Growing up in the Middle East, and being of Turkish and Iranian descent, meat was always a staple in my diet. The smell of lamb kofta seasoned with onions and fresh parsley still takes me back to those days of barbecues by the paddling pool in my grandparents’ garden.
I’m not sure of the exact turning point, but I do remember giving up eating Big Macs and Whoppers back when ‘mad cow’ disease was a thing. From then onwards, cutting down on meat was not necessarily a conscious decision. At university, I bought and, therefore, ate less of it – I hated touching raw meat and vegetables were always cheaper. I moved to China after graduating and couldn’t brave eating meat there. The same happened when I lived in Mexico a few years later. I couldn’t bring myself to eat meat when I didn’t know where it came from.
It was only a few years ago that I started actively researching the benefits of being vegetarian and, more so, vegan. I watched the documentaries, read the books and then I was converted. Why would anyone not want to be vegan?
Growing up in the Middle East, and being of Turkish and Iranian descent, meat was always a staple in my diet.
Again, coming from a Mediterranean background, dairy was a big part of mealtimes. Think mint and garlic infused yoghurt, feta cheese breakfast platters, grilled halloumi. My friends mocked me because I loved putting yoghurt on everything (and still do).
Yet, I gave it up. For about nine months.
In the beginning, it was great. I felt energised and healthy – none of that sluggish feeling after eating a large, cheese-topped pizza.
But, I soon ran into problems.
I lost weight, my once lovely, thick hair started to thin and I developed acne, having gone my whole life with perfect skin. I was horrified that eating a diet so rich in nutrients (or so I thought) could have such disastrous effects on my body. I was even more shocked that I hadn’t heard of any of these issues being linked to a plant-based diet before, yet a quick internet search highlighted how common they actually were.
It wasn’t only the bodily changes that affected me. Going out for meals was a lot harder, especially as some friends weren’t keen on compromising on where we’d eat, even in a vegan-friendly city like London. I hated having to make such a big deal at parties and weddings; I skipped some events altogether because it just seemed easier than dealing with the stress that came with dietary requirements.
Aside from missing out on some of my favourite food, I loathed the comments I got when I did decide I fancied the odd bit of cheese, along with the guilt that stemmed from not being ‘perfect’. The diet was starting to define me and I didn’t like it.
I was horrified that eating a diet so rich in nutrients (or so I thought) could have such disastrous effects on my body.
At the start of 2019, I was hospitalised with an autoimmune disorder and fed through a tube. Although I did have some say in the liquid nutrition that was pumped into me, there was no option to make it dairy-free, which is where my vegan journey ended.
Looking back, the lifestyle just wasn’t for me. Although I regret my decision to transition to veganism so quickly (literally overnight for Veganuary), it has taught me a lot about my relationship with food and what my body needs. I’ve now gone back to being vegetarian and am slowly incorporating fish into my diet. I realise it’s not the most sustainable (and I’ll elaborate on it in future posts) but it’s working for me right now, and I’m okay with that.
If you’ve gone through something similar or would like to share your own experience, please get in touch via Instagram or by email – I would love to hear from you!