Q. How do you know if someone is a Vegan?

  1. You don’t, they will tell you within 5 minutes of meeting them.

Vegans get a lot of bad press. I jest with my opening comment above as for most vegans you wouldn’t be aware of the animal loving, lentil eating side of them unless you had to sit down and eat a meal with them in which case you would know within minutes of trying to find a suitable meal.

Over the last month, I have experimented going completely meat and dairy free. To make this more interesting I tested my blood and body composition before and afterward whilst trying to live as normally as possible. I would continue to home cook 80% of the time but also not limit the times I would go out for food or brunch (it happens occasionally!). The results were fascinating considering the short time span and the learnings were plentiful giving me much to consider moving forward.

Let’s start with the Why?

My reason for experimenting was fourfold:

  1. Challenge. Having to break my typical eating habits and rethink my approach, a challenge that my clients have to face when working with me, a challenge to remind me first-hand some of the difficulties of making habit changes to life long-ingrained ideas.
  2. I still can nudge the dial and be 1% better. I eat too many oatmeal cookies from Pacific Coffee as I justify to myself that oats are healthy and it has fruit in them¦.I know I don’t do it very often but daily acts like this had started to creep back in. Cutting back on junk snacks and the idea of increasing my veg intake were certain big wins to be made in moving forward.
  3. Inside health. I may look healthy on the outside but I was not certain of my inside health. Having never taken blood tests previously, this seemed like an ideal time to justify the check up and quantify my I don’t do this often.
  4. Environment. Increasing research is available to tell us that cattle farming is a massive greenhouse gas contributor, I’d like to do my bit.

Pre Testing.

Now I make of point of trying to keep this blog fairly light and not getting too detailed, If you want to know more have a look at the pics below the writing for further explanation but a brief summary showed:

  1. I had borderline high cholesterol at 5.56 mmol/l (Think the crappy stuff that blocks your arteries if left)
  2. My LDL (bad fats) count was borderline high at 3.759 mmol/l
  3. My HDL (good fats) was okay at 1.44 mmol/l
  4. Glucose sensitivity (an indicator for diabetes) was normalÂ4.14 mmol/l.

I was a little shocked with these results, I thought I was super healthy but perhaps that cookie/cake/chocolate bar had become more than a I don’t do this very often but I could not see it, my story said health but I had been blind to the reality¦what if I had never checked? would this have got worse? ¦regardless its done now and I now have information to #DoSomethingDifferent and attack being a Vegan.

Planning:

My very first meal into this experiment was a packed lunch I had made the day before, after moving all the chicken to one side I realised my scheduling & planning needed to be a little sharper. After this meal it became more business, as usual, planning, scheduling, shopping, and cooking is an ingrained routine for so not much more effort was required until I realised I may need to eat more than salads and quinoa. Over the next four weeks I learned:

  1. Sources of protein can be found in numerous ways and just sticking to chicken breasts means missing out on so much. Protein is found in abundance in lentils, beans, split peas, soy, tempah, tofu and kefir meaning cooking variety actually went up.
  2. The easiest way of dealing with cooking was to carry on as normal and just replace X for Y, chicken for tempeh, fish for tofu etc although this did get a little tedious, perhaps indicative of my diet in the first place!
  3. Stir fry’s are amazing, throwing in several types of veg, peppers, and eggplant meant variation was always high with such a range of spices.
  4. Mix bean salads or chilies taste amazing.
  5. Breakfast veg shakes were a revelation, one chopped frozen banana, 6 frozen grapes or blueberries, a large handful of kale or spinach, almond milk, flax seeds and a small handful of nuts – blend for 20seconds and yum! Veg in at breakfast and drinking easier to handle first thing in the morning.
  6. Eating out proved a challenge even at vegetarian places.

For me planning is 90% of the battle, relying on willpower and your day to give you that break it is meant to be a high-risk strategy – I’d much prefer to know what my meal is and know it is on hand so if I only get 20 mins for lunch, that’s okay I don’t have to rely on shitty convenient food. (note I work in my own house 50% of the time and could cook fresh but I choose not to as plans will always change when i say shitty convenient food think, canteen or junk shelf in the office or tuck shop).

Eating out

I have learned there are some amazing restaurants that cater for vegan eating and I have learned that going out as a group could see you eat a salad followed by cheese-less pizza and skipping dessert, my main take-homes:

  1. Plan ahead. If I could choose a restaurant I would as it means I can get a good meal, HOME in central was a particularly great place alongside, Passion, Simply Life and Mana, I could happily eat in these places all year round!
  2. Speak up. if I couldn’t pick I would always encourage Italian for the salad starter or bruschetta, a small pasta dish or cheese free pizza – Pizza Express is a wonderful option with a great range of hearty salads.
  3. Don’t assume vegetarian in Hong Kong is Vegan-friendly. With so much cooked in creams, added cheese, and even meat broths, be careful with the menu. Luckily this wasn’t an allergy, numerous times I had to simply accept I would be scraping things to the side of my plate – I wasn’t going to make this an ordeal for me or the people I ate with!

