I began transitioning to a plant based ‘way-of-eating’ (I’d rather not lean towards the diet side of things) in around early 2014.
If you’ve followed me, you probably know I have a long-winded history surrounding food and anything to do with body image. I’ve always been rather open about it on my social media channels, but I choose not to post about it as often (or if at all) anymore, as I find that re-hashing or re-telling the same ol’ story can get a bit old, and can leave you feeling a little stuck in the mud.
For some reason, I feel compelled to write – for myself, mostly – but I also thought it may be of use to anyone out there lurking on the internet looking for words of hope, advice or whatever ‘this’ is.
If you’re new to following me – I won’t bore you with the details, but, ever since I can remember I have lived a tug-of-war battle with food, my weight and my relationship with exercise. Thankfully, it’s not such a scary and unspoken subject anymore – more and more women (and men) are speaking up, offering advice and sharing their personal stories, struggles and triumphs. However, it definitely doesn’t make it any less horrible to live with (I can still live with the monkey most days). I spent the vast majority of my teenage years starving myself, being clinically diagnosed with Anorexia, then swinging to the other end of the spectrum in my late teens by dancing with binge eating, substance abuse and generally just despising myself and my life. (Jeez, talk about positive and uplifting blog posts! Hah)
I set off on my merry way trying to solve all my own problems, only creating deeper holes to climb into – cue – fitness modelling, diets, more diets oh and.. did I say diets? I was in a constant state of inner turmoil, beating myself up for my lack of will-power and the size of my thighs. I used to be so good at this ‘starving’ thing!
But, thankfully (unbeknown to me) there was some kind of underlying current or flotation device of ‘strength and hope’ that keep me afloat above the surface, instead of plummeting & drowning in dangerous waters. As I was floating along on my journey of healing – veganism fell into my lap. I got ‘vegan’ very wrong to start off with, and still had a very twisted and skewed concept of food. I was attracted to veganism and sold on the concept of eating as many calories as I wanted without gaining weight (basically, hello carb binges!), it all sounded to good to be true. Even though I do promote eating an abundance of food, that abundance of food should never muffle out the natural signals that your body gives you.. (IE – Dude, I’m too fucking full! No more potatoes, plz!)
At this early stage on my journey I was so easily influenced by others (Because, basically, I had no idea what I was meant to be doing).. so, in light of that early struggle, I’ve decided to compile a few pointers – Things that I WISH I had known when I first turned vegan.
Veganism (and the funny ways I fell into it) has shaped who I am, has expanded my creativity, challenged my views on food and facilitated healing my relationship with food (but please note I’m not a superhuman, I do still struggle with the shadows, but I’m learning and loving myself through the process).
And also, It’s important to clarify that I’m not an expert and I am not qualified in any way – this is my personal experience, and these pointers are simply my personal opinions on nutrition based on my the knowledge I have gained thus far. There are (and will be) many more qualified people out there than me, so please do not use this advice in place of proper medical advice! Use your own discernment and listen to your body and your intuition. I only share these points, and my story, out of sheer interest and for my own self-healing.
- You can be ANY TYPE of vegan that you want. On my ‘vegan journey’ I’ve tried many of the vegan diet/lifestyle trends: Raw Veganism, Raw Til 4, 80/10/10, HCLF, Starch Based.. You name it, I tried it. However, jumping from thing to another made it very confusing for not only my body but my digestive system. The most important thing that I’ve learnt is that you can literally eat however you want. There’s no ‘superior way’ of being vegan. Each of those above ‘trends’ do have their advantages, but also a host of disadvantages. Our bodies will all react very differently – it’s SO IMPORTANT to listen to the messages that your body gives you as apposed to what somebody is doing on YouTube. Currently, I am focussing on eating a wide range of food groups – So I balance my day with a sufficient amount of carbohydrates (Oats, Sweet Potato, Quinoa, Brown Rice & Fruit are my favourites), protein (Tofu, Wheat Protein, Vegan Protein Powder, Beans and vegetables like broccoli and spinach), fats (Nut Butters, Seeds, Avocados, Coconut Yoghurt) and as many vegetables as I can physically fit on my plate! This system works for me, and I try not to implement any rules or restrictions to those food groups, especially considering my past.
