How going vegan has transformed my health

I was about 14 years old when I first went to the doctors complaining about being chronically bloated. I sat with my GP and explained how my stomach would balloon after each meal, how I looked like I was 6 months pregnant (having now had 2 children, I can confirm that is not an exaggeration!) and often felt horribly uncomfortable. Sadly, my GP at the time dismissed my “teenage concerns” and suggested I spend less time comparing myself to pictures of celebrities in magazines. Whilst I think she was trying to be kind and express concern that perhaps I just had low self-esteem, dismissing my symptoms in this way really angered me. I clearly remember feeling both angry and helpless at not having been listened to and to be so profoundly misunderstood.

Fast forward a few years, more doctors appointments and zero improvement in my symptoms, I now had a diagnosis of IBS, or “Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” just the sort of label every teenage girl wants to have and a diagnosis that is given to thousands of people each year who seem to have unexplained, but very real, difficulties with their digestion. I was given a prescription for tablets that promised to ease my digestive cramps and that was about it. It seemed as if this was an all too common complaint with no real treatment, that stress played a big factor and that handing over a prescription would at the very least put a plaster on the problem for now.

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Vegan, plant-based food has transformed my health

But the problem hadn’t even remotely been solved, nor would it be for many more years to come. Several years later, again fuelled by a desire to really get to the root of the problem, I went back to my GP and pushed for a referral to Gastroenterology. Now in my early 20s I underwent a whole host of less than pleasant tests in hospital to try and establish why I looked and felt so chronologically bloated, why I suffered from painful and frequent stomach acid flare-ups (I would be doubled over in pain for hours and was now taking more medication) and what was causing me to, um, let’s say, always have to know where the nearest toilet was!

As I looked at the long list of tests and procedures I was about to go through, I was so hopeful for answers that would finally change my life. Surely there must be an answer! I longed for the day that I no longer had to wear baggy clothes to hide my massively bloated tummy, take anti-acid medication each morning and never be able to make it through a trip anywhere without dashing off to the loo. TMI, I know, but I also know that this is a far more common problem than people often discuss! I was fed up of coming home early from nights out because the pain in my stomach from acid reflux was so severe and the only thing I could do to help was to lie down and go to sleep. Ironically the advice I was given by my doctors for this was to drink glasses of milk before meals. Cow’s milk, of course.

Sadly, the results of the tests were all fairly inconclusive and as is the case when expectations are high, my disappointment at not having the doctors declare that they’d solved the issue, was palpable. Following the specialists’ advice and willing to try anything, I started on a low FODMAP diet under the guidance of a Dietician. I cut out wheat, lactose (not dairy), onions, garlic, broccoli and all sorts of other things. To say I felt restricted was an understatement. I kept a food diary and slowly re-introduced foods that are considered to be “triggers.” It was then decided that due to some family history of coeliac disease, that it was most likely to be gluten causing my issues (something I’d been told countless times before) and that I should consider going gluten-free. So I did! For years I ate a gluten-free diet, assuming that I had a fairly severe intolerance when all other avenues had been explored. It wasn’t much fun!

 

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I’ve never felt better, eating vegan food

Then one day, I guess temptation and curiosity got the better of me and I ate some gluten, probably in the form of a decent piece of toast or a crumpet. Surprise surprise, nothing drastic happened (as it would do for people with Coeliac disease) and my symptoms were unchanged. By this point, I just felt a little bit done with it all. Nothing was working, I felt like I couldn’t go back to the GP again and I had run out of steam.

In 2015, unrelated to these health issues, or so I thought anyway, I stopped eating meat and fish having become more and more aware of the ethical and environmental impacts of eating animal products. In 2016 I ditched eggs and dairy and adopted a fully vegan lifestyle and I’ve never looked back! In the early days of being vegan, I was also a sleep-deprived first-time mum caught up in that transformation more than any other. I certainly wasn’t bursting with energy all day long as many new vegans claim to be but a year or so into being vegan, I realised one day that I hadn’t experienced my “IBS” symptoms for months. I hadn’t had a single flare-up of stomach acid (and haven’t once to this day), I hadn’t taken any IBS related medication for as long as I could remember and the concerns I now had about the appearance of my tummy were down to very weak muscles and a lot more stretch marks, more so than anything else.

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Feeling very vegan picking my own spinach

I feel very fortunate that adopting a vegan diet has had these dramatic effects on my health and in many ways I really do feel better than ever, although I’m still a sleep deprived Mum, that’s for sure! I never really considered myself “unhealthy” as a meat eater and being “vegan for health” was last on my list of reasons for going vegan. But over the years, I’ve furthered my learning and research and I’m now sure that cutting animal products from my diet has had profound effects on both my physical and mental health. As the slightly sarcastic but also very true saying goes, “you’re not lactose intolerant, you’re just not a baby cow!”

There are still days when I look and feel very bloated and days where my digestion feels “off” but now I can rule out what I’m eating as being a cause and think more about how I’m eating. Off days are usually a sign that I’ve eaten too quickly, I’ve eaten too much or too little or that other things such as lack of sleep, stress or hormones are the bigger factors at play. In these moments I’m reminded of the importance of slowing down, making time to eat meals without rushing and fuelling my body with all the good (vegan) stuff.

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Vegan for health!

 

 

 


Vegan Mum guilt

I know you’ve all heard of and experienced the usual Mum guilt that comes with the territory of Motherhood and the desire to do right by our kids while maintaining our sanity at the same time. I don’t think there’s a single Mum friend of mine who doesn’t experience this feeling of guilt at some point every single day. Read More


A plastic free birthday party

Two weeks ago we hosted a party for Jasmine’s 3rd birthday. It was small, her first solo party, with her closest and most familiar friends which seemed the right decision for a child who can be highly sensitive. I’ll be honest, the thought of her bursting into tears during “happy birthday” was a daily worry for me for weeks in advance! Planning a birthday party for a sensitive child is one thing but planning a “low waste” and “plastic free” party is quite another. Before I dive in to how we pulled this off, I need to put the usual disclaimer. This is not a judgement call on anyone who has hosted a party done differently because I firmly believe that all kid’s parties are planned in love and until a few months ago, I wouldn’t have even considered the waste implications that a party could have.