Going meat and dairy free certainly helped find the restaurants that know what a vegetable is and could cater for off menu needs if necessary, don’t be afraid to ask!

Cravings

I was giving up my cookies and desserts for the month I was intrigued to see what I would replace them with:

  1. Bread. I thought I would eat far more but as I was no longer having eggs for breakfast I found I actually consumed far less over the month. I have high standards of bread and will only eat fresh bread from the local bakery as I know it will rot within three days¦ a good sign of minimal ingredients. (I encourage you to check yours, how long can you leave it on the side without any mold!)
  2. Chocolate. So 85% Lindt dark chocolate is dairy free, enough said¦ at least twice a week I would have a small piece, yes it has sugar but I have such little sugar in the rest of my diet I’m not becoming a saint.
  3. Pasta. Again I thought this would increase but as I rarely eat it anyway surprisingly I continued to rarely eat it except when out for Italian, perhaps twice over the month.
  4. Peanut butter. I love peanut butter, again made with 100% nuts no added extras, this and a spoon was possibly my biggest craving replacing the cookie in times of real need, just one small scoop though!

Surprisingly I had very little cravings, I was now eating so much more fruit and veg I felt more satisfied and my body seemed to like it.

Supplements.

I was a little concerned about not getting enough protein so I ordered soy protein powder, nutritional yeast, and a large bag of split peas from IHerb an online health foods store. There are so many good websites available to share recipes to support natural eating but caution must be had to the amount of sugar, stevia, honey, flour, sugar alternative¦. that is put in the ingredients – sugar is simply not needed.

Downside of going Vegan

Going vegan was a great experiment and I learned so much but issues raised were:

  1. Smell. Flatulence was a big issue over the month with many more bowel movements than usual, I could argue this was a benefit, I have not been so regular in a long time!
  2. Choice. Sometimes I wanted yogurt or an egg or fish, hard rules sap will power and at times left me hungry if I had been ill-prepared, 7-11 won’t help you!
  3. Explaining. Why are you doing that?ÂMany people have opinions of why meat is normal and Veganism is wrong, I understand but disagree and when you just want a nice lentil salad I don’t want to justify my food to you.
  4. I got drunk far too quickly, my rule of three is now down to two – again this could be a benefit, one glass with food is okay, man, i suffer after the second!

Results.

The results speak for themselves, over the month I:

  1. Packed on lean muscle mass whilst dropping fat (+300g muscle, – 800g fat, 1% Fat loss)
  2. Dropped cholesterol to desireable 4.28 mmol/l (-0.8mmol/l)
  3. Dropped LDL (bad fats) to optimal 2.329mmol/l (-1.5mmol/l)
  4. Increased HDL (good fats) to 1.59 mmol/l (+0.15mmol/l)
  5. Increased glucose sensitivity (an indicator for diabetes) to 4.08 mmol/l (-0.06mmol/l)

This means I have less risk of developing coronary heart disease or stroke, I have greater lean mass preventing wastage in old age, my body can cope with glucose and sugar more readily, all in all, a vegan diet is extremely healthy!

 

What next:

Will I keep this on? No I won’t but I will take away a number of learnings:

  1. I will now eat more veg than meat, having perhaps 3 or 4 meat free days a week as I introduce fish back into my diet 2/3 times a week and red meat once a fortnight ( I have already had a steak since finishing the experiment and I loved it!)
  2. I will vastly limit dairy intake, I am not going to eat butter again as this will ensure I do not eat cake or cookies or shitty chocolate. Reducing my sugar intake further and allowing more room for good food.
  3. I am maintaining my veggie breakfast shake, it tastes great and I am half way to my 5 a day before 8.00am
  4. Changes in diet make a difference to your insides and outsides, you may be skinny and can eat what you want but I wholly recommend checking your blood to see if that story you tell yourself is working for you.

It has been a great month and I completely get the hardship in change but when the alternative is ill health and/or not feeling comfortable in your own skin… I know what I would prefer.

Until next time

Keep on moving forward one action at a time.

x

Habitual has been created to help you achieve personal health goals without turning your life upside down. We don’t offer short term quick fixes, as they simply do not work, instead we deal in long lasting Habit development building upon existing schedules and routines.

Habitual offers individual support in getting your health back on track through #FOOD (nutritional habits), #FUN (exercise programming) and #FOCUS (mental skills, grit, sports psych, lifestyle and organisation coaching).

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Chris

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