How I became a Plant-based Missaghian (part two)

Sweet potato & black bean enchiladas with avocado-cilantro cream sauce from: //ohsheglows.com

 Pilot project – to eat a plant-based diet for 3 weeks.

IMG_2902

My love, my support, my Ramin

If it wasn’t for Ramin’s support in that first week, I’m not sure I could have made the step myself. I find cooking two kinds of meals quite tiring and the delicious smell of cooking meat has always weakened my desire to stop eating it. So Ramin’s support (and my Dad’s acceptance that I would be serving up only Vegan meals in this time) to try a plant-based diet for three weeks gave me free reign to experiment see if that desire could be strengthened into commitment. I knew Ramin wasn’t going to become Vegan, in fact I’m not even putting that pressure on myself. I can’t operate that way actually, I find if I can’t have something then that’s ALL I want! I was sure there would be a shift, but I wanted to have an experience and then reflect on long term changes, not set myself up to fail or feel guilty.

On the first day, I had breakfast with my lovely friend Yas, who was super-supportive about our plan and even treated me to a Vegan cooked breakfast – which was yummy! Ramin and I went to a Vegetarian café in Cardiff called ‘Milgis’ and had the most delicious coconut based bowl of veggies while proudly announcing to the Waitress that we were Day One Vegans!

We enjoyed soy lattes in the city and I bought the Jamie Oliver book ‘Everyday Superfood’ (many great Vegetarian and Vegan recipes in there), spending the next few days making really tasty meals – slightly complicated, but well worth the effort.

soy latte in Costa

Yummy soy latte!

We ate a plant-based diet for 16 days (As well as Jamie’s ideas, I tried recipes from the wonderful Vegan book ‘Oh She Glows’ and various internet searches) before I had a really low day accompanied by a massive chicken craving. I gave in, and we ate chicken for a few days and I did feel better physically, yet sad about eating the meat. My Vegetarian friend assured me, along with hilarious chicken-noises, that I was in the process of making a transition, and not to be too hard on myself.

The Monday after the low-point-chicken-fest came along and Ramin decided two weeks was enough, he’d still happily eat any plant-based meals I prepared but he really loves cow’s milk in his coffee and was missing meat. This was totally fine by me, in fact I find it troublesome when couples get upset about their partner’s eating choices as who are we to dictate what someone else should or shouldn’t do? I’ve come to my decision through a lot of thought and knowledge from my research and interest in this subject, but Ramin hasn’t and I’m not going to impose it on him either. He has enough to deal with having MS as it is. Also through this pilot project he ate very tasty plant-based meals and has significantly reduced the amount of meat he now eats – so he is doing really well.

Oh She Glows: //ohsheglows.com

Delicata squash salad with lemon-tahini dressing

Weird aches

I found all the milk alternatives were giving me stomach ache, and when I went back to goats milk after the two weeks these aches went away! I wondered if I was detoxing or my body was reacting to something in the long-life process of these milks (I’ve read this can be the case)… then I considered this could something to do with my female workings and nothing to do with the food? Hard to know! The aches were consistent and I had a real lack of energy as well as feeling low. Was it hormones or digestion?

At the Doctors I had an examination and found out that I have a ‘female condition’ (I’ll spare you the details) – a yeast infection caused by Candida, a type of internal fungus. Of course the GP didn’t tell me this (as most GPs in my experience (not all, Ashley and Nirvana!!) make no connection between ill health and food), but the information allowed me to research the cause and then it all made sense. No wonder I had been feeling low, with stomach aches and cravings. My body was overrun with bad bacteria! I also realised, looking back at other symptoms and female examinations, that I’ve had this condition for over a year and it could be one of the main reasons why I’ve had a lack of energy on a regular basis.

I took the GP’s medicine and I also bought a jar of strong probiotics, started taking cider vinegar (with ‘the mother’ – i.e. another form of probiotics that helps the body become alkaline) daily and have since stopped eating anything off the list that can cause the bad bacteria to grow such as white bread tortillas, sugar, cheese and mushrooms. It’s as if my body knew I didn’t need cheese from the beginning. My body wants to be plant-based more than my mind does perhaps? The stomach aches stopped and my energy levels increased! I made a delicious sugar, gluten and dairy Vegan raw cake from Caramelia Cakery and a little bit every day has been enough to satisfy my chocolate desires!

