I tried being vegan for January - and this is what it was really like

The end of the festive period brings New Year’s Resolutions most of us won’t keep, but Veganuary (going vegan for the first month of the year) is changing the narrative worldwide.

Steadily gaining popularity since its UK launch in 2014, the month-long switch to veganism has been such a hit that first-timers often commit to a life-long switch or simply use it as a way to hit refresh on a new year.

Soaring popularity for the plant-based diet, especially among high-profile celebrity fans like Beyonce, Ellen DeGeneres and Miley Cyrus has brought veganism into the mainstream.

And it’s being heralded for its seemingly endless benefits for the planet and our health too.

Signing up for Veganuary was life-changing for LifeStyle fan Julie Thornhill. Committing  to try veganism was initially due to animal welfare concerns, but within weeks she noticed “huge health benefits too”.

“My nails suddenly grew strong and healthy, my skin was clearer,” she recalls. “I found I had much more strength and energy, and I felt a lot more energetic on a daily basis.“

Even her digestive system was thankful for the switch. “IBS runs in the family and I’ve always suffered from bloating and constipation but since becoming vegan these have been issues of the past."

However, Julie admits the first five days of the Veganuary challengewas the most difficult.

“I was on a constant thought process of what my next meal or snack would be and felt awkward looking at food labels at the shops. But then that dissolved quickly and I didn’t even notice the end of the
month had passed - I was loving the vegan lifestyle.”

It’s a similar story for Naomi Woodgate who has lost over 10 kilos after adopting a vegan lifestyle when she turned 40.

“I have more energy and feel amazing. My husband was on high cholesterol medication, which he no longer needs  since going vegan. We’ve both learnt so much about the exploitation of animals, the environment andour health. “ 

Naomi Woodgate

Naomi Woodgate before and after pics of 10 kilo weight-loss

Naomi says Initially the most frustrating part of turning vegan was socialising.

“I would feel so frustrated if we’d go somewhere and there was next to nothing vegan on the menu but there was always chips!” she laughs.

“My husband Craig found giving up meat harder to give up than me and complained a lot about it. He really missed his burgers to the point where I said to him ‘Just stop, don’t do it anymore!’. But he said he couldn’t - he had to keep going for the environment and the animals. It was a long 12 months!”

For Naomi, giving up dairy - in particular her favourite milk and cheese - was her biggest challenge for the first two months.

“But when I struggled I’d watch some footage on Instagram or a documentary on animal farming like Forks over Knives and that really motivated me to keep going.”

She also stocked her fridge with vegan substitutes of cheese, butter and cake.

“At first they tasted weird but it’s amazing how you change and now they’re as normal as dairy used to be for me. One day at work I was accidentally given the dairy milk for coffee instead of the soy and it
tasted disgusting which actually really surprised me.”

 

How to make the switch. 10 tips from dietician (and vegan) Jemma O’Hanlon.

  1. Find a calcium-rich milk: A lot of almond, rice and oat milks aren’t fortified with calcium, so make sure you find a good dairy-substitute that’s going to keep your teeth and bones nice and strong.
  2. Enjoy whole foods: Try not to get caught up in buying all the ‘vegan’ labelled processed foods in the supermarket. Focus on fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, beans, lentils, tofu and tempeh.
  3. Get your bloods sorted: Book a blood test with your doctor to see how your cholesterol levels and biomarkers adjust with your new eating patterns.
  4. Check iron levels: If you’re a young woman your iron levels are likely to drop, so be sure to see a dietitian to ensure you’re getting enough. A squeeze of lemon juice which is high in Vitamin C on your salad or veggies at lunch will help increase the iron absorption in your meal.
  5. Enjoy plant proteins! We actually eat too much protein, and only need about 1g per kg of body weight which is easily achieved by enjoying tofu, chickpeas, falafels, nuts, seeds and soy milk (it has the highest levels of protein).
  6. Talk to your dietitian about vitamin B12, as you’ll probably need a supplement.
  7. Keep your saturated fat levels in check. There are a lot of highly-saturated fat products out there for vegans. Most vegan cheeses are made from highly processed coconut oil, which is high in saturatedfat. Coconut yoghurts can also be very high in saturated fat and kilojoules, so enjoy them in small portions.

Try these  favourite vegan recipes

Vegan 'Tim Tams'

Coconut and mango vegan trifle

Chilli Tofu

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