I know better than anyone the impact dietary changes can have on your physical and mental wellbeing but I wasn’t prepared for what I learnt about myself by going Vegan in January.
Having been vegetarian for over a year, I decided I wanted to take the next step and see if going vegan benefitted me in any way. And I’ll be honest I wanted to better understand the realities of being a vegan. The only animal products I ate before January really were eggs (lots of eggs), some dairy – mostly goat’s and sheep’s but some cow’s dairy too and an occasional dollop of honey. So, it wasn’t a big dietary leap for me but I was surprised by the results.
Here are some of the things I learnt while doing veganuary:
- I don’t like inconveniencing people or making a fuss
Believe it or not, I’m not someone who likes to make a fuss when it comes to food so when I’m out or away I tend to be a little more relaxed with my diet, eating what’s available and not over analysing it.At the start of January, I went to Spain on a work trip. The Spanish aren’t famous for their vegetarian food and even less so for vegan food. Combine that with trying to avoid gluten and eat healthily, a language barrier and fact that I had to eat something and I’ll be honest veganuary had to be sidelined on a couple of occasions. I’m just not comfortable with being demanding about food – I don’t like making other people go out of their way for me (not something exclusive to food!)But even in the UK I struggled on the few occasions we ate out to find something on the menu I wanted and was able to eat and I wasn’t very assertive in checking the ingredients. But, perhaps I will have to get a little stronger and say what I want and what I need going forward.
- It took being part of a bigger movement for me to take action
For a long time, I have wanted to ditch the dairy and try eliminating eggs from my diet but I never found the “right time” (side note: there is no “right time” to make dietary changes. Now is the only time). But for me, putting a label on it, being part of a bigger movement which made me feel more accountable for my choices really worked. I was – as much as I could be (see point 1) stricter with the food choices I made than I have been in the past and I REALLY felt the benefit.
- I physically thrive on a vegan diet
I thought I might struggle with having no animal protein but in fact, the opposite was true. I seemed to thrive. The past month has probably been one of the busiest I’ve had in a long time but my energy has generally been consistent, my mood mostly balanced and my concentration levels have definitely improved – all symptoms from my CFS which I still struggle with from time-to-time. The only other change I made to my life this January is daily yoga sessions with the Yoga with Adriene 30-day challenge. Perhaps I need to become a vegan yogi to thrive in this hectic world?! Now I still don’t advocate that everyone will thrive on a vegan diet and should ditch animal products today, but I do believe your body is the best judge of what is right for you, as long as you listen to it.
- I didn’t miss it
I thought by the end of January I would be craving eggs but I didn’t miss them or any of the dairy products I used to have. It was annoying constantly trying to find things which didn’t contain dairy and eggs but I wasn’t craving anything and nearly a week into February I’m still not. To me, that reconfirms the fact that my body is happier without animal products. If it needed something it would tell me (and to be honest I would listen as I’ve learnt from past mistakes that our body is smart enough to tell us what it needs).
- I was oblivious to the truth about animal farming
In addition to doing veganuary, I wanted to educate myself on the environmental impacts of animal products. So, I watched Cowspiracy and Forks over Knives on Netflix. Both these documentaries really opened my eyes to the truth about animal farming – both in terms of the methods used (even in organic farms) and the environmental impact. Some of the images will remain with me forever. I now realise I was being idealistic thinking that choosing organic negated any ethical argument around animal farming. Although the processes and quality of food are “better”, it’s not perfect. I won’t go into detail here as I will never become a vegan campaigner – as terrible as some people may think that makes me, as a nutritional therapist I don’t believe in pushing my personal beliefs onto others, because veganism isn’t right for everyone. But if you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend these documentaries. And if anyone has other documentaries I should watch on this subject, please leave a comment below.
So, will I stay a vegan?
Yes…and no. I plan to continue to avoid dairy and limit eggs but I don’t think I will become obsessive about it. For me personally, obsessing about any foods isn’t positive. I’m also intrigued to test my body by eating eggs and maybe some dairy and seeing what – if any – reaction that causes. My approach to animal products will be like my approach to gluten, as much as I can I will avoid it but if I happened to be given something which contains eggs or dairy, or if that really is the only healthy choice or I really want a poached egg then I will have it. No labels here. Just healthy eating which makes me feel good. Sorry hard-core vegans.