Going vegan: a year later.

Just over a year ago I threw myself into being vegan the same way I do any new thing: with great enthusiasm and lots of loud declarations.

In the first couple of weeks my waist shrank and all the abdominal bloating I was used to disappeared. I felt like I had rebooted my digestive system and felt great. And as the months wore on I faced the challenges of eating out, socialising, and being “that” person at every gathering. I fobbed off all the concern for my well being and reassured everyone as to how great I felt. Ethically, there is no greater feeling than knowing you are doing your bit for the environment and for animals everywhere. I never once missed eating red meat and was convinced I had made a permanent change. Was I smug about it? You betcha.

Eventually, faced with a busy life and being too tired and too lazy to make the best vegan food choices, I began to rely on carbs. LOTS of carbs. The bad kind: white everything, in big portions. Combined with working in my cafe where I had food in front of me all day, I began to settle for lots of grazing and snacking, telling myself that as long as it was vegan it was okay. Not surprisingly, my weight started to climb. When asked if my vegan way of eating was meeting my nutritional needs I would laugh and say something like, “it would be if I stopped eating hot chips all the time!”, and I was honestly fine with a couple of extra kilos rather than not being vegan anymore. But then a couple of kilos became five which then became seven…

A few months ago, driven to despair by the fact that no amount of exercise seemed able to stop the continuing weight gain, I took myself off to the doctor for blood tests. And while my cholesterol and sugar were okay and my thyroid meds needed a bit of a tweak, the levels of iron and other key minerals were basically fucked. Seems like all those times I laughed at the idea of needing any supplements or vitamins was actually me being an ignorant dickhead.

After both my GP and the dietician he sent me to both asked me to consider re-introducing animal protein even temporarily, I made {what was for me} the extremely difficult decision to add some red meat, chicken, and seafood back into my diet. It did feel like a cop out and I hated it, but I felt like I really had to put my health first. The fact is that I would have had to eat mountains of plant based foods to get the same amount of iron as I would from just a couple of serves of animal protein.

I then ended up on so many supplements that I wondered if I needed actual food at all.

The plan was to go back to basics: Mediterranean style food, keeping it mostly vegetarian with two or three serves of seafood a week and one or two of meat, before {hopefully} becoming fully vegetarian and possibly even fully vegan again. I honestly hated eating fish again, and as for red meat, I had zero appetite for it.

I kept reminding myself that even having fish a couple of times a week is better than having some kind of animal protein every day like I used to. But everything I now know kept playing in my mind and was hard to ignore. In fact I’ve had just one serve of eggs in two months, instead of the almost daily the dietician recommended.

The biggest shock came when I got the results from the follow up blood tests, after almost three months of eating mostly seafood and chicken with occasional red meat PLUS all the supplements: iron, folate, omega 3, B12, calcium, D, and zinc.

My iron levels had actually dropped.

And while I should perhaps be worried at my body’s lack of iron absorption mostly it felt good to see the definitive proof that it wasn’t what my body needed. Because while the GP explained that my morning cup of tea was preventing the iron tablets from being absorbed, the fact that I was eating all of my animal protein for dinner with not a cup of tea in sight makes it clear that those supposed sources of iron did absolutely nothing.

For now I have switched to a different brand of iron supplement which I take at night so I can keep enjoying my morning cuppa, and I am slowly but surely removing the red meat, chicken, and seafood. I won’t lie, BBQ’ed prawns have been the guilty pleasure I enjoyed more than anything else, and while I would love to be 100% hardcore vegan I think the dramatic overnight removal of such a large part of my diet wasn’t the best idea, so I’m doing it more slowly this time.

Will I get back to being fully vegan? I’m not sure right now. Do I want to? Definitely, but I’ll have to settle for mostly vegetarian for the time being.

Supplements are also much more important than I gave them credit for, and now I make sure to mention that whenever someone tells me they are thinking about going vegetarian or vegan.

These days about two thirds of my diet is completely vegetarian and usually vegan, and the rest is plant based with a bit of animal protein added, and I aim for at least one fully vegetarian day a week. I feel like I’m doing okay, and have had to let go of rigid ideas and learn to allow myself more flexibility.

Some people have said to me that I wasn’t eating enough red meat for it to make a difference, and while I will admit to my own stubborn biases on the subject, there’s no denying that it certainly didn’t contribute a single thing. So I’m sorry, but that annoying person you don’t want to eat out with is making her way back.

So break out the lentils.


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