My Fitness Journey and How Veganism Saved Me From ‘Dieting’
Hi! Welcome to Chickpea Charlee. I’ve started this blog so I can share my fitness journey and plant-based eating. Food and fitness have become a bit of a hobby for me lately, and I’d like to share it with you all.
Before you judge this post, please read to the end. I understand that veganism can be seen as ‘extreme’ or ‘preachy’; I’m not writing this to try and convert you to a vegan lifestyle, I understand that each individual has different needs and not everything works for everyone. Most of the fitness influencers I follow aren’t vegan, let alone vegetarian. This is purely anecdotal, and if my experience helps someone else then that will always be a bonus!
I have always been a little bit overweight. And I say ‘little bit’ because it never got out of control, but I’ve always carried extra weight. I hated sports (my best friend and I would forge each other’s sick notes for PE at school), but I loved to dance. I started ballet at two and a half and continued until I was about sixteen. I do pity my parents, for a while my sister and I would be down the leisure centre for classes six days a week! Although we were pretty active, I have always loved food. Immy would push her food around the plate, while I would wolf mine down in minutes.
We weren’t eating junk 24/7, it was more quantity than quality. In all aspects, Immy and I are chalk and cheese, but our different bodies fed my belief that I was just ‘built’ this way. Immy has always been a bean pole, tall and leggy.
Even though I’m older, for most of our lives I’ve been shorter and much stockier. Here is a recent photo to show our height difference!
I was aware of my body and that I wasn’t happy about it, but as a child, you don’t really understand how your body works and the impact of food. My sister would tease me as siblings do, it would hurt, but then I’d carry on eating poorly. As a young teenager, I think dancing compensated for my bad habits. I stopped dancing just before I started college for a number of reasons; it wasn’t the main reason, but one of them was my body. I was pretty good at ballet, but I believed I was far too short and not skinny enough to go to dancing school.
I will point out that no one said this to me, these are things I said to myself. There are girls I danced with who were similar height and went on to dance schools. In later years I regretted giving it up.
During college, I wasn’t very happy, and I was emotionally eating and doing no physical exercise. I will point out that my emotional eating isn’t linked solely to sadness. I eat when I’m down, stressed, happy, bored, etc. I have always eaten for enjoyment not fuel, and while there is nothing wrong with enjoying food I had zero self-control. On top of that, I had no understanding of nutrition. During my late teens I did some silly diet tricks, such as eliminating bread or going on week-long ‘detoxes,’ and none of it worked. The biggest reason for failure was because it was unsustainable; I couldn’t eat like this forever.
University and Bad Eating
When I was at university, I wasn’t so bothered about losing weight. During my first two years of university, I didn’t engage in ‘university life’ much as I was commuting. I’ve always been a massive nerd, and I was more concerned about doing well academically than anything else. I was comfortable, I wasn’t noticing my weight gain, and I didn’t really care. I was only in classes a couple of days a week, but those days were the worst for me. I would drink about 6 black coffees a day, a cooked breakfast in the canteen before classes, greasy, cheesy chips on lunch break and other snacks in between. By late afternoon my stomach would be aching, and I’d usually have the shakes from all the caffeine. My body was a mess, and I wasn’t doing anything about it.
I studied abroad in Japan during my second year, and just before I left, I had a bit of a shock when I bought some jeans and realised I had gone up a size. I tried to lose weight but really struggled with it and didn’t get anywhere.
I began to go to the free gym on campus, and one of the other international students started to help me with lifting weights which I enjoyed. I didn’t get any leaner (as you can’t out-exercise a bad diet), but my body was probably thankful for the small relief. We would go hiking with one of our teachers on Sundays which was good fun. At the end of my time in Japan, I hiked Mount Fuji which was fantastic!
Rugby, Injury, and Going Vegan
When I came back to the UK, I think being abroad had given me a kick up the bum to go out and enjoy my life. I was just going into my final year of my undergraduate degree, and one of my friends from work was desperately trying to convince me to join the rugby team at University. I’d always shied away from any sport, but she managed to convince me to come to a training session. I had no real passion for rugby, I’m not even sure if I’d ever watched a game before! Almost instantly I fell in love, not only was I enjoying running around and being physical but I’d joined a social group that I guess I never knew I needed.
Even after a year of fun and partying, I graduated university with a First-class honours degree! I was just starting my MPhil, getting into shape and was actually looking and feeling pretty good. I suffered a major setback when my knee was badly injured during a rugby match. This resulted in a nasty infection, two surgeries, a leg brace, and a massive scar. Once I’ve written a full post about my knee, I’ll link it to here.
