One year vegan and… not dead. Yay us! That being said, I’m writing this feeling like death thanks to a cold, so while our vegan diet hasn’t killed us it hasn’t made us invincible either. I could drop anecdotal comments about how my hay fever symptoms reduced, I didn’t get my usual winter cold and how I haven’t had back ache since the diet change, but it’s hard to say whether that’s anything to do with the diet or just natural fluxes in my condition over a year. It might also not be directly due to the food I’m eating, but the lifestyle changes going vegan prompted. So, instead of this post being about actual physical health improvements I’m going to talk about the impact going vegan has had on well-being, which is about how we have felt in this process and feel now.
Okay, start with the negatives… I’ve been health conscious for quite a while now–if not so healthy in my actual diet–and would watch sat fat and try and moderate the treats, but going into a vegan diet for ethical reasons we were worried that we could be jeopardising our health. Every spot, tummy wobble and head ache, had us questioning whether we were making ourselves unhealthy through our diet. Ironically, this wasn’t the go-to explanation we would have come up with on our meat, dairy and egg filled diet! I also lost nearly a stone in under 6 months, which was a bit of a worry as I am already quite light. However, in the last few years my weight had crept up from 9.5/10 stone to 10.5/11 stone, so I’m taking the drop back down to 10 stone as my having lost the onset of middle-age spread. So, result for me. Rob has not lost weight, but we don’t talk about that… He had hoped he would. The only difference in our lifestyle seems to be that he eats crisps and doesn’t exercise as much as I do as I usually cycle a lot in the week through work. Thankfully, reading around and watching the films ‘What the Health’ and ‘Forks over Knives’ and Mic the vegan’s YouTube channel, we felt somewhat reassured that through our food choices and supplements we would be getting a balanced diet. In the midst of all this angst we had to do a bit of ‘calm the f*** down’ and stop being so quick to recognise health issues and blame them on our diet.
Being on the Outside
Food is often a social activity, from work eats, to going out with friends and family. Food doesn’t come with a handy dandy neon vegan label hovering over it, so invariably I have to check ingredients or ask, or decline just to be on the safe side. And, if you do something differently people will want to know why, and you’ll end up having to out yourself or talk about it. This tends to draw attention to yourself, even more so as the diet is a choice and not due to an intolerance, so it can come across as being difficult or making some kind of statement over a limp sausage roll at the work do. I didn’t expect the reaction of some people around us who disputed the animal cruelty, environmental and health reasoning, and their wanting to poke holes in the thinking behind going vegan. To be honest it kind of reminded me of coming out to small minded people back in my gay youth, the suggestions that it’s a phase or ‘fad’, and that it’s not ‘proper’, and will be unhealthy for me, and citing advice based on outdated notions, and having to deal with jokes based on stereotypes. I began to feel a bit conscious about this being something which created division, and I found it best not to talk about it unless asked. I think people seem to feel a bit threatened by the notion of veganism, which I guess is understandable as the reasons we cite for going vegan perhaps suggest to others that they don’t have the same values or at least aren’t prepared to act on them, so I reined in my excitable social media posts about trying new foods. The other issue is that going out socially can be a bit of a minefield, as we have to check where we can eat and options can be limited, or nonexistent.
All The Fibre
Eating lots fruit and veg, nuts, legumes, wholegrain rice and pasta, and wholemeal bread, we were suddenly getting ALL the fibre all at once. I read after eating ALL the fibre that fibre should be increased gradually… Without being crude and too personal, that’s a big change for the gut to deal with, so we were very gassy and bloated for a while, but this passed–so to speak–as presumably our bodies adjusted, so thankfully it was short-term. Plus I bought some peppermint tea and some tablets which helped. Rob was pretty much okay, and I have a stress affected stomach anyway and I get pretty stressed at work, so I’m not sure how much of this was due to the diet for me or just me being me. From what I’ve read, gut bacteria recovers from all the trace antibiotics in dairy and meat and can become stronger and healthier on a vegan diet as a result, so there’s potentially a bonus for the short-term discomfort.
