my plant based journey
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I thought going vegan was going to be some really horrible way of life that had no flavour’ Robin Quivers
Just over a year ago I gave it all up. Meat, cheese, eggs and dairy - all of it. No more animal products again I told myself. Over night I went from being a practicing carnivore and borderline cheese addict to a puritan vegan. There was no transition via vegetarianism, no trial period just an immediate and total conversion. In truth this pattern of behaviour fits well with my personality type which edges towards an extreme all or nothing type of approach. So a year down the line what have I learned and how do I feel about my decision?
Understand your motivation
Lets start with motivation. I can’t honestly say it was initially all about animal welfare in fact it was mostly about my own. I had become increasingly concerned about my inability to shake off the vices and trappings of the modern western diet such that even though I had been making a conscious effort over the previous few years to clean up my act I didn’t really feel I was making tangible progress. I was increasingly questioning the entire industry that we are a part of – it seems like such a racket, should we really trust the guidelines or the false industry advertising that steers us towards supposedly healthier animal based foods? I couldn’t understand how for a species that had put men on the moon we still struggle to articulate what was actually healthy for our bodies. There is no consensus amongst the scientific or nutritional community; in fact there is such conflict and debate on the topic that it mirrors climate change for controversy. The sheer volume of different diets and conflicting advice around what is good for us seems to obscure a more simple point. Whose interest is best served by maintaining the status quo? Is it the consumer or the producer? I couldn’t escape the feeling that my own general sense of physical inflammation and the burgeoning rise of uniquely western ailments like type two diabetes, heart disease and cancers must have a root cause. The more I researched the more it seemed like an ecosystem problem rather than one specific issue.
And so the pragmatist in me reasoned the following: if I no longer trust the food industry and there is too much conflicting evidence and debate over what is actually good for me then perhaps the easier solution is to simply give it all up and trust myself to nature. The tipping point came immediately after I watched the Netflix documentary ‘what the health’ where I was finally convinced that a full and total change was needed. I began the next day.
Embrace chaos and execute your way out of it
So what have I learned about going vegan and its impact on my body over the last 12 months? Firstly, I learned that I was an amateur cook at best and that I really had a limited understanding of what good balanced nutrition looks like. My reliance on the staple of the western diet; meat, dairy and vegetables mixed with some carbohydrates had convinced me that I was cleaner than I actually was. It became apparent that I was operating a pretty narrow window of dietary options. Within 6 weeks I had lost 5kg of bulk – not necessarily as a result of a good vegan diet but because of my total ignorance of what I should be eating to get the required proteins, vitamins and carbs into my body. My diet of basically salad in all its various forms stripped me down into a slightly gaunt and emaciated version of myself. I was getting head rushes when I stood up too quickly and I felt that I had lost raw power when working out. I was essentially starving myself. Fortunately respite was at hand as my partner who also went vegan at the same time as me is a far more conscientious nutritionist and slowly but surely I was introduced to a whole new world of eating possibilities.
I never knew for instance that you could get just as much protein from plants as you can from meat. I guess massive herbivores such as elephants, buffalo and giraffes know a thing or two, anyhow, once I had learned the fundamentals of the vegan diet; it started to become more sustainable. The correct mix of different types of rice, pulses (quinoa, couscous etc), soy, tofu and seitan all help to bring your protein requirement up. I learnt of the power of dark green vegetables in getting your vitamin and protein levels up and I discovered the joys of avocados and nuts in promoting healthy fats. This new found knowledge has begun a transformation in my body that has since become profound. Here are some of the top effects I noticed within a few months of going vegan and which a year down the line keep on paying out:
Complete reduction in whole body inflammation
Reduction in the sense of feeling bloated
Increased energy levels throughout the day
Much better quality of sleep and sense of freshness upon waking
Greater endurance when conducting prolonged exercise or high intensity workouts
Significantly increased physical recovery after strenuous exercise (ultra-marathons, calisthenics etc)
Noticeable loss of weight – some muscle mostly body fat
Inability to put weight back on
Initial light headedness due to insufficient diet and lack of iron
The above list is not exhaustive, however, if I had to draw out some of the daily benefits that I now take for granted they would be: boundless energy for exercise, consistent energy throughout the day, no post lunch slump, no hangry moments and a more supple and athletic body. I will admit that initially I lost some muscle bulk but what I have noticed during a year in which I have also run 5 ultra marathons before moving back into calisthenics and kettle bell training is that my body shape has changed for the better – I have become leaner, my face has become leaner and my muscles have become leaner whilst still delivering comparable levels of power and far greater levels of endurance. Alongside all of this I appear to have a renewed sense of connection to nature – but then again that could just be my hippie side flowing through!
Finally I’ll finish with a few daily habits that I use to maintain the right nutritional mix; every breakfast I consume a protein smoothie using hemp powder, oats, flaxseed, chia seeds, dates, half a banana, peanut butter and oat milk. This ensures that I start my day right considering I will already have trained for an hour or so before breakfast. I realised that if you are training 7 days a week like I do then additional protein as a supplement really helps to boost recovery and ensure that you are not depleting your body. I also take vitamin D and B12 tablets once a day to counteract any chance of iron deficiency – note that I could make this up through increased lentil and spinach consumption but it transpires that lentils and all pulses have a some what reactionary effect in my bowels so they are currently off the menu for me.
There you have it – the plant based story so far. It hasn’t all been plain sailing but it has definitely been worth it and for me it is now a case of refining and optimising the system to maximise its long-term benefits.