Why the transition, what is a day on their plate, and how difficult has the journey been?
- Interviewed by Shani Kaplan
Nikita Alvaro, left and Lisa Horgan, right
We have spoken many times on the blog about veganism, plant-based health, and different diets. We thought it was time we had an interview on the blog with not just one who lives the vegan lifestyle, but two! The first, Nikita, a recipe creator who shares her drool-worthy recipes on her blog and Instagram through 'Kiki's Meals'. And the second, Lisa, a fabulous yoga instructor and health coach. As you know, the Truth team love plants. Whilst a lot of us are not vegan ourselves, we are all for learning about how to add more plants into our diets. We are also all for acceptance and open dialogue about everybody's different diets. Not one size fits all! Right, let's get stuck into this interview 😍
Thank you for speaking to us girls! Firstly, how long have you been vegan?
Nikita:I’ve been vegan for over 4 years and counting!
Lisa: Coming up to 6 years now
What made you transition?
Nikita:It just made sense to me after being a vegetarian for 8 years before going vegan. If being plant-based is better for me, the animals and the planet, then I don’t see why I wouldn’t do it.
I’ve always loved animals and had pet dogs, so once I made the connection between the pets I loved so much and those who suffer through factory farming, I just couldn’t go back to eating them. The dairy and egg industries are also pretty horrible, so it just made sense to exclude those from my diet too.
My reasons for going vegan were very much ethical, but now that I see all of the other benefits that this lifestyle brings, it has become so much more than that.
Lisa: I’ve always been kind of vegetarian and I remember as a kid never really enjoying the taste or texture of meat, I would always naturally pick around it so this felt very natural to me to cut out, becoming vegetarian was more intuitive.
The transition to Veganism was a combination of a few big life events. First of all, becoming a yoga teacher. You learn about non-violence and non-harm, living in harmony with the planet and nature. So cutting out animal products completely just felt better and more in alignment with who I was becoming.
Meeting my partner Chris who was already a few years into being vegan helped me a lot, not that he really knew what he was doing at the time either, but to have that emotional support from your partner makes it so much easier, as you can imagine.
And then similarly to Nikita, getting our 2 dogs, there's something about really looking into the eyes of an animal and knowing that they are all the same, a profound shift happened within me where I just couldn't see the difference between these little beings that I loved and cared for and the ones we use for food.
Do you miss anything about your life pre-veganism?
Nikita: I miss not having to think about what I can and can’t buy, but it becomes easier as new habits form. Other than that, I really don’t miss any animal products. This may sound silly to non-vegans but once I cut animal products out of my diet, I stopped seeing them as food, which makes them less appealing.
There are also so many vegan substitutes out there that you don’t have to miss out on anything if you do get cravings for any animal products!
My number one tip for cravings is to find your ‘why’ - your reason for making this lifestyle change. If your ‘why’ is strong enough, it’ll be easier to make it stick and to choose the vegan option. If you do slip up in the beginning, that’s ok. Just do your best next time and don’t beat yourself up about it. Change takes time!
Lisa: Convenience. Having to plan in advance what to eat, knowing that vegan food isn’t as readily available when out and about, although I’ve noticed in the past 12 months vegan options have improved a lot!
Have you noticed any changes in your mind or body since becoming vegan?
Nikita: I definitely feel more at peace with my relationship with food. It feels good to know that no animals had to suffer in order for me to enjoy my meal. It has also helped me manage my symptoms from PCOS, which has been amazing. I’m intolerant to many animal products, so the fact that I feel much healthier overall is a huge bonus!
Lisa: It’s changed me on the most profound level. A way in which I never expected. Bringing awareness to what I ate became a spiritual experience. I not only became more sensitive emotionally, It forced me to speak up, I had to get over this desire to please everyone all the time. It was deeply uncomfortable in the beginning as I had some resistance from friends and family, the questions and confusion as to why I would make such an extreme choice, but by standing my ground and making many failed emotional attempts to explain myself I became a much better communicator and a much better advocate for this way of living.
