Thursday, 1 February 2018

Veganuary: my experience

If you've followed me on Instagram you'll know that I took part in Veganuary (vegan January). This involved cutting out all animal products - not just the obvious meat, fish, dairy and eggs. The good news - I'm still alive and haven't died of a protein deficiency as many people seemed to be worried about.. So straight to the point with what you want to know - how did I find it and am I staying vegan?


One of my fav meals to cook at home - black rice, yellow split peas and greeeeens

As you may have gathered from my previous blog posts and Instagram, I started becoming more plant based during the last few months of 2017. This definitely made it easier when it came to participating in Veganuary because I was used to cooking beans, lentils, chickpeas and rice etc. and making them exciting to eat. Before this though, I had thoroughly researched plant proteins so that I could do what I did with meat and fish - eyeball a portion so that I roughly know what a cup of lentils looks like and therefore know that in one serving there is around 18g protein.

It still amazes me how many people are uneducated when it comes to plant protein (myself included until around September 2017). But truth be told, if you know you can easily get your protein from animal sources and you've been doing so the whole of your life, I can understand that the motivation to change isn't there. However, personally, I am SO glad I invested time into re-educating myself. Never in a million years did I think I would be walking past the meat and fish counters in Waitrose and heading down to pick up a bag of chickpeas and rice for dinner.

Delicious black rice bowl at Electric Members Club (I was hungry when I left though so had to eat again lol)

At first I was very conscious that I needed to consume 'complete proteins' and even wrote up a table of incomplete proteins together with which amino acid they are low in (this is my OCD shining through). For example lentils and black beans are low in methionine so ideally you want to consume them with brown rice, which is high in methionine. However, I have since read some more papers and watched a few lengthy YouTube videos from nutritionists (one of my favourites being Derek Simnett, who is a vegan nutrition practitioner). These state that you don't actually need to consume the complete protein in one meal. The elimination of amino acids from the body isn't fast enough that you would be deficient in them if consumed on different days let alone different meals! Obviously do your research but this is something that made my meal choices a lot easier and took the stress away from thinking I was going to be amino acid depleted! To be honest I still consumed legumes with rice anyway because it's delicious lol. BUT it's always good to know that either way I would be getting a well balanced nutritional profile. 

I also came to realise that if you're at all 'carb phobic' then a vegan lifestyle is going to be very difficult for you to get your head around. You have to accept that your meals will be higher in carbs than protein - I'll admit this was a challenging concept to grasp for me initially too. It's hard to undo years of brainwashing by the media that you should be very conscious of your carb intake otherwise you'll be obese before you know it. But you know what? F that. I have more than doubled my carb intake from what it was a few months ago! And the result? I look leaner, eat more, have more energy and I am a hell of a lot happier!  This leads me onto a few of the main pros that I found:

Positives 

  • MUCH cheaper. One 500g pack of beans, chickpeas or lentils provided around 5 meals for me (depending on how much rice/bulgar wheat/bread/quinoa etc I had with it). That equates to your main protein source at each meal coming in at around 38p! Compare that with a fillet of salmon at £5-6... hmm you do the math... 
  • More energy. The initial increase in carbs had my energy levels through the roof! I was training more than I previously wanted to just because I actually had the energy to do so. Eating at home meant I could load my plate up with food. Eating out, however, often left me hungry with my energy levels going the other way (but more about that in the next section).
  • Clearer skin. This may be TMI but for the first time in my life I didn't have one breakout around my period. Normally without fail I will always always get at least one big spot, which drives me insane. But this time, nothing! It literally felt like a miracle. 
  • Inches lost. So as mentioned on my initial Veganuary Instagram post, I don't actually own any functioning scales anymore (they broke summer '17 and just cba replacing them). So at the start of the month I took measurements of my waist, hips, each leg and each arm (as idk about you but my arms and legs are different sizes on each side?!) My intention was never to lose weight but I just did the measurements out of curiosity. I lost 1/2 an inch from every single area, which actually really surprised me. Maybe this will help people realise that carbs aren't the devil when it comes to weight loss after all..!
  • Increased food volume. idk about you but I LOVE big meals. I know some people hate them and prefer eating smaller meals (weirdos) but I have never ever been like that. As plant foods are much less calorie dense, you can literally live the dream (or my dream at least) and EAT. ALL. THE. FOOD. It's important to make up those calories from removing animal proteins - so to know that you can pile a massive plate FULL of food and let your portion sizes literally go out the window is such a good feeling. I genuinely had to go out and buy bigger plates..!! Obviously I'm no nutritionist and saying that you can disregard portion sizes may not be the most sensible thing to say to some people. BUT of course, I'm talking about piling the plate full of whole foods rather than Oreos... Use ya common sense here hun.
  • Health benefits. This was my main motivation for adopting a plant based lifestyle. There are countless papers backing up the evidence that a vegan diet can help to lower cancer risk, improve cardiovascular health, lower mortality rates and protect against chronic diseases. Seems like a no brainer. 
  • Faster recovery. I found my DOMS were a LOT less than they usually are. I normally take quite a while to recover after heavy weight sessions. However, I found my muscle soreness diminish and climbing the stairs after leg day didn't seem as hard! I did some research into why this may be and apparently animal protein can cause a build up of uric and lactic acid in the body, which in turn impairs muscle recovery... Interesting! 
  • Doing your bit for our planet. This is often many people's motivation to adopt a plant based lifestyle. One month as a vegan saves an average of 33,000 gallons of water, 500kg of grain and 30 animals lives. WOW.


