With New Years Resolutions slipping from front of mind I think it is now a wonderful opportunity to provide some plant-based diet inspiration. You can read all the books, listen to all the pod casts and watch all the nutrition docos around but the truth is the best motivation comes from regular people, in your own community, achieving outstanding results. Emma is a Sydney based fitness enthusiast and freelance producer… living a life of travel, fast deadlines and always with a lot of balls in the air with her day job. In her own life the last year or so has seen her make a full transition to a plant-based lifestyle… and she could not be happier with the results.
How did you first become aware of the plant-based diet and what initially sparked your interest in trying it out for yourself?
I had been thinking of making the switch for quite some time but there were several things stopping me, the main thing being the general belief in the fitness community that it is difficult to get enough protein and iron with a plant based diet when you train hard, which is what I have been doing for my entire adult life. I have a keen interest in nutrition and strongly believe that it is the basis for both good mental and physical health, and I was struck down with a really bad virus about 6 months ago. I was listening to a few podcasts around this time talking about how you don’t really know what you are ingesting when you are eating meat, particularly in relation to what the standard farms (not organic) are pumping into the cattle which can include all kinds of antibiotics etc. I am vehemently opposed to taking antibiotics and other kinds of medication when simple rest and a good diet are often the best cures. So the idea that I am unwittingly still ingesting these medications and chemicals really bothered me.
The other reason was for environmental reasons. I don’t agree with the level of environmental damage that is required in an attempt to try and feed our lust for meat. The reality is that the production isn’t keeping up with the demand
I decided to commit to a vegetarian diet for 3 months – taking relevant blood tests at the beginning and end of this period to see if it was right for my body and level of activity. I really enjoyed my new lifestyle and decided to wait 4 months to get my second round of results. I was thrilled to discover that my body responded well and my doctor said it was the best results I have had in the history of my tests spanning back to 2004.
What immediate benefits did you experience after fully committing to the plant-based way?
I love eating healthy and fresh food and always have lots of fruit and vegetables, so it wasn’t a huge step away from what I was already eating in that regard. I initially took out only meat, poultry and fish, whilst maintaining the rest of my diet. After the first few months I started to remove dairy and transitioned to soy and almond milk instead of cow’s milk and yoghurt. I’m now limiting the amount of cheese and eggs I am eating with the intention of moving fairly closely to a vegan diet.
I felt totally fine in the first couple of months but between month 2 and 3 I was feeling a bit more tired than usual. Once I pushed through this period I feel as though my body had adjusted to the change and I feel great!
Also, within weeks of switching to a vegetarian diet my menstrual cycle returned to clockwork normal after nearly 5 years of having major issues, plus my skin cleared up immensely after the first 2 months or so.
As a creative producer you have a very physically and mentally demanding job with long days, stressful situations and are often dragging heavy camera equipment around. How have you felt physically with regard to strength and stamina since making the switch?
I have always maintained a fairly strict fitness regime ever since I was a teenager. A usual week would be 5-6 sessions working on strength training and a little cardio. I was worried about how the diet would affect my energy levels and I have to say – I haven’t noticed any changes to my energy or strength (apart from that middle adjustment period). I have read several books and listened to podcasts of elite athletes who follow a plant based diet, and they talk about how well their bodies recover from injury and the increase in performance that they have experienced. This was a big drawcard for me and I’m hoping in time I too will experience this!
I regularly work long days including 12 hour shoot days (very recently a 15 hour day!) where I’m on my feet all day, planning a million things ahead at once and lugging around heavy equipment. If my work suffered as a result of poor energy levels and focus, I would go back to eating meat in a second – but it just isn’t the case.
Aside from your plant-based diet how do you keep your body, mind and spirit in top condition?
My current training passion is gymnastics strength training so I’m working with a trainer to build the strength throughout my body to enable me to perform the basic exercises. I’m drawn to it after many years of the standard weight training and not feeling as though there was a big enough goal or skill at the end. With the gymnastics training it can be quite meditative because you need to focus so much on the actual exercise – you can’t let your mind wander. I find that if I go without training for more than 3 days maximum I start to go a little bit crazy – it is definitely my stress release.
I also try to maintain a daily meditation and journaling practice. My job can be very demanding mentally as I am constantly thinking about a million things at once so clearing my mind by both writing things down (and then realising that whatever I’m worried about is insignificant once it’s on the page and tangible!) and meditating is integral to my mental health and also helps me sleep at night! Sleep is also so important to me – I used to work until after midnight until I realised that it was more important to get a good night sleep and start fresh in the morning.
