Here's something I have always struggled with, especially when it comes to food: balance! I know, right? Such a simple word that most people have absolutely no problems with, and yet, to me, it always felt like the monster hiding under the bed. I always genuinely thought one would have to starve in order to be skinny and healthy or simply lose weight, and once the goal was achieved, then we could fall off the bandwagon and put a few extra kilos on, only to then start the cycle all over again. This yo-yo approach has somehow always been normal to me. But it wasn't until I became vegan that my relationship with food changed completely.
It's impressive how once you start educating yourself about nutrients, where food comes from and why you need each nutrient to live a wholesome, happy and healthy lifestyle, your relationship with food immediately starts to change.
Full disclosure...I have been there. I have starved myself. I have been through stages where I would eat so little I wouldn't have energy to even get out of bed. I would rather move very little and starve to look skinny than nourish my body with the nutrients it needed to thrive. I thought that was the only way of being healthy and skinny. I thought that if you wanted to be skinny for life, you would have to give up food, for good. No messing about, no cheat-days; you would just have to be strong every day, every hour, every minute and second! (God, how exhausting writing this, let alone live like this!)
As soon as you make peace with yourself and adopt the mentality that it is not about being skinny, but about living a balanced lifestyle, your whole life, and especially the choices you make about food, will change. You will start to enjoy preparing meals, planning how you can incorporate more nutrients to your recipes, and at some point, you will thrive off of this approach.
It is all about balance! You will probably have days when you drink green smoothies and juices but you are craving chocolate really bad, and at the same time, on some of those days you will forget the juice and just dive into that chocolate. In moderation, of course, but you will enjoy a chocolate bar every now and then; (imagine how boring life would be otherwise)! This doesn't mean that you will only have one square or two of chocolate for the whole month either. Don't blame yourself for wanting a treat every now and then. Ask yourself why. What nutrients is your body lacking that's making you crave the junk food? Is it that time of the month or does a sugar addition play a part in your cravings?
Balance means listening to your body and making conscious choices about food, while enjoying both healthy foods and the occasional treat.
To put this into perspective, this morning I had vegan yogurt with some raspberries, hemp seeds and some not-so-healthy cereal on top. For lunch, I made a green smoothie with coconut milk, kale, celery, lemon, coriander and pineapple. But I didn't just have the smoothie! I had a salad filled with quinoa, carrots, tomatoes, green bell peppers, basil and two not-so-healthy dressings.
But if you think this was it, you're wrong. Here's where the balance really comes in...
I didn't just have the smoothie and a salad. I made roasted potatoes in the oven and seasoned them with chives, garlic powder and pink salt and I had a few of them as well. Do I feel guilty? No! I took my time with each bite, and thoroughly enjoyed the meal I prepared.
The old 'me' would have either gone straight to the frozen fast-food option available in the house (let's face it, especially if you're vegan, 'freezer-surprise' type of meals require 1/10th of the effort to make when compared to wholesome made-from scratch balanced meals), or thought that just the green smoothie would have been enough.
Being vegan, I am the first one to admit that I make a huge mess and use up so many plates and cutlery every time I make a recipe. I mean, literally, I chop a cucumber and some carrots and all of the sudden I have 5 dirty knives, spoons and forks! Slight exaggeration, but you get the point. Cooking balanced vegan meals requires a lot of chopping, a lot of blending, a lot of pots and pans, a lot of meal-prepping and mixing ingredients separately, making dressings from scratch, using fresh herbs, splitting the foods into glass containers and organising the fridge shelves every day. And if you are like me a few months ago and you don't even own a dishwasher...my prayer goes to you. I feel you. It's painful. One simple meal and you end up with a mountain of dirty dishes that will need your attention at some point.
Naturally, in certain circumstances, we take the easy option: the unhealthy, easy, no-mess 'freezer-surprise' option where you grab the first thing you see and all you have to do is bin the cardboard box of your vegan pizza! So you're happy you don't have to clean up the mess, but your post-pizza, food-coma body won't thank you for it. But if you've had a horrible week at work and the last thing on your mind is grabbing 30 different ingredients and cooking up a storm, sure, go for the pizza! Just don't have the pizza 3 times in the same week or month.
This week, for example, I had soup and fruit for lunch, a salad for dinner, and a homemade vegan peanut butter / chocolate brownie for dessert. And I really enjoyed my creations. Without feeling any guilt or pressure.
It's all about balance.