I hear some of the meat-eaters sighing already – another person who has a fitness instagram jumping on the plant-based bandwagon.
I wanted to share with you my thinking behind going plant-based (& a disclaimer that while I strive to introduce as many plant-based, vegan foods and focuses into my daily routine, I’m still technically a vegetarian I guess), my motivation and what has ultimately influenced me, and a bit about my history with meat etc. before this just as background.
I am not sharing this to be preachy, or to copy all the #plantbased fitness influencers out there. And I am not sharing this as a spontaneous New Year’s resolution.
So let’s talk. First, winding back the clocks…
My diet background since my teens (eating disorders aside)
I actually spent 10 years as a pescatarian…
Pescatarians still eat dairy and fish, just not meat. I started this in Zambia when given some dodgy quality meat, and kept it up for a decade, plus or minus one slip with some chicken.
But I’d always reassure people it wasn’t for moral reasons, I just didn’t want meat.
But then I started eating meat again…
As I got into training (initially weightlifting, then boxing) more, I thought I needed more protein and got sucked into the chicken, broccoli, sweet potato bro-food thing, although I still wouldn’t eat lamb or pork or processed meat.
I did try a week vegan as an experiment because I saw so many people doing it, but I decided I’d miss cheese too much, and my motivation wasn’t really strong enough. Needless to say, it didn’t last.
My diet immediately before going plant-based
To be honest my diet over the last 6 months has been increasingly plant-based as I became more aware of micronutrients, phytochemicals and overall health via influencers like The Food Medic and my nutrionist Rhiannon Lambert, both of whom encourage lots of veggies and fruit, and healthy whole-foods, but equally don’t prescribe veganism or vegetarianism… I was eating probably about 20% plant-based, 60-70% vegetarian and 10-20% organic lean meats like chicken or seafood.
So I was phasing in more and more plant-focussed eating.
I haven’t touched dairy milk for like 6-7 years though – I woke up one day and just found it disgusting and didn’t want it anymore, so that’s an easy one for me.
Why did you make the jump to committing to being ‘plant-based’? Are you vegan, or vegetarian? What’s the difference?
Valid questions, all!
So plant-based is where you try to follow a diet that is powered by plants i.e. avoiding animal products.
Veganism is the all-encompassing lifestyle where you ONLY eat plant-based foods and do NOT eat any animal-derived products (e.g. honey, cheese, milk, eggs, meat, fish) and you don’t wear anything animal-derived (e.g. leather, fur), you only purchase products which are cruelty free and not tested on animals etc. etc. It touches every aspect of your life, and you avoid all animal-derived products.
Vegetarians don’t eat meat or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy.
Pescatarians don’t eat meat, but eat seafood, eggs and dairy.
I went plant-based ultimately for a combination of ethical and environmental reasons, some health factors, and therefore I aspire to be as vegan as possible.
However, I acknowledge that I may not be perfect – I do still own leather items, for example, or I may eat an egg from the chickens in my dad’s back garden every now and then, or have a little bit of non-vegan chocolate. I’m trying to cut this out as much as possible, I know the dairy and egg industries are very problematic, but I don’t want to lie and pretend I’m perfect or that the vegan transition is an easy one, and I know it would piss off a lot of very strongly devoted vegans for me to say I was vegan, if I was eating honey or whatever, which I may do…
I totally agree with veganism from an animal rights and environmental perspective though, hence why I want to do what I can.
Like Rhiannon Lambert, I don’t believe I need to label my diet per se, but I guess militant vegans would call me a vegetarian who tries not to touch animal products but occasionally has a bit of cheese. Vegan-curious. Whatever. I’m going with the aim to be plant-based as that seems to be socially-media-lly acceptable and offend the fewest people.
But WHY go plant-based now? What influenced it?
I’ve listened to more and more people talk about going plant-based recently. I followed Flora Beverley aka Food Fitness Flora, Grace Beverley, and Zanna Van Dijk and Steph Elswood since way before they were vegan, and watched their journeys with interest.
However, I always said I ‘admired’ vegans but couldn’t commit myself. I said I couldn’t cope without cheese. I called it ‘joyless’ food. I agreed with the arguments against animal cruelty but was still too scared to watch Cowspiracy. I tried to push it out of my mind. I also figured, well I buy free range eggs, that doesn’t hurt animals. Cows have to be milked… (I discovered I was wrong on both counts, as you’ll see in a sec).
Then Venetia’s episode of Talking Tastebuds with Lucy Watson got me thinking that I should own up to my choices and not shy away. I should fully educate myself and then if I could still stomach meat etc, so be it.
I watched the following documentaries over the course of two days:
- What the Health* (*take this one with a pinch of salt, much seems accurate on deeper research but some isn’t – eggs are NOT as bad for you as cigarettes!)
- Forks over Knives
I then read the book ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer.
I realized I couldn’t just ignore things anymore and had to change by diet. I totally agree with all the arguments for veganism and aspire to remove animal-products from my diet as much as possible.
I watched this amazing talk by Earthling Ed that really helps summarise everything too.
For the animals…
Suffice it to say, animals, even allegedly ‘free range’ ones are not being treated well. Factory farming is a horrific industry – slaughterhouse conditions are shocking. Cows are kept perpetually pregnant to keep them producing milk. So many male chicks who aren’t layers are killed horrifically. Chickens are kept in horrific conditions to keep them artificially laying more and more eggs per year instead of just spring. This is just a sample as I’m not here to preach or shock, I just want to give a flavour of some of the things I either knew and ignored, or didn’t know at all… now I can’t ignore any of it.
