Okay, so I thought that perhaps a nice way to summarise what I had learned about veganism so far in previous blog posts would be to do it for myself. And what better time than the glorious period of failed resolutions that is January? I joined the approximately half a million people (since 2014) who have quit meat, dairy and all the other animal-derived products for January (https://uk.veganuary.com/). This blog post will be a little less science-based and more experiential, as I hope to share my thoughts and lessons from the last 31 days, including tips and great places to eat.
Note: These are my experiences and may not be a representative of how a vegan diet affects everybody. I also wanted to experience the vegan options produced by restaurants which many plant-based bloggers may disagree with, however I found this made the transition into plant-based foods easier and more enjoyable for me.
Expectations and results – health
It is a well-established joke among my friends how bad a vegetarian I can be. I had tried being vegetarian back at school for about a year, then hit university and kept going for a while, before relapsing into my chicken-loving ways when I returned home. This transition into veganism therefore came as a nice shock to the system, switching from an essentially flexitarian diet (eating meat around twice a month) to eating purely plant-based.
Through researching the previous three blog posts, I formed the following expectations in my mind about what was going to happen to my body:
- Reduction in energy and increased fatigue
- Weight loss
- Clearer skin
- Reduced bloating
My main motivation for partaking in Veganuary this year was to determine whether these factors were affected by the diet change, and particularly whether I would feel less bloated and tired. Even from the first day, I felt significantly less bloated and sick after meals, and after a while even forgot how bad I had been feeling without even noticing it. Clearer skin also appeared as a potential impact of following a vegan diet, but unfortunately this was not true for me; I think this is because I was still eating sugary snacks (*cough* oreos and vegan chocolate *cough*), which is likely to cause bad skin anyway. Oh well! One thing at a time, eh? I also didn’t notice any significant change in my energy levels this month compared to the previous months, which can only be a good thing.
Finally, weight loss. Losing weight was definitely not my aim for undertaking Veganuary, as I have always struggled to maintain a healthy body weight. However, after one and a half weeks of following a vegan diet I had lost 6kgs without realising. This was quite alarming, but with a few adjustments and the increased consumption of copious amounts of lentils, beans and bread, it was easily resolved. So my advice to fellow venaguary-ers (and just eaters in general) – even if you think you are doing something healthy for the body, it might not be healthy for your body.
Cooking and eating experiences
My pre-veganuary diet is best described as “healthy-if-you-ignore-the-chocolate”. My cooking skills are somewhat limited (particularly if a recipe takes over 30 minutes to create!), and I tend to focus on meals involving rice or roasted vegetables. This month of veganism saw me diversify my repertoire somewhat: I cooked lentils, quinoa, curries, more roasted vegetables in a variety of formats and even made vegan sweet potato brownies (recipe here). I even became tentatively better acquainted with my culinary arch nemesis, the aubergine (!).
Overall, I really enjoyed cooking new things and eating a wider variety of food groups; a big lesson for any other people hoping to expand their cooking knowledge is to also use a blender, to make sauces (see worryingly green liquid in picture below), soups (some more successful than others, but don’t freeze your lentils, chaps) and smoothies. Using a blender (if you have one) is a great way to reduce dependency on shop-bought pasta sauces too, which saves money, and they can be stored easily in jars and tubs.
Product recommendations and places to stuff your vegan face
The simplest way to tell you about the tastiest vegan things (always check the ingredients list though, just to be sure) is to compile a list of my favourites:
- Uncle Ben’s quinoa rice
- Savoury rice (microwavable or boilable, both good)
- LOTS OF BREAD
- Alpro (especially yogurts)
- Hotel Chocolat vegan batons – though expensive (£6 for 20)
This month has also taken me to KFC to get their new vegan burger (not very healthy, I know), Ask Italian to get aubergine pasta, Bills for their vegan breakfast, Pho Vietnam for vegetable noodles (see image below) and Costa for their vegan rocky road. I was really surprised about the range of great vegan options in Ask Italian – their vegan chocolate orange tart is to die for.
The not-so-positive experiences of the month
Veganuary was not all about sexy lentil curries and delicious quinoa (can quinoa be delicious? If anyone knows how, please inform me). Having a limited cooking repertoire again made it difficult to come up with meal ideas sometimes, and often led to eating the same thing over several consecutive days. But this was minor in comparison to the things that are available and simple to cook with a bit of recipe googling.
The most difficult thing I found about this month was the response from some of my peers: eye-rolling from parents, in-depth discussions about whether anything is actually vegan, and criticisms of the dietary choices I was making (though as mentioned before, I am not very good at sticking to diets). As well as this, there is that classic feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) which comes with people sharing food that they have made, and politely declining it. For example, missing out on toasted marshmallows by a fire, or refusing cake which someone has baked for you to try. However, the world did not end because of a missed cake slice or a dodged marshmallow.
Overall summary and lessons
Despite the negative social interactions I sometimes faced this month based on taking part in Veganuary, the experience overall was very enjoyable. My body feels better, I can cook lentils and know that my impact on the environment is slightly smaller. This experience demonstrated the importance of keeping open-minded when it comes to trying new foods (for example I tried really hard with aubergines!), and also listening to your body: just because something somebody did or did not eat made them feel amazing, it doesn’t mean it will affect you the same way. So my final message: give plant-based a go! It’s not nearly as bad as you think it might be.