Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Transitioning to a Vegan Lifestyle

This week marked my first month of being vegan. I didn't do it for the challenge, not even against a backdrop of hype, but rather a decision to live healthier. While everyone's body is different, I've seen progress in so many surprising ways. I am not here to discuss the specifics or the nitty-gritty of basic nutrition. My only intention is to share my personal journey on why I'm staying committed to a vegan lifestyle.

Why go vegan?

Before the transition, I was fully aware what veganism means. People I used to work with including my boss have been vegans for years. They openly talked about it during our lunch out but never in a preachy way. We even had vegan snacks during meetings. I remembered how I audibly muttered that I couldn't see myself doing it. As a lover of food, it was really difficult to imagine limiting myself. On the other hand, my former boss has an active lifestyle. She joins marathon, goes diving somewhere off the Caribbean, jets off from one continent to another to attend meetings and manages a company at the same time. How is it possible to get all this energy from plants? She's the true embodiment of a role model.

According to The Vegan Society, veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

When I took a career mid-break, I had a good blast of freedom to snuggle on the couch and binge watch Netflix shows. So yes, I've seen What the Health. It was quite alarming so I started switching to several health documentaries such as In Defense of Food and Fork Over Knives. All of them pointed out the amazing health benefits of embracing a plant-based diet. I channeled my inner Nancy Drew and did more in-depth research. Sitting there one night, I had a growing realization on how badly I was punishing my body all this time by eating animal-based food. It's mind-blowing how ignorant I was. If I could go back in time, I'd probably give myself the ultimate head scratch for being misinformed.

How to transition to a vegan diet?

I initially planned on being vegetarian. I figured cheese would be the hardest to give up. Although I haven't really consumed that much cheese in a while so it won't be hard. I also have reasons to quit dairy for skin issues. Dairy has been recognized as a potential trigger for rosacea. It's a skin disease that causes acne-like inflammation particularly on my cheeks. I suffered for years with dry, flaky skin.

A short background: I grew up in a family that doesn't eat pork. I don't mind a life without lechon, chicharon or bacon. Four years ago, I also became health conscious. I practiced an active workout routine, cut off red meat, soda and junk food from my system. I made sure I only eat salmon, chicken, fruits and vegetables. I substituted regular cow's milk with soy or almond. When you look at it, I already conditioned my body into a slow and smooth transition under a major diet change. No wonder this vegan transitioning felt so natural for me. It's like perfecting the art of self-control. But back then, there were certain days when I couldn't battle my cravings. I thought that was normal so I gave in on "cheat day weekends" for rib-eye steaks and a bucket of greasy chicken. The result? Sluggish, hungrier and tummy woes.

It's time to go all out vegan. I put myself on a strict plant-based diet for a solid week. No excuses. I stock my fridge full of greens, tofu and beans. I also learned how to read nutrition labels making grocery shopping 2x longer. I'm actually surprised at how many substitutes there are. I survived the first week and somehow left satisfied after every meal. Even lighter and no bloating whatsoever. "Wow, this feels good!" Too good that I'm sticking to it for another week. I don't grant myself a leeway to cheat because it defeats my purpose. I began experimenting recipes of balanced meals that I'm comfortable eating  raw and cooked. Learn as much as you can! You can be vegan but end up unhealthy and lethargic. It's important to optimally nourish your body with the right nutrients. When your body is under-fueled, it will start demanding crazy cravings.

Energy level never dropped despite of my fitness regime. My mood has positively altered and no lingering headaches. I trained my taste buds to crave healthy foods. No more waging an all-out war with fatty junk. I had a few breakouts during the first week but it could be from fluctuating monthly hormones. Above all, my skin has consistently cleared up after that. I only lost 3kg, not that much but it could also be attributed to my past gym sessions. My lifestyle choice is not a pity party if I don't get to eat steak anymore. I was in for a rude awakening, which led me to a definite consciousness that veganism is not limitation  it's liberation.

Did you know that broccoli has more protein per calorie than meat? Sure, meat has protein but also fats, cholesterol, bacteria, antibiotics and so on that lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Poultry and seafood are equally just as bad.

Is it expensive to be vegan?

No. Plant-based diet is convenient, accessible and affordable. Don't let this stigma deter your decision. Walk around the produce area at a supermarket, you'll have plenty to eat. Meat and dairy products tend to cause a huge dent on your wallet than vegan staples like tofu, beans, legumes and grains. If you're going to spend money on faux meat, cheese, butter and processed products labeled as vegan, those are the expensive ones. Have a week meal plan and buy local produce that are in season. Then cook a simple stir-fry or curry if you want to be fancy. Vegan food doesn't have to be bland too. It's up to you to stick to raw and minimally processed food. You might be surprised that vegans can have pizza, smoothies, pasta, ramen and burgers. The only challenge I experienced is eating out at particular places in Manila. Options can be severely limited for vegans.

There are many reasons why people go vegan  for health, environment and animals. Lately, I've been doing a lot of reading about being an ethical vegan. I personally do not want to partake in the exploitation and abuse of animals so I've decided to make a concerted lifestyle choice. I feel bad for previously owning a couple of luxury bags and makeup brands that do not morally uphold standards for the earth and animals. I still keep those items, maybe wait until they wear out. Veganism may not be easy for everyone but not impossible. You have to look into your heart and mind before switching. Start by making gradual changes and assessing the changes in your body. It's hard work but investing in your health is always worth it.


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