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.
Never, in the history of ever, has telling someone to calm down actually helped them to calm down.
As I started writing this my auto-rotating background was a lioness staring the camera down with her intense yellow eyes. I decided to name her Augusta. How fitting a photo to pop up for an article about dealing with overwhelm.
Can you imagine being the photographer? Starring through your hopefully long magnifying camera lens and knowing if Augusta decided to charge you nothing under the sun would save your life. At the same time you’re having a precious, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture this image and to be in the presence of a truly amazing creature.
All of that in and of itself creates a balance of tension. There is a definitive con, being mauled to death by a lioness, and definite pro, an amazing experience. But what happens when the scales are out of balance?
Valentine’s Day has come and gone and you’re still not in the mood. It’s easy not to feel frisky on Valentine’s Day when there seems to be a ton of pressure to be super sexy and have an expensive, passion filled night. The truth is no one feels sexy on cue, let alone when trying to make an intimate experience that matches up to society’s standards. It’s not only massively defeating, it’s bizarre, and yet we subject ourselves to that on some level.
Sex starts in your head. Stress, depression, anxiety and even a lousy day can kill the mood. If you’re not feeling sexy in your mind, you’re not going to get sexy vibes in your loins. It’s as simple as that. If you’re consumed with worry about the price of the lingerie - which makes you feel self-conscious anyway, not to mention is physically uncomfortable to wear - you’re not going to genuinely enjoy sex. If you can, set aside the things in your world that are stressing you out. That will do more to get you into "the mood" than any piece of lingerie.
There is something about a family meal that can straight up suck any feelings of success and gratitude right out of you. Your start up’s progress becomes “cute” and a short interruption to the details of when you’re getting a real job. Your daily yoga practice reduced to hippy nonsense. Any hope of sharing your new venture our travels get eschewed for the topic of babies, investment properties and corporate promotions. Why on earth did you ever leave the kids table?
You’re trying to maintain your positive psychology learnings in the forefront of your mind, but it seems more like a competition for one-uppings and backhanded compliments. Pairing all that with the scary and polarizing, current world news and there’s a good chance holiday gatherings could take a toll on you. It’s no wonder the jokes and statistics abounding about holiday family feuds, depression, anxiety and increased alcohol consumption and hospitalizations.
When it seems that the world has gone mad and tragedies have given our lives a somber tone, there is still, and always will be, a bright beacon of hope. Hope for you, your family and humanity at large. That beacon is gratitude and it lights the way to better and brighter days for anyone who chooses to practice it.
There is always something to be grateful for and that, in and of itself, is an incredible thing. If you’re reading this give thanks for the incredible gifts of literacy, electricity, internet and time.
10/13/2016 2 Comments
Recently life threw me a curve ball. I’ve been working hard and diligently building momentum towards not one, but ALL of my personal and professional goals in life. I live in a city that truly feels like home, making financial progress and even gains, growing a loyal following for NutritionSheila.com (as well as all things social media related: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter), developing true-meaningful friendships and connections, and even my downward dog was finally on point after nearly 18 years of (inconsistently) practicing yoga. Hell, I’ve even written a complete book by accident and have begun the process of preparing it for submission for publication.
And then… WaPam! Out of nowhere I was dealt a low-blow and what made it sting was that it came from a person I truly valued and looked up to.
But here’s the thing… I know, I know. Good things almost never follow “but here’s the thing.” Also I recognize that I’m hitting the ellipses pretty hard up in here. Check your judgement at the door until you’ve made it through this article. At which point you can choose whether or not you pick them back up. I suggest not picking them back up, but you do you. You’ve got options – happiness is one of them.
I digress. Here’s the thing. The very moment I got hit with this lousy news, news that anyone would be justified to get upset by, my first, honest, instant reaction was gratitude, followed by massive relief.
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