Finding that a lot of coffee shops and restaurants didn’t have vegan options, and then having doubt about whether foods truly are vegan in places that did have options–we had a couple of unfortunate accidental non vegan foods served to us, which was off putting. Glad I’m not intolerant or allergic as it would have been a different story. Then there was studying ingredients of everything we bought for sneaky animal bits, and making purchasing errors. Honey is the ninja ingredient that we kept overlooking. Honey is very sneaky. We became obsessive and slightly paranoid wombles which made food shopping–my least favourite type of shopping–longer and more involved than I cared for. This settled down when we realised the Ocado shopping and delivery service had a vegan filter (hooray!), and we found our staples and came to know what we could eat. Also, encouragingly, a number of local eateries now have vegan options or full menus. A vegan cake bar has opened up just around the corner. Awesome. Foraging stress was short-lived.
The Feel Good Factor
Thankfully the vegan angst punctuated a curious high mood, as I have been feeling pretty good and healthy in myself since the diet change. Personally, I think this was some kind of placebo effect of change and the reasons for making it. I had been feeling unhappy for a while as I get stressed with work and fed up that I don’t write for a living, and beyond my little life I’m especially affected by the state of the world and the environment, so it felt good knowing that by going vegan we weren’t responsible for animals suffering. Some horribly smug righteous ‘not in my name’ thinking, I know, but we did it for the animals so it’s a fair indulgence.
The Health Buzz
Because I cycle for work and was suddenly eating healthy foods I felt I was doing good things for my health going into my 40s and I felt pretty good about that–and still do. Kind of like having the opposite of a mid-life crisis?! This kind of thinking snowballed, and ended up with us taking long walks every week, doing the 50 press-ups challenge thing (which escalated to 150), took up a bit of weekend yoga stretching, and spent more time out in the open going out for picnics. All of which has given us plenty of chill out time and balance to how we spend our weekends, tightened up some of my bits that were getting flabby and eased some aches, which is only a good thing for keeping hold of the happy. Oh, and in our new found healthy living we gave up drinking. We didn’t really drink much anyway, but after reading about how it’s a poison and a carcinogenic it seemed to counter the bonus health benefits of going vegan which we were now trying to make the most of. Reading that back and knowing we’ve maintained it for a year and that we can’t imagine going back, I feel like a f***ing saint. There’s that feel good feeling again.
Part of ‘The Plan’
We have what we call ‘the plan’ in our relationship–to pay off the mortgage early, reducing our need to work full time, and paving the way to an early retirement. It’s reassuring to know that we’ve potentially cut our chances of diabetes, cholesterol, cancer and heart disease–so in line with our obsessive focus on the future we’ll be healthy enough to enjoy the spare time we want more of as we get older. All in all, for a diet change which initially seemed a sacrifice, there’s been a fair number of gains. Now, if I can avoid falling off my bike I might stay healthy…
The lifestyle change for me and my partner to vegetarian and then vegan has been a process of giving up life-long staple, favourite and comfort food, but there is plenty to eat! Not grass, tree bark and seeds like everyone who isn’t on a plant-based diet seems to think.
Beyond the peace of mind this diet gives me I found myself wondering whether I will ever see food in the same way again, and enjoy it as much as I always have. I certainly don’t see food in the same way–I can’t believe I used to eat meat, knowing what I know now, but society conditions us into not thinking about the relationship between animal and meat. Thankfully, after some trial and error, we now have a diet we really enjoy.
This irregular series of non-preachy blog posts will follow us, two regular guys, meat and dairy eaters for all our lives, as we explore the reasons for and the challenges and rewards of a plant based diet as we go on our new veg munching adventure…
Next up: My Vegan is Bigger than Your Vegan… Hell is still other people…