Let me start out by saying I've been mostly vegetarian for most of my adult life. I've had periods of times I would start eating some meat again, but it has always felt a bit wrong to eat anything containing meat. That led me to quickly dump meat again and get back to vegetarian. In 2015, I met this vegan girl at the gym I worked. She was a very fun and lively girl who was almost at the end of het dietetics studies. She had written a book - more like a guide - on veganism. After talking a few times to her, I quickly became more and more interested in the concept of veganism. So much, that I decided on doing a one-month vegan challenge to see how a vegan lifestyle would affect me. (For the challenge, click here)
And to be honest, it was quite much. I didn't phase it in or anything. I just jumped into it. Boom, day 1. Vegan for a month. But it was one of the best things I've done in my life.
I discovered a whole lot of new products and a whole other world that was right there under my nose this whole time. I discovered how being vegan makes you think about the food choices you make and I really only then fully realised how big of an impact the food industry has on our world and what problems the food industry face should we continue eating like we do right now. I loved how a lot of people on social media are so hip and trendy and make gorgeous meals and stay true to themselves. I've seen fiery fighters and I've seen peaceful folks who just do what they think is best. And above all, I was flabbergasted at the fact that something that is seemingly so extreme was made clear and simple. And the beauty of it is that I was left with an amazing experience and a sense of goodness. I had even had the chance to pass this experience on through coaching more vegetarians and vegans. Since then, I've had the time to research veganism, vegan food, the lifestyle, all of it.
But above all, I learned that plant-based food is not a limitation to fitness & bodybuilding in any way. You just have to get creative.
So with this knowledge and experience, what would I tell 2015-me or any other person who is interested in moving towards a plant-based fitness approach?
- Ask yourself why. I realised it was important to really ask yourself why you want to take on this approach. As soon as you understand why you want to do something, motivation shifts from social pressure to a desire that is important to you. For me, the environment and personal health is important. To others, it might be animals or whatever. Take a pick, and live it up.
- Talk to vegans with fitness experience. I wished I had found a male personal trainer or athlete who understood what I was going through at that time. Gym-goers and athletes often have extensive experience with their diet and how this impacts their performance. Later, I found some through the internet.
- Do research on the internet. You reading this also counts :). Research the internet for reliable sources on what you need to be eating as a vegan and how this impacts you. For instance, getting vitamin B12 supplements and managing your protein intake (I blogged about this here) are quite important. Download all kinds of guides and lists you should need. Think about groceries, stores, webshops and any other things you will be needing.
- Look around your area, locate vegan food and supplements nearby. Make sure you know which supermarkets sell enough vegan products and where you can have a proper vegan dinner. Try visiting one of those restaurants with some friends and see what it's like to sit in such an environment. Try using www.happycow.net to locate these venues. However, thanks to the world wide web, there are a lot of webshops that deliver vegan products to your doorstep.
- Make or download helpful lists to keep track of what you want to add or exclude. I'll keep this one short. I find it helpful to have lists of which products are vegan at my local supermarkets. I also find it useful to decide which products I consider adding to my diet and which items I don't need. For instance, some people think honey is not vegan. Other's don't see the problem with farming honeybee's. Do what you feel comfortable with.
- Phase in your plant-based/vegan lifestyle. Okay, game on. Your head is about to explode with information and you've heard so much about so much that you might be panicking. Chill out silly Sally. This isn't a cult. (Though some vegans would like to think so, regrettably) Phase in your newly acquired interest in veganism into your life. Start out by living a strictly vegetarian lifestyle. Remove meat, chicken and fish from the equation. After a while, remove diary products and eggs. Then, whenever you feel like you are ready, head for the fine-prints: added animal products such as gelatine and processed animal protein in products. There is no fixed amount of time you are obliged to stick to to adapt a plant-based lifestyle.
- Surround yourself with people who support you. Just like fitness, you will need to surround yourself with people who understand you and respect your choices wether they like it or not. Be a rebel, be sassy! Be proud of what you want and don't let anyone's judgement get in your way. From time to time you will need to defend your way of living. The important thing is to not shove it all down people's throats. If your surrounding questions you or attack you, remain calm and explain what and why you are living like you do right now. No judgement, just respect.
- Constantly re-evaluate your definition of veganism. Veganism means different things to different people. The classic definition and the most logic one is an animal-free lifestyle. No animal products in your food. Some vegans take it a step further and scratch any animal products from their clothing and any other products they buy (leather furniture, for example). Take some time every now and then to decide where you stand and wether you are comfortable with your current boundaries. Does wearing leather feel wrong to you? Ditch it. Does eating honey feel right? Stick to it. Whatever floats your boat, as long as you are plant-based. That should be your drive. Not to get it all perfect.
- Share your experience. Share your experience with people who understand what you are going through and just have fun actually! Life is too short to be living in restraint. Enjoy what you stand for and try to make it a party wherever you go.
Let's get more plant-powered! If you've got questions, just let me know :-D