Living Plant-Based: Two Years On

This month marks the two year anniversary of me converting to a plant-based lifestyle. Who knew that watching one film would completely change my life?

I’d seen Planeat on the listings of our local independent cinema. It looked really interesting, but unfortunately I couldn’t go on the night it was being shown. When I found out I could rent the film online for just a few pounds, I decided to watch it at home instead.

I think I ended up watching Planeat three or four times over that weekend, and every time I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing. At long last, here were the answers to questions that I had been asking for years. I’d been a ‘normal’ vegetarian for over 15 years, avoiding any animal products that involved an animal dying. I knew it was right to avoid eating animals, but I just didn’t know why exactly. When people would ask me my reasons for being vegetarian, I would reply ‘I’ve always just known that I am’.

DSC_0445When I watched Planeat, all the pieces of the puzzle finally slotted into place. I realised where I had been going wrong. It wasn’t enough to just stop eating meat, to be a healthy and responsible human I had to avoid animal protein altogether.

Just like when I turned vegetarian, I took a step-by-step approach to becoming plant-based. My first step was to swap cows milk for soya milk. Admittedly, it took a few days to get used to the taste, but now the thought of drinking cows milk makes me feel sick. Then I stopped using all dairy products and eggs at home, before removing most of the processed food from my diet and looking at what other things I ate also contained animal products.

After five weeks of cutting out dairy and eggs, my parents came to visit and we went out for dinner. Although I was pretty much vegan at home, I decided to revert back to a vegetarian diet when I was out and about. I figured that a bit of dairy once in a while wouldn’t hurt. I ordered a pizza topped with mozarella, and as soon as I’d eaten it I started to feel ill, bloated and lethargic. It took me about 2 days to get over the feeling. I vowed that from that point on I would live as plant-based as I possibly could.

The most immediate change I noticed was the weight loss. I’d been slowly losing weight the previous year, but I’d been struggling to shift the last few pounds and get down to a healthy weight. On a plant-based diet I didn’t have to try, those stubborn pounds just disappeared. If anything, it’s a bit of an effort to try and eat enough food. Especially with all the exercise I do now. I’d always wanted to be physically fit, but on a vegetarian diet I struggled to get enough motivation to even move off the couch. Now, I have so much energy I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t even drink caffeine anymore (due to allergy reasons), yet I feel I’m running on adrenaline 24/7. And because I’m rarely ill nowadays, there’s nothing to keep me from working out.

My cooking skills have improved a lot, too. I found myself scouring vegan blogs and product websites for new recipes I could try, and I started buying kitchen utensils that I’d never heard of before (yes, there is really such a thing as a tofu press). What’s more, the food tastes great and most of it is easy to prepare. When I cook for family and friends, they are always pleasantly surprised and usually question ‘Is this really vegan?’.

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Educating others about living plant-based is also, surprisingly, a lot of fun and rewarding. I’d never push my beliefs onto anyone else, but whenever I’m eating food that involves interaction with another human, the subject always comes up. People apologise for the amount of questions they ask me, but I genuinely do not mind answering the same ones over and over. It’s been easier since I’ve had a copy of the Forks Over Knives DVD. Now I can just say ‘Here, borrow this then get back to me with any questions you still have’.

The biggest surprise to me, however, is the effect that living plant-based has had on other parts of my life. It has led me to question where I buy my shopping from, how much unnecessary waste I produce and just exactly what I really need in life. The answer to the last one, by the way, is not very much.

This year I pledged to produce less unnecessary waste. I choose groceries with less packaging, and I’ve stopped using take-out cups. Whenever I buy something, I question how much waste it will create and how necessary it really is. Wherever possible, I reuse packing materials. My mantra now is ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, and I keep these words in mind wherever I am and whatever I’m doing.

DSC_0356Day by day, I am becoming a more ethical shopper. I buy fresh produce that is as local as possible, and only from the country I am in at the time. This ethos is slowly spreading to other items that I buy. I’m currently in the process of switching to all plant-based soaps, shampoo and cleaners, and I’m planning to move to vegan cosmetics in the near future.

Since moving back to the UK five years ago, one of the things I have struggled with is the materialism here. Whilst I was travelling abroad, I owned very little because that was all I could carry. A visitor to Rhodes, where I was based at the time, commented that I had so little, but yet I was really happy. When you have to live with less, you soon learn that you don’t really need much anyway. By living plant-based, my life has automatically become much simpler again, and I feel calmer for it.

When I was a vegetarian I always said that I could never be vegan. The prospect of giving up dairy just seemed too difficult. People always ask me ‘Don’t you miss cheese/milk chocolate/cakes and pastries?’ (delete as appropriate) and the honest answer is No! Once I stopped eating those things, the cravings for them disappeared. And if I do fancy a treat, there are plenty of yummy vegan alternatives. I feel better now than I ever have done, and I wouldn’t go back to my old habits for the whole world.

