12 Things That Happened to me When I Went Vegan, Part 2
The list of amazing things that has happened to me since going plant-based continues from last week’s blogpost, when I shared about the changes my body has gone through since dropping meat off my diet 6 years ago. Part 2 delves into a bit more of that, along with the social and mental outcomes.
7. My cholesterol dropped
I’m not sure of the figures, but as someone who was once warned about her seafood intake, getting a general checkup done in the first year of going meatless and have a doctor analyze the results and openly lament, “I wish I had your cholesterol”, it’s safe to say there’s no turning back.
6. I lost fat AND gained muscle
Please not that I mentioned loss of fat, not weight. My adult weight has fluctuated between 50-53kg, and the heaviest I’ve ever been was 54kg during winter in kungfu school. Regardless, my body has remained in well-balanced proportions. Not only has the plant-based diet trimmed off the body fat I don’t need, it has also given me enough protein to build impressive muscular tone. It was something noone told me to expect, but now I see and feel for myself that the ‘lack of protein in a vegan diet’ myth is exactly what it is: a myth. But of course, muscle does not come without putting in the work!
5. I excelled in sports
The surge in energy I received and expounded on in Part 1 empowered me to engage in more physical activity. I mean, all this energy had to go somewhere, right? One of the biggest decisions I ever made for myself was to quit my event management job of 9 years to embark on something completely new: training with 32nd Generation Shaolin warrior monks at Maling Shaolin Kung Fu Academy. Being a vegetarian at the time, with a hard-boiled egg being part of breakfast, and eggs being featured regularly at other mealtimes, going meatless did not affect my performance and progress in training.
I turned vegan two years after my return to Malaysia, which gave me even more energy to continue my pursuit of various challenges.
In May 2016, I swam and kayaked 18km around Perhentian Island in a team of four, as part of the Raleigh Round Island Challenge. In the months leading up to the day, I created my own fundraising campaign to raise awareness about marine conservation. My efforts caught the attention of the Malaysian media, and I managed to singlehandedly crowdfund over RM23,000. This was split equally between Marecet, which does research and conservation work on marine mammals in Malaysia (yes, Malaysia has dolphins!) and Reef Check Malaysia, which recruits volunteer divers to do reef surveys in the region and then uses the info collected on taking measured steps to protect and conserve the marine ecosystem.
In July 2017, I took part in my first-ever half marathon. Out of 400 participants in my category, I came in 12th place with a time of 2 hours 12 minutes.
And in November 2017, I took part in my first Oceanman, swimming 5km in Langkawi. I came in 3rd in my category. A little deceiving, as there were only 8 participants in this category! Still, being in the faster half was beyond anything I was expecting!
All this time, I’ve been experiencing improvements in endurance and faster rates of recovery. I thought I was going to need at least a full week of rest after my half marathon, but found myself comfortably back in yoga class 36 hours later! I suspect this is because the plant-based diet is largely alkaline, which reduces inflammation in the body.
I’m impressed with how strong and nimble my body is today, achieving things I wouldn’t have even dreamed of ten years ago.
4. I became a true blue foodie
A common misconception I still hear is that vegan food is Boring. Tasteless. Uninviting. And I don’t blame people for thinking that, because it was exactly like that for me in my first year of making my own food. I once boiled a huge pot of water, chucked some veggies inside, put in salt and pepper, and that was it. I was proud of taking charge of what I was eating. But at the same time, whilst sipping on this horridly bland water with salt and pepper and over-boiled cabbage, I thought… Good Lord, there must be a better way. Thankfully, I discovered that there was, and it intrigued me to start exploring the breadth of the plant-based palate. And boy, is there enough exploring to last me a lifetime!
The more I cooked and baked, the more I got better at it, and being able to create meals from scratch enabled me to taste whole, unprocessed food for what it really was. No fake flavours, no weird chemicals, and all-natural crazy colours. My sense of taste became sensitized, the way it should innately be. I would get so excited about how these authentic sensations would explode and dance around in my mouth. I now understood what it was to be a FOODIE! The wondrous spectrum of tastes and textures that the plant-based palate offers keeps me so engaged that the thought of eating meat again never, ever crosses my mind. If one is open-minded to expose themselves to the beautiful diversity of flavours that the earth gifts us with, it would be much easier to understand why the question, “Don’t you ever miss meat?” is one that needn’t be asked.
3. I made new friends
For most of my plant-based journey, it was a lonely one. Back in 2000, I could count with one finger the number of vegetarian friends I had. The rest of the people around me, my family included, were full of mockery and contempt. Information about the lifestyle was scarce, so people couldn’t fully grasp the motives. Over the past five years or so, I’ve observed veganism permeating mainstream media, and with it comes a wave of herbivores, as if the gates from a portal of compassion has opened and filled the land with warm, kind, tofu-scoffing mortals. In Malaysia, the vegan community is relatively small but growing fast. Most of them came looking for me at my food booths and other public events, and welcomed me into the community with open arms. Finally, I could hang with people without feeling judged or scrutinized. It’s a great time to be a vegan, because a support group anywhere in the world is easy to access thanks to social media. And most of the Malaysian vegans folk I’ve met so far are absolutely lovely. I’m so grateful to be part of a tribe I have so long yearned for.
2. I inspired others around me to be healthier
Before marrying Jacob, he was my classmate at Shaolin Kung Fu school. He watched me maintain a vegetarian diet whilst training, and he approached me saying that he was interested in going vegetarian too. I’ve had countless people tell that to me without any sincere effort or outcome, so I took it with a pinch of salt. But stick to his guns he did, after I showed him the documentary ‘Forks Over Knives’. He started joining me on choosing the vegetarian options at mealtimes, and for the first time, I was able to witness firsthand someone’s transition to a plant-based diet. He then started reporting to me about how much more energy he was feeling, which affirmed the personal findings I had with the diet too. His complexion brightened, he became stronger and more sure of himself, inside and out.
Jacob then showed Forks Over Knives to his mother. To my utter surprise, she went vegetarian too! She is now looking fresh and fabulous, and both mother and son are huge fans of my vegan cooking. Being a part of this positive chain of events convinced me that the plant-based lifestyle was one of the most important health decisions anyone could make, and has reinforced my purpose now in my absolute dream job – a plant-based lifestyle advocate.
1. I discovered happiness
Going vegan meant that I no longer had to worry about the animal, human, environmental and political cost of my meals. It liberated me from so much worry and stress. The fear which was the last thing these poor factory farm animals were feeling was no longer being passed onto me, and I felt more at ease with fewer mood swings. A healthier body gave me a healthier mind, one which now thinks more clearly and has more juice to focus on bigger things and other causes like furthering my eco-friendly efforts, and committing better quality time to loved ones. What has been one of the most remarkable observations about me going vegan, was that this act of compassion towards animals extended to compassion towards humankind and compassion towards myself. I’ve become more tolerant, patient and empathetic – yes, even towards trolls! I’m not a perfect vegan, and I’m not a perfect person, but I can say that I’m a happy person… the happiest I’ve ever been. And that’s enough for me.
The things that happened to me when I went vegan was a personal experience, and since everyone is unique, I can’t claim that what I’ve gone through will be exactly the same for anyone else who makes the transition. But what I’m certain about is that if it is done diligently and with a can-do attitude, the plant-based lifestyle can heal and positively transform your body, mind, and overall outlook on life. I hope that sharing my journey will encourage others, who are doubtful or worried about the vegan lifestyle, to be open to reducing their meat intake… Or, at the very least, start an inner dialogue about the long-term choices we can make as individuals that would make life more worthwhile.