes glued once again to my screen. With my computer's brightness at its max, I furiously scroll through Instagram and binge on a smorgasbord of YouTube videos. Hey, I can't help it. It's 2016, and this is the only way I know how to relax.
For me, social media has always been a guilty pleasure. Some call it a waste of time, a leech on our generation's attention span. But I'm careful not to let myself get too sucked in. Sure, I enjoy perusing a pretty Instagram account or plunging into the back catalog of a beauty guru's YouTube channel as much as any millennial. But I keep people's online personas at arm's length. It's all just as curated and phony as reality television. No one actually eats crudités by candlelight.
At least that's what I always thought, until one fateful night on the Internet forever changed both the way that I eat and my attitude toward social media's impact on everyday life.
Curious? To see how social media convinced me to change my diet forever, keep reading.
Spoiler alert: If you told me two months ago that I'd soon swear off my beloved Kraft for a high carb, low fat vegan lifestyle simply because of a too-deep social media bender, I would have laughed heartily and licked my spoon. And it's not just due to a general cynicism about the Internet—or, for that matter, a love of cheese.
See, I am a textbook convenience eater. Though I've been a vegetarian for more than a decade, I'm an extremely lazy one, continuing to say "no thanks" to meat more out of habit than health or moral consciousness. (You'd be surprised how much microwaveable garbage you can find without a shred of meat on the ingredient list.)
Vegetarian, sure. But vegan? Certainly not. I always thought of vegans as the crazies, the extremists. There was one vegan girl in my high school, and every year on her birthday, she brought in dairy-free brownies that tasted more like wood chips than chocolate-y goodness. "You're not one of those vegans are you?" friends’ parents would ask when I'd come over for dinner. "No way," I'd respond with pride.
But now here I am, 23 years old, a total convert to veganism. And it's all thanks to social media's influence. What on Earth happened, you ask?
By the end of my first week as a vegan, I felt hungry and discouraged. To do HCLF vegan diet the right way, you can’t work in an office, I concluded. There’s too much planning involved, too much cooking. What are you supposed to do when it’s 4 p.m. and you’re starving but the only vegan snack available is a bag of carrots meant for the whole office? Eat the entire thing? We’re not all 19-year-old YouTubers who can spend their days at Whole Foods. Some of us have real jobs.
I know this sounds bitter, but I’d tried and failed, and that never feels good. So for the next couple weeks, I reverted to some of my old patterns. Breakfast and lunch would be (mostly) vegan, but come late afternoon, I’d dive into the office cheese drawer or chocolate supply.
I told my co-workers I had given up, and they supported me. “Veganism is just too extreme,” they said, and regretfully, I agreed.
“I’ll just get vegan things whenever it’s convenient,” I told them, hating myself.
By now, it was the beginning of January, a time when everyone in the country starts turning over new leaves. While debating resolutions for the year, I couldn’t help but think about how disappointed I was in my failed attempt at veganism.
And that’s when I remembered. The whole reason I was attracted to veganism in the first place was the delicious simplicity of the recipes in that first “What I Eat in a Day” video. No, I couldn’t mindlessly guzzle processed snacks at work anymore. But did I really want to? If I was truly motivated to go vegan, and I was, then I’d have to come up with a better plan than eating foods that left me hungry and bored day after day. This was supposed to be fun, after all.
With my newfound resolve, I decided to find a version of veganism that fit my lifestyle, one that was as easy, happy, and abundant as social media showed me it could be. It didn’t have to be the same version of veganism I saw online. It had to be my own. And I was determined to find out what that meant.
A month of committed veganism later, I can safely say that I feel healthier and more connected to food than I ever have.
First off, I’ve made sure I’m getting complete nutrition by investing in plant-based supplements: daily multivitamins and algae calcium from organic brand Garden of Life. I keep them at my desk and take them after lunch. (Convenience!)
I’ve also started experimenting with vegan alternatives to foods I always loved, like pizza and pasta. I’ve developed a newfound love of Daiya Mozzarella ($6) and fancy vegan cheeses from Treeline. My desire for Kraft has dwindled.
And every time I start to feel discouraged or uninspired, I go back to social media. I watch one of my favorite vloggers for recipe inspiration, or simply flick through a vegan Instagram account, and this keeps me motivated to push forward.
What’s amazing is that by total coincidence, I’ve even started forming a vegan community of my own on social media. Posting photos of my meals has drawn me closer to friends and acquaintances I didn’t even know were vegan, and that feels really special. We swap recipes and double-tap each other’s fruit-frilled posts. We support each other.
So, have I fully transformed from a social media cynic and diet naysayer to an unflinching health nut who believes everything on the Internet is real? Of course not.
But when I get home from work tonight and cozy up on the couch ready to binge on my favorite web show, I’ll have a beautiful plate of crudités by my side. I’ll take big, sunny bites to my heart’s content.
Hey, I might even light a candle or two.
Has social media ever changed your lifestyle for the better? Or for the worse? Tell us your story in the comments below!