Orange peanut raw cake – Caramelia Cakery: Buy the e-book here for only £5

Some other personal, immediate results you might be interested in

I’m sleeping better, only needing the loo once in the middle of the night, often sleeping all the way through the night (I used to need the loo 2-5 times a night!). I wake up around 7.30am (often earlier) feeling wide awake, when before I felt sluggish and only really felt ‘normal’ around 11.30am. Other toilet habits are great – daily – and easy. My sinuses are clearer (this is fantastic for my singing!), I don’t feel hungry between meals any more (I used to be a terrible snacker) and I’ve lost about 3 kilos since mid September. Another cool thing is that our shopping bill has been reduced by about a third! It only starts getting expensive when I buy ready-made Vegan foods. If I cook from scratch, it’s way cheaper to eat plant-based meals and of course much healthier too.

Pilot project over, what have I decided?

So on reflection, I have decided to commit to a Vegetarian diet with the option to have meat if I ever feel an overwhelming urge for it. I’m also going to try to eat foods that will satisfy any such cravings first, rather than just lunging for the meat. I’m taking a B12 sublingual supplement and a few teaspoons of Feroglobin daily (to ward off anaemia which runs in my family) as well as my usual probiotics and Vitamin C supplements. I read online that many see Vegan as the goal and Vegetarian as the cut off point. I like that. It feels realistic to me and something I can stick with.

The Vegan/Plant-Based friends of mine who have influenced and inspired me have done so through love, a down-to-earth approach and detachment from my or anyone else’s choices (thank you Natasha and Gareth!). I’ve loved how much they love food, making me realize I can still love food as much as I do – just make different tasty choices.

Harissa roasted aubergine – Jamie Oliver (Everyday Superfood)

Becoming Vegetarian is a huge change for me as I used to eat meat or fish every day, for lunch and dinner. If I can sustain this way of eating I have accomplished something so important – as the will of my soul (the rider) has reined in the will of my body (the horse) and oh that rounded-bellied horse loved to run, well eat!

I always buy free-range eggs and I don’t really see any harm in eating them to be honest, the chickens don’t suffer! The same is with honey. Goat’s milk and my stomach are friends and for now, I’m happy with that. Recently found coconut milk is fab too. I will phase the milk out (as I don’t want to be responsible for the slaughter of young billy goats), but I’m being kind to myself with this one…. I’m giving it longer to make the transition. I can still see myself becoming Vegan in the future. It’s a lot closer now than it was 3 weeks ago.

Motivation

I decided to have a go at a plant-based diet in the first place, not only because I want my life choices to not cause suffering to other creatures, but also to be able to prevent serious illness like the Cancer my Mum eventually lost her battle with. I’m not afraid of death and I believe we are eternal beings, taking everything we have learned with us into the next world. We are what we have made of our souls. Yet I want to live this life with health, energy, positive feelings about my actions and their consequences and to be of service to others. I wish Mum and I had both had a go at this many years ago – as maybe she’d then still be with us?

After Mum passed I had a dream I was asleep on my bed and received a huge delivery of huge boxes of fruit and vegetables, with a note asking us to share these with people in our community. I felt this was an impossible task as I didn’t have a car, and wondered if Ramin and I should just keep them for ourselves? I interpreted this dream to mean that I needed to share with people the spiritual fruits of my Mum’s life and as a result Dad and I called the newspapers who ran a big story on the life of my Mum. We all began walking around the house joyously shouting ‘Share the fruits!’

Yet I also think my Mum was sending me a message in this dream, to literally eat fruit and vegetables and to share this knowledge with others. Mum Kalim and Fleur 2013My determination to eat a plant-based diet has developed more strongly within me in the last year than ever before and I think this is because my Mum is assisting me from the spiritual worlds of God. Health, happiness and strength to any of you lovely ones out there, making efforts to improve your lives and your impact on the world around you. And please, let’s be kind to one another, whatever is on our plate as we are all on different paths and it’s only love that changes anything, not judgement. As Ghandi so beautifully said, ‘Be the change you want to see’.

IMG_2936

Tofu stir-fry with peanut sauce

How I became a Plant-based Missaghian (Part One)

“The food of the future will be fruit and grains. The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten.

Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural food is that which grows out of the ground.”
(‘Abdu’l-Baha, from Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, page 102)

I used to be a Vegetarian

When I was a teen, my love for animals as well as my need to be cool and different meant that I became Vegetarian, which lasted about two years. Then one day I remember it was the smell of bacon and the taste of chicken which weakened my defences. Ever since then, I have imagined there would be a day in the future when I would go back to being a Vegetarian. But the thought of restricting myself from yet another thing in this world (when I don’t drink alcohol, smoke, do drugs, didn’t have sex before marriage and don’t even go out dancing any more (mainly to do with not wanting to be a part of that sweaty, lusty, fake scene, than for any religious reason, as I do dance at home!)) prevented me from going back to being a Vegetarian, as did of course my cravings for bacon, sausages and chicken in particular.