Once I was on the road to recovery, I’d never been so keen to be fit. I guess injury does that to you. I was mainly doing home workouts, still a little clueless about nutrition but I was trying to learn. I attempted Paleo for a while, but it wasn’t really working for me. There are many people I know who find Paleo works wonders for them, but for me, it just didn’t fit. I carried on doing some research and decided to try vegetarianism. I will admit that I was completely motivated by my own health; at this point, I had zero engagement with the food I was eating and where it came from. I was finding it surprisingly easy; I’ve always found cooking pleasurable, and I was enjoying finding alternatives. Previously my meals had revolved around the meat, and vegetables and grains were essentially side dishes. Once I took the meat away, I started to appreciate and discover new ingredients. I knew a handful of vegans, one of them being my boss, but I still saw vegan as being too ‘extreme’ and will admit I judged them a little. I was happy that I wasn’t eating animals as I’d always seen myself as an animal lover, but vegan always seemed too alien.
It wasn’t until I watched Cowspiracy a month later that I finally got it.
Once the credits started rolling, I was convinced I wanted to be vegan, but I was also completely clueless. I donated a big box of eggs to my housemate and started reading the labels on everything in my cupboard. Can’t eat this, oh that has egg in it, how is there milk in that? I then started ferociously googling vegan recipes and ‘pantry essentials’ because I suddenly had no idea what was in my food.
This is one of the main reasons I believe going vegan helped me on my fitness journey: I actually started reading labels. For once in my life, I was actually bothering to look at what was in my food.
I’m not going to pretend that it was easy from the get-go. I definitely slipped up a few times, accidentally and intentionally. For the most part, though, it was really enjoyable. I bought a few cookbooks, I was gleefully posting my dinners on Instagram, and I was feeling good about myself. I was concerned that my energy would drop (as a lot of vegan naysayers talk about) but if anything I was feeling quite the opposite. And the biggest bonus for my insecure self: I was losing weight with little to no effort. Everyone was telling me how good I looked, and that definitely fueled my ego. It was difficult eating out those first few months, I was still a little ignorant to my own diet, and family/friends were even more confused as to what to feed me.
What started as a desire to help myself evolved into engagement with my food habits, and I started to care quite passionately about animal rights and the affects of animal agriculture on climate change. I had become the person I judged for being extreme and weird. The more I read, the more I fell down the rabbit hole. Regardless of my fitness goals, I don’t think I could go back to eating animal products. I always said ‘If I don’t like it then I’ll just stop, I won’t force myself.’ But I have zero desire to go back, I don’t miss meat/dairy, and I’m motivated by more than my own health now.
For anyone who is not vegan: I do not judge you, nor will I make you feel uncomfortable about your choice. I will talk about veganism here because it is relevant to my story and my cooking, but this blog will hopefully be just as much about fitness as it is about food. And non-vegans can definitely enjoy plant-based recipes!
Another reason I believe veganism has helped with my fitness goals: I still struggle with self-control, and it gives me the structure that I need.
I cannot eat 90% of takeout food in Winchester, and that is such a plus in my life. Just because I’ve lost weight, but it doesn’t mean that the inner voice that likes to overeat has completely disappeared. However being vegan isn’t just about what you cut out: it is about putting plants back on your plate.
My fitness has slowly become better and better with time. I’ve had ups and downs like anyone. I’ve had months where I’ve trained 6 days a week, and I’ve had other times where I’ve been too stressed with work/studying and training has stopped entirely. Currently, my training is just a part of my schedule; it’s a habit instead of trying to force myself. I still have days where I have no motivation to get up, but I’ve got better at ignoring that voice and keeping in mind that I’ll feel so much better afterward. I still believe in the importance of being careful with the quantity you eat, but I don’t feel like I’m dieting anymore. There is no ‘finish line’ when I will suddenly go back to old eating habits; I try very hard to give myself foods I actually enjoy but will also fuel me. This is about a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. Eating shouldn’t be a battle.
It’s not just that I look better, I feel better. I’m quite an obsessive person, so once I start doing something I put 100% into it. There are much worse things to be addicted to than plant-based eating and fitness. I have more energy, I don’t suffer sugar crashes in the afternoon, and my thighs don’t chafe in the summer anymore! I’ve found that I’m really passionate about this, and this blog will hopefully be a way for me to express that.
I’m not sure what this blog will eventually look like, but I hope it will be somewhere positive for me to put my energies. I’ve still got a long way to go with my fitness goals and understanding of nutrition, and I would love it if you would join me on this journey. I really enjoy reading people’s transformation stories, and I would love to hear about your experiences too.