From Coco Pops to Cacao – turning veggie

Avocado in a bowl

I used to eat coco pops for breakfast. That still amazes me.

I’ve made a lot of changes to my diet in the last three years, which has inspired a whole new outlook on what I put into my body. It’s interesting to look at the old you, although sometimes, I barely recognise myself.

It all started with a trip to Cape Town in December 2013. I set off with the notion that it would be a life-changing experience; I hadn’t travelled to somewhere so exotic since I was a child. I didn’t know how or why but I’d heard that it was a spiritual place. I think I envisioned myself revelling in the stunning scenery, bonding with nature, enjoying safari trips and making peace with life itself. Unfortunately this was not how my time was due to be spent.

We didn’t go on safari, and I can’t say I remember much in the way of pure relaxation, but I do remember it being a beautiful place. There’s something about Cape Town that made me feel instantly at home, namely the creative expression at local markets where I found myself building a collection of unusual instruments. Of course the universe always had a greater plan for these.

We made the most of the sunshine and swimming pool on arrival, naturally my hula-hoop also made an appearance. But it wasn’t long until I started to feel exhausted, and that was just from going out to breakfast. We would then head back to the house to get changed and venture out again for tea and coffee mid morning, which completely wore me out. It was at this point that I realised, I simply couldn’t cope

I distinctly remember crawling up the stairs and falling onto the bed crying. I had absolutely no energy and it was really getting to me. We had arrived right at the peak of summer so the heat was having a big impact on me, but I used to live in Spain so this shouldn’t have been such a problem.

As my energy levels continued to decrease, and the trip became harder and harder, we decided to seek some help. We searched for the local health shop where I was introduced to Bio-Energetic Stress Testing (BEST). BEST measures electrical conductivity through pressure on acupuncture points on the hands and feet. It tests for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, food and environmental sensitivities. It also tests all the major organs and glands for an overall picture of health, just what I needed at the time.

I yawned my way through the two and a half hour session and was given some startling results. Apparently I had a parasite attacking my liver, I was allergic to sugar (internally) and still suffering the effects of candida from food poisoning. Less shockingly I was intolerant to wheat, gluten and a few other things. I was put on a strict anti- candida diet, ordered to eliminate sugar from my diet and prescribed a course of herbal tablets, all a little overwhelming for someone who was already on the verge of tears.

I panicked. How on earth was I going to give up sugar? I knew it was something I needed to work on, due to becoming rapidly addicted. I had been fighting tiredness with chocolate bars for some time. It helped to overcome the energy dips during office hours, at least temporarily. It was a lot to take in but, nevertheless, it was the first step.

It’s not the kind of news you want to hear whilst on holiday. Particularly when you have to watch everyone else drinking milkshakes and hot chocolates (my favourite holiday treats) the following day. Somehow I stopped ordering treats, and drank mostly alcohol free drinks.

I decided to seek further advice from a couple that ran a local spa. Both vegan and experienced practitioners, I thought perhaps they could shed some light on the diagnosis. During a very long consultation they opened my eyes to a whole new way of being. They heavily encouraged switching to a vegan diet, consuming only organic food and drink, revealed surprising truths about following a traditional balanced diet, and suggested further reading that backed up their belief system.

Once again I left feeling rather overwhelmed, possibly even brainwashed by ‘vegans’, but something inside me clicked and there was a realisation that what they were saying made sense. I decided the best way forward was to take everything on board and decipher the parts that resonated with me. I continued to eat meat during the trip – as stated on the anti candida diet – but did my best to dramatically reduce the sugar intake, and introduce new healthier food options. Flashback to my first shredded carrot and avocado on rice crackers for breakfast, when I thought my life was officially over. And so the journey began.

It wasn’t until I returned to the UK that I made the drastic switch. I was so frustrated with tiredness and depression I just had to get better. I did some more research and started seeking inspiration from Instagram. I completely identified with ‘Deliciously Ella’s story’, of course it made sense to heal yourself through diet, it’s no secret that what you put in is what you get out. Your body is a temple, so I’ve heard.

I can’t remember exactly how it happened, perhaps it was a new year’s resolution, but all at once I gave up wheat, gluten, meat, dairy and sugar. And I actually did it. Once you stop eating sugar you stop craving it, eventually. I can’t quite say the same for the smell of bacon. I did miss meat, but without it you become so adventurous. I started to really enjoy cooking, the creativity and spontaneity of it. I may have also become a little obsessed with taking photos of finished plates – some things will never change. My family didn’t get it, but that’s ok because we all evolve at a different rate.

I succeeded for six months without any slip-ups, and then through no fault of my own, there was an incident with half a chicken kebab and some Haribos. Since that day I’ve not quite managed to be as strict with my diet. Wheat and dairy have made appearances, alongside the occasional stress-induced chocolate splurge. But I have mostly stuck to the routine.

It can be hard to find free-from options when eating out in restaurants and attending parties but you can only do your best. I’ve found that from strictly cutting out so many things, my body is more able to deal with the smaller amounts of ‘bad foods’ now. When you overload on these your body will always suffer, but it can handle the odd supermarket sandwich or sprinkle of cheese on pasta. The key in getting started is to read labels; anything with numerous ingredients should be avoided. Just keep it simple.

Add plenty of super foods and smoothies to your diet. Green juice works wonders for mental and physical energy, but be careful not to replace food with juice. I often have a juice or smoothie in the morning before going out for a walk, then eat breakfast when I get back home.

We must remember to be patient with ourselves and stop comparing to our role models on social media. I’m sure they have slip-ups too, but we only present the best version of ourselves to the external world. Balance the good with the bad. Tomorrow is always a new day.

As I start the New Year phasing out festive foods, I remain committed to this new way of being. As someone who has identified to being somewhere between vegetarian and vegan for three years – I still eat eggs, tuna and honey for now to cope with the Fibromyalgia – I believe it was the best decision I’ve ever made, I only wish I’d done it sooner. Overall my body feels healthier and less bloated, and my mind feels so much more motivated without the constant influence of junk food.

It can be daunting at the start of the journey when researching diets and others’ beliefs, but remember to listen to your body and do what feels right for you. Some people like to give up everything at once, others prefer cutting out one thing at a time. Setting smaller targets may be more sustainable in the long run.

You wouldn’t believe that I used to be infatuated, borderline obsessed with chicken (ask any of my old school friends). But we all make changes in our own time. The first step is recognising that something needs to change, from here on the world is your oyster.

I now understand the reasons behind adopting a meat-free diet. Vegans are not new age hippies trying to brainwash you, nor are they just about saving the animals, eating a plant-based diet is essential for looking after your own health, eliminating illness and feeling the optimum of yourself.  But even more so, it’s important to conquer the ongoing battle with sugar cravings, that little devil on your shoulder forcing you to eat chocolate to get through each day.

So if you’re currently wondering why you signed up to Veganuary, my advice to you is stick at it for a bit longer. With so many meat-free substitutes around, there really is nothing left to miss. And with over half a million people now following a vegan diet in Britain, times really are changing. What have you got to lose?

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