Too much cheese

Another of the strange mental barriers to my being Vegetarian (which should have been a sign) was that whenever you go out to a restaurant or eat at the home of friends who don’t usually cook Vegetarian food, but are kindly having a go to accommodate you – everything is smothered in cheese! I do like cheese generally, but too much melted cheese where the fat is running off the surface just makes me feel ill. For many years this was the excuse that skipped through my brain, distracting me from my sadness about eating animals or the need to eat vegetables and fruits for health!

My memories are all about food

A factor that also had a huge impact on my food decisions (including a steady impact on the size of my belly!) was just how much I LOVE food and how much pleasure I get from eating. The main thing I remember about my year living in China, back in 1998-99 is how much I either loved the food (aubergine and potato fried goodness or red rice with spicy chicken)or didn’t like the food (think chicken’s feet and worm-like slimy noodles!). There my love of all Asian food was born, as well as my (thank God now erased) near obsession with MacDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, as both those places were times of mutual sanctuary to my fellow Western English Teachers when Chinese food became too much, or when we literally wanted a taste of home. I remember the amazing food my Nana (who was a professional Cook) made us every weekend, and particularly her glorious 5 course Christmas menus! I particularly remember the Bahá’í 19 day Feasts in the homes of Persian friends because their fragrant and rich food was amazing – much better than the biscuits and cake served in other homes. Basically if the food was good, that memory has lasted and lasted. Some people think in colour or remember particular emotions – whereas I think in food!

Loving food just a little too much

Apparently as a child I would go to a party and eat so much food that I’d throw up when I came home. I remember going on a school trip and buying my sister a large stick of rock as a present and then eating half of it on the way home on the bus. On another school trip to Paris, when I was about 14, I ate chips on the Ferry over, threw up over myself and another friend, fell asleep and woke up with us both covered in vomit! Yes it’s good to like food, one of this world’s pleasures and a daily necessity – but I have to admit, my love of food went beyond the bounds of constraint.

Starting College – no exercise – got fatter

When I was 16, I passed my GCSE’s and left School to go to the local Tertiary College to study A-levels. This had an almost immediate impact on my weight – as previously I had walked the mile to school every morning, and back again in the afternoon, I was a member of the school Hockey Team and enjoyed PE during the school timetable. I would run around every break time, playing tag, British Bulldog, skipping or hopscotch. I was a very active child so that even though I ate a lot, I was slim and muscular. Also our food at home was generally healthy and we were not allowed to eat a lot of sweet foods.

The College was a bus-ride away however and there was no PE or playing around like a child in the break times! I felt cool and sophisticated as I no longer had to wear a school uniform, I could wear my own clothes and present my style to the world! I wore make-up and earrings and even began to find boys interesting and funny, rather than annoying and stupid as all the boys in school had been. I could buy my own lunch and revelled in chocolate bars and bags of pick-a-mix. Yes it was great that Fleur, the woman, was emerging, but when I look back I am shocked how I completely stopped any exercise and ate so much rubbish (sorry Mum!). And of course the weight began to pile on. Oh, and that was when I stopped my Vegetarian diet also.

When the interest in nutrition began

Between then and now, my eating habits have dramatically shifted. In part this is to do with taking notice of how eating different foods affect my body and in part to do with educating myself through my strong interest in health and healing. Actually this all began when my brother’s eczema noticeably reduced (as a toddler) when his diet was restricted; when my Mum, Rita, had breast cancer and went into remission purely through focusing a healthy diet with daily fresh juices and healthy foods for ten years and then when my husband was diagnosed with MS back in 2003. I wanted to figure out how our actions create or reduce illness and what we can do to heal ourselves.

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 21.39.10My friend, Vicky, wrote a wonderful book in this time called ‘I’ll have the fruits and grains please!’ exploring the Bahá’í Writings on food and healing which she kindly dedicated to Ramin and myself. In fact, even though I was living in Germany and Vicky was in England, we worked together to produce an online monthly magazine for a year (a whole year!) called ‘Little Guru’ – featuring articles from fellow writers and friends interested in the subject of health and healing for the mind, body and soul. This monthly commitment to produce read-worthy articles that would assist people’s healing was the first time I had focused on nutrition – and it began to change my own habits. I ate more fruit and added more vegetables to our daily meals, I reduced my bread intake (oh gorgeous German bread!) and tried out new kinds of cheese rather than eating sausage and cold meats for breakfast.

