Is Veganism for life, or just for January?

Rather than a New Years Resolution this year, you’ll remember that instead I took the Veganuary pledge and decided to follow a vegan diet for the whole of January. As an animal lover I’ve been a vegetarian for many years, but never before given up fish, dairy and eggs, and I was truly curious to see how consuming a plant based diet would affect my energy, my weight and my training. And indeed to see just how easy or difficult it might be as a busy freelance PT to stick to veganism on the go. So 6 weeks after Veganuary ended did I dive straight back into salmon and scrambled eggs?

In a nutshell (because nuts are vegan!) – no. Mid way through March and I am still largely plant-based, and loving it! My days of fad diets, starvation and restriction are behind me, and I neither advocate nor personally adhere to deny yourself anything or labelling any food as “bad” – so had veganism not worked for me, I’d have gone straight back to consuming animal products. Having suffered with so much disordered eating in my past I was very conscious I wanted to avoid it feeling forced or strict, or that I was denying cravings. But the truth is, being a vegan didn’t affect my energy levels for training, didn’t make me put on weight and didn’t mean I had to carry celery round in my handbag just so I had a snack I could eat on the go.

In the 31 days I did Veganuary, I actually lost 0.5kg. I also lost just under 1% muscle mass, which could be down to the increased cardio in my training throughout January (I’m currently in a training academy to teach a very challenging cardio class – post on this coming when I can say more!) – but it is possible this is down to giving up two of my previous main protein sources – fish and eggs. I didn’t notice any change in my physique, nor any loss of strength when training nor delayed recovery afterwards. I was still able to teach 3 classes in one day with the same amount of energy as always.

One thing I learnt early on is that being vegan does require some pre-planning when it comes to eating out. One of our first meals out in Veganuary, my husband and I went to one of our favourite brunch spots, and I was disappointed to realise there was only one dish on the menu I could actually eat (avocado on toast) – and even then I had to ask for no butter on the toast and for them to remove the labneh yogurt on the side. Having brunch out was a particularly problematic meal time – a lot of our usual haunts were out as their menus were largely egg based. However, with a little research I found some great alternatives – both Le Pain Quotidien and Urban Pantry in Chiswick did me proud with delicious vegan brunches.

There are vegan alternatives to pretty much everything I was worried about missing – cheese, chocolate, yogurt….. but not all of it is great. My first experience of vegan cheese wasn’t one I particularly enjoyed, but after some tips from fellow Veganuary Instagrammers and shopping around, the Tesco vegan cheese with Jalapeño turned out to be an absolute life saver, and something I still enjoy eating. It even has my husbands seal of approval – and this is a man who loves a cheeseboard! Nush almond and cashew milk yogurts are absolutely delicious and completely natural and made a fantastic quick breakfast with fresh fruit and granola. And then there’s Booja Booja…. vegan truffles and ice cream that are quite possibly even better than the “real thing” – their sea salt caramel truffles and caramel pecan ice cream were absolute highlights of my month.

When it came to meal prep and meal planning I often adapted dishes I would usually make – curries, stews, chillis, soups could all very easily be made vegan, and often on a Sunday I would make a large batch or something like a bean chilli or squash and chickpea curry which would make a great dinner throughout the week. Pre and post workout snacks included apple slices with almond butter, nuts, smoothies with frozen banana and vegan protein powder (Freesoul Chocolate is my current favourite) and Pulsin protein bars. Again, I’d just have to make sure I had some in my bag to get me through long days on the go.

Overall, my experience of Veganuary was hugely positive. I enjoyed what I ate, I trained as normal and really felt that I was doing something good for animals  and for the planet. I also never found myself in a situation where I genuinely couldn’t eat anything, so for all of these reasons I decided to continue to be as plant based as possible, and wherever practical. What I mean by that is when I’m in control of what I’m eating (e.g. when I am cooking at home or choosing a restaurant myself) then I will continue to be vegan, but if a situation occurs such as a meal at a friends house, travelling or social events where vegan options aren’t easily available then I’ll stick to a vegetarian diet and not beat myself up about it. When it comes to most things, I advocate trying to do what you can when you can – so whilst I intend to try my best to be vegan as much of the time as I can, it won’t always be possible or practical, and when that’s the case I’ll make the best choices I can.

One interesting thing to note is that since giving up fish and seafood I haven’t missed it at all. It was one of the things I was worried about giving up most – I used to really enjoy a tuna steak or salmon fillet, but since 31st December I haven’t eaten a single piece of fish, or felt the urge to. That definitely surprised me!

I have to say it actually feels really good to be doing something so positive for animals, and having been such a huge supporter of animal rights and animal charities for so long I’m a bit cross with myself that I didn’t look at giving up eggs, dairy and fish sooner. However it has probably never been a better time to be a vegan, with so many supermarkets, brands and high street cafes offering vegan options, so this has definitely helped me in my journey so far. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how veganism pans out for me in the long term.

Even though I might be annoyed I didn’t do it sooner, the important thing is I did do it, and I’ve made it work for me. Did any of you do Veganuary? How did you find it? If not, would you consider doing it next year? I’d love to know if my story has inspired you to at least give the vegan life a try for yourself!

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