It has taken me a long time to get around to writing this post as I find myself constantly bombarded with information on social media about how we are all “supposed to eat”. This post was important for me to write because it seems we all need a reminder that the information we find online is not always correct and is NEVER one size fits all.
Food has always been an important part of my life. It is one of my favourite ways to socialize by cooking and sharing meals, it fuels me through busy days, helps me recover from a good workout and keeps me feeling strong and empowered. However, it is only recently that I really started understanding how food actually affects MY BODY.
Diet and fitness culture online can be overwhelming. Everyone is trying to promote the “5 top tips for rock hard abs” or “the best superfoods to eat for weight loss” and in all of this we seem to be missing the point that health is not a quick and easy fix, it is a blend of long term habits that allow YOU to feel YOUR best.
So when it comes to my own lifestyle, I feel the best way to describe my habits is simply by calling them intuitive. I am definitely not the first to say this but I feel it speaks volumes to how we should be treating our bodies. Truth is, if you really listen, it will tell you what it needs.
I started my journey in health and fitness when I was in my third year of my undergrad and had serious digestive issues (find more on this in my about page). After working hard on my digestive health, I started seeing improvements. I was not following any particular diet, I was simply paying attention to which foods made me feel good and which ones did not. I started taking the supplement recommended to me by my family doctor and was very happy with how I was feeling.
Fast forward two years later when I started becoming more and more into fitness. I was hitting the gym at least 3 times a week, running 10km a week and starting realizing that my body’s needs were changing. Now that I no longer needed to eat for healing but rather for maintaining, my body was requiring fuel that I had no experience in giving it.
… THAT’S WHEN I WENT VEGAN
As someone who was already having such a hard time digesting red meat and has an intolerance to lactose, it was not such a surprise that veganism was appealing to me. I won’t go on about the general benefits of veganism (environment, sustainability, cholesterol levels, athletic performance, etc.) but I will speak to what it did for me personally.
Veganism tends to have a bad reputation because some believe this diet lacks essential nutritional building blocks.
Before starting to eat a plant based diet (pre quarantine), I spoke to my doctor about certain concerns that I had. In the past I had struggled with low iron and B12 levels (ironic that these are two things that are not usually prominent in a vegan diet). My doctor was concerned that this would make things difficult for me but did understand why I wanted to try.
After agreeing on supplements I should be taking and discussing ways to monitor my health, I started my plant based journey. I was plant based for roughly 6 months which included periods of being a full time student and teacher. This new lifestyle really helped me discover new things about my body and what to feed it to reach my goals (notice how these goals have never focused on the number on a scale).
Since this was a new experience for me, I wanted to ensure I was getting the nutrients I needed so I began to track my macros very closely. I was constantly cooking new meals (like the ones pictured in this post which can be found on my instagram) and finding new protein sources that worked for me. All in all, my plant based experience was extremely positive, I was feeling good about where I was sourcing my food, I felt much more in touch with my body, gut and mind and I could feel my body getting stronger. However, I did notice that I was not often hitting my daily iron and protein goals and this began to concern me.
In the end, I decided I did not have to choose a particular diet to maintain my health. Instead, I could listen to my body and eat what made me feel capable and strong.
Today, I eat 80% plant based because I find that this is what makes me feel MY best. To ensure not to have any dramatic drops in my iron levels and for other personal reasons, I will have non plant based foods a couple times a week (I like to choose these foods wisely to make them worthwhile but sometimes this also means ordering a chicken burger when I am out for dinner with my family and find nothing appealing on the plant based menu).
At the end of the day, I made choices to fit my lifestyle and goals. Another important factor that we often forget about is food availability, accessibility and cost. A healthy lifestyle should not be restrictive or stressful to you, no one should feel bad about eating foods that they are able to have access to and that do good for their bodies. The science behind nutrition is not one sided, many accredited healthcare practitioners and registered dietitians believe plant based diets are the ultimate way of life while others think that meat is essential for leading a well rounded lifestyle. As consumers who are generally uneducated in these realms, all we can do is speak to professionals rather than learn from social media, do our own guided research and make our own decisions based on gathered data.
I hope if you have taken anything from this post it is that leading a healthy lifestyle is a choice you have to make for yourself. No one else can truly see how your body feels when choosing to eat or not eat certain foods. So if you are looking for a change in your lifestyle, don’t copy what you have seen online, use that as a very early starting point to the researching, learning and practicing you will be doing for the rest of your life.