It was actually one of the first choices I ever made that came from a deeply internal place as opposed to an external need for validation or attainment. For me, the feeling of making choices every day that are aligned with my deepest values is everything.
Are there any downfalls in being a vegan in your eyes?
Nikita: I think there aren’t any downfalls to the lifestyle itself, but to the stigma around it.
I rarely mention to anyone that I’m vegan in social settings, but I have often gotten negative reactions from meat-eaters when they see me order the vegan option.
On the flip side, I think vegans should also be kinder to other vegans, as I believe that it scares people off when they associate veganism with having to be perfect at all times. In my eyes, we need many more imperfect vegans, not a handful of perfect ones.
Lisa: I wouldn’t say there are downfalls to being vegan, but becoming vegan. In that transitional process, yes. It’s a rocky road to navigate. Making sure that you plan out meals so that you’re not just eating a lot of processed stuff by default. It’s easy just to reach for the pasta, bread and crisps, but if you base your diet around that stuff you're going to very quickly feel like shit, and over time health problems will arise.
Actually what started off as a perceived downfall became one of my most valued lessons. I didn't really cook before I became vegan, or enjoy being in the kitchen much. There weren't many vegan restaurants when I made the shift so I had to learn fast how to make vegetables, beans, legumes & grains taste good! I’m now really proud of my vegan cooking and it’s made me much more creative in the kitchen.
Milk and cheese were a big part of my diet growing up so when I transitioned to fully vegan I did struggle to let that go. It wasn't an overnight thing, I went back and forth a lot, especially when it came to eating out, I would choose to still eat something if it contained a bit of milk or egg rather than go hungry or cause any bother to anyone.
The more I learnt about the dairy and egg industry and that process, the easier it became to completely let it go. But it’s really hard, and I question anyone who tells you it’s not. Our society currently is built around consuming animal products so there are a lot of adjustments you need to make and some sacrifice in the beginning. It’s a big lifestyle change. Although I’ve seen a massive change in the past couple of years, hopefully this transition will become easier for people.
What does a standard day on your plate look like?
Breakfast-I always have breakfast, which is usually a smoothie or oatmeal with raspberries, soy milk and cashew butter, or gluten-free avocado toast with lemon, chilli and hemp seeds with a black coffee.
Lunch- I’ll often make coconut curry, stir-fried smoked tofu, beans and kale, peanut rice noodles with tofu or lentil pasta with vegetables and any sauce that I can come up within the moment.
I always finish my meal with an espresso - a Portuguese tradition I don’t think I’ll ever let go of - and some fruit or some dark chocolate.
Snack- I almost always have a chamomile or turmeric tea in the afternoon.
Dinner- I usually have a big salad or soup.
Breakfast- I don’t really eat breakfast, but I’ll have coffee in the morning with my favourite soy milk (also important to note that different brands of plant-based milks can taste very different, so always try a few before you make a judgement.)
Lunch and dinner- I cook and eat a lot of Asian inspired food; Miso broth with noodles and steamed veggies. Coconut curries with vegetables and rice. I create these awesome chickpea and black bean burgers which I’ll often make a batch of at the beginning of the week and freeze.
Snacks- I’ll snack on a bowl of cereal like bran flakes in the afternoon. In the summer I’ll always have a daily green smoothie packed with berries, lots of fresh greens like spinach and a big dollop of peanut butter for extra protein and creaminess!
What foods do you eat to ensure you have enough protein in your diet?
Nikita: Many plant foods are loaded with clean protein, so it’s not something that I worry about too much, to be honest. I include tofu, beans, lentils or greens in almost all of my meals and that works for me. Additionally, I use vegan protein powder in my smoothies to balance them out.
