In this last year i’ve found myself feeling increasingly unhealthy and, come the end of summer, I was ready for some kind of detox. I made the decision to radically change my diet and I’ve been following a plant-based diet now for what will be nine weeks on Sunday. In other words, i’ve gone vegan.
There’s a couple of things to get out of the way first:
- I’m still learning and I still have a lot to learn about the vegan lifestyle. My focus so far has been on my diet and, while I intend to look at other areas of my life like the goods I use and the clothes I wear, i’m going at a pace that suits me, road bumps and all. It does mean that i’m finding my new discoveries really exciting and I’m happy to share; but i’m by no means an expert.
- Now that i’m no longer an omnivore, I don’t suddenly hold anything against those who are. It would be awfully hypocritical of me to take a holier-than-thou attitude when i’ve been eating animal products my entire life. Most of the people I love on this planet are omnivores – and some of those keep bees – but I wouldn’t change them❤️ This is very much a personal journey for me. If it rubs off on others then even better.
When I made the decision I was mildly concerned about the nutritional content of a plant-based diet. Not so much from a stereotypical “where do I get my protein from?” but because I know i’ll never be one of those people who can count calories and memorise the nutritional content of foods.
But ultimately, so long as i’m eating a well-rounded variety of foods, i’m covered. In the end I decided not to stress about it. My new diet coincided with a trip to my Doctor so I did mention my plans and agreed to go back should I feel unwell after a month. Obviously, i’ve felt absolutely fine.
The only supplement I did order is VEG1 which provides vitamin B12 and a host of other good stuff. It is possible to obtain vitamin B12 from plant sources but I didn’t want the added mental arithmetic of ensuring I was getting enough. One chewy tablet after dinner each day is no hassle really.
I went into a plant-based diet cold-turkey (no pun intended) and did feel an immediate difference. In those first days I was regularly hungry as I wasn’t getting enough calories. I’m not counting them but whereas before my meals were sporadic, I now had to eat well and regularly to feel consistently well-fed.
I also gave up coffee – briefly – the same week so drank a lot of herbal tea which made the switch from drinking milk a lot smoother. Now I still drink coffee but i’m quite fond of soya lattes or cappuccino’s depending on the coffee house (Costa soya milk is horrible compared to Pret A Manger though)
I realised almost immediately that I was now super aware of everything I consumed and that, to be successful, I would need to plan ahead. I am so used to not really thinking about what I eat, snacking on unhealthy convenience foods whenever I feel like it and skipping meals – particularly breakfast – which just wouldn’t work moving forwards if I want to stay healthy.
I started buying a weekly shop and planning my meals for the week, leaving enough left over each evening to bring food to work the next day, and including ideas for snacks such as fruit and nuts. The positive effect of this approach was twofold: it encouraged good behaviours as Lizzie and I now cook together regularly, rather than just relying on whatever everyone else is eating, and it also helps my wallet as my expensive lunches now cost mere pennies.
Shopping for suitable foods has been fairly straightforward. Vegetables are easy, obviously, and most of the big supermarkets have Free From sections. More challenging have been pre-packaged foods, but I quite enjoy deciphering the ingredients using websites like food-info.net and have naturally gravitated towards products with fewer ingredients anyway.
Fun Fact: most Hovis loaves are vegan-friendly.
We had a couple of vegan recipe books already as whenever i’ve been invited to my vegan friend’s parties i’ve tried to bake something vegan. I’ve always come away having had a good evening with deliciously good food. I ordered a couple more books and we’ve been trying lots of different recipes.
We’ve enjoyed them so much, I forget to keep taking pictures:
Cooking from scratch has been fun and rewarding, not to mention tasty, but I knew we couldn’t keep it up full time. After a full day I don’t always have the motivation or energy when I get home. I stay away from ready meals but there are lots of vegan or vegan-friendly convenience foods to choose from. Also, most of the major food outlets are now sporting vegan options or vegan menus so i’ve been able to have lots of choice when I haven’t managed to prepare my lunches. I’m particularly fond of ITSU’s vegan udon and gyoza broth at the moment.
Restaurants too have vegan menus or options or are willing to custom make something. Wagamama’s just launched their vegan menu and i’ve had Pizza Express’ vegan pizza about four times since I went vegan(!) I was tested in my first week as we ended up going to a steak house with work.. however after a friendly chat with the waitress I ended up having a delicious nut salad and chargrilled cauliflower dish, with olives and sweet potato fries. It was a good exercise in getting over any awkwardness and was well received. My boss, bless him, went through every. single. item. on the menu to find out what I could eat.
I’ve had the odd mishap: like being charged for 61 bottles of soya milk(!) or discovering that Kronenberg 1664 in France is vegan-friendly, but not in the UK.. but overall I think i’m doing well and i’m learning all the time.
Wondering why some beers aren’t vegan-friendly?
They are sometimes refined using Isinglass (from fish swim-bladders). Not all beers are though and, on the subject of alcohol, barnivore.com is extremely useful as it allows you to search by brewery and product to figure out which are vegan-friendly.
As much as this is my choice, and everyone has been very supportive, I knew there would be inevitable questions. It’s been interesting seeing how different people have reacted, from mild curiosity to humour to disbelief. Thankfully no-one has been unkind. “Why not go vegetarian first?” has been a popular question and responses such as “I couldn’t give up X”.. in fact, most of the items on this tongue-in-cheek Omnivore Bingo by Brian VanderVeer have come my way in some form or another 😉
For me, personally, vegetarianism isn’t far enough as I know I would simply lapse. I also don’t have any cravings. I know people don’t believe me when I say that but honestly it’s true. Of course I know full well what my old favourite meat dishes taste like and I could easily eat them.. but I don’t find myself wanting to. I’m not pining over something lost.
I think a lot has to do with mindset. Strangely, it’s quite a liberating feeling walking into a supermarket and knowing that there’s simply no point looking at certain aisles. It’s like a laser focus on what foods now matter to me. Everything else is just background noise and doesn’t bother me. If it did, I would really struggle with all the chocolate sweets and chicken wraps everyone eats at work(!)
I haven’t gotten where I am by myself though. I signed up for all the Vegan Pledge newsletters – both the 7-day pledge and the monthly pledge – so I had a continuous stream of emails for my first month. I didn’t follow them to the letter as such but I used them for recipe ideas and tips.
I also signed up for a Vegan Society membership. For only £3 a month I get 10% off at health food store Holland and Barrett and a regular print magazine. My first one just arrived and it’s great.
All of this support pales in comparison to my friend Grace’s contribution. When I told her I was doing this she went above and beyond and made me a funny, informative, wonderfully creative vegan guide. Just look at it! Isn’t it amazing?! I’m tempted to get it laminated for posterity 🙂
This whole change has been really good for me. I’ve been focussing on food so far, but I do want to look at the other products I use. Lizzie found some vegan shampoo in SuperDrug so we’ve been using that and it’s lovely. I picked up How to be Vegan by Elizabeth Castoria this week and, from a brief skim-through, it’s a nice, fun, encouraging read full of tips and ideas.
Overall i’m happy with my choice and where i’m at so far. I started from a place of wanting to detox and eat healthier, but I also don’t agree with the mass-exploitation of animals. If my little contribution reduces animal suffering and is good for the planet then even better.
What’s your all-time favourite recipe? Have you ever tried eating a particular diet?