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I've been eating a fully plant-based diet for about 2 years now and let me start by saying it's completely changed my life.
The beginning of this journey was tough - I was struggling big time with my health and had been for years - which is difficult being under the age of 30. My weight had gotten away from me and my digestion system (and immune system) seemed to rarely work properly. I had doctor's visits, tests, google searches, diagnoses, and prescriptions. All seemed to leave me with more frustrations than actual progress.
My digestion issues got to the point where I was having indigestion and stomach pains with almost every meal. I had figured out there were certain foods I had to stay away from but things seemed to be gradually getting worse. At times even white rice would cause a flare-up - what is was wrong with me? The doctors said I needed to lose weight (they were right) and also that I needed to eat better (also right). All the tests came back seemingly normal. "Go on a Keto diet" I was told, "You just have irritable bowel syndrome, that why your stomach hurts" My dad had lost 40lbs on Keto - maybe I could too? That new year I wrote down my resolution to get healthy and lost weight - along with the rest of humanity and made plans to start me new Keto diet - getting some tips from my dad along the way.
I was warned that it might take some time for your body to adjust going into "ketosis" and I had read about the flu-like symptoms some experience. The thing is, I didn't feel like I had the flu - I felt like my stomach was turning inside out, in addition to the keto aches. I couldn't sleep through the night so I gulped down tums before bed each night to try to keep the stomach pains at bay long enough to fall asleep. Is this normal? What is wrong with me?
I began keeping track of what I ate in a desperate attempt to try and figure out what was causing the most discomfort for me. After another visit to the doctor, I was prescribed chronic acid reflux meds and a new diet. It seemed the keto diet was out, and I was instead handed a new diet pamphlet that read "Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Diet" at the top...official I know. Reading through the new list of foods - there was a problem...many of the foods listed didn't check out with my journal I'd been keeping. I knew for a fact many of the foods would wreck my stomach - and there was another issue as well. I had gone to the doctor looking for answers, not just something to treat my symptoms. What is was wrong with me?
So, after an emotional call to my dad, he left me with these words "so, take matters into your own hands and do something about it". He was right. I didn't want to just take a pill - I wanted to be healthy, genuinely. So, I kept journaling. I started cutting things out. I started taking what I ate more seriously - and it seemed to help. Then came the trip to London.
We spent about 5 days to see the city and surrounding farmlands - we even took a half-day to explore Brighton on a cold windy day. We ate the most amazing pizza I've ever had. We hid out in small cafes and rode red busses waiting for the rain to pass and on the final day of our trip, we went to the Tower of London. On the way in we stopped for some fish & chips at a small stand outside of the castle...because how could we leave London without trying the fish & chips?! My husband, Tony, ordered the fish and I decided to pivot to chicken strips because I wasn't sure how fresh the fish looked. After we started eating he wasn't a huge fan, and after smelling and tasting the fish (that tasted delicious by the way) I agreed to a trade and snacked as we walked the castle grounds. That night, we ended our day at a 500-year-old pub in a small town outside of the city further into the countryside. Our appetizers arrived, and the food looked incredible. Then, the food poisoning hit. Believe me when I say I've NEVER had food pointing quite like this - I proceeded to be sick - on the dot - every half hour for the next 14 hours. It's quite impressive what your body is willing to do. We had our flight to catch that afternoon and I barely pulled myself together for the trip home - a bottle of Sprite as my crutch.
Needless to say, I made it back to the States and began trying to recover. I ended up not being able to hold down anything but rice, bread, and my trusty Sprite for about 2 weeks. My digestive system was completely shot. I went to the doctor for a check-up and was prescribed antibiotics. I opted against taking them since I was fairly sure I was no longer sick from the food poisoning, I was just extremely week and unable to digest food - after some research, I decided to start taking probiotics and drinking kombucha to help build my digestion back up. Things seemed to be heading in the right direction and getting back to normal.
