Well a belated Happy New Year, I hope you had a good one and that life is kind to you in 2018. As one of my resolutions was to put fingers to keyboard more often, I thought I would start the year with a little sharing and as it appears to be Vegan January or "Veganuary", I thought I would share a few insights into this mysterious world, just in case you're thinking of giving it a go.
For those who know me well and who have patiently put up with my idiosyncrasies, fads, environmental crusades and dietary experiments over the years, it probably came as no surprise that I would eventually renounce meat. Declaring that I would also be renouncing cheese, chocolate, butter and basically all things beloved of Nigella, however, has, been a bit of a challenge and to many I have probably become the social equivalent of one who asks if you've ever read the Bible.
It all started six months ago, when in a discussion in the kitchen over research for my latest book Trust Me, I'm a Personal Trainer, the words, '"but I bet you couldn't be a vegan", left my sons mouth. And that was it. At 54 I turned vegan. Just like that. Overnight. No warning for my nearest and dearest. Out went the semi-skimmed. In came the hummus. In my opinion it's better that way. If you're going to try something, there's no point shilly shallying. You've just got to get on with it.
I did do my research. I checked the facts, made sure I knew what I needed to eat to get the full range of nutrients and then I was off and over the past six months I have had a veggie/beany culinary adventure that quite honestly most of the time has been a joy. I've experimented and played around with recipes and discovered combinations of plant flavours and textures that I can't believe I have missed out on all these years and I am still amazed by the fact that you can make meringues out of chick pea water! Who knew?
I've also baked cakes and trust me, I am no Mary Berry. I never bake cakes. But desperate times call for desperate measures and the results have been surprisingly edible.
Unsurprisingly though, I've also become an expert in local restaurants, cafe's and retailers that offer something vegan on the menu and in my opinion the sign of a good restaurant, is one that can offer a good vegan meal without batting an eyelid, because in all honesty, it's really not that difficult. Rocpool in Inverness has my undying loyalty for its creativeness. Zizzi's has a page of Vegan options and The Black Isle Bar has a really tasty "Crust Me I'm a Vegan Pizza". Costa needs to get its act together. A paltry slice of. Christmas cake does not a meal make! The problem appears to be that for so long restaurants have relied heavily on cheese or cream to make a vegetarian meal interesting. Take away the cheese and they appear to be lost. It also doesn't help that many seem to confuse being vegan with gluten free. How did that happen? But in my humble opinion, for many restaurants it's sheer laziness and lack of creativity. They will need to get their act together though, as demand for vegan and vegetarian food has increased by 987% in 2017. Demand is well outstripping supply.
So if you're thinking of trying it out this January not only will you need the survival skills of Bear Grylls, but you'll need a thick skin. Being the centre of attention at every social gathering that involves food has it's challenges, which is never helped by waiters chirpily shouting "whose the vegan?," every time they bring you food. Having everyone focus their attention on your dinner instead of their own and looking at you pityingly can be exceedingly annoying. "But why would you go vegan at your age?", I have been asked on numerous occasions. "What's the point?" "Where's the fun? You'll be dead soon, you might as well enjoy yourself. Come on, have a bit of cheese, it wont kill you." "What do you eat? Don't you miss bacon?" "I couldn't give up meat" Like, did I ask you to, and yes, the cheese might kill me actually as it wraps itself around my arteries.
And yes, I admit that sometimes when the cheeseboard comes out and the Stilton starts winking at me as I fight everyone off to be first for the grapes, it can be a bit of a battle, but I now have such a long list of all the reasons why this diet has so far been good for me that I've decided that this woman isn't for turning at the moment and as I started this experiment for a bet with no expectations or pre-conceptions, I feel it is only right to share my experiences. It would be selfish not to. It may be that in another six months time I find it's not for me and if that's the case, I'll let you know.
So here is my list of pros and cons so far in simplified form.
You have to think ahead and cook properly. On-the-go choices are often non existent.
Cooking two meals at home can be a pain in the butt unless you lure your partner into plant world.
Your friends might disown you although your best friends will still love you and invite you round
You will have to answer the "but what do you eat?" and "where do you get your protein from?" question everytime you meet someone.
Sometimes when every vegetarian meal involves cheese it makes you want to cry.
Youll need to get used to having salad and chips at useless restaurants. Although that can be a positive. I love chips.
People will launch into Star Trek impersonations and make funny hand signals.
Christmas is exceedingly tricky. I was nearly lured back by the pigs in blankets.
You often feel like the party pooper
I get to eat carbs and bread and have still lost weight
No one takes my Ben & Jerrys vegan ice cream
I no longer ache when I get out of bed in their morning
I also no longer ache after a hard session in the gym.
I have a good nights sleep.
I have more energy.
I am able to focus my attention better.
I am less stressed.
I very very rarely get a hot flush.
My bowels move beautifully and regularly.
I read somewhere, that Vegans don't have smelly armpits, so I checked and it's true. Well I think its true. I haven't asked anyone else.
I eat chips and chip butties and never feel guilty.
I have lost half a stone in weight.
I have lost three inches off my waist and dropped a dress size.
I also feel I'm helping to save the planet but that's for another day.
Now I will add in, that as I started to feel calmer and had more energy, I added a regular morning yoga session into the mix with a fabulous free app called Down Dog. Do check it out. Its perfect for beginners and advanced alike, although more on that next time. Flexibility is massively important as we get older and I am convinced that changing my diet has also changed my thinking patterns and priorities. Since being on this diet I have made more time for exercise as a clean body seems to result in a clear head. So, what I'm saying is, if you really want to, it's not too late in your fourties or fifties, to stop the rot. Ageing doesn't have to be about expanding waistlines, hot flushes and tenna ladies. There is an alternative.
I really do appreciate that it's not easy and for most people it will be far too boring to keep it up. Christmas has been testing and following a vegan diet will mean thinking ahead, being creative in the kitchen and always having an avocado, some nuts and a jar of peanut butter in your bag for emergencies. But do remember that it's entirely up to you what you eat, so if you only do it for two or three days a week or if you occasionally go off piste and throw an egg or a piece of fish down your throat as there is no alternative, the vegan police wont be knocking on your door and dragging you away for rehabilitation. No one is watching you.
But for me, on a personal health level, the pros have so far outweighed the cons, especially the 3 inches off my waistline, although whether i'll still be saying that in another six months, remains to be seen. The thing is, I don't want to shuffle my way through the next few decades and even though I do realise that I will drop dead one day, there's a lot of world out there I've yet to explore and a lot of living still to do. I'm just so glad I've found the energy now to enjoy the second half. If I drop dead tomorrow, I'll be really pissed off. If I drop dead doing something a ninety year old shoudnt be attempting, however, I'll consider it job done.
So maybe, if you fancy giving it a go in Vegan January or Veganuary ,I'd be delighted to hear how you get on and would love to share your experiences and of course, offer and recieve any advice/recipes or suggestions. If you've been vegan for a while now or tried it and found it didint work for you, I'd also love to hear from you as I'll be posting more over the next few weeks on my thoughts on staying healthy and vibrant as we get older. Having visited someone in hospital recently, I'm doing my damdest to stay on the outside.Trust me, It wasn't pleasant.
So as we launch ourselves into 2018, I've decided to stop thinking about my age and instead start focusing my attention on my next challenge. Finishing my book would be a good start although talking of challenges, just to push my poor hubbie over the edge, I've just signed up for Bodhran lessons. Look it up!
Watch this space......