- Supplements! This isn’t a necessary requirement for everyone, but I do recommend it, especially if you are just starting out. I initially just ignored supplementation at the start, as I believed (from what I heard on YouTube.. *sigh*) that I would meet all my nutritional needs by just eating copious amounts of dates and potatoes. I only started supplementing about 6 months ago, but I do feel significantly better (alongside a more balanced approach to eating). Firstly, I’d get your blood work done from a medical professional to see if there is anything that needs to be urgently addressed. The bare minimum I personally use is a good B12 supplement, Vitamin D, Iron and a good quality vegan protein powder. The protein powder is definitely not essential, however I train and exercise a lot and I have felt it helps with my muscle recovery and satiation (hunger) levels. However, remember, supplements are just that – supplements. Getting a wide variety (and sufficient quantity) of plant based, whole-foods should be the number one priority – once you have the fundamentals down and are eating enough of the right foods, then I’d recommend looking into supplementing where needed (and if needed at all).
- Get cooking as soon as you can. Learning to cook has been the best thing I have ever decided to do. I am able to be in charge of what I put on my plate, and it has made being vegan that much more exciting. But – to be honest – I freaking SUCKED at cooking vegan food when I first started (Well, I thought I sucked.) I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I first started, and basically lived off bags of mixed nuts & chocolate (and then, realised, most chocolate isn’t vegan – duh, see? I sucked.) – So, what I’m trying to say is – even if you think you suck, please just keep going! Keep trying, experimenting, learning and playing with different flavours and food groups until you find a system that works for you. The first ‘place’ I would start is learning about substitutions for common ‘non vegan’ items such as Meat, Dairy, Cheese and Eggs – learn how to make these, and if you can’t make them yourself, learn where to buy them (The internet is a magical place that will direct you to the nearest and most readily available ways to purchase these substitutes). Here’s a brief outline of the substitutes I use the most:
Meat Subs: Seitan (it’s basically wheat protein, so it’s not gluten free unfortunately, but it is delicious), Tofu, Tempeh, Chickpeas, Lentils, TVP Soy Protein (it’s literally like beef-mince), Roast Cauliflower (chicken winnings!), Mushrooms, Crushed Walnuts
Dairy Subs: Soy Milk & Yoghurt, Coconut Milk & Yoghurt, Oat Milk, Almond Milk, Cashew Milk, Rice Milk
Cheese Subs: Nutritional Yeast Flakes (Can be used to make cheese sauce, or to add a cheesy/savoury element to any dish) – Store bought vegan cheese is becoming readily more available too! I like using BioCheese (it comes in slices and blocks). Vegan cheese is one of those things that takes experimenting, as they all differ in flavour and texture – so have fun and find which one works for you! I have a handy cheese hack which you can find here
Eggs: My most common egg replacement is a ‘Flax Egg’ which you can make yourself by whisking together 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 3 tbsp water and let it rest for 10 minutes. This will substitute 1 egg in any recipe. Other substitutions I use are Chia Seeds (Either ground into a powder and left whole) or mashed banana.
Anyway, that’s what I wish I knew. It’s not much, but it’s a place to start and I hope that this was of interest, or benefited you in some way!
Remember, you know your body best – changing your diet or lifestyle can be scary, intimidating, confusing and fun at the same time. It’s a journey, and there is no ‘right or wrong’ way of doing things, but I feel we can avoid a lot of frustration, upset and confusion by simply listening to our bodies more and accepting that we are all very, very different!
Obviously, there is a lot more to ‘veganism’ than just your diet. It is a lifestyle, with a very strong ethical footprint – however, I choose not to ‘push’ my ethical views – there are many, many documentaries, books and other bloggers that have more resourceful information than myself. My form of activism is through food, and changing & challenging the way we view, create and eat our food.
Either way, wether you are a full time vegan, part time vegan or vegetarian, these points can be applied to your lifestyle. And heck, these points may not even apply to you at all!
But, thanks for reading. If you have any questions, do leave me a comment and I will reply as soon as possible.