A particular book that shifted my mind-set enormously was the bookEat to Live’ by Joel Fuhrman, M.D. I realised that it was not a lack of will power which had prevented me from eating healthily, but a lack of knowledge. I learned so much from Dr Fuhrman and I still go back and read that amazing book every now and then, to remind myself of the principles and practical actions needed to live a healthy life. The really cool thing is that reading this book changed my focus from losing weight to losing bad health and learning to enjoy food for it’s healthful benefits, not just it’s taste.

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 21.38.40

One of the main messages I received from ‘Eat to Live’ was the effect sugar has on our bodies. I used to eat so much sugar, it’s a wonder I am not obese. Yes I’m overweight (it’s slowly shifting now!) but I thank my body for effectively dealing with the excess sugar I fed it and I’m so grateful (and kind of astounded) that I don’t have type 2 diabetes. My sugar intake is so low in comparison to when I was a teen and a young woman due to reading this book as well as support from friends, Vicky in particular. Dr Fuhrman explains clearly, that ‘Refined foods cause a swift and excessive rise in blood sugar, which in turn triggers insulin surges to drive the sugar out of the blood and into our cells. Unfortunately, insulin also promotes the storage of fat on the body and encourages your fat cells to swell.’ The thought of my body sending out a hormone to deal with the sugar and that being responsible for the fat on my body really changed my mind-set and I became far better at controlling how much sugar I ate.

The change began with goats milk

About five years ago, I began to make the correlation between eating dairy products (milk in particular) and stomach aches as well as other anti-social side effects. In fact it became so obvious – like a continual low-grade period pain – that I really had to make a change. My sister had recently swapped to goats milk, and found she gained masses of energy and didn’t feel the listlessness that used to overcome her anymore; my Dad had swapped to soya milk after suffering from persistent stomach problems and my brother, Kalim who has severe eczema, had only ever drunk soya milk. So I too swapped to goats milk (the thought of soya milk made me retch at the time!) and even though the slightly bitter taste took a bit of getting used to, in a few months I could drink it straight and even preferred the taste. Clearly lactose intolerance runs in my family – but it took me about 30 years to realise this! Changing my milk from cows to goats milk was a first step towards independence from the societal norms and I realised I began to start caring less, if at all, about what other people thought. Yes goats milk tastes funky (the American version) to many people, but I liked it and I didn’t have stomach problems with it – so whatever other people’s reaction, I knew what was good for me.

Why are animals food? It just feels wrong.

In these last few years I have felt a yearning to let go of eating animals but really didn’t have, what I felt, was the emotional strength. I knew I could never kill an animal to eat it and I also found that as time went by I became more aware of the bones and muscles of the chicken, or the veins in the prawns, or the connective tissue in lamb and had to work on not thinking about the slice of meat on my fork and the fact that slice used to be a part of a living animal. The reality that this food had once been a living, breathing creature and wasn’t just a slab of ‘food’ you bought in a supermarket began to hit home. Looking back I wonder how it took me so long, but it’s amazing how blind we can be to a truth when, for example, the power of taste is so strong.

I kept yearning for beans, this was so strong that when I went to Nandos (a famous chicken restaurant) I wanted to eat the bean burger more than the chicken! I would still choose the chicken, because it tasted so good – but then would wonder if this chicken had lived a good life, would look at the wing and think of the feathers that had been plucked from it. In fact it’s quite weird to me how long it has taken me to stop eating meat, when I’ve been having these quiet thoughts and inner battle for years! I always thought I wasn’t strong enough to give up meat and fish, even though all I wanted to eat was beans!

Forks Over Knives

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 21.40.17I heard about the film, ‘Forks over Knives from my friend Della, while teaching singing at a Bahá’í Summer School in Romania last year. She was trying a plant-based diet (quite a brave thing to do in Romania) after being inspired by this film. Back in the UK another friend told me about the film, and then – still having not seen it (resisting, maybe?) I joined a Facebook group which friends of mine had set up, exploring and learning about plant-based diets and I was impressed by the articles, videos and thoughts shared. I felt particularly inspired by the knowledge and gentle responses of my friends, Ronnie and Rosie and I began to experiment with different vegetables and beans and herbs and spices. I really began to consider that if I did give up eating animals, I would still have tasty meals. I even began to entertain the thought that; so what if my meals were not as tasty as before, why was I letting my taste-buds – that temporary mouthful – influence me so deeply and overrun my conscience?

So, a few weeks ago I sat down one afternoon and watched the entire film, ‘Forks over Knives’ with Ramin (this was the second time for me, as I’d watched it last year with Kalim). Suddenly (and this didn’t happen the first time I watched the movie) I was blown away by the extensive studies which showed clearly the negative effect meat and dairy have upon our bodies – so much so, that for the sake of our health and as a pilot project (my Mum loved those!) we decided to try a plant-based diet for 3 weeks then see how we felt……..