I’ve recently decided to attempt a plant-based (PB) diet. I think that’s the posh way of saying “vegan” these days, a word which seems to have become a “buzz ‘word in recent years and has attracted a lot of publicity too. It is a word that seems as divisive as “Brexit” or “Mourinho”. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I have no issue with interchanging the terminology of “vegan” and “plant-based”. It seems as though the former term has a misconstrued connotation attached to it and it did get me really thinking about my own reasons why I wanted to attempt this.
I can’t remember any of my friends at school being vegan. There were vegetarians, those that ate halal, kosher etc but I certainly don’t remember any vegans. In my lifetime this is certainly a diet that has come to the forefront of human thinking in recent years due to the explosion of social media and the ability for people to bring how animals are treated in the production of meat to the attention of the masses. I do not think it is a coincidence that the internet has changed the way people think about where their food comes from, although it also seems that with the growth of “fake news” it seems harder than ever before to understand what the truth is.
The purpose of this blog isn’t to preach about the ethical side of why a PB diet is a positive thing (compelling as the arguments are). Shows on Netflix such as “What the Health” and “Cowspiracy” do a decent job of this. This is more about my own reasons as to why I am attempting a PB diet and the truth is, it doesn’t have much to do with the ethical arguments.
Being unable to do any sort of exercise over the last few months due to a serious achilles injury I have sustained made me think about what I was eating a lot more in depth. I didn’t want to get fat! I wanted to do what I could to maintain my general level of fitness in my time recovering and I gathered that paying particular attention to my diet would enable me to do that. Once I had decided to go full steam ahead with a PB diet, the initial response by many was startling. Some comments I received were:
“Don’t turn into one of those people please!”
“Please don’t flood my social media with pictures of food!”
“Where will you get your protein?” (My personal favourite and the classic stereotype)”We have teeth to eat meat!”
“Animal products are tasty”
I found this so strange. People put food photos up of meat based meals all the time and no-one says anything negative about it.
But if I were to post a photo of a vegan meal on my social media platforms, it seems that may break the internet!
I did find it interesting that I had as much commentary on my attempt to go full metal vegan as I did when I grew my beard!
I’ve had friends in my adult life who have switched to a plant-based (PB) diet and I have done nothing but wish them luck. They have never hurt me by going vegan. I never questioned their choice. The way I saw it, it was their bodies and life so it was up to them what they wanted to do. I loved my chocolate, cheese and Nandos peri-peri chicken too much. Extra hot. Wings.
I just didn’t understand it enough at the time to engage in meaningful conversation about PB diets. The truth is, I don’t think you ever have to engage in conversation with people who are on ANY diet unless they initiate it. The way I have always seen it, whatever people eat, is their own personal choice.
Certainly for me attempting a PB diet is a personal thing. Not a deeply personal thing. But a personal one. I’m not doing it to persuade others aboutthe unethical side to the treatment of animals or because of the impact of farming on the earth. My reason is because of a quote I know is attributed to Bruce Lee that I had known of BEFORE I had watched the Game Changers on Netflix (I will come onto that later on).
I’m not sure how long I will be unable to run, but it has already been two months and I have tried everything from physiotherapy, medication, acupuncture to praying to the running gods to heal me! None of these attempts has so far worked.
Being unable to run has freed up about 10 hours a week for me. That’s close to an entire waking day. I have used this time to read books by Scott Jurek (Eat Run Eat) and Rich Rolls (Running Ultra). Both swear by plant-based diets and argue that by switching to this diet, it has enabled them to accomplish incredible feats of endurance. They also argue (importantly for me), that their diet had allowed for quicker recovery times from injury.
It became clear to methat it couldn’t harm me, or anyone if I tried a plant based diet out especially if it aids in my recovery. I have always been someone to take what people say with a pinch of salt, unless I had heard the “other side” of the vegan argument. So even after reading these books, I was hesitant. I decided that the proof in the pudding was in the (vegan) eating.
For the most part, people were very supportive. They recommended I watch “The Game Changers” on Netflix, which seems to have taken the world by storm at this moment in time so I decided to watch it. I had already seen a great documentary called “Cowspiracy” on Netflix a few years ago and although that blew me away with it’s arguments on how damaging farming (and cow farts) are to the environment, I found that those arguments were mainly based on global, ethical issues. As someone who led an active life and was a regular gym goer and was leading a bodybuilding style lifestyle, the ethical argument for a PB diet could never trump the convenience of finding and eating protein from animals. I decided to give the Game Changers a go.
Here is my view on it:
From the outset I should say, it is a brilliantly produced documentary, as you would expect when you have James Cameron on board as well as a raft of A-list celebrities.