Challenges 
So it wasn't all plain sailing. The biggest hurdles I came across were during eating out. A lot of restaurants that are not solely vegan often have a very limited choice of vegan options, which are far from what I would consider a healthy or balanced meal. For example, some were just a bowl of white pasta and tomato sauce or rice and vegetables. To me, neither of those are complete meals. So when I did go out and get lumped with these poor options, I had to come home and eat again as I was still hungry! 

I even found myself having to eat at home after my last meal at Farmacy, which was pretty shocking. Not only do they charge you £15 for a dish you can make for £1 at home but I had to send my food back because it was cold. It was also one of the blandest meals I've EVER had in my life. Such a shame because it's so close to where I live and seems to have a bizarrely good reputation. However, every time I've eaten there either myself or someone I've been with has had a problem with the food. Plus the portions are tiny - fine if you want to go there and just take pretty photos; hashtag vegan, hashtag health. But if you actually want to eat and feel satiated - avoid IMO. 


vegan burrito DREAM at Wulf and Lamb

On the other hand, this meal above was literally my favourite of the whole month! It was the 'open burrito' from a vegan restaurant in Chelsea called Wulf and Lamb. Comprised of a soft wheat tortilla topped with cashew cream, sautéed ackee, black beans and red rice. So so delicious and I'd 100% recommend it to anyone looking for good, filling vegan food. 

The one downer here was that I was super excited to try the vegan mac and cheese but it was terrible. I used to LOVE regular mac and cheese and it was one of my favourite comfort foods before I cut out dairy. Therefore, I'd like to think of myself as a somewhat mac and cheese connoisseur (lol). If you have also cut out dairy but remotely remember what cheese tastes like OR you still eat cheese then you will be disappointed with this. It has an awful bitter aftertaste from the nutritional yeast (and I actually like nutritional yeast!) So yeah, it's a no to the mac and cheese but a big fat yes to the burrito.

I know that some of my friends found eating with other non-vegan friends quite challenging. However, in these situations my friends were really understanding and non judgemental, which was amazing as it didn't make me feel embarrassed or awkward at all. I even went to a dinner party where they served up roast pork. However, as we all brought a dish, I cooked some lentils and had that as my protein source with all the other veggies that were there. Turned out to be a delicious meal and everyone else loved the lentils too! Win win. 


Will I stay vegan?
I don't think I will ever put a label on my diet or lifestyle. Just because the day you slip up or want to deviate, everyone is too quick to criticise or make you feel awful for your decision. 

The stats mentioned above in the 'positives' section are pretty amazing IMO and have convinced me that I will definitely try my hardest to remain vegan as much as possible. 

However, as I mentioned, I found eating out the hardest part and would never want to distance myself from social situations because I feel like I can't eat there. So in all honesty, when the vegan options are poor, I would much rather opt for a wild salmon fillet for a good boost of omega-3, than be stuck with some greasy vegan option lacking in excitement and nutritional value. 

At home though, I can't see myself ever buying animal products again. I have become a lot more experimental in the kitchen and saved SO much money this month (handy when you've got all that tax to pay). As long as I'm prepared with soaking my beans etc then being vegan at home is easy!

As for the long term effect on my health, it might be great now, but I want to be sure that I am never deficient in any vitamins or minerals such as B12 and iron being the main two. With my predisposition to iron deficiency as found out in my recent DNA test (you can read about that here) I may need to consider iron supplementation along with my already supplemented B12. 


If you are vegan, have tried veganism or are thinking of trying it, I'd love to know how you are getting on either here or on my Instagram @jesssriv.


Until next time, 
Jess x




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