31 Days of Veganuary : My Honest Review.
If you follow me on Instagram (@amycousins1 if you don’t already…) you’ll know that I recently took part in Veganuary. A 31 day challenge that means omitting all animal products including meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs. Instead, it involves loading up on veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts etc etc – you get the idea.
Launched in the UK in 2014, Veganuary has spread to the U.S. and other countries, with more than 250,000 people taking the movement’s pledge in 2019. I’m almost 90% certain you’ll have seen it all over your social media, heard about it in the office and probably even on the tube. It was everywhere. And with good reason.
I wanted to talk about my experiences in more detail because my Veganuary experience was probably different to others.
The Reason & The Feels.
I want to start by saying that for me, January felt like THE WORLDS LONGEST MONTH. 31 days felt like 801 days and not just because of Veganuary. I decided to take part actually on the 1st. It was a late decision, but one that I am glad I made.
If you’re an OG follower, you’ll know that this time last year, I was coming up to the end of a 3 week mini-veganuary challenge set by Bounce UK and As Nature Intended. The verdict then? I hated it. I stopped enjoying my food, obsessed over what I couldn’t eat and actually got into a pretty negative cycle of secretly eating what I ‘wasn’t allowed’. Not binging as such, just not being honest with what I was eating.
Veganism is something that has always fascinated me because so many of my friends are vegan and they love it. So this year, I was determined to dive in head first. Do the research, read the articles, research recipes and ask for tips.
One thing I found when doing research is that there is A LOT of information out there which can be pretty overwhelming. Articles about ‘complete proteins’, B12, iron, amino acids, plant based?! WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Well, the good news is, it definitely doesn’t have to be that complicated. B12 can be taken in a tablet form as can iron. Now let’s tackle the difference between ‘vegan’ and ‘plant based’. Don’t worry I didn’t actually know this either…
Veganism vs. Plant Based.
Veganism is a philosophy deeply devoted to animal rights. Being a vegan (n.) is a lifestyle choice that involves diets, politics and ethics. Vegans not only eliminate animal products from their diet, but from all aspects of their lives. No leather, no fur, no honey. Make up, skincare, shampoos? They all count.
So plant based then, refers to whole, plant foods and NOT just foods considered to be “vegan”. For example, Oreos and chips are vegan, but are not considered to be “plant-based”, as neither product resembles that of their original plant form.
The latter is the one I tried to adopt although, I definitely had my fair share of Oreos this month!
I really really enjoyed my first week of being vegan. I was cooking from scratch, shopping locally and eating tons of veg. The downside? I was bloated for about 5 days. My stomach was quite painful and my skin also flared up. However, I had just moved to London so this could have been a by-product of that.
My breakfasts looked the same most days – either soy yoghurt with vegan protein powder, berries and banana OR, protein oats with peanut butter and fruits. Simple.
Snacks – fruit, nuts or Barebells bars. These were the only non-vegan products I was always going to eat throughout January. Not only am I in partnership with them, but I genuinely LOVE them. I wasn’t going to turn them down!
Lunch – tofu/ quorn/ lentils/ beans and veggies. Lots of them. This probably contributed to the initial bloating but good news is it did calm down.
Afternoon snack – rice cakes/ nuts/ dates.
Dinner – similar to lunch but with rice or pasta.
I know it might look boring, but I enjoyed it. For a while.
I was still bloated, still uncomfortable and I also very felt full all. the. time. Not good.
My meals started becoming a bit weird – I was prepping less and buying more convenience foods. Not a problem of course, but not ideal for me.
Ahh – Allplants saved the day! I had an amazing (gifted) delivery from the wonderful company Allplants that honestly saved me! My meals were prepped for me and could be kept in the freezer then microwaved when needed. It was the boost I needed to get me back into it again.
Then, I went to Barcelona. I still tried to eat vegan where possible, but I did have yoghurt one day and also a cereal bar with honey it. I also went out for dinner one evening and ended up having fish.
Not good at all. I felt as though I was getting obsessed with labels, ingredients and I also STILL felt bloated. Now as someone who has struggled with an eating disorder in the past, this was starting to feel like I was being restrictive and that is a behaviour I ALWAYS want to avoid.
In all honesty, I was really excited to get back to my normal.
When I was reading around the topic, I found a really interesting article that talked about carbohydrates in a vegan diet. It basically said that you need to accept your diet will be higher in carb and whilst I found this to be true, I also found it quite tricky to accept initially.
Carbohydrates have been demonised because of ‘diet culture’ and it is hard to undo years of brainwashing. But, I don’t think my diet was any higher in carbohydrates than it was before hand. I’ve always loved veggies, fruits, pasta and bread! Oh, and pizza.
So, what were the positives?
It was cheaper. One 500g pack of beans, chickpeas or lentils provided around 5 meals for me depending on how much rice/bulgar wheat/bread/quinoa I paired with it. That works out at around 40p per portion.
Increased food volume. Now I love to snack, but I also love big meals that are filling and full of colour. Typical vegan meals are ‘lower in calories’ (not that this was a main focus of mine) so loading up your plate is important. Try to make a rainbow with all the veggies!
Doing your bit for our planet. This is often many people’s motivation to adopt a plant based lifestyle and I think its a great incentive. One month as a vegan saves an average of 33,000 gallons of water, 500kg of grain and 30 animals lives. WOW.
So as I’m sure you’ve guessed, it wasn’t smooth sailing. I definitely hit my fair share of bumps along the way. I found eating out to be pretty easy, but this was costly. Why are vegan dishes more expensive on menus?! Tofu scramble was £13 in comparison to normal scrambled eggs which came in at £8.50… Doesn’t make much sense if you ask me.
I’ve touched on the labels thing, but this really was the deciding factor for me. Labels have ingredients and calories clearly marked. Two things which don’t really bother me when I’m eating foods I enjoy and suit my lifestyle. However, I started to feel controlled by these and that I did NOT enjoy one bit.
So the vegan police will probably come knocking at my door, but it just didn’t work for me. And that’s okay. I tried, I’m glad I did but I’ll be going back to my normal ways of eating. I also don’t particularly like labelling my diet because I feel like it puts you in a confined box of rules.
I will definitely be taking part in meat free Mondays, tofu stir fry is delicious and so are veggie sausages. BUT, I like ice cream, yoghurt and chocolate. So those things will be making a reappearance.
What I did and will continue to do though, is think more about where my products come from. If I can make some small swaps that are non-food related, I will. Eating a vegan or plant based diet even 70% of the time will have a tremendous impact on the environment and that’s more than enough for me.
I really want to thank SO many of you for tuning into my journey. Support and feedback is so valuable and I loved chatting with so many of you.