The structure of the movie was very creative, because it was following James Wilks, a former MMA fighter and his path to recovery from injury after a serious knee injury and the research he did during his time out from the ring into. I immediately felt a connection to this being in a similar position now and doing my own research on the matter. It felt VERY META watching this movie!
There were a number of parts to the movie that did make me raise an eyebrow.
They focused on the UFCfight between Nate Diaz andConnor McGregor. Plant based v Meat Eaters. And it showed that (PB)-based won!
Well…that’s not entirely true. Because I remember there being a rematch and Connor McGregor beat Diaz! Diaz has also lost other fights against meat-eaters. It was a shame they didn’t mention these points to give there more balance, because the way it was pitched made it look like eating a PB diet gives you an edge in the brutal world of MMA. I’m not sure how much I believe that.
In fact I thought deeply about this “cherry picking” part of the movie and I thought about athletes that are famous for eating fast food. Usain Bolt did it. Michael Phelps did it. Anthony Joshua has gone on record stating that he often eats burgers just because it is the fastest way to get calories in him because he loses calories so quickly due to the intensity of his training. All these athletes are or were also at the pinnacle of their sport and did NOT have PB diets. In fact I’m assuming the majority of athletes at the very top are meat eaters.
A documentary could easily be made by meat-eaters also called the Game Changers that shows eating meat is the only way to get to the pinnacle of any sport if they cherry picked sporting events too where meat-eaters are the victors.
But then it got me thinking even more…
What if Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Antony Joshua tried a PB diet? Would they have been EVEN quicker or stronger than they were?
There were other parts of the documentary that I found troubling. There was an argument that Gladiators had a PB diet. But weren’t Gladiators slaves that were trained to fight for the entertainment of others? (Are you not entertained?!). Surely once captured, they would have been fed a higher volume of vegetables over the more expensive meat.
Finally, the teeth argument (made for tearing apart PB foods) had me thinking too. My understanding of how humans evolved (I am by no means claiming to be an anthropologist) is that we evolved as omnivores. We were hunter gatherers and whilst true that we evolved without eating much meat, the opposite is also true and still holds true today in places like arctic Canada which is inhabited by the Inuit.
Overall, the story and presentation of the movie was fantastic. I can definitely see why people go on a PB diet and why it works for some people. Some of the humour in the movie was brilliant (including a scene involving a penis doctor and 3 college American Football players) and the participants in the movie were thoroughly engaging.
What I would have liked to have seen is more science about how a PB effects recovery from injury. It’s obvious that getting your veggies and fruit in your diet is a positive thing. It was also interesting to note where B12 comes from and that supplementation may be a good thing for both PB and meat eaters, however more examples and tests showing this would have been beneficial. My conclusion is that the only way I can really know whether a PB diet will help me recover quicker from injury is by attempting the PB diet myself. I certainly cannot let Hollywood, Scot Jurek and Rich Roll, compelling as they all are persuade me into a PB diet.
I come from a family of meat eaters. They aren’t the biggest meat eaters in fairness, but there was always some sort of meat or dairy product that was consumed in my household on a daily basis. My parents are Indian and therefore I grew up eating Indian food. As delicious as that food was growing up, it became clear to me that eating that food on a daily basis was unhealthy. My uncles, aunts and many members of my ethnic community have various health and diet related issues including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes etc. I have seen many members of my own family pass away due to these health complications and I am convinced that a large player in these deaths were due to their diet.
Even within my community it was difficult to get away from eating that type of food. Within Indian culture, food is the bedrock of society. It plays such a heavy and important part in birthdays, wedding, funerals and every single type of social occasion you can imagine. It is something that has happened since the dawn of time and I do not seek to change that. I do however wish to highlight the importance of what it is we eat. Attempting a vegan diet is difficult especially for people from a South Asian background, where obesity levels are disproportionately higher than the national average which is about 30% in the UK overall and 40% in ethnic Asians in the UK according to the World Health Organisation. These statistics are startling. We are currently in the an obesity epidemic and that frightens me.
The benefit of attempting a PB diet is that it has got my immediate family thinking about eating less meat and that can only be a good thing.
Of course, being a vegan can also lead to obesity and other health issues. What I have found so far in the two weeks I have tried a PB diet is that it does really get you thinking about what you eat. I think it is easier for someone like me who has been health conscious for a few years, however it is the start of a journey which I hope will lead to a quicker recovery and better performance in my athletic endeavours.
Is the game changing? Maybe.
Is my game changing? Yes.
Every. Single. Day.
It has to. It is the only way to evolve and become a better person. By trial and error. There is a lot of information out there about why a PB diet is good and why many think it isn’t. The only true way to find out is to research my own experience, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and to add specifically what is my own.