How to go vegan: Six influencer’s tips on plant-based mistakes they made and how to avoid them
HONG KONG — November is World Vegan Month. As more people are spurred to change their eating habits in the wake of the top-selling documentary The Game Changers, we ask popular proponents of plant-based eating – who avoid meat, dairy and animal-derived foods – to share tips on getting the most benefits from the switch.
HONG KONG — November is World Vegan Month. As more people are spurred to change their eating habits in the wake of the top-selling documentary The Game Changers, South China Morning Post asked popular proponents of plant-based eating – who avoid meat, dairy and animal-derived foods – to share tips on getting the most benefits from the switch.
IRIS MAK SAYS KEEP THINGS BALANCED
More energy, improved digestion and better sleep are the favourite side effects of going plant-based for raw vegan chef and long-distance runner Iris Mak. However, getting the balance of macronutrients in the early stages of her journey proved tricky.
“After a few months of trying out the vegan diet, I always felt full but had bad digestion and stomach bloating. I realised I was consuming too much protein and fat from nuts, vegan cakes and vegan cheese,” she says.
She cut back on eating such calorie-dense foods to only a couple of times a week, swapping in more fruit and vegetables. “Now I’m enjoying the benefits of an almost completely raw vegan diet without having a bloated stomach,” she says.
As a runner, she noticed quicker recovery after exercise. She was also surprised to see her skin improve, her mental state become more alert and even her breath sweeter as a result of her new plant-based regime.
Looking back on her hiccups, her advice to people new to vegan diets is to not go too hard on foods high in fat and protein and instead maintain a balance.
“This is a mistake many vegans make at the beginning of adopting a vegan diet. Eating too much (rich) food is not beneficial to our body, even if it is plant-based.”
VIVIAN KONG SAYS PLAN AHEAD
Champion fencer and Olympic hopeful Vivian Kong Man-wai doesn’t doubt that going vegan has helped her maintain excellence in her sport, citing faster recovery and having more energy as the main ways she felt her body change. “I felt happy and very good mentally and physically,” she says.
Vegan snacks – even fresh fruit – can be hard to find in Hong Kong convenience stores, and Ms Kong would sometimes find herself caught out on more intense training days without adequate sustenance.
“The most unexpected effect was how quickly I would get hungry again after a meal. I’m good now, but sometimes I would forget to pack snacks for longer practices and would get very hungry in the middle of training.”
Bags of nuts, like cashews and peanuts, are some of the only vegan snacks to be found in vending machines and 7-Eleven shops – so Ms Kong took advantage.
“I went a little crazy snacking on nuts!” she says.
RICHIE KUL SAYS BE WARY OF PROCESSED FOODS
For vegan actor and model Richie Kul, years of being vegetarian readied him for finally cutting out all animal products from his diet. It took him slightly longer, however, to shake the habit of eating ready-made, processed meat substitutes, which he now feels weren’t doing him any favours.
Cheap and fast to prepare, meat alternatives made from soy, gluten or mushroom protein have helped millions of people worldwide transition to a diet lower in meat, and provide a lifeline to many vegans and vegetarians. However, these foods can be high in salt and other additives.
“They’re fine to consume in moderation but can be highly processed. Weaning myself off of that crutch and replacing them with fresh, whole foods is something I wish I’d pursued much earlier on,” Mr Kul says.
Mr Kul now cooks with fresh produce and has reaped the benefits.
“My skin and mind are clearer, I have more energy and I recover faster from workouts. And I just have a more mindful, positive outlook on things in general,” he says.
“I make a conscious effort to prepare healthy, nutritious meals that are simultaneously tasty and satisfying. Another mistake I made was once assuming the two things were mutually exclusive. Spoiler alert: They’re not.”
However, the animal-loving actor doesn’t beat himself up about slipping up, and uses his experiences to enrich his journey.
“As I am primarily motivated by ethical concerns, going ‘plant-based’ is still a work in progress.”
EMILIE AND LUKE TAN SAY DON'T DO IT ALL AT ONCE
Married athletic duo Luke and Emilie Tan discovered that trying to adopt an entirely new regime overnight can set you up for a fall.
Bodybuilder Luke’s meat-heavy diet was giving him health problems, but his decision to go vegan was largely for ethical reasons.
“I used to eat a kilo of meat a day, but … was depleted of energy,” he says. “I also had chronic inflammation and joint issues. [After going vegan] a lot of those issues went away and I had a surge in energy. It was easy for me to stay lean and keep a low body fat percentage without trying to diet or limit my carbs.”
He substituted his protein “gram for gram”, attempting to eat a kilo of beans instead of his usual meat, which gave him gastrointestinal problems.
“That was a mistake,” he says. “But it was a process, because I literally jumped in overnight not having a clue, but it felt right. I came into this lifestyle for ethical reasons.”
Emilie, an ultra endurance athlete, became vegan for health reasons, after her meat-heavy, paleo-style diet was giving her unbearable stomach pains. She tried a raw vegan regime at first, which included eating up to 30 bananas a day, but lost her period and had hormonal imbalances.
“Through the years, we’ve realised a whole-foods, plant-based diet is better for us, with a combination of cooked and uncooked foods,” Luke says, adding that Emilie “experienced mental clarity, her skin improved, her inflammation went away. Because of this surge in energy and life, she decided to join her first marathon. That was the start of her journey to becoming a top-level athlete.”
The couple now raise their young daughter on a plant-based diet.
“She is healthy and hitting all her milestones,” Luke says. “We’re hopefully inspirations to her.”
CHRISTIAN MONGENDRE SAYS DON'T DENY YOURSELF THE FLAVOURS YOU ENJOY
A former high-level rower turned restaurateur, Mr Christian Mongendre is used to drilling down into the building blocks of nutrition and flavour.
For the owner of Hong Kong’s Treehouse Restaurant, changing lifestyle is all about finding a balance between eating foods that are healthy and will fuel the body properly, while not depriving yourself of the flavours and foods you enjoy.
“What’s important is to do as much as you can and slowly change and get more information. Watch documentaries, read books and try different foods. Going vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.”
Mr Mongendre advocates building a “support system” of favourite eateries, as well as friends who are good cooks and trusted information sources, to stay on the right path. He says that although going raw vegan gave him the most impressive results in his sport, he has since found balance as a vegetarian now that he’s a businessman.
“It’s not about labels; it’s about having a reconnection to the way you eat, developing your own intuitive eating to eat a lot more plant-based to see how it interacts with your body, and looking for high-quality foods as being the main goal, which have a much more positive impact on the planet.”
Changing your whole lifestyle overnight is bound to lead to failure, he adds.
“There’s no such thing as perfect: find a way to respect who you are and where you come from, the food that feels nostalgic to you,” he says. “Don’t shut out all the pleasures that you have.” SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST