A Pure Heart8th April 2018
When new people find out I am a vegetarian, the conversation is always the same; “How do you get enough protein?” Like a broken record I am plagued with questions about my nutritional intake and moral judgement. “Technically plants are living creatures too.” Well yes, but its not the same really is it?
When my diet is questioned, my years of experience within the health and fitness industry evaporates and I am suddenly the naughty child who snacks on too many cookies before dinner.
I began my vegetarian journey several years ago after years of telling myself I could never give up meat, but I did and the result was I found my palette opening up to new kinds of foods. Since protein was a concern for me, I found myself being more creative and trying new foods. I was surprised by how many of my favourite foods already contained protein, so over time and with a lot of research, the need for meat really became irrelevant for me.
It wasn’t a quick and easy transformation though. I am not a nutritionist nor an athlete and I have to admit for a long time it was easier and quicker to order a takeaway or pick up a ready meal, not paying attention to the nutritional value and assuming meat free meant healthy. As well as this, I struggled with my sweet tooth cravings. Over a period of time I started wising up about the food I was using to fuel my body. I started to realise that many products we have available to us today are actually doing us harm.
With the growing knowledge and paying more attention, I started seeing the negative impact these foods were actually having on my life. Tiredness, lethargy, stomach ailments, digestion issues, depression, migraines. Suddenly my “go to” foods became my “avoid at all costs” foods. I’ll admit the addiction to fizzy pop (no names mentioned but you know who you are!) was the hardest one to kick. I experienced sickness, extreme exhaustion, mood swings and crippling migraines, I gave up several times feeling that I really “needed” it to feel well. Along my journey of wellness, I started to learn that many brands added sugars and salts to their products. Tinned vegetables that I considered healthy, ready meals, takeaways even low fat or fat free foods had sugar or salt added to it. Food marketing companies use clever wording to trick us into believing we are being healthy and there is progress, when in fact it is nothing more than a clever secret. It was beginning to feel like I may never have a healthy lifestyle and the food industry was the devil in disguise.
After consulting with a nutritionist friend of mine and hearing more about her healthy lifestyle, I decided to take a more vegan and raw approach to my diet. Instead of using tinned foods, processed foods and ready meals, I changed my shopping habits buying weekly amounts of vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts. I changed my pastas and rice to brown, and experimented with new whole foods like quinoa. I gave up cows milk quite quickly, replacing it with almond milk and developed a taste for spinach (who would have thought it!) For so long, I had brushed off my vegan friends advice when in practice I started to see the benefits this lifestyle was having for me. I thought I could never give up eggs, milk or cheese, but actually when realizing the horrible ways in which animals are treated even for the sake of eggs and milk, I realised that I would not be happy until my diet was completely natural.
Suddenly my palette blew up. I was experiencing new tastes, new natural flavours and benefits. Whilst I was still struggling with an addiction to sugar, I was starting to crave fruits as opposed to sweets. When I questioned this, an esteemed nutritionist friend of mine told me that your body craves what you feed it, you train your body by eating healthy and eventually it won’t want the junk. I wasn’t sure I could believe that but sure enough after trying a glass of fizzy pop a few weeks later, I became poorly almost immediately. She was absolutely right. Wow I thought, what else didn’t I know about my own body?
After weeks of raging that there was no chocolate in the house, I found myself craving banana and almond shakes. I became obsessed with trying out new types of milks like almond and soy and the thought of having fresh fruit for dinner as opposed to a steak excited me.
Having worked with fitness experts, I already had an idea of how many meals I should be eating per day. Small but regular I would remind myself and using a nutrition plan my friend had sent me I put together a healthy schedule for myself and my partner.
Whereas I would usually have a snack around breakfast time, skip lunch and then gorge at dinner time, I developed new and healthy habits. Breakfast now consists of porridge or fruit shakes, lunch a salad or wrap, dinner something hot like jacket potatoes, curries, pasta dishes and grilled vegetables, and lastly a snack of fruit, nuts or berries if needed. I noticed after a short while that we had begun to lose weight. When questioned I learned that this is because your body no longer needs to have such large fat stores when you are eating small regular boosts of energy that your body uses up as you go. The idea that I could lose weight by eating more regularly blew my mind! Eating became a regiment and if my partner skipped breakfast he could expect a stern telling off!
I was also seeing a financial reward. Rather than doing one mass monthly shop and top ups through the month, we limited ourselves to doing one weekly shop online and ordering the items we had planned to consume the following week. We were saving money; there was less wastage, more fresh food in the house and if we got peckish, a fridge stocked with colourful treats.
A few meat eater friends of mine would tell me “You’re not actually saving any animals by not eating meat products” and they are right, although for now a healthy lifestyle and spreading my growing knowledge is important to me. I hope that more people will wise up about the sugar secret of the food industry and how badly animals are treated. I think the biggest problem in the food industry besides the additives and addictive foods is that ignorance really is bliss, and people are happy to eat tasty foods as long as they aren’t completely aware of where it came from.
I’m still on my road to wellness, and I know there is still so much for me to learn. I don’t believe that I will ever feel I am truly an expert in this area; I think that wellness and health is a journey and not a destination; the best you can do is research, try, experience and see for yourself the benefits of changing your lifestyle and choosing food wisely. Put some colour into your kitchen and some goodness into your life by changing bad habits. I know you can do it, because I did!