I am going to preface this post with a some disclaimers:
- I am not a dietician or a nutritionist.
- What works for me may not work for you for a host of reasons.
- I have made informed choices about what type of diet works for me and it has been a long journey. It is one that will no doubt continue as my needs change.
- This is a story of how my eating has evolved over the last 4 decades rather than the minutiae of why it has evolved. I am more than happy to go into further detail if people are interested. I realise people decide to be vegan for a host of ethical and nutritional reasons and my own reasons for heading and staying in this camp are fairly complex.
- I respect the right of any person to eat what they like, whatever their reasons. If you come to my house for a meal though, you will not be served anything that once had a face or a mother. You are also unlikely to get anything that isn’t “good for you”. My house my rules.
When I was a kid I had 2 choices for dinner. (1) Take it or (2) leave it. I ate what I was given or I didn’t. My mum did most of the cooking until I was in high school and then we all took turns making dinner. We ate a more varied diet than a lot of my friends (ie not always meat and 3 veg) but in hindsight it was not the best start I could have had. I can’t blame my mum. The advice back then on healthy eating was different. Whatever the motivation was behind the food pyramid ideas in the seventies and eighties (and before), it sure stood the test of time until people of the naughties started to get a bit naughty and challenge it a bit. When I think back now to what we ate back then, I would have a field day making changes…..but at the time?….well I never questioned it.
Our diet was fairly high in processed / refined grains, relatively high in saturated fats, high in dairy content and not high enough in fruit and vegetables. There were a few things I really disliked (meat filled ravioli was one and eggplant moussaka was another) but otherwise I generally ate what was put in front of me. I was always a bit chubby as a kid, and I remember being put on calorie controlled diets in early adolescence. Again, hindsight is a wonderful thing….it would have been much better to look at what I was eating / being fed, and how good my nutrition was than teaching me to restrict myself to the point where I was always hungry and still had insecurities about my size.
As naturally happens, I began to exert some control over my life on entering my teenage years and early adulthood. I was still living at home though so I couldn’t be completely in control. I became a vegetarian over a period of a year or so during my first year or 2 of University. My parents were not all that thrilled about the idea, (although my mum did make some attempts to accommodate me when it was her night to cook). My Grandparents were less understanding. Consequently I had to become quite a good cook in a short space of time if no more for the sake of proving a point (ie that vegetarian food was not bland or boring!).
Many people stop eating meat when they find out where it comes from. I don’t think anyone hid the facts from me and I didn’t really have a problem with the fact that animals died to appear on my plate….I probably didn’t actually think about it much……so this was not my reason for becoming vegetarian. My initial aversion to meat was related to an association that I couldn’t throw; dissecting human bodies was not unlike carving up roast lamb. For those of you who have not had the fortune (and yes it is really interesting) of cutting up a human cadaver, I can tell you that when all is said and done (or in this case the term is “fixed” ie when you preserve it in formaldehyde), we humans look the same on the inside as the animals “we” eat. Some of you may be thinking “Tasty”….well that might be what you would say if pickled humans smelled like a roast…..they really don’t though. It has been over 20 years since I set foot in the dissection room and nearly as long since I have eaten meat. It took me until a few years ago to banish the olfactory memory, by which time I had well and truly committed to being a non meat eater for a host of reasons that didn’t even relate to the initial turning point!
By the time I moved out of home (living overseas in a nurses residence and then share houses) I was completely vegetarian (and by the way, NO, vegetarians DO NOT EAT FISH….or chicken…..or lamb….or gelatine…..or cochineal….etc) and in control of my own dietary choices. Living in UK made life a lot easier, as vegetarian products were readily available and clearly labled. I still wouldn’t say my diet was fanatically healthy but overall I was probably eating better than I had at home. The other thing was that rather than being assigned the lable of “picky eater” as so often happened / still happens here, being vegetarian (or even vegan for that matter) there was seen as normal (which it is!!) As far as nutrition went though, I was pretty naive and still a slave to the old pyramid and continued to think in terms of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protien, fats etc).
Over the next 15 years or so I moved house and state and country about 10 times but each time (other than when sharing a kitchen) I had a strictly (lacto – ovo) vegetarian kitchen. As I grew up, some of my less informed dietary choices started catching up with me. I started to get signs that all was not ok. But I was busy, I ignored them and just hoped they would go away.
I started thinking a bit more seriously about diet during my first pregnancy. Many of my symptoms were exaggerated during this time and I made some changes to my diet to assist this. I also had a gestational diabetes scare. After my morning sickness gradually abated and I was able to eat relatively normally, I found I craved fruit and salad rather than chocolate and chips (which was a blessing!). My husband borrowed me a book called “Skinny Bitch, bun in the oven” (probably the title appealed to him for some reason) which was a no holds barred approach to vegan nutrition in pregnancy and lactation. At that stage I was not even considering a vegan diet and my GP had concerns about my Iron and B12 even as a vegetarian (many arguments and supplements were thrown around between us but that is another story entirely).