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The 8 Principles of Planeat

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post explaining why I’m a plant-based vegetarian . As I mentioned in the post, my main inspiration was watching the Planeat movie. Following on from that, I thought I’d share with you Ann Esselstyn’s 8 principles of a plant-based diet and the impact they have had on my diet and lifestyle.

 

1. Eat Oats

Eat oats for breakfast every day. Oats help lower cholesterol and also reduce artery inflammation. When I first read Ann’s Principles, I was already eating oatbran for breakfast, so it was good to know that I was doing something right. Since I found out that I’m allergic to gluten, I’ve had to switch to buckwheat flakes, but I still eat them the same way. Personally, I like to heat the flakes up with half-water, half-soya milk and drizzle a bit of local honey or agave syrup over the top. It’s also a handy breakfast to prepare when you’re in a rush to get ready in the morning. I put the buckwheat on a low heat whilst I dash round my apartment finding my work clothes and packing my lunch. I only have to stir it a couple of times and, about ten minutes later, it’s ready to eat.

 

2. Eat Greens

Eat greens, especially leafy greens. That’s where you’re going to get all your nutrients from. Don’t worry if you’re not keen on complicated cooking, kale is super easy to prepare. Pull the leaves off the stalks and put them in a shallow pan (I use a frying pan) with about an inch of water in the bottom. Cover with a lid and steam for three minutes. They taste great on wholemeal bread with lemon or as a side to most meals.

 

3. Eat Beans and Lentils

Beans and lentils can be used as a replacement for meat and dairy, and they are really versatile. I keep a tub of red lentils in my kitchen and throw a handful into soups and stews when I’m cooking. Without wanting to sound like a stereotypical vegetarian, I’m going to talk about the merits of hummus. Over the years I’ve tried various types and brands of pre-packed hummus and, whilst it is perfectly edible, I’ve never been a huge fan. Inspired by Ann Esselstyn’s 8 Principles, I decided to give in another shot. You should, however, avoid hummus that contains tahini, and Ann has a great, simple recipe for making your own hummus. Blend together chick peas, lemon and garlic and add cumin, vinegar, red peppers, parsley or cilantro (coriander to us Brits) to taste. On a personal note, I don’t eat garlic, so instead I use chilli, which tastes great. My top tips are to boil the chick peas for a couple of minutes longer than the instructions tell you, or boil them at all if they’re ready cooked, for a smoother texture.

 

4. Eat Whole Grains

Whole grains are easy to identify, just make sure the word ‘whole’ is written before them on the packaging. Health food shops are a great place to find these. Holland and Barrett have stores in most towns and cities here in the UK.

 

5. Eliminate Oil

Ann urges everyone to empty all oil, even virgin olive oil, out of your cupboards. Instead any liquid works. Vegetable broth (no sodium), water, wine, beer, orange juice, carrot juice, vinegar are all viable alternatives. When I first read this I was dubious, but I have since tried using lots of different liquids including orange juice, vinegar and white wine vinegar and found that they do actually work. Most vegetables also contain enough liquid that they don’t need much else to cook them anyway. I never use oil at home anymore, and I try to avoid foods that contain a lot of oil when I eat out.

Coincidentally, whilst conducting my own experiments with alternatives to oil, I saw an episode of The Secret Millionaire on Channel 4 where the same thing was being done but for entirely different reasons. The secret millionaire in this particular episode was trying to fry a hamburger, and asked his neighbours if he could borrow some oil. They told him he didn’t need oil, and he could fry his burger using water. Theirs was a discovery borne out of necessity, as in such a poor neighbourhood oil was a luxury they could not afford. I found it interesting that in these economically challenging times, the cheapest option quite often also turns out to be the most environmentally friendly.

 

6. Drink Water

Water is the best drink you can have. You should drink at least 2 litres a day, more when you exercise, and wait 30 minutes between drinking and eating to avoid heartburn. What’s more, you’ve got to pay for water in your water rates anyway, so you save a fortune in all the other drinks you don’t buy.

 

7. Avoid Sugar and Salt

Avoid sugar and salt as much as possible. Use lemon juice, lime juice and hot sauces instead. If you are used to eating a lot of sugar and salt, you will crave it at first, but that will pass. If you want to treat yourself to something sweet, try agave syrup (plant-based) or honey.

 

8. Read Labels

Read the label on anything you eat that has a label and know what it is you’re eating. This has been a habit of mine since I first turned vegetarian, and I’ve learnt so much from it.

 

The people who brought us Planeat have also made another movie call Forks over Knives. Check out the website here.