For the planet…
Then there’s the environmental stuff – the vast quantities of land destroyed for meat farming, the water wastage, the CO2 footprint, the cow’s fart methane thing which is actually a huge problem, the oceans being destroyed because trawling for tuna kills hundreds of thousands of other sealife too including seahorses and other species.
Then there’s the health side. Hormones and antibiotics and unsanitary, shit filled conditions in slaughter houses. The fact that in the US, the dairy and meat industries lobby so hard they affect government health guidelines, and are the producers of fact sheets so even the Diabetes and Cancer bodies won’t openly admit how much processed meat and dairy can be bad for you.
Milk is baby cow growth fluid, full of hormones, to make a little calf get to the size of a big cow ASAP.
All of this stuff, that once I’d seen it, I couldn’t unsee.
For my mental health…
I read a couple of studies which implied a plant-based diet could help depression, which as many of you will know I’ve been in a 2 decade + battle with. I need to track down the actual journal articles to fully assess credibility, but feel it’s worth the experiment.
It just feels like the right thing to do, but in some circumstances there are reasons not to go vegan (especially if you’ve suffered from anorexia or overly-restrictive disordered eating – always consult a doctor and nutritionist).
The animal thing and the environment thing are pretty big for me. Blackfish is actually about killer whales at Seaworld, and when the baby was separated from its mother and she just floated shaking at the corner of a pool wailing in grief was just heart-breaking.
I guess I knew this all on some level before, but by distancing myself from it and not properly educating myself I could act like it was ok. But now, I don’t think momentary pleasure from eating something is worth all of that. It’s too sad. Not to mention not sustainable.
Q: How do you know if someone is vegan/plant-based? A: They’ll tell you!
I have fulfilled this already by posting in this much detail, but I wanted to explain my reasoning and make clear YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN TO BE HEALTHY.
Up your plant-based eating as much as you can for health reasons but you don’t have to entirely quit meat and dairy and seafood. Those are things you can make decisions about based on ethics and sustainability – you do you.
I don’t wanna preach, but I do think the reasons are worth stating, and I feel like I do have a very little platform to do good things, so hopefully this resonates to some degree and encourages you to consume a little more consciously, even if it’s just #MeatFreeMonday!
Can you just make the switch quickly?
People do, I think, but I’ve gradually become more and more plant-based over the last few months anyway.
I’ve also read a lot of articles and watched a lot of youtube videos by people with tips for going vegan, and things they wish they’d known, so I think the best thing, personally, is to do it gradually, to let your body adjust to the increased fibre.
So how am I finding it… truthfully?
I’ve been doing this since before Christmas, so a couple of weeks now. Have I slipped and had a non-vegan product? Yes.
But I’ve stuck to my plant-based-vegetarian philosophy, focused on consuming fresh, whole foods and plant-based recipes. I found AMAZING vegan cheese (hey violife!) and vegan pizza (Waitrose and Pizza Express!) for when I need those things in my life… and all in all it’s going really well.
- I have been feeling:
- More energetic
- Less lethargic
- Endurance during workouts has improved
- Fewer ‘cravings’
- More connected to the planet and animals etc – sounds woo woo I know, but it’s soooo nice to not just be thinking about myself and trying to eat well in a way that is nourishing for the environment as well as me!
- My body has…
- Not really reacted to the change so far, because I guess I’d gradually been becoming more plant-based so I’ve not found any of the bloating/digestition issues a lot of people report*
- ‘Confession box’
- I had a bit of blue cheese over xmas that DEFINITELY wasn’t vegan.
- I also had a bit of non-vegan chocolate.
- It’s a process! While some may disagree, as far as I’m concerned this is about a sustainable lifestyle change and REDUCING ANIMAL PRODUCTS as MUCH AS POSSIBLE for the LONG TERM, and so a few slips overall may happen but won’t throw me off the wagon!
- Friends who react saying they don’t give a f*** about animals, and I’m ridiculous not to eat meat etc. etc. I don’t have any plans to preach or convert anyone, but I’d like my lifestyle choices to be MINE ❤
[*Post publication edit (3rd Jan 17:55): literally the before day this post was scheduled to go live, so yesterday, I started noticing afternoon headaches, which have continued today (the day of publication) – so like, maybe negative symptoms a couple of weeks into this? I’m also feeling very nauseaous. This MAY OR MAY NOT BE CONNTECTED to my diet change – I am diarising what I’m eating, and tracking it to test it. According to Google, these aren’t unusual things to experience while your body adjusts. Of greater concern to me was something happened last night that has never happened to me before except when I’ve had a severe fever – night sweats. So I need to monitor this, and check in with my doctor and nutritionist at the earliest opportunity. Remember there is no substitute for qualified advice!]
All of the things I’ve watched, been inspired by etc. in this decision are linked below and above throughout this post. Watch/read/listen for curiosity’s sake if nothing else – you don’t have to change how you eat at all, but being informed is always nice!
Make sure if you do this, you check in with professionals and ensure you’re looking at supplementation in the right way – protein believe it or not is super easy to get from plants (you just need to know your complete proteins from your non-completes, and how to combine different sources to get all the essential amino acids!) but Vitamin B12 and iodine are super important too.
Youtubers with good advice on going vegan: