As promised in my previous post, I have been making the transition from Vegetarian to Vegan, but doing it slowly. I am a migraineur after all, and we all know that sudden changes of any kind can be a trigger for us. So instead of keeping you waiting I asked my friend and colleague to guest post for me. You can make up your own mind if you think it is possible to be Vegan and healthy. This is Carmel’s story.

 

My beginnings with food:

 

I grew up with the conventional western world diet; which unfortunately included a lot processed food, ready meals, takeaways and junk food. I wasn’t given a very good foundation in nutrition, so I was an overweight child that grew up to be obese.

 

Examples of what I would eat in a day would be:

Breakfast: Fried egg sandwich / Bacon sandwich / potato waffles

Lunch: School lunch deals – cheese burger and chips / turkey twizlers and chips / lamb burger and chips

Dinner: sausage and mash / roast dinner with little veg / fish fingers, chips and beans

 

 

In between these meals I would be having chocolate bars, crisps, cakes and cans of fizzy drinks. I never drank just water, I would have to add squash to it.

 

I ate very few fruits and vegetables – basically just grapes, apples, cauliflower and sweetcorn.

 

This type of diet obviously caused weight problems. It also gave me a lack of energy.

 

Vegetarianism

 

When I was 16, a girl I went to school with told me what happens in the animal industry, from there I did my own research and was so disturbed and upset I gave up meat immediately.

 

I changed my diet for purely ethical reasons, not for health. My eating patterns didn’t really change as I was still very uneducated with nutrition. Therefore a lot of my food choices went from processed meat to processed fake meat, still including little vegetables. My cheese intake also went up as it was something I ate to replace meat in meals.

pancakes

 

 

 

 

Mushroom & Spinach Pancakes

 

 

 

Examples of what I would eat in a day would be:

Breakfast: egg on toast / Cheesy beans on toast

Lunch: chips, cheese and beans/ pizza

Dinner: veggie sausage and mash / meat alternative pie and mash

 

In between these meals I would still be having chocolate bars, crisps, cakes and cans of fizzy drinks.

When I left school I significantly reduced the amount of exercise I was doing. Plus, when I went to University I was consuming a lot more alcohol. This made me pile on the weight. At my biggest I was a size 20. I am 4,11” and was 12.6 stone.

 

I felt low at this point, with little confidence and was so incredibly unhealthy.

 

I felt I couldn’t live at that size anymore. I tried so many diets, but no diet ever worked. I tried the quick fix diets which were not realistic long term, such as cutting out all carbs, the 5:2 diet and eating low calorie/fat foods which were filled with chemicals. I spend the whole time on these diets feeling starving and all I could think about was food. Probably because I wasn’t eating enough and wasn’t eating the right food groups. I never lost weight because I was still relying on processed, gimmick foods and diets.

 

My friend then asked me to be her bridesmaid. As well as being so happy, I couldn’t help but be overcome by dread. I was one of four bridesmaids. I didn’t want to be that girl that caused problems–the one that couldn’t fit into the dress–the one the dress didn’t suit. So that’s when I stopped dieting and changed my lifestyle and attitude towards food. Something clicked in my head.

 

I would say at first when I was losing weight I was very calorie conscious. I had the myfitnesspal app which told me how many calories I should be having a day to lose weight. I was restricted to 1,200 calories a day. It was a brilliant way to learn about what I was really consuming. I think before I never realised how much I was eating and what I was eating. I think I just told myself that I was always going to be big, that it was in my genetics or something because my parents were bigger. The truth was that they didn’t eat well and therefore I wasn’t taught about portion control and nutrition. I lived in denial for years.

 

The myfitnesspal app really did help me see where I was going wrong. I was regularly eating things like pizza for my lunch or dinner. A pizza would take up 900-1100 calories of my daily intake. When I should be eating 1,200 calories a day. A pizza simply couldn’t fit into my new diet. I started to learn that I could eat far more fruits and vegetables which contained fewer calories than processed junk food, such as a chocolate bar. The fruits and vegetables kept me fuller for longer and gave me energy. I was losing 1-2lbs a week and gaining more and more energy as I was incorporating more fruits and vegetables and less junk foods.

 

I gave up fizzy drinks, milkshakes and lattes. Where I was so restricted on calories I couldn’t justify wasting them on liquid calories. I instead I incorporated green and peppermint teas. These helped my digestion and made me feel less bloated and stodgy. I also started to concentrate on how much water I was drinking. I stopped drinking sugary squash and just drank water throughout the day.

 

For my dinner I needed to learn how to portion control. For too many years I had a mountain of food on a dinner plate. I therefore started to use a side plate rather than a dinner plate. I would also weigh my foods, so I knew I was having the correct amount. I would fill my plate with veg and limit the carbs.

 

 

Examples of what I would eat in a day would be:

Breakfast: 2 weetabix with a banana, cinnamon and skimmed milk

Lunch: Quorn ham & salad sandwich using nimble bread

Dinner: Quorn fillet a few roast potatoes and vegetables

Snacks: fruit/crackers/yogurt

 

I started to go for walks in the evening. There is a big hill in my village that I used to really struggle to walk up. I always blamed my slow walking in general on that “I have little legs.” In reality I was fat and unfit. As time went on I noticed I was getting quicker. This gave me such a boost. I was losing weight and getting fitter. Incorporating some exercise into my day also meant I had a bit of flexibility in my diet. I could eat slightly more than the 1,200 calories because I would burn it off when I went for a walk.

