Why 3 years ago I stopped eating meat!
You at your own will can leave this blog post at any time. This is a blog post to go over my experiences and why I have changed aspects of my nutrition which seem to be quite controversial within the fitness industry (although becoming less controversial each and every year) and how it has helped me with my goals; the controversial part being gaining size/strength.
I am not putting this up to “try and convert you”, this isn’t saying what you’re doing is wrong and I’m not trying to offend anyone on this blog post.
If before, during or after reading this you have any questions or are wanting to change aspects of your nutrition – I highly recommend doing research yourself or contact myself to get more specific questions answered.
Disclaimer done – enjoy the read! :)
I often used to feel that when questioned on my nutrition that I have to confess to doing something that’s wrong…although it isn’t, it's just not considered normal in society currently. I would think to myself “Introduce what nutrition you live by as if it's an AA meeting and wait for judgement”.
*Big deep breath* Here goes… “My name is Mark and my nutrition is based around Plant Based Whole Foods (PBWF). This is consuming as little processed foods as possible with little/no animal based products.” That last one is usually the shocker.
I’m no expert in psychology but usually when that comes up in conversation people “put their walls up” so to speak. It’s ok! You are a human being, as am I. When something you’ve been brought up to believe is challenged, you are likely to have some kind of negative emotions towards what’s being said/asked.
I don’t judge people based around their food & lifestyle choices. Who would I be to judge? Am I better than other people based around what I eat and how I train? Hell no! Just over 3 years ago I was exactly where you were now. But I do see myself as an ever learning educator within my various roles within this industry so if this can help just 1 person then brilliant!
I often see Nutrition similar to how I see Politics. Each “party” (diet) is based around different views & values, each party has different leaders or representatives and it always seems that the more popular parties out there, only really care about the money side of things.
As much as you may be expecting to read a “typical vegan” blog post with how I’ve read said studies and how you must change or you are going to die...that isn’t how it’s going to be. I’m not trying to scare anyone and I’ve already said this is based on my experiences & research I have come across, I’m an educator & not here to offend/trigger anyone. A few of my mates refer to me as “a vegan…but not a d**k about it” :’) I hope that reputation proceeds me in this blog post.
So firstly then I like to think that when it comes to the Vegan Diet I have a PBHF approach, in simple terms it's pretty much a Vegan Diet just with minimal processed & refined foods/sugars. And the easiest way to describe a Vegan Diet it is you don’t consume animal products which means no meat, dairy, fish or eggs. They both aim to cause the least amount of use of animals as possible but PBWF is effectively the healthier version and it is argued that you can follow a PBWF diet without adopting some of the lifestyle changes that come with being a Vegan such as wearing leather etc. – But you can label yourself as whatever you see fit so long as it's accurate. A friend of mine Gaz Burrows put up some content on how labels no matter what you are given / give yourself should never change how you would interact with someone. Personally I couldn’t care less what I get labelled as, over the years I’ve learned how to not let what others say/think affect me too much, I just know that sometimes people can feel extra guarded when the V word is mentioned.
Before I continue, right now you’re likely thinking about all the foods that aren’t in the PBHF category and probably thinking “I could never give that up” or “where do you get your protein?” etc. etc.
– Don’t worry, I get it all the time –
BUT one thing that you won’t think about is the amount of food you CAN eat! *A list will be at the bottom of the blog of a few things to help you out* If anything I have found it makes you get better at cooking and more experimental with your foods, opening doors to all kinds of new and different recipes so even after reading this you can still cook better making adapting your nutrition mostly around a PBWF diet.
If you’re wanting to cut down or even eliminate animal products out of your nutrition there are many benefits of which differ from person to person.
Based on my personal & my clients experience we’ve found benefits such as
Lower blood pressure
Lower LDL cholesterol
Developed taste buds
There is also plenty of research out there by some world renowned MD’s such as Dr. Kim Williams, Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Caldwell Esseylstein, Dr. T Colin Campbell, Dr. Garth Davis etc. suggesting that you can stop the progression or even reverse big diseases such as heart disease, prostate cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and more. Note: these doctors work with patients directly to adapt to what they need so your results may differ.
A PBHF approach to date is the only diet that has been shown to stop & reverse heart disease (currently the No.1 killer in the US & No.2 in the UK). No other diet has proven it can also do that which in itself is insane!
I love what Dr Michael Greger says about it:
“Only one way of eating has ever been proven to reverse heart disease in the majority of patients: a diet centered around whole plant foods. If that’s all a whole-food, plant-based diet could do—reverse our number-one killer—shouldn’t that be the default diet until proven otherwise?”
Dr. Greger puts up lots of content on his website for free for us: here
So the the main reason why I stopped consuming animal products is in short because I was getting regular chest pains.
This may come as a surprise to you but I was getting really sharp intense stabbing like chest pains on my left side when I was around 19-20 (4-5 years ago). I was active, slept enough, wasn’t stressed (or at least not enough for it to cause that kind of strain on my heart), have no medical conditions and at the time I was eating what I thought was healthy, what most people in the fitness industry preach about still.
