As I've now spent approximately 6 months following a plant-based diet I thought it time I gave a little update to let you all know how I am getting on.
Now if you've never been on this blog before then you won't know the reason I adopted the diet. Much as I respect animal lovers and their beliefs (I class myself as an animal lover) that was not the reason. I did it for health purposes - to try and consume nothing that would throw my hormones off balance. Because previously, I felt like I was walking a long and mighty high tightrope, prone to losing my balance frequently. My first thought was that meat needs to go, then I realised that actually, eggs and dairy would likely throw me out of whack more that a 6oz sirloin would so I had to eliminate it all.
So am I still on a vegan diet?
Yes I am! Completely and utterly, with absolutely no cheating as I'm afraid I fully subscribe to that whole 'you'd only be cheating yourself' refrain. So yes, no animal products have passed these lips in what now seems like a rather long time.
And you know what, it's absolutely fine! I'm actually rather enjoying it. I don't crave meat - though occasionally I do think 'oooooh, that smells niiiiiiice' if I smell, say, pork being chargrilled or whatever. But thankfully, that's rare. And the thought stops there - I don't get the urge to actually taste it. It smells nice - that's a fact, and that's the end of it. Enjoy the smell momentarily and move on.
As for the eggs and the dairy. Well, it's not the most convenient group of foods to avoid when you're out and about and need a quick snack (why does everything contain either milk or eggs?) but you find a way around it (taking nuts and fruit out with you is a good one).
So has the diet worked?
Now I'm not saying I haven't had mood swings, but they seem to be more related to periods of stress these days. Except for a few days a month where, well, I'm best avoided, truth be told - though even this is a lot less intense than it used to be (I think my husband will agree).
But I no longer have the crippling pain, the massive pimples (or rarely), the constant rollercoaster of mood and emotion that I have just been a slave to pretty much since I was 13, but increasingly so in my 30s.
It's working for me, it really is. Maybe I have a few intolerances that I didn't know about - I am a person who suffers allergies, after all. It's hard to speculate and I just don't have the time, energy or money to have the whole raft of tests done to tell me one way or the other. It could actually be a combination of factors - variables in isolation that wouldn't cause an issue, but when all acting together.....Again, who knows? But when something works you kind of want to stick with it, don't you?
So what about iron?
I do my best with the sources of iron found naturally in foods such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, pulses and leafy green vegetables but I do admit to taking a supplement also - a vegan multi-vitamin that covers all bases, just in case. After all, I'm not trying to prove that you can be supplement free on a plant-based diet - I'm simply trying to make sure I myself am not lacking anything. I just need to remember to take them consistently!!! I also take Sea Kelp to insure against iodine deficiency for a healthy thyroid function. But other than that, I don't rattle too much!
So would I recommend a plant-based diet?
I'm not going to lie - you have to revolutionise your way of eating. I have done this - I've had to. You have to spend quite a bit of time in the beginning researching what you can and can't eat and what the implications of ditching a whole food group are. You cannot simply cut everything out without finding alternatives. I'd never cooked with lentils and all those weird and wonderful beans and grains you find in the whole food section of the supermarket before, but I have now. I'm also getting quite good at making tofu taste like the most delicious thing you've ever eaten. And do you know what, ditching the meat saves money as long as you're not buying lots of specialist substitute foods (you really don't need to). But yes, I would. And not only for those suffering from complaints similar to my own, it's actually upped my intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and I've naturally slimmed down a bit (currently wearing my pre-pregnancy size 8 skinny jeans, and comfortably too) as it has the effect of naturally reducing your saturated fat and unrefined sugar intake as they seem to go hand in hand with eggs and dairy products (cake, biscuits, pastry, pizza, etc).
Well as I said above, it's not easy. Even when you have the will the outside world conspires against you - take a look at the takeaway food section in any of the supermarkets and you'll see what I mean. And as for well known high street bakeries - well don't even step foot through the door. Even in nice little cafes and bistros it's difficult as you find yourself faced with the option of jacket and beans, or... jacket and beans. Again. *sigh* If you love eating out, then going plant-based will cause challenges. You will also find that people will want to know why you have made the change - and when it's for sensitive reasons it can be difficult to know what to say. And if you do simply hint at health reasons then be prepared for the odd tirade against 'animal libbers' and the expectation that you should be grateful not to be 'lumped in with those loonies'. Incidentally, this is not my view - I wish my reasons were as noble. You also really need to look after yourself and keep an eye on your energy levels. If you notice you have been fatigued for longer than you should be, following a cold or short illness, then you might need to check you are getting everything you need.
I'm still a novice, but if I have some tips to get started, these are them:
- Research sources of protein and find recipes for them
- Don't be afraid of new ingredients
- Get the support of your family - they don't need to turn vegan, but you shouldn't have to cook two different meals every night if you are responsible for the dinner!
- Look at international cuisines - many of them contain so many recipes that are naturally vegan (Indian, middle-eastern, far-eastern, mediterranean)
- Watch that saturated fat intake - chips and beans everyday will not meet your requirements!
- Look at superfoods that can increase the absorption of the vitamins you consume
- Get a single vegan supplement - at least for the transition and first few months. A little way down the line you may very well not need it.
- Try not to obsess about what you cannot eat.
- Eat a diet containing as many colours as you can - reds, greens, yellows, browns. You will cover many of the vitamin bases with ease that way.
- If you are eating out then check there is a vegan option before you sit down/book a table.
- When on the go, take dried fruit/nuts/sandwich with non-dairy spread with you.
- Seek out all of the wonderful blogs and recipes online and have a look at the vegan society's website for advice. They also offer a buddy service to get you up and running if you need support.
- And as they say, seek the advice of a medical professional, such as your GP or consultant before embarking on such a drastic change of diet.
And that's it! It's working out for me and I cannot imagine going back.
Please note: I am not a doctor, this is not medical advice - merely my own experience and the results of my own mainly-internet based research. I did however seek the advice of my doctor who said "Great idea, go for it!"