This year, I  celebrate 20 years of being vegan. It was the best decision I ever made.

Growing up, I never liked the taste of meat, so I didn't eat it. There was no intellectual, emotional, or political reason behind it; it just didn't taste good to me. When I went away to college, I discovered "vegetarianism" as a concept and decided that I was one. I happily went along my meat-free ways while thoroughly relishing my morning cereal with skim milk and lunchtime yogurt habit.

One week after graduating from UCLA, I embarked on a two-year journey around the world. It was the trip of a lifetime, and a gift to myself before "real life" began. I taught English in Japan, meandered through bazaars in India, walked the grounds of awe-inspiring temples in Indonesia, hiked in ancient rainforests in Malaysia, and ate the best food of my life. Because I spent the majority of my trip in Asia—a region which consumed very little dairy at the time—I was forced to live without my daily milk and yogurt fix. I naturally adopted a plant-based Asian diet,
and I never felt better.

Upon returning to the United States, a Whole Foods Market had just opened up a mile from my parent's home in Northern California. I discovered products like rice milk and soy cheese, and wanting to sustain the healthy eating habits I had aquired abroad, I became a full-fledged vegan. During my trip, I had done a lot of reading on health, wellness, food politics, and factory farming—issues that were fairly new to me but very much in line with the person I had become.
I fully embraced the vegan lifestyle.

Over the next few years, my love affair with vegan living blossomed. I attended a health-oriented culinary school in New York City, became a board member of the San Francisco Vegetarian Society, consulted on local vegetarian events and publications, and even made and sold vegan desserts. In 2000, I co-founded VegNews, a national vegetarian lifestyle magazine which—15 years later—has won nearly every major magazine award, reaches 1.3 million people each month through its various print and digital properties, and has connected me to the most incredible community of people I could have ever imagined. Starting a media company and devoting my life to something I care so passionately about has brought me extraordinary rewards, both personally and professionally.

As VegNews grew, so did the vegetarian food industry. Stores became flooded with vegan cookies, cakes, ice creams, and snacks, and I tried them all. I dined out regularly with clients and colleagues, and put very little restrictions on what I ate. I developed a mindset that as long as it was vegan, it was perfectly acceptable to eat—whether it was a kale salad, veggie burger, battered Buffalo wings, cookie milkshake, or chocolate mousse torte. Between 70-hour work weeks, an exploding vegan food market, and eating out several times a week, it started to feel like Thanksgiving every day. And I carried around the extra weight to prove it.

Everything changed in 2012. I agreed to do a cleanse as part of a story my editorial team was working on. On day one, I was not happy. I don't believe in deprivation or dieting, and I didn't want to be told what to eat. But over the course of the next three weeks, I felt lighter, stronger, and more energized. My afternoon sugar cravings went away, and I no longer experienced the post-meal slumps I had become accustomed to. The extra weight melted off, and I felt fantastic. I decided to share my journey to becoming a healthier vegan on VegNews.com, and it became one of the most-read pieces ever published on our website. This was also the time I began facing a very difficult, painful experience in my personal life, but you know what they say: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
And that it has, in every possible way.

I am launching Healthy Vegan as a personal project more than two years later, and I cannot believe the transformation I have undergone. In short, I feel like a new person and am so grateful for the experiences, lessons, and even hardships that have allowed me to finally take charge of my body, my health, and my life. My physical and mental well-being are no longer relegated to the back-burner, even though I continue to run my business and enjoy life's great pleasures. But I've figured out ways to nourish my body with the best food possible (without sacrficing flavor) and effortlessly maintain my natural weight. I still dine out regularly, but I do so responsibly ... and deliciously. Through a more committed fitness routine, I'm amazed at how much stronger my body has become. I also practice gratitude and find joy in everyday moments. It took two decades of veganism and lots of life experience to finally figure out the tools to live my best life. After all, we have one chance at this, and there is no dress rehearsal.

I hope I can inspire you to become the best version of yourself. When you feel good and strong and empowered in all aspects of your life, nothing can stop you from achieving the life you want. Whether you want to be the best mom for your children, pen a novel, travel the world, or run a business, a healthy lifestyle—encompassing physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial wellness—is the foundation for it all. 

Here's to the next chapter for all of us. Your dream life starts now—it's just waiting for you to embrace. Begin this very moment, and make today your masterpiece.

ColleenHolland.HealthyVeganSignature