I have a little secret to let you into: Veganuary may not be working for me.
When I first embarked on this plant-based journey I had high hopes of a puritanical lifestyle, cruelty-free and clean-eating. I was hoping by the end of my month I would be healthier, full of energy, optimistic about my superior life-choices and my skin and eyes would sparkle.
In reality, I’ve never felt worse. I’ve always prided myself in not being ill or having a day off work in the entire three years that I’ve been there. The kids would be falling like flies if a sickness or cold bug managed to pervade our healthy house but I would rise above it, never succumbing to its sickly ways.
I have spent most of January fighting the worst cold/flu bug I’ve known in over 10 years. I’ve taken more medication in the past three weeks than I have in years. The last time I was this ill, The Eldest Boy was a baby and I was still breastfeeding him and battling flu at the same time. In and amongst my beloved grandma died and no one told me for a few days as I was too poorly to deal with it.
This time I’ve tried to battle on, dosed up on paracetamol, ibuprofen, max strength cold and flu tablets containing caffeine, which I normally avoid like the plague and sticking my head over bowls of boiling water containing decongestants. Nothing has helped and nearly three weeks later I still haven’t properly fought it off.
On top of this I’ve also had to combat The Man criticising and blaming my lifestyle choices for being poorly. However, it may or may not be a coincidence that my illness and lack of energy coincides with a conversion to a vegan diet.
I have lost weight, and for someone who has always been perfectly happy within my normal weight range, (I’ve always been borderline ‘normal’) this is not something I have welcomed. My recent lifestyle changes mean I’ve now plunged into the underweight category. Although I haven’t intentionally been looking to lose weight, as a side-effect, my discipline and dedication to my cause mean it has been inevitable. When I’ve made Mexican food I’ve accompanied it with avocado but forgone the sour cream; I’ve eaten burgers but avoided the calorific mayonnaise I’d normally smother it with; when I’ve been hungry and I’d normally satisfy my cravings with a piece of chocolate or biscuit, if I’ve no healthy vegan alternatives available, I’ve not bothered; on countless occasions I’ve astutely scrutinised food labels and surrendered with an ‘oh, I’ll go without’. This, coupled with the lack of high fat cheese and butter options that would normally sneak into my food means I’m down on calories, fat and energy that would normally bulk me up a bit. My diet has always been healthy, balanced, unprocessed with the majority of my food homemade and these little ‘extras’ have been vital in maintaining the balance for me.
Annoyingly, many vegan recipes or menu choices adhere to ‘clean eating’ gluten free principles too; they almost seem entwined. (Why?? I’m avoiding animal products not pasta and bread!!) Although I’ve tried to create balanced family recipes that are representative of the way we’d normally eat, only vegan, I have succumbed to some of these notions during my Veganuary month as a way of introducing even more protein into my diet. I’ve used gram (chickpea) flour for example, and black bean spaghetti but in reality, my body needs carbs for energy. I’ve avoided recipes that substitute pasta for vegetables (what healthy vegetarian or vegan needs more vegetables to accompany vegetables in their mainly vegetable plant-based diet?!) such as courgette slices or spaghetti, as it just leaves me hungry.
But I have been hungry. Hungrier than usual. According to The Man, my bones stick out. It’s uncomfortable for me to sit on hard seating without a cushion or even get comfortable in bed due to protrusions that didn’t used to be there (well, maybe not quite but it feels like it at times). My UK size 6 clothes now hang off me and I look tired. All the reasons for trying this supposedly superior lifestyle seem to have backfired on me. I look worse, feel worse and I’ve lost days at work and time with my kids due to illness – veganism definitely hasn’t brought about the optimism and changes I’s hoped for.
The most frustrating and devastating aspect of my failure is that I hadn’t gone into this decision naively. I’d come prepared, armed with nutritional yeast, maca powder, cacao and vitamin B12 supplements, alongside an already healthy diet and a bucketful of knowledge. I’ve been vegetarian for nearly 30 years, not a huge milk drinker and I’ve always been so fit and healthy, battling anything thrown in my way. I’ve handled four healthy pregnancies, avoided major illness, dealt with divorce, house moves, job changes and bringing up children without incident: this transition should have been easy!
My trial month is nearly up and although I’d seen this as an introduction to a permanent life change when I first signed up to Veganuary, I may have to rethink. I need to feed my body up, fuel it with carbs and fats until I feel well again. I’m not talking a total reversal as this won’t be easy to action as my decision to become vegan was based on ethics and values. I’ll stick with the soya and plant-based hot chocolates that have become a staple treat in my life and the flapjack and wholesome Nutella. But I’m undecided as to where to take it from here. I enjoy being cruelty and animal-product free but I haven’t enjoyed the bombardment and lobbying from other (aggressive) vegans fighting their cause. I’d rather fight by battle peacefully and not align myself with the angry mob.
Although I’ve discovered this diet and lifestyle choice has its drawbacks, there are thousands of other vegans that are testament that it works for them. Maybe they’re slightly more substantial than me in the first place and can take that initial weight loss that’s proved fatal for me as they adapt to change. However, at present veganism doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me. I’m looking for balance, not denial. I may stick with it as I try to overcome my recent bout of illness and regain full fitness, but no matter what my beliefs are the most important one of all has to be my health.