These chest pains came in intervals, sometimes during my workouts where I would have to stop and wait for the pain to subside to potentially continue or randomly as I was walking around. Around the time I turned 21 these pains started getting more & more frequent and more intense, I knew something was wrong. I spoke to my manager at the time in private and said my concerns he said what I should of thought sooner “Go to the doctors”.
The next day I called up the doctors as soon as I could to book an appointment. I got an appointment and met with a nurse the same day of she done various tests such as ECG’s, blood tests, movement tests of which I assume to test my pec function and I was told come back once they had the results.
The second appointment was more discussion based with a doctor. I remember the doctor saying “Well, you’re a fit young lad. Your heart rate is low likely due to the activity you do and blood pressure is normal. So you are active as a personal trainer? The only other thing I can think of points to your blood test results as you’ve surprisingly got high cholesterol. Can you talk me through what you eat?” This question frustrated me. “High cholesterol? I’m only 21! How dare this doctor ask me about my food! I’m a personal trainer who trains religiously and obviously I eat well!” I wanted to say this to him but bear in mind I was young(er) and still fairly new to the industry. When you’re new to the fitness industry, you think you know everything and the more you stay in the industry the more you realise how little you know.
So I told him my daily nutrition at the time and made sure I started with “bear in mind I’m bulking”:
Breakfast - x2 3 egg omelettes with cheese and on occasion bacon
Pre-workout, a circuit training session or weight training session followed by a post-workout whey protein shake with whole milk
Lunch – x1 sachet of Ainsley Harriots Sundried Tomato & Garlic Cous Cous (used to love that stuff) potentially with some boiled veg, x2 big hand fulls of either spinach or kale and also I’d either have x3 chicken breasts or x2 steak medallions
Snack – x2/3 boiled eggs & a handful of Almonds or Cashews
Dinner – Always different as the parents cooked. We’d have a chippy once a week, maybe pizza once a week.
I told him it was this each and every day during the week and I’d also have the odd alcoholic beverage but at this point was starting to get bored of the nights out. I also told him that I was willing to do anything so would be willing to cut out the once per week chippy and pizza nights. His response? “Have you tried cutting down on your red meat consumption?” This was the question that started my obsession of learning about nutrition more. I can only describe it as the ‘Kubler-Ross Change Curve’ but I needed to look into it more.
I started to buy steak less replacing it with more chicken. After doing research later that evening I cut down my egg consumption and replaced my morning omelettes with oats. And replaced snacking on eggs with more nuts.
After a good few weeks & a lot of research on why my high cholesterol was causing my chest pains and what I could do to reduce or eliminate it I came across this word over and over again…’Vegan’. I kept looking for something else I could try but nothing that had research to back its claims. Vegans, at this point in my life I would of only described as skinny, weak, smelly hippies that don’t wash who wear tie dye shirts and don’t even lift…bro haha. I’m sure this may have been a thought for you guys at some point?
So with this I wanted to give it a good enough go to say I had tried properly, but had full expectations on it not working. Although at this point even a slight reduction of my chest pains would have been welcomed. I decided to give it 3 months and call it a '3 month vegan challenge' so people would know it was temporary, this way if it didn't work and I went back to consuming animal products, I'd hopefully still have some of my street cred....hahaha.
I remember speaking to my girlfriend of which is a lifelong vegetarian *vegetarian at the time – now vegan*…
Side note: She had no influence on me changing. I did this for myself and I’m pretty sure it came as a bit of a shock to her when I told her.
…saying something along the lines of “I’m going to give being vegan a go for 3 months, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s probably not going to be permanent so don’t get your hopes up and try not to smother me about it”. My girlfriend is a very kind, understanding person. She gave me space with it as I requested but I remember feeling so guarded! She would see I was struggling with something and offer help and all I would think is “SHE’S TRYING TO CHANGE ME!” I even remember being snappy with her at one point “Who does she think she is trying to give advice to a personal trainer? She didn’t know better…” but now I feel so silly typing this up as I’m still doing the 3 month challenge 3 years later!! Or a much better healthier version anyway.
I was doing so well at not buying animal products and cooking vegan when I started! I finally knew I could do it! There was one more thing I hadn't thought of when it came to my meat consumption...my parents – guys if you’re reading this please don’t be offended! I mean this in the kindest way possible! :’) So the parents have always been so supportive of me and my choices from a young age but earlier on in life I went through a phase of wanting to be vegetarian and it went something like this:
Me: “Mum, I’m going to stop eating meat”
Mum: “Ok, but you do know that means you can’t have W, X, Y or your favourite Z?”
