Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, vegan, Crossfit enthusiast and all around great human Ashley Kitchen stopped by to share her experience as a vegan and debunk some myths about vegans along the way. She also crafted and shared a delicious recipe with us! Discover more about Ashley at the end of this article and check out her recipe HERE.
What does vegan truly mean?
If you ask a two vegans what exactly does being vegan mean to them, you will more than likely get two different answers. We all have different reasons for going vegan. Some people adopt a vegan lifestyle for their health, for others it’s for the animals, and others still, it’s for the environment.
For me, the word vegan initially came with a strong correlation of improved health and well-being, increased energy and vitality, a healthy GI tract, and a way to heal myself. It meant eating wholesome, plant-based foods that were nourishing to my body and made me feel fantastic. Although this aspect of being vegan still holds true, the more that I have learned about this lifestyle, the more I have come to realize how much every aspect of this lifestyle resonates with me.
It’s a more compassionate way of living and it leaves a smaller footprint on the environment. The word vegan now has a broader meaning, encompassing a variety of reasons that help mold me into what I believe to be a better person.
How long have you been a vegan and why?
I started my vegan journey 5 ½ years ago. The transition developed over the course of a couple years. The more I learned and the better I felt, the more I wanted to keep going. I used to shy away from the question, “Why are you vegan?” but, the answer has become easier even if it is a bit “TMI.”
Growing up, I struggled with chronic constipation. I remember spending hours in the bathroom, missing out on time with friends and time in the backyard playing with my siblings simply because I couldn’t “go.” It was an issue that I couldn’t escape and as I grew older it only worsened. I followed the standard American diet and, for good measure, included extra fiber bars and cereals, drank lots of water, and exercised, but to no avail.
In my college years it came to the point that I tried over-the-counter laxatives to alleviate my discomfort. That one experience was enough for me to realize this was not a path I wanted to head down. I started researching various natural ways to heal myself of constipation and came across a plant-based, vegan diet.
After doing some more research and watching a couple documentaries, I gave up most meat and cow’s milk. From there, I continued to research this new lifestyle and almost immediately started feeling better. I continued to cut things out of my diet until finally, I became vegan. I have actively been engaging in this lifestyle to the fullest extent for almost 3 years now and I’ve never felt better.
What are the health benefits?
Many health benefits can come along with a well-planned, plant-based vegan diet. I try to stress the plant-based aspect when I talk about eating vegan. It is so easy to become a junk-food vegan, but this isn’t the lifestyle that I am subscribing to. While junk-food has its time and place, a whole foods plant-based diet is full of nutrients, water, and fiber in great abundance.
When an individual eats a plant-based vegan diet they should innately be getting sufficient carbohydrates, fat, and protein while also providing all of their vitamins and minerals, with the exception of vitamin B12. The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 (including some plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements.
Working as a dietitian and trying to stay abreast the research on the health benefits of a vegan diet, there have been numerous people, some of whom I know personally, that have gotten off their cholesterol medicine, insulin, or just get sick less frequently.
Vegan diets are known to help people lose weight without having to control calories or count carbs. A vegan diet may help you maintain a healthy heart, reducing your risk of developing heart disease or even worse, having a heart attack. It can even potentially protect against type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
I understand when I think and say these types of things that they seem radical or too good to be true but as Ben Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
What are some of the difficulties and the solutions you've found?
I continue to learn how to navigate living a vegan lifestyle in a meat-centric world. The initial difficulties and ones that thankfully now only occasionally arise are eating out and going over to friends or family’s homes.
Most of my friends and family are aware and of how I eat and go above and beyond to make accommodations for me. When I know that I am treading into new territory though, I try to make sure that I am well equipped beforehand. Mostly, it just comes down to being nimble, prepared, and polite. If I am eating at a new restaurant with friends, I always scope out the menu to see what I can get. If the pickings are slim, I can just eat before going out, load up on side dishes, or politely speak with the waiter about meal adjustments.
Eating vegan, as a whole, takes a little more preparation. In the beginning, I found myself eating a lot of the same thing or eating more processed, vegan foods. Overall, it takes a little more planning and creativity, which I’ve grown to love.
Each week, I spend time planning out my meals and then subsequently meal prepping for at least four weekdays. This has drastically reduced any unnecessary stress during the week surrounding my meals and has been an amazing habit ever since becoming vegan. It ensures that I always have tasty and nutritious food to fill me up while living an active vegan lifestyle. I’ve found that no challenge has been too difficult to overcome. When you’re passionate about something, you’ll leap over any hurdle to make it happen.
“There is so much hope. It has to do with your mindset.”
I met Janelle by complete chance, or so we both thought at the time. Little did we know how similar our stories were and that this chance encounter wasn't by chance at all. Everything for a reason.
While we only met in person that one time, we kept up here and there over the next few months via social media. Scrolling through my Facebook feed one day I came across something that stopped me in my tracks and everything made sense all at once. This post by Janelle on November 12th, 2015.
"It's sometimes hard for me to wrap my brain around how blessed I am. I didn't expect to be here beyond my 20's, nor did I expect I could ever be a part of helping so many people make significant life changes.
I spent 10 years of focused effort destroying my body. When people stepped in to try to help, I was viscious and defensive. When my doctors told me I was knocking at deaths door, my response was, "well apparently nobody's f***ing home cuz I'm still sitting here with you" (charming, huh?)
...Scrolling through my pictures, I landed on the one below and I remember this day so vividly. I didn't know it then, but I was 3 days away from rock bottom and 4 days away from my first day of recovery..."
Heaviest Weight: I think I got up to 185-190# (5’ 6”)
Current Weight: 145 lbs of muscle :)
I came across your story in my Facebook feed and was instantly drawn to it because of your caption of your before and after photos, “When you’re ready to change, you will!” One of the simplest, most beautiful and inspiring messages I’ve ever read. It was simple, honest and real.
When you’re ready to change, you will. – That’s what I used to tell myself. I have a lot of friends who have approached me for help. My first question is “are you ready? If you’re ready to do this, let’s do it.”
It’s not a quick fix; it’s completely changing your lifestyle. And life gets hard!
It’s not easy to execute a healthy diet, incorporate an exercise regimen, and prep meals weekly all while (for some) working full time, going to school and having a family. Past and present injuries and illnesses could potentially prevent such changes from happening. I feel blessed that my path to health lined up perfectly with my lifestyle. I have an 8-5 job that allows me to get to my gym for a 5:30 pm class. I do not attend school and I currently don’t have any children. Everything just sort of lined up and helped the process to get me where I am today.