Just a few weeks ago we featured Emma’s fitness success story, all about her 3 stone weight loss and lifestyle transformation. Having relished conquering her battles with health and fitness, she was ready for her next challenge. So what happened when Emma decided to go vegan for a month?
Why did you decide to try veganism?
I love a challenge. Having taken control of my fitness and diet, I generally feel so much better in myself now. I’m more confident, happier and as a result, I’m even more raring to go when it comes to trying new things. I’d read up a fair bit on veganism whilst looking at different health and diet blogs and articles out there and, of all the food-related challenges I could set myself, it seemed the healthiest, and something you could potentially maintain. It’s not a fad diet, like so many out there. I wanted to give it a go! I wasn’t sure if there’d be many benefits from it – I didn’t have specific goals in mind, such as shedding more weight – but I was eager to find out.
Were you strict on your rules? Any cheat treats?
No, I was 100% committed. If you’re going to do it, do it 100%, I say. I don’t hold such a regimental view in the long term, but if you’re setting a challenge for a limited time, why not do it properly? I cut out all animal products – meat, fish, dairy, and all those things I originally didn’t even realise were vegan, such as honey. They all got the boot!
How tough a challenge was this for you?
I didn’t think I’d find it that hard, but I was wrong. Silly of me really – I do love a beef burger, and my go-to post-workout snack is yogurt with fruit and nuts. And blimey, it’s not till you can’t have them that you realise just how much you rely on eggs! Well, I do anyway. Eggs are a staple food in my household. Generally, I have so much more dairy in my diet than I realised. Little things I don’t usually think much about – like the big dollop of yogurt in my morning porridge to make it creamier – were off limits.
Did you have to plan your diet?
Yes, massively. I researched recipes constantly. At first, I was always Googling. I quickly realised I needed to get a plan sorted, so I ended up with a diet chart which outlined all my meals. As well as cutting things from my diet, I also found ways to substitute my favourite things. For example, I could still have my post-workout yoghurt, fruit and nuts combo, but I had to use soya yoghurt, and therefore reduce the amount of nuts I could have due to fat content. That was a slight niggle for me because I do love nuts!
Did you fall off the wagon at all?
No, I didn’t. However, I found ways to indulge my cravings. I soon discovered that being vegan does not mean you have to starve, or totally go without tastes you enjoy. I started using almond milk in my porridge, which is so tasty, and soon realised that Bournville dark chocolate is vegan. Oh how I enjoyed a few squares of that as a treat. I also remember one day, I was meant to be going out for dinner but my friend cancelled. Instead, I nipped out to the supermarket and picked up a stir fry mix, a host of yummy vegetables, cashew nuts and vegan Japanese crackers and it was such an amazing dinner. I also discovered a fantastic vegan hot chocolate liquid formula. Simply add almond, or some other plant-based milk. Totally natural and totally yummy.
Did going vegan for 30 days provide any physical changes?
The main change I noticed was that my digestive system was definitely happier. I think that perhaps the combination of certain meats and carbohydrates in my usual diet does not sit that well with my gut, so having no meat to digest had a positive effect on me. I don’t think I lost weight – perhaps a pound or two – but I think it would need more than 30 days for any significant changes, other than the digestive one.
What was the biggest challenge of going vegan?
Lunches. Haha. I love a salad, but I generally team this with a bit of chicken, eggs or tuna in order to get that satisfied, full-up feeling. I learned quickly that adding quinoa or cous-cous and beans or lentils, did the trick. Rice cakes were also my friend. I had those with a little peanut butter. I also found it hard to compromise on my fats, as I mentioned earlier with my post-workout fix. Having to be so mindful of what I was eating, I was learning exactly what I was putting into my body as I had all the fat contents etc. written down. Seeing it on paper makes you question what you’re eating more. I would cut down on my allowance of nuts to make room for my soya yoghurt, for example as it is higher in fat than my usual yoghurt. It was tough to do that!
What was the best thing about your vegan month?
I learned to plan dishes, and be far more creative. Not able to rely on my usual go-to foods, I had to discover new ideas, re-evaluate what I eat, and I learned how to flavour my foods with herbs and spices. I also learned more about where you can get your proteins and fibres etc. from, without having to have meat and dairy. It was enlightening in a way. It broadened my dietary horizons, and I did feel good for not having meat, in particular. As mentioned before, the improvement to my digestion was also a big plus.
What was a typical day’s diet?
Breakfast: porridge made with soya or almond milk with blueberries.
Lunch: kidney bean salad with spiced quinoa followed by an apple.
Dinner: stir fry with peppers, mushrooms and a handful of cashew nuts with vegan sauce (homemade or shop bought, depending on time and inclination!); with soya yoghurt and berries for pudding.
What’s your overall verdict on going vegan?
I learned a lot from going vegan for 30 days. Most of all, I learned how to be far more mindful of what I eat. I also learned that my preconceived ideas that going vegan would possibly be quite dull were mostly wrong. If you research well, you can discover so much choice. And tasty choices too! Valentine’s Day fell during my vegan month but I managed to cook up a scrummy dinner of spicy bean burgers, followed by vegan brownies with vegan ice-cream for my hubby and me. Also, my friend invited the girls over for a dinner party one night. My other friends attending were dubious – they even planned on a McDonald’s stop on the way home – but they were pleasantly surprised by a scrummy three course meal consisting of sweet potato and coconut soup, spicy vegetable tagine and a vegan chocolate mousse made using avocado and cacao powder as its main ingredients. And I discovered that a lot of Proseccos are vegan! That rounded off the evening nicely. And there was no need for that McDonald’s trip!
So are you a vegan convert?
Although I think I could do it, I haven’t decided to go vegan. Instead, I have learned from it and have adopted it to a certain extent to help my digestion mostly. I don’t eat meat on weekdays, I opt for plant based milks now (almond milk is my favourite), and I generally don’t eat as much dairy or meat as I did as I have discovered exciting new substitutes from my cooking during vegan month. Plus, I love eggs so much, I’m not sure I can give those up!
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