Me: “oh ok...never mind”
Then I went about my life happy as Larry, so they thought it was another phase and rightly so! And in all fairness each and every dinner I have eaten I have eaten willingly, if i didn't want to...I wouldn't! It’s not even as if they’re against a vegetarian diet as I know my mum spent a few years being veggie. There were a lot of things I said I wanted to do when I was younger that I didn’t end up doing just because I had ideas that would always seem like a good idea at the time but I would never see the bigger picture. So I had to show them I meant business, that I had self-control and that I was really going to give it a go. It was chippy night, I just finished a late shift 2pm-10:30pm at work, got back at around 11pm and they were in bed. This was the norm that was my life doing shift work, late dinners. They got me my usual: cheesy chips and a jumbo sausage. I ate the cheesy chips and when it came to the jumbo sausage I spent around 5 minutes staring at it and thinking whether I actually wanted to eat it, all the reasons why I would stop eating it and then I thought “It’s only 3 months…” I got up, took my plate to the kitchen and put my untouched jumbo sausage in the bin. My mum saw it the following morning and knew I wanted to give it a proper go. Looking back on it now I could have saved loads of hassle by just talking to them about it but I had this terrible view on vegans and didn’t want my parents to judge me… but hey ho, what can you do.
Now this 3 month vegan challenge was no picnic, I had my ups and my downs when it came to cutting out the dairy which surprised me. I always thought cutting out meat would have been the hardest part but no. If I ever forgot my lunch at work, I’d order a cheese salad baguette & a fruit pot from Baguettaway. If I was eating out at a restaurant with my mates I’d likely get something with dairy in it thinking it wasn’t as bad. My one rule throughout this whole experience was if I slipped up when it came to dairy, no problem but I could not and would not slip up when it came to eating meat. After a while of being dairy free I once again had a slip up and let’s just say my digestive system didn’t react that well to it. When you cut out dairy you feel great! Lighter, less groggy, energised, less tired, you don’t feel so heavy after meals…but slipping up after not having it for so long, your body isn’t happy about it.
If I’m entirely honest I’ve noticed the most benefits not only with myself but also willing clients of mine from cutting out diary so if you want to start feeling better fairly quickly, start there. There’s plenty of alternatives for dairy out there so it’s a lot easier these days.
So now I was well on track to living this diet, I just needed to convince others <- this was what I see as my biggest mistake. I forgot everything about what I used to view vegans as and just thought everyone would go "oh, ok, we'll all change with you"...I was horribly wrong. Most people who transition to vegan go through this phase, mostly due to the ethical side of things which I won't get into but mine was my passion for other peoples health. These days I know you've just got to be the example and if someones curious you can indirectly show them it can be done!
As positive of a person I am I had remarks such as "being vegan is unhealthy", "it isn't sustainable", "you won't be able to gain muscle", "you'll die" <- yep, that too. and all of this I don't even have to respond to because guess what? I'm medically healthy, I've been doing it for 3 years, I've gained muscle and lastly I'M STILL ALIVE PEOPLE!
I also found it very helpful knowing that there was Vegan athletes out there! So here are a few that helped inspire me:
And there's a lot more out there!
In terms of supplementation (not a recommendation by the way):
I took a multi-vitamin for the first year or so doing it.
I then introduced vegan protein powder – the best ones I’ve tried are:
Vivo Life Perform of which is organic
I don't think protein powders are necessary but they are convenient to add in should you struggle to hit the amount of protein you should be hitting - in my experience this isn't even a thing, it's rare that people are under consuming protein unless they're not eating enough. They're also great to add to a fruit smoothie for added taste.
At the moment I only take Vitamin B12
And use www.Cronometer.com to ensure I’m getting enough nutrients from my food – this eventually comes with experience of knowing where to get what. After a while you probably won’t need to track too! I don't believe you need supplements unless you are deficient in anything, although I can't deny it can be convenient.
The best thing about this experience is since starting this 3 month challenge back in August 2015 I’ve not had one chest pain, I’m still able to gain muscle, I’m so much more confident in my cooking, giving advice on nutrition AND I’m not deficient in anything! Mission accomplished in my eyes. I can sustain this long term, there is no reason for me to go back to consuming animal products. Whilst I’m on the results, I’m the strongest I have ever been currently on track for competing in powerlifting later this year. I don’t fatigue anywhere near as much as I used to. And after my powerlifting meet, I’ll be “cutting” for my Thailand holiday in 2019 so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes as I’ve never had to drop fat intentionally before haha.
For the moment I'll be sticking to my 5,500-6,000cals a day - How do you eat that much vegan? Would a day of my eating video be helpful perhaps? click right here
What do you even eat? Would a tour of my kitchen help perhaps? click right here
And this is where I might sound like a stereotypical hippy vegan but I’ve also learned a lot about myself in the process. How my views on how to talk & treat people have changed. I’m definitely a nicer, more understanding and empathetic person now then I was back then. I've also learned that certain social norms you are taken through in life shouldn't be taken as gospel, life can change so suddenly so be ready to adapt to it no matter what friends/family think.
So what do you guys get from this?
As I’ve already said the closer you are to PBHF the better. Three of the best bits of advice I give clients regarding nutrition is:
Cut out processed food/drink – Try a whole foods diet first. This alone offers so many benefits. No matter what diet you’re following this should be numero uno!
Cut out dairy – I would say cutting out dairy offers the most bene