Lisa: I’m not a big fan of mock meats or replacement soy protein so I try to get a lot of my protein mainly from different types of beans, chickpeas, and fermented soy such as tempeh. I have this delicious recipe for smoked tempeh made with liquid smoke that’s a great substitute for bacon and super healthy! I also sprinkle toasted nuts and seeds on top of most of my meals.
Has everyone been supportive of your lifestyle/ diet change?
Nikita: My parents were sceptical - and even worried - at first, but over time they’ve become more and more plant-based themselves. It’s been an amazing transition for them that has even helped them to stop taking their blood pressure medication, which makes me really happy.
I never force anyone to try vegan food or to be vegan. I find that if I just do my thing and show people how delicious vegan food can be, they tend to get intrigued and end up trying it themselves. This is also one of the reasons why I started Kiki’s Meals.
Lisa: I’ve learnt through this transition to veganism that letting go of what others think is also a practice. And that pushback from others whether it be in the form of a snarky comment or concern from a well-meaning family member is an opportunity to dig deep and reflect on my own values and choices.
I think it's important to know that not everybody will be supportive, and that’s okay. People only ever make judgements from their level of perception anyway, so trying to convince the world that your making the right choice is a pointless task. All you need to do is check in with you. Ask yourself the questions, why is this important to me? And re-visit this often, if your choice is coming from the right place, judgement and lack of support from others will become less important.
Do you take any supplements to ensure you are getting your daily nutrients?
Nikita: I always take a B12 supplement, as well as Vitamin D since I, like most people, don’t get enough sunshine year-round.
Lisa: Yes, very important to be taking B12 (for Vegans and non-vegans alike) A high-quality multivitamin specifically for women. Truth Origins health shot which is a combination of their liquid Omegas, Curcumin & Vitamin C (12 pumps each) Truth Origins Vitamin D, Iodine in the form of seaweed supplement and Iron. I also often take some type of greens superfood powder for a boost, either Spirulina, Chlorella or Blue green algae. It’s important to get yourself checked by your doctor on a regular basis for any deficiencies.
If you were going to cook one meal for somebody looking to incorporate a tasty vegan meal into their week, what would it be?
Nikita: Definitely my vegan eggplant parmesan lasagna. Not to brag, but it’s the best lasagna I’ve ever had!
Lisa: Probably some kind of Vegan pad thai with lots of crunchy vegetables and delicious sauce- it’s all about the sauce!
Who are some of your favourite vegans to follow on social media or podcasts?
#1 Jenné Clairborne from SweetPotatoSoul (Youtube and Instagram)
#2 Dr. Michael Greger from NutritionFacts (website, books, Youtube and Instagram)
#3 Kathy Freston (Instagram)
#4 Derek Sarno from Wicked Kitchen (Instagram)
#5 Gaz Oakley (Instagram and Youtube)
#6 Sara from Shisodelicious (Instagram and books)
#1 BOSH (bosh.tv) For great recipes - they also have great recipe books
I also follow #veganrecipes on Instagram for regular inspiration!
And finally, do you have any vegan brands you’re loving?
Nikita: I’ve been trying smaller vegan cheese brands lately, and I love Cashewbert. Nomo and Vego make great vegan chocolate, and Otherfoods make delicious mushroom-based snacks. For skincare and beauty, I’ve been loving Hej Organic as well as KvD vegan beauty.
Lisa: I love my Violife cheese slices. Earth balance butter is awesome but unfortunately don't think that this is available in the UK. I love it so much that we tried to bring it back in our case from the states and it got confiscated at customs (we were gutted, haha). I also LOVE Vegan Magnums, my waistline does not.
Thank you to the lovely Nikita and Lisa for sharing their journey and tips!
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Shani Kaplan is a contributing writer for Truth Origins. She combines her knowledge gained from working within the fitness/wellness industry in Sydney and London for the last seven years as a Personal Trainer, and class instructor, with her addiction to research due to her BA in Business Marketing. Shani loves martial arts, resistance training, dance and yoga, nutrition, travel, design, photography, and art.
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