By the time I was breast feeding first baby number 1 and less than 2 years later both baby number 1 and baby number 2 simultaneously, I was literally eating like a horse (well fairly similar food and in similar amounts; minus the nosebag) and discovering that I was feeling pretty good (depending on the degree of sleep deprivation at the time). I was also losing weight without actually trying to. I basically cut down on sugar, processed fats, refined carbohydrates / refined food in general, and increased fruit and vegetables in my diet. For the same reasons I hadn’t previously questioned the pyramid, I also had considered that the 5 and 2 rule applied to veg and fruit was was a goal rather than a minimum to aim for. I made the pleasant discovery, however that if you don’t fill up on other useless stuff then you have room in your diet for a lot more than 5 and 2, which is great because I actually love fruit and vegetables. As I started to feed the kids solids too, I became more determined that I would give them as good a start as I could. I started to change further what I ate, so as to be a positive role model.
Fairly soon after I weaned baby number 2 (she finally quit completely when she was two and three quarters – a month ahead of her brother’s record) and after reading more on vegan nutrition and nutrition in general (ie thinking about micro-nutrients as opposed to macro-nutrients and looking at real research and health recommendations that weren’t sponsored by various food manufacturers and producers), I started to transition toward veganism and then to mostly gluten free, whole-food, veganism. To be honest about the transition, I had some initial concerns about saying goodbye to eggs and cheese (completely) and bread (mostly), because, quite frankly, I liked them and thought I would miss them, rather than having any concerns about missing out on anything nutrition wise. Strangely I didn’t actually miss them at all and I felt fantastic so I had no desire to go back to them. My doctor was worried about B12 and iron. Iron I was completely unworried about since other than in pregnancy I had never had to supplement. B12 however, I thought it best to supplement based on what I had read.
Around the same time as my transition to a whole-food, low gluten, vegan diet was nearly complete, I started to train even harder than I had before. I was working out 5-6 days a week, walking 3-5 days a week, cycling or running to school with the kids 2-3 times a week…… and then I added karate into the mix; first once, then twice then thrice then four times a week. I had to eat a hell of a lot to replace the calories I used. When someone actually pointed it out to me I noticed that I was eating ALL THE TIME (and how the hell did I actually find time to do other stuff anyway?).
I still felt energised and I was able to maintain my weight. However, I found it hard to actually build muscle. Particularly as I started to get more serious about Karate, I felt at a bit of a disadvantage when I was training with / against people much bigger and stronger than me. I heard about creatine supplementation and read up on the potential advantages and started taking it daily and also increasing calories (via nuts, avocadoes, seeds, quinoa, oats, brown rice) and increasing my weights / resistance work. This made a huge difference over a period of a few months. I put on weight and got better muscle definition than I ever had when I was lifting heavy weights several times a week at the gym and started noticing I was feeling much stronger!
So apart from eating a lot, what does a day of eating look like for me?
Currently my usual breakfast is a smoothie (about 750-800 mL) consisiting of lots of spinach 1-2 frozen bananas, an orange (rind and flesh) some cocoa, turmeric (good for anti-inflammatory purposes to heal my karate knocks), cinnamon, creatine, psyllium, LSA, maca, ice and homemade almond milk. (I posted a few recipe’s – Rachel’s smoothie is the current favourite though which is essentially what I described). In winter I also have a cup of chai (about 750 mL). In summer I just drink extra water if I am thirsty. I take a vegan multivitamin (with B12, iodine and everything else I might need), a probiotic, magnesium (good for cramps / muscle healing) and vitiman C / zinc (immunity booster). Occasionally I have homemade museli done as bircher or porridge or very occasionally mushrooms, tomato, spinach and baked beans (ie a cooked breakfast).
Snacks and dessert through the day include celery and carrot and other veg sticks (sometimes with a homemade dip) , fruit (I generally eat about 8 or so pieces of fruit a day – I get what is in season), vegan treats (see my recipes), nuts.
Lunch is generally a vegetable soup (with pulses or other protien) and a salad with lots of greens dressed with humus or tahini and chilli or buddha bowl in winter (rice or quinoa or buckwheat with roasted root and stir fry green veg and some sort of protien (eg pulses, nuts, tofu, tempeh) with some fresh salad veg (eg cucumber / celery / carrot / tomato). I like to have homemade sambal as a dressing into which I put lots of chilli, fresh turmeric, ginger and lemon grass – the last lot had carrot in it too…..interesting colour and nice flavour profile.
Dinner is either curry or stew or burgers or mexican style beans, or gluten free pasta and sauce, or cottage pie with salad or other raw vegetable side dishes. Sometimes I have a bowl of porridge with banana, peanut butter, and cocoa or a baked apple when I get home from training at night hungry. In summer I would have a slushie or smoothie or some blended frozen banana ‘icecream’ with nuts or a lettuce / nut butter and banana wrap.
I drink lots of hot drinks in winter and I drink lots of water and fruit slushies in summer. I eat when I feel hungry and try to stop when I feel satisfied (rather than full) as a general rule.
I don’t count calories but at a rough guess I probably get through 2500-3000.
In case you were wondering, no, I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything! I also don’t think I am a picky eater. I eat a larger range of foods now than I ever have and there are few things that I can say I actually dislike (within the bounds of my diet). My tastes have evolved since I stopped eating refined foods. Things like celery, cucumber and paw paw (all of which I was never a fan of) are now among my favourite foods. I even voluntarily buy and enjoy eggplant and make moussaka occasionally (and even my family enjoy my version of it!).