We make billions of products that last 5 minutes out of materials that last for a lifetime.” – unknown.

Single use plastics are just that, designed for a single use, simply to then be thrown away, realistically not recycled and existing in landfill more or less forever. Plastic cups, straws, balloons, party bag fillers, table confetti….they bring a smile to a child’s face for a few minutes but once that excitement has worn off, they are thrown away, except that as I’m learning more and more, “away” is not a place that really exists at all.

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Jasmine enjoying a vegan chocolate cupcake!

My journey to reducing waste and living a “low waste” life is a long and hard one. It is full of complexities and challenges and I’m often left feeling more disheartened and sad than I am hopeful and uplifted. Then I’m reminded that we as individuals need to be the change we want to see in the world and also be a role model for this change for our children. I’ve already started teaching Jasmine about plastic because her generation are going to need to be change makers too. I want her (and Summer) to know that looking after the planet we live on should be a priority but that it is also a joy. I want her to know that her actions can make a difference and that change starts at home.

So with that in mind, I set myself a task to try and plan and pull off a birthday party for Jasmine that avoided (as far as possible) disposable and single use plastics, with an effort to reduce waste and rise to the challenge of being more environmentally aware. I really do believe that every little helps and one less bag of rubbish sitting in a landfill site is indeed a job well done.

Here are the steps we took to reduce our party waste:

I banned balloons: call me a party pooper and maybe I am one but balloons, despite them being a favourite of Jasmine’s did not make an appearance at her party. Balloons are a party classic, of course, a symbol of the birthday celebration and an item guaranteed to entertain a bunch of 3 year olds too. Balloons however, are in essence a single use plastic. They are sold in a plastic bag (straight to landfill) and when the balloons eventually pop and are thrown away, that’s it too. Balloon scraps are very harmful to wildlife and although biodegradable balloons are available, we just did without entirely! I was worried, unnecessarily, that Jasmine would ask for balloons or that the party would be lacking without them but I don’t think it made one bit of difference…other than to the Earth!

So how did we decorate instead?

Decorations were made from reusable materials such as card or cloth as to avoid the plastic wrapped foil banners I’d bought in previous years. We borrowed birthday party banners from friends and also bought fresh Spring flowers (in brown paper) to decorate the tables. The village hall came fitted with loads of fairy lights and we laid the tables with party food. Again, I worried it wouldn’t be atmospheric enough or that the room would look bare but it didn’t. The people made the atmosphere more than any set of decorations would and we now have a set of party banners we can use at any occasion…no need to buy single use ones ever again.

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Fairtrade, cloth party banners from Plastic Free Party Bags

The party food was where we struck our biggest challenge for sure. We all know how difficult it is to buy food plastic free in the UK but we did take some steps to minimise the waste as best we could, aiming for progress not perfection. Firstly, we tried not to over cater in an effort to minimise food waste and knowing that most toddlers only nibble anyway before diving into the cake. We planned a few savoury bites such as wraps, sandwiches, vegan sausage rolls and some crisps. Then we had veggie sticks with hummus (not home made admittedly…maybe next year), fruit and vegan chocolate cake. I bought plastic free fruit and veggies such as carrots, peppers, watermelon, oranges and pineapple rather than being tempted by strawberries and grapes in plastic boxes. For drinks we offered apple juice (one large recyclable carton) or water for the kids and glass bottled soft drinks and tea/coffee for parents. We took along some compostable food waste bags for any throw away food and packed up left overs to take home too.

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Plastic free fruit ‘n’ veg options and fresh spring flowers

Plastic cups and plates were a no no for me but this did present a challenge. Kids party plates and cups are certainly a convenience item and also a safe one, with nothing at risk of being broken but unless paper plates are cleaned before being recycled, they are likely to end up in landfill too. Whats more, even when I did find paper plates for sale, they were of course wrapped in single use plastic which is exactly what I wanted to avoid. I came across several blogs that suggested borrowing tableware from friends but we ended up just braving the “real” plates and glasses that the venue provided and hoping that with a little parental help, the kids would manage not to break anything. I’m so pleased this worked because it really was zero waste and saved me a lot of money forking out for reusable bamboo plates.

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No plastic cups or paper plates!

What about party bags?  Ah, the party bag. We found a brilliant company called, “plastic free party bags” who offer and delivered a fantastic service. In an effort to avoid the millions of throw away items and plastic party bags given out every single weekend across the UK they offer sustainable, fairtrade, vegan and plastic free alternatives. We ordered a few bits for each child including some vegan chocolate buttons, a pan-pipe whistle, some wildflower seeds and an animal mask to colour in. We received some lovely compliments from our guests about these bags and would use this company again in a heartbeat! We did pay substantially more than we would have done going for supermarket party bag fillers but the zero waste element and being able to support a small business was well worth it for us. Please do check them out!

Plastic free party bags

And that’s just about it! We did of course create some waste…mostly napkins, some crisp packets, cupcake cases and paper towels from the bathroom but overall, I’m so pleased with what we achieved and definitely feel that we significantly reduced our waste and avoided a huge amount of plastic. I also showed myself that with a lot of hard work, determination and a little creativity, that I could pull off a lovely and successful birthday party for Jasmine that didn’t in any way feel lacking in celebratory spirit and for that, I am pretty proud of myself.