Scheduling in downtime is also important – I’m currently really bad at this but my goal for 2017 is to make this a habit!
What does health and wellness mean to you?
It means feeling strong, positive and achieving your goals in all aspects of life including fitness, nutrition, career and relationships. If you don’t have your health it is difficult for all the other aspects of your life to function correctly. I have experienced first hand in myself and many loved ones around me, how a healthy lifestyle can positively impact your mental health.
What motivates you and can you provide any strategies for busy people, like yourself, to assist them in reaching their own health, wellness and fitness goals?
I have grown up with positive family role models when it comes to fitness and health. My whole family were in the military (I am the only one in the arts!) and so it was so normal to eat well and exercise most days of the week. It is a habit now that is so ingrained in me that I can’t imagine living any other way.
I think the best advice I can give is to plan ahead and be prepared. Buy lots of healthy fresh food and have a plan for what meals you will make for the week. Spend a few hours one night or on the weekend, making meals that will last a couple of days or freezing leftovers, roasting some vegetables for salads etc. If it’s there you are less likely to let it go to waste or have the excuse that you don’t have time to cook anything.
Take your exercise clothes to work or use incidental exercise as your workout by walking or riding to work. Surround yourself with people who have the same kinds of goals that you do or already have these positive habits/lifestyle in place. You are the average sum of the 5 people closest to you – make sure you are absorbing the habits of the people achieving the same kinds of goals.
Write down your goals but more importantly, make them achievable. You are more accountable and more likely to make the right steps if you have the thoughts in your head down on paper. I make a habit of writing lists of things I have achieved recently, goals I have for the coming months and how I’m going to tackle them. It’s so rewarding when you read back and realise you have made progress!
Can you provide any advice for people around sticking to their nutrition goals while eating out and eating while traveling?
Ah this is a tough one! I travel a lot for work and have long work days without the ability to bring my own food so I do struggle with this too. It’s much easier to stick to a healthy lifestyle when you are in the same routine so once that routine is broken, its so much easier to lose that discipline (I have a sweet tooth so the afternoon sugar hit is my weakness!).
Choosing food based on the nutritional content is always the best method – ie sticking to natural food like salads, salad sandwiches with a good quality wholemeal bread etc as opposed to processed foods and fast food.
Again – being prepared is always the key. Take your own snacks of fruit, nuts etc and buying ingredients to prepare a healthy breakfast in your hotel room if possible. If you are full from eating healthy food you are less likely to succumb to temptation.
What are your best tips for including more fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet?
I am guilty of buying way too much fruit and vegetables and then having to make massive salads and stir fries (that I can then freeze!) just so I don’t have to throw them out.
Buy the vegetables you love and try eating them in different ways – I’m a big fan of roasting vegetables in a little bit of oil and seasoning, or trying different salad dressings to make a salad more interesting, buying lots of herbs and playing around with different flavours and spices, trying different salad combinations that you haven’t tried before – what’s the worst that could happen! Most of the time you end up stumbling upon something delicious and I can honestly say I have never tried something that tasted so terrible it couldn’t be eaten or fixed by adding (or subtracting) something. I do love using a fruit in a salad.
Are there any books, films, or organisations that have forever changed the way you look at health, wellness or nutrition?
I love listening to podcasts – it’s the easy way to learn while I’m walking, driving, at the gym etc. I’m obsessed with plant based runner Rich Roll’s podcast at the moment – The Rich Roll Podcast.
I was actually listening to a podcast with Sam Harris (Waking up with Sam Harris) talking about his reasons for becoming vegetarian that really triggered me to start looking into the vegetarian diet more.
Eat to Live is a fantastic book that I have gifted to several people since I finished reading it only a few weeks ago (thanks for the recommendation Megan!). A good friend of mine sent me ‘Eat and Run’ by ultra marathon runner Scott Jurek a few years ago, talking about his move to a plant based diet.
I am currently developing my first online programme, which will focus on teaching people to get confident with a suite of recipes they can adjust to their own tastes and adapt to their local produce available seasonally. How do you get inspired to prepare a meal?
Usually when I eat out and I have something amazing it will inspire me to try something like it at home. I really enjoy middle eastern (chickpeas, hummous, pomegranate, parsley, cucumber etc) and Mexican cuisine (brown rice, black beans, coriander, tomato, avocado etc)
I also follow several people on instagram including Veggies and Me, Sadhana Kitchen, This Rawsome Vegan Life.