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Veganuary - A Blessing or a Curse?

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I had a pretty excessive calorie surplus in December, eating all the chocolate and biscuits I crossed paths with, I eventually find myself in a ‘couch potato state’ on New Year’s Day, immediately regretting the poor lifestyle choices I had made. With my wedding only 12 months away, I knew I needed to go back to my 'healthy eating and gym ways' to shift the extra kilos I’ve piled on over the festive period.

Flicking through Netflix, I saw The Game Changers and, seen as I’d watched pretty much everything else on there, this was about the only thing left I hadn’t seen. The Game Changers is a 2018 documentary film about the benefits of plant-based eating. It posters itself as ‘a revolutionary new documentary about meat, protein, and strength’. It shadows a number of athletes on both animal-based and plant-based diets, conducting experiments to show the differences and health benefits to going plant-based and why meat is no good! You can watch it on Netflix or find out more about it here.

The subject had never really been on my radar. I don’t personally know anyone who adopts a plant-based lifestyle and had done no research into the health benefits as I never considered that one day I might give up meat.

Until now.

After watching this documentary film, I was still a little sceptical about completely cutting out all animal-based foods. I thought it would be impossible! My other half, however, had already mentally committed to never ever eating animal-based ever, ever again…to the point where he threw out all the left over New Years’ Day meat feast which was supposed to be our tea that night.

We spent hours discussing how we were going to implement this lifestyle change, with him wanting to go ‘full out’ (another Netflix reference there for those of you who have watched Cheer) and me just wanting to slowly ease ourselves in and make our way through the freezer full of food first.

It took a lot of convincing, but the deciding factor came down to laziness and us both not wanting to cook 2 different meals every day. We both enjoy cooking and trying new things anyway so we agreed to share the workload and experiment. The initial agreement was that we would attempt Veganuary and see how we felt after the month to see if it would become a permanent lifestyle change.

Here’s what we’ve learnt so far…

IT’S BEEN EASIER THAN WE THOUGHT

I wasn’t sure there was going to be enough substitutes that are substantial enough to keep us both nutritionally balanced whilst not feeling like all we eat is leaves. There’s so many variations for meat substitutes we’ve been using such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, sweet potato, mushrooms, aubergine. And it’s half the time spent in the kitchen cooking it all! I previously had a very minimal dairy intake and used alternatives already which is a big chunk of the challenge.

PLANT-BASED CAN BE TASTY

It’s all about the seasoning! The cupboard is FULL of herbs and spices from garlic granules to ras el hanout. We find ourselves down the spices aisle at Tesco every week looking for new flavours that we haven’t yet tried, Googling which spices complement each other and how we can create something delicious. We’ve been avoiding the meat-substitute products like pretend chicken nuggets and pretend pork sausages…with the exception of Quorn mince. Beans and lentils have become a staple, cannellini beans, kidney beans, black turtle beans, pinto beans, broad beans, puy lentils, red lentils, green lentils... the list continues. But once again, it’s all about how you season everything!

IT'S SUPRISINGLY INEXPENSIVE

Before fully committing to Veganuary, the thought crossed my mind about the stereotype that ‘healthy food is really expensive’. 3 weeks in and only £70 down with enough food to see us through another week or so is a drastic improvement from anywhere between £130 and £150 a month we would usually spend inclusive of meat and fish products.

EATING OUT IS A CHALLENGE

Trying to change from the mind-set of looking at a menu beforehand and picking the starter, mains and dessert without a second thought to now scrolling through menus, looking for the much less common Vegan options to choose from, wondering are they actually going to taste alright?!

I’ve had a few meals out so far…we sampled the veggie dippers from Mcdonalds, nothing exciting, would much rather have ordered a double cheeseburger with extra cheese! As part of our desk incentive, we had a free lunch at Pizza Express who now do a Vegan Calzone. I was pleasantly surprised; it was pretty tasty. But the winner so far is ASK Italian with their Lentil Spaghetti…I didn’t really know what to expect but it was really flavourful.

YOU HAVE TO CHECK LABELS…ON EVERYTHING

It feels like supermarkets are really getting behind Veganuary for 2020 so it actually makes checking the labels much easier. I used to track my food/calorie intake all the time so I guess I’m pretty accustomed to knowing exactly what is in the food I consume. Whereas my other half has lived a life without restriction therefore never needed to check labels on the food.

PEOPLE WILL ASK QUESTIONS

I’m quite open about the fact that we have made changes to the food we eat, sometimes, it’s easier to stay quiet if you don’t want to receive questions like “why would you do that? How can you give up meat? What do you eat then? Do you just live off salad?”. This then begins a whole process of trying to explain the type of meals we’ve been cooking, why we’re doing it etc etc. Ultimately, lifestyle choices are personal…what works for us might not work for others.

ENERGY LEVELS

We’re both quite active and like to stay fit… I (try to) go to the gym 3-4 times a week and walk the dog 7km most days, my other half plays football regularly in addition to the odd 10k run and gym session.

Since the move to plant based, personally, I haven’t noticed much of a change whereas my other half is consistently telling me how much energy he has and the difference he feels when he steps on the football pitch for 90 minutes… so much so that after a 90-minute Saturday game, he was talking seriously about going a jog that evening.

Overall, our experience so far is outweighed by the positives. We feel better, we’ve reduced our processed foods intake dramatically, naturally the amount of junk food we’re eating has decreased (although I have adopted a plant-based lifestyle, my one and only cheat has been chocolate! I cannot turn my back on Dairy Milk) and the weight loss so far is pretty significant for such a short space of time.

It’s not for everyone and you have to be motivated to commit to it. Who knows if we will continue past Veganuary but it has certainly made us think twice about food choices!

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