When I started eating some of my favorite food again, I came to a startling discovery. My stomach pains were back - and after the two week cleanse I had inadvertently done (a blessing in disguise I guess, lol) I knew exactly what was causing the issues for me. Every time I ate dairy it was game over. I was bloated, achy, inflamed, my allergies went nuts, and oh ya - the stomach pains were back! All this time I was allergic to dairy and I never knew. I also discovered eating meat made me feel heavy and bloated, and several other foods I'd considered to be "healthy" caused major indigestion.
My husband, after watching a documentary about Kevin Smith going vegan after he suffered a massive heart attack, suggested we give it a try. He said: "let's just commit to 3 months and see how we feel". So we did, and now, for both of us, there is no going back. I can tell you I've never felt this good - I have more energy, I get better sleep and the biggest thing of all, my stomach and digestion issues are gone. GONE. I even lost 25lbs right off the bat making the switch - my body seemed relieved. I was relieved. I finally know what was wrong with me.
Fast forward to today: I've taken my passion and love for cooking, all those Gordon Ramsey inspired meals, all the cooking classes I've taken, and turned it into something I can share with others. I still cook for my friends when they come over. I still cook for my family on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I still make delicious, to die for, food - I just use different ingredients.
If you'd have asked me before all of this if I thought I could cook mouth-watering, delicious food that was healthy - and that didn't use ANY dairy, I would have just quoted Julia Child, "If you're afraid of butter, use cream." Does vegan butter and cream still count? ;)
So why did I go plant-based? My health demanded it and I'm so glad that it did. Now, I've created my YouTube channel and my blog to share all my favorite things to share with you. I hope you enjoy my recipes and that the lessons I've learned along the way give you a jump start on making the best decision you could ever make for yourself - to eat healthily and take care of your body. If I could leave you with a word of encouragement, it would be that the answers you've been looking for ARE out there. You can take control of your health, eating delicious and healthy food IS a thing - and we are all on our own journey - and there is nothing wrong with that.
Tips for Going Plant-Based
1. It has to be more than a diet.
Diets tend to be more about what you can't have than what you can. If I were to encourage you with anything - it would be to focus on all the yummy plant-based things you CAN have and finding replacements for the thing you miss most. This way you are making positive change in your life, not simply limiting yourself to a few "vegan" foods. Nobody wants to eat kale as their main food group. The biggest thing that helped me swap to a fully plant-based diet was making all the recipes I was already used to and loved - just using all plant-based ingredients. Break down your ingredients list and search for alternatives - they're out there trust me.
2. Vegan = Plant-Based on labels when shopping in the store
You might notice how I use vegan and plant-based somewhat interchangeably in my recipes. That's because when you find something in the store labeled "Vegan" it also means it is planted-based! When I go grocery shopping I always keep an eye out for anything "Vegan" to make finding plant-based replacements easy.
Just to throw this out there for clarity on behalf of my vegan brother and sisters out there, if you final a label that says "plant-based" that does not necessarily mean it's vegan. Vegan ingredients mean no animal products AT ALL. Where plant-based foods typically mean no meat and no dairy. For example, honey is a controversial topic among vegans because it's produced by bees which can be considered an animal product. Of course, veganism goes way beyond what you eat as well. Where plant-based typically just refers to how you eat - so there is much more to being vegan than just your diet BUT when it comes to grocery shopping - just remember if you're looking for plant-based ingredients - grab anything marked vegan and you'll be set.
You can check out my video HERE to learn more about the differences between living vegan and plant-based lifestyles.
3. Find Replacements You Love
Piggybacking off my first two tips - I want to highly encourage you to test and try different vegan/plant-based brands and ingredients you can find around the grocery stores you frequent. Until you truly love the taste of your food, it's going to be hard to stick to eating it. I've found certain stores have different things I like and I have found some super delicious replacements for just about everything I enjoyed before going plant-based. You can check out my Plant-Based Replacement Guide for all my favorite brands to see what I use to keep all my recipes tasting amazing.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out eating plant-based?
Leave a comment below!