 

When I was losing weight I found it quite motivational to watch weight loss videos on YouTube or look at before and after photos on Instagram. I noticed a common theme in what they were eating. They weren’t using processed foods. Although I had limited them, I was still eating meat replacements such a quorn on a daily basis. They also weren’t calorie counting. They were focusing on nutrition and listening to their body. At this point I had hit a weight loss plateau. So it was time to switch it up.

 

I started to research food groups and how I could have a more natural, wholesome diet. I learnt that pulses, nuts and seeds benefited vegetarians and vegans, and that they should be used to replace meat and dairy in meals. They included protein and essential minerals.

 

Examples of what I would eat in a day would be:

Breakfast: omelette with chia, pumpkin and sunflower seeds toasted on top. With spinach and broccoli on the side.

Lunch: porridge with cinnamon and blueberries

Dinner: homemade veggie bean and lentil chilli with wholegrain rice

Snacks: Nuts & fruit

 

This type of diet made me feel completely satisfied after every meal. My digestion was the best it had been and I had so much energy. I also hit my goal weight of 8 stone.

 

Veganism

 

Although my digestion was better than it had ever been on that diet I still had an issue. It took me a while to figure out the trigger. For some reason it always flared up a lot more when I visited America. The problem I was having didn’t happen all the time, but just after eating certain meals. I worked out that it was dairy that was causing my problems. When I would consume milk or cheese I would immediately bloat and be in a lot of pain. The pain would be like my stomach was twisting and cramping. I would even have trouble walking around. I would often have to stop to sit or crouch down. Sometimes the pain and discomfort would cause me to be sick.

 

I did some research into dairy and its effects on the body. It naturally causes inflammation and is the cause/trigger to a lot of digestive disorders, such as IBS, Crohns and Colitis. My ethical stand point of being a vegetarian made me feel a hypocrite to still participate in the industry by consuming its by-products. I researched into the dairy industry to find that cows milk is designed to make a baby cow double its weight in six months. Why would I want to consume products that are designed for weight gain if I was aiming to maintain my weight? Dairy also contains many chemicals like hormones and antibiotics that come through from the cows, given to them to produce the milk. If I wanted to maintain a healthy, natural, wholesome diet, dairy just didn’t fit into it.

 

As I was researching the dairy industry for ethical reasons, I looked up the egg industry and could no longer participate in that either. So I decided to become a vegan.

 

I would say that the benefit in becoming a vegan is that I feel more connected in a strange way to what I’m eating. Everything is from plant based sources and that makes me feel balanced and guilt free. A negative would be the research that is involved. There is surprisingly a lot of options when eating out. There are a lot of restaurants that cater for vegans, but there is a lot of googling menus and allergen menus. Also there is a lot of reading of ingredients lists in supermarkets as companies often add milk powder to things. As milk and eggs are a common allergen though, these will always be in bold in the ingredients list, which makes it easier.

 

Generally though, I stick to a plant based diet, which makes being a vegan easy. I don’t need to read a packet to know that fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds are vegan. I would say my portion sizes as a vegan are bigger than when I was losing weight as a vegetarian. This is because naturally vegan foods are less calorie dense. This diet suits me as I’m finding I’m not counting calories. I’m eating intuitively and until I’m full. I think that as long as you’re eating the right foods; ie whole foods, you don’t need to worry as much about calories as your body will use the food as its full of nutrition.

salad

 

Quorn, asparagus & Peach Salad

 

An example of my diet now:

Breakfast: porridge made with half water & half coconut milk, chia seeds, linseeds sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, natural peanut butter, blueberries and rasberries

Lunch: homemade vegetable and lentil soup / homemade curry with couscous / homemade chilli with couscous

Dinner: homemade vegan mac and cheese with broccoli

Snacks: banana/ nuts / nut bar / fruit bar / dark chocolate

 

I am so happy I made the decision to be vegan. It fills me with energy. After meals I feel satisfied, and not bloated or uncomfortable. This is the best my digestion has ever been. I am never in pain because of the meals I eat. Even if I eat out and eat more than I usually would.

 

I wouldn’t say that I am the healthiest vegan out there. I think life is about a balance. I still like to eat out and try different types of delicious vegan foods. Such as vegan pizza’s, burgers and curries. I try and live by a 80/20 ratio. 80% of the time I eat homemade whole foods. 20% of the time I eat out or have some vegan treats like chocolate or cake. Did you know you can replace egg in cake with avocado?

 

This brings me on to another benefit of being a vegan. The wonderful experimentation you can have with food. One of the reason I used to be obese is because I love food. I love trying new foods and different cuisines. Part of being a vegan is you have to get inspirations from different cuisines around the world. It makes food so interesting and exciting.

 

I’ve also noticed that my hair and nails grow a lot quicker since becoming a vegan and are stronger.

2017-05-02 20.13.35

 

Post contributed by Carmel Stuart – a happy, healthy, 27 year old.

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