Prior to the end of each year, I set a challenge for the upcoming year. I do this to challenge myself and experience the world a little differently than I usually do.
In 2018, I had no alcohol for the entire year. It wasn't that hard, aside from a few awkward social interactions, as I don't usually drink. In 2019, I cut out social media. It wasn't incredibly hard once I filled my social media time with reading more, being more present in the moment, and having a kid.
Going into 2020, I wanted to challenge myself to do something that I know would be tough and challenge me in a significant way. It needed to be something that I didn't really think I could achieve - which was different to the past challenges. In all honesty, my past challenges were a bit of a cop-out as I knew I could manage them.
Whenever I set a challenge I start telling people about it in order to create a sort of peer pressure re-enforcement trap to keep me committed. The last thing I want to do is admit to someone that I couldn't follow through on something I committed to so enthusiastically. And so for the last few weeks of 2019, I started telling everyone that starting in 2020 I would be switching to an entirely plant based diet.
Let's Take a Few Steps Back
Initially I wasn't even considering going full plant based. I was only going to cut out sugar, most dairy, and simple carbohydrates as I wanted to eat slightly healthier in 2020. However, my fiancé was interested in eating healthier too and more so interested in a pescatarian diet. I showed her the Forks Over Knives documentary I watched years back and it sparked an interest for both of us to eat more of a plant based diet going forward.
A few days later, we watched the Game Changers movie on Netflix. A few things in the movie sparked my interest - notably the studies which showed a number of differences between those who ate meat and those who didn't. It was then I decided that I would challenge myself to stick to a plant based diet for 2020.
I decided that with ±3 weeks left of 2019, I would start weaning meat and other animal based food products out of my diet in order to get my body and mind prepared for what was in store for 2020.
During the three weeks there were a few days in a row where I went without any meat and animal products. I quickly started to realise how tough it would be to eat out as a vegan*, granted restaurants have come a long way in having vegetarian / vegan options in recent years, the vegan options are rather limited.
The other thing I noticed is that my general mood had changed over the three weeks. I was a bit more moody and grumpy - noting that I was combining this process with intermittent fasting. I seriously began doubting whether I would be able to follow a plant based diet for a year - food is my happy place.
Food = Happiness
In general, my diet is pretty clean. I try keep 80 - 90% clean and allow for 10 - 20% of indulgence. Over the last 18 months, this has varied wildly as I sympathy ate during my fiancé's pregnancy and then didn't have the time or energy to eat as clean as I usually do once our little boy was born. I knew I would correct for it later on, and here we are now.
Even though I generally eat clean, I do enjoy my indulgences. It ranges from a naughty spiced chai latte to any desert on a menu that grabs my attention. I do eat out a lot and when we have friends or family visiting (which is often) we like to treat them to good food (we are spoilt in Cape Town).
A few times, during these past weeks, we sat down at a restaurant with limited vegan options and I had to make up the best dish I could. I was never pleased with the result. As you can imagine, this put me in a fowl mood.
Over the last 30+ years, my body and mind have carefully eliminated any interest in food that it does not like and helped me zoom in on foods that made me happy, made me feel full, made me feel satisfied.
I quickly realised that I had no idea what to eat as a vegan. What tastes good? How do I make it? Is it possible I am going to hate myself for doing this? Am I going to spend 2020 constantly pissed off? Am I doing this because it's a fad?
There Must Be A Why
After the initial enthusiasm of my decision had worn off and reality started setting in, I knew I needed to find a why. A real reason and purpose for wanting to go through this process. If I didn't, I knew I would give up within a few days.
One could easily watch Vegan 2019 and have enough reasons to become vegan. However, sadly I need a why that is more selfish than selfless. It's not that I don't buy into or believe that the world is in serious trouble and we need to change something - it's just that we've got tonnes of other issues too. Us mere mortals are motivated by things that directly impact us, not by things happening elsewhere or that we cannot see.
After some thought, the motivation as to why I would follow a plant based diet is quite clear - it will make me healthier, less prone to disease or illness, and ideally live a longer and happier life. If I could achieve this, I would be quite happy.
The problem is that there is too much conflicting information out there for me gauge whether or not going vegan will help me achieve the above. It's always important to find a balanced view and make an informed decision. And at the same time, I don't want to give up on the challenge entirely.
While I think it is safe to assume that adopting a plant based diet would be healthy for me in general, I wouldn't know for sure. I would need to learn more about which foods contain which nutrients and ensure I consumed the right foods at the right amounts each day.
I decided to approach this a little more pragmatically. I would be able to measure the affects of going vegan on my health, my mood, my energy, and daily life in general. I also wanted to keep it simple, I've still got work, a kid, and a life.
The plan is as follows:
- Go plant based for 90 days.
- Keep a brief daily log of food, mood, and other notes.
- Do regular blood tests with my doctor every 2 - 3 weeks.
- Evaluate on an ongoing basis and at the end of 90 days.
Based on the above plan, I'll know within 90 days whether or not I will be able to sustain a plant based diet. Regular bloods will tell me whether I'm in good health or not. A daily log will help me track my energy and happiness - although those who spend time with me will serve as better judges of my mood.
I honestly do not know if I will be able to make 90 days, nevermind the 365 days I originally committed to in the beginning. However, this is the purpose of a challenge. It's about challenging myself and venturing into the unknown to discover more about myself.
Let's see how this goes. I will keep you updated.
* I use the term vegan instead of planet based diet as it's easier to type out each time and also probably the closest diet I'll be following although I'm not adopting veganism across my entire lifestyle.
** I am usually the guy who gives vegetarians and vegans a hard time at the dinner table (all in good fun of course). I've always been a proud meat eater as most of my favourite dishes are based on meat - and in South Africa, we have a tradition of braaing meat.