Pescetarianism, Veganuary and What The Health
*For context I gave up meat in September 2017 and I have been vegan since January 2019.*
Today I want to talk about veganism. If you have been following me for a while then you'll be aware that I have been meat free for a year already and have tried Veganuary in the past too. Last year wasn't successful, I tried twice but gave up halfway through June because I simply couldn't do it anymore.
I then went back to my pescatarian diet, still eating dairy and eggs - although I was slowly leaving the latter out of my diet as I wanted to give them up completely and the welfare aspects of it weren't sitting right with me either. It wasn't until January 2019 when I tried Veganuary again that I found it to be easier than ever.
I don't know what exactly changed but I guess I got my vegan mojo! Suddenly everywhere I looked vegan options were becoming more and more readily available. When Greggs released their vegan sausage rolls I knew it was going to be easier than ever to actually be vegan full time!
Transitioning from a full time Omni to Vegan has been easy. After I watched What The Health on Netflix I went vegetarian overnight. I think I had been considering it for a while as there's lots of people on social media who are veggie, vegan & everything in between. Watching the documentary (which had been recommended to me) was tough but definitely an eye opener to me.
I'm not blind to what happens to farm animals because I did an Animal Welfare degree at University and have seen some pretty horrific videos but I was still an Omni. The thought of giving up meat was like a bad joke! It definitely didn't seem like something I could or would ever do myself.
Entering Veganism and Finding My People
Fast forward a few years and here I was considering doing that very thing. I think it was quite a natural progression for me at least but I can't say it wasn't easy, I did struggle when I first tried Veganuary but the second time around I was more informed and felt I was in a good place to at least give it a go.
Finding a place where I was accepted for trying this new way of life was like a lifeline to me. Every silly question I had was doing be answered sensitively and without judgement. We were all in this together, whether we were a new vegan or a lifetime one.
Having such an informative base to go to if I ever had any questions (no matter how silly) was an absolute godsend to me, it was filled with an abundance of information and photos of ''accidentally vegan" finds as well as photos from members asking if their recent purchase was suitable or not.
Vegan Food Goes Mainstream
To help me out even more on my vegan journey was the sheer abundance of new vegan foods being released by almost everyone. From Marks and Spencer's Plant Kitchen Range, Greggs Sausage Roll, Pizza Hut releasing (then keeping after incredible popular demand) a vegan pizza, Dominoes using vegan cheese on their pizzas, Magnum releasing a vegan ice cream, Ben & Jerry's releasing dairy free ice creams, Quorn marking some of their products as Vegan and oh so much more!
It finally felt like veganism was becoming more mainstream, it didn't feel like we were having to trawl around the shops in desperate search for a stuffed mushroom or a wilted bag of salad! Suddenly our choices seemed infinite & it's not a stretch to say even some omnis were jealous of them!
It wasn't just the supermarkets who were joining in on the vegan bandwagon, restaurants everywhere suddenly had cottoned on to the fact that veganism had exploded and were desperate to welcome in the vegans who would have avoided them previously.
I was skeptical of vegan mozzarella before I tried it, now I just absolutely love it & much prefer it over normal cheese for sure!
*For context I first began experiencing symptoms in late August/early September 2018*
After being vegetarian for (about) a year I began to feel tired all the time, lethargic with little energy and wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
There were a lot of other factors going on in my life which in some way (I believe) contributed to my state of mind at the time so I thought that if I managed to sort those out then I would begin to feel better. Why I was still feeling that way a month later I really had no idea.
It was decided that a visit to the doctors would be the best way forward and at least I would have some answers to my problems. A chat and a blood test later I had my results.
It was discovered that I had incredibly low ferratin (iron) levels so low in fact they were bordering on anaemia. No wonder I had begun to feel so tired all the time! It was surprising that this had happened so quickly after giving up meat, having learnt some facts about how our bodies absorb iron from the food we eat, I now know that it's possible for us to store ferratin in our bodies after ingesting it.
I was put on ferrous iron tablets for a few months to quickly aid absorption of the iron and to help my levels back into the normal range. Although this was good at the time, the side effects weren't and I was pleased to come off them a few months later.
As we only need to eat enough iron rich foods to build our stores back up, it didn't take long for my levels to return to normal and I could try coming off the medication. I have since used my new found food knowledge to keep my levels up.
Being vegan means food shopping takes twice as long as normal until you learn which foods you can have (or not!) and start to build up a few favourites at your local supermarkets. At first it can seem like a daunting task, you definitely have to prepare in advance to ensure you have enough time to read everything properly and get to know where your favourite store keeps their free from/vegetarian/vegan foods!
In some places this may be as easy as looking a bit further down the shelf, in others it might be an entirely new part of the supermarket which you didn't venture to before!
But they are worth checking out as they just might contain a hidden gem or two which could be wonderfully 'accidentally vegan'. Oh those times when you pick something up thinking you can't have it but then read to your delight that it contains no eggs, milk or gelatin! Oh yes we live for those days and can't wait to share them with our new vegan friends!
But on the flipside of that there are those moments where you just despair and almost want to give up because everything you touch seems to be more vegetarian than vegan!
To this I would say don't, just breathe and perhaps ask a sales assistant for help or go online to find a vegan alternative. There's something out there for everyone and you shouldn't be put off because you can't find a vegan curry sauce!
When I had my iron deficiency diagnosis, I made a conscious effort to include more leafy green vegetables into my diet as well as researching which foods in particular were good for those of us choosing to live a plant based life.
Turns out it's easier than I thought and as long as I ate some vitamin C alongside the iron rich foods and avoided having caffeine at the same time, I would be alright.
I have since had another blood test at the doctor's (in January) just to see how my levels were doing after going off my medication and getting my iron only from food. It goes to show that I need not have worried so much if they were going to stay the same and how I would be able to supplement my diet.
Knowing the warning signs as I do now, I am acutely aware of them and now keep a close eye on how I'm feeling to monitor if I need to have another blood test or perhaps just add more iron rich foods to my meals.
It needn't be difficult to live a completely vegan lifestyle and still ensure you're getting your daily quota of essential vitamins and minerals. It might just take a little more time and research on your part but once you've found a few good dishes or foods you like which also happen to be packed to the brim with iron/vitamin B12/protein you're well on your way to living an amazing life!
My Final Thoughts
So how do I feel now that I've been meat free for one year six months and vegan for two? Well honestly? It feels like I should have been vegan a hell of a long time ago! It feels so natural to me now that I can't ever believe I wasn't!
Having seen the sheer ignorance of some people when questioned over why they are using beauty products tested on animals or claiming to love animals whilst simultaneously eating a burger, I just have to shake my head and move on for fear of saying something which I may come to regret!
I know one more person going vegan will not save the world but I like to think that by gently showing them how awesome veganism is, they might just be curious enough to try!
Love, Sarah xoxoxo