Let’s start this off like we’re at a Vegans Anonymous meeting.
Hi, my name is Rachel and I am a vegan.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
I am a soy free vegan.
Eyebrows are raised as the image of barefoot-running hippies eating tofu and grass is rudely ruptured.
I am a soy free, legume free vegan.
Now there’s movement – a twitch at the corner of a mouth perhaps, and was that a stifled chuckle? I can’t be sure…
Mary Poppins has nothing on what I’m about to drop next…
I am a soy free, legume free, gluten free, wheat free, low sugar (definitely no artificial), pass on most fruits, and vegetables vegan.
Allow me to explain if I may.
Blessed with gut problems, cherry topped with food allergies from a young age, Irritable Bowel Syndrome was diagnosed by a softly spoken Indian specialist with soft hands (read into that what you will) with stress being the big, bad provoker.
For some years life carried on as normal, with the odd niggle or cramp and without too much fuss. That is, until a heavy bout of food poisoning earlier this year left me with lasting effects and at the mercy of the public health system, being prodded in all directions by some seriously hot doctors more times than I wish to remember.
Soon enough, my IBS label was upgraded to include the abbreviation P.I. – not to be confused with ‘Picky Idiot’ – but rather Post Infection.
The next day, my hospital dietician handed me a booklet entitled with three words that would change what I ate and how I prepared it from that day forth:
Low FODMAP Diet.
“Now you can still have your usual meat and eggs,” she says to me with a hearty smile.
“Oh I don’t eat those. I’m vegetarian and…”
“…and hard cheeses are fine too,” she interrupts.
“I’m dairy intolerant, and…”
She stops, takes a deep breath and states rather bluntly:
“You’re a vegan then. Normal people can have these things”.
It was the first time I had been labelled a vegan.
My shoulders slump while her facial expression represents one of nails on chalkboard.
‘Where the heck was all my PROTEIN going to come from?’ it seemed to say.
Even I wasn’t quite sure.
She regained her composure. But she had already made up her mind.
I was going to be the ‘problem’ patient, and it was most definitely because I was a vegan.
My eyes next dart to the ‘Have Nots’ list of wheat, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruit, even flavourings and more, that I was strictly forbidden from having for at the very least two months. I look up and made eye contact, willing myself to give a pleasant nod for the heck of it.
I settle for an expression somewhat between a faux smile and a constipated strain.
As she proceeds to fill my brain with an abundance of big words, all I can think about is something that should be made illegal in public: ‘The ugly cry’.
I can feel it building inside, gaining momentum, looking for an opportunity to escape, a chance to scar this somewhat misinformed lady in the process.
Miraculously, I manage to swallow it down, way down back to oblivion.
Now, let me tell you what I did manage to take in that day. ‘FODMAPS’ are a type of carbohydrate, or sugar, found in certain foods – and as a sweet-toothed vegan that’s most of what I was living off.
Some of us may have problems digesting FODMAPS. They’re not easily absorbed and they can be fermented by bacteria in the bowel, creating fluid retention & gases. This can lead to symptoms such as wind blowing, blocked & free-falling no. 2’s, pregnant belly bloating, PAIN, or a combo of all of the above. The elimination diet is used to help reduce and control IBS symptoms, with one-by-one re-introduction of the avoided foods at a later stage.
The internet is filled with varying FODMAP lists, none as extensive as the one provided by my dietician, but still a good indicator, nevertheless. You can find a basic one here: http://lowfodmapsdiet.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/ListOfFodmapsFoods3.gif
The lack of understanding of some medical staff made me question a lot of things – especially about what I put into my body and why.
One day soon after the dietician appointment, I was having a strict invitation only, one person pity party when I thought to myself: ‘Surely if being vegan is so good for me, then I do NOT need to succumb to eating meat to begin the healing process like I was being made to believe.’
In some topsy-turvy way, being a vegan was in the health professionals’ opinion, half the reason why I was in this much pain and discomfort to begin with. It was ridiculous enough to be hilarious.
With kudos to my stubborn nature, right then and there I refused to believe a second more and decided to march forward with my morals tucked safely under one arm.
That day, the endless list of harsh prescription drugs got the boot as well.
I was going into war, in a ‘let’s fight this with carrots and tofu’ instead kind-of-way; except, maybe, not the tofu.
At first, there wasn’t much improvement and I became disheartened. A thought lingered that maybe I was messing up my system even more than it already was.
But, slowly and surely, with several major lifestyle changes and my vegan FODMAP plan, my body started regaining momentum. The pain was lessening and for the first time since forever I could actually sleep flat on my back at night instead of sitting upright! I was having a slow epiphany. I finally got it. It felt like I was starting to heal myself in a way my body, heart and mind felt satisfied with, by simply putting good stuff into my body.
Now, some may say that vegetarians and vegans are hippy health freaks who dance naked at moonlight, protesting about animal abuse while eating grass and well, vegetables. But for me this wasn’t 100 percent the case when I was growing up. As a moody teenager, while my diet was vegetarian, it didn’t actually have many, well… vegetables.
It wouldn’t have taken a brain surgeon to figure out that I wasn’t living all that healthily.
To me ‘food’ was anything that had been pre-packaged or saturated in salt, and I consumed it like it was going out of fashion. I scoffed at my dairy allergies, was addicted to McDonalds French fries (and French men), and anything green on my dinner plate was obviously mouldy. If it was socially acceptable I probably would have at some point eaten sugar and nothing else.
The side effects all of the above caused could have been a new Flight Of The Conchords rap track. I was the poster girl for what a vegetarian shouldn’t eat.
But this year gave me my wake-up call – and unfortunately for me, it wasn’t Sonny Bill Williams giving it.
It’s been three months now on this journey of FODMAPs, and I’m now at the stage where I’m beginning to slowly re-introduce different foods to my restricted palette. I have to confess, I melodramatically thought I was going to die at the beginning, being on such a restricted food plan. Either that, or I was going to turn green from too much lettuce. However, now I’m rocking it out and I’m somewhat proud of it. I must admit that I’ve consumed more bananas than an average zoo, eaten nuts like they were going out of fashion (cue: protein source), and have learnt more about healthy living and eating than I think I could have ever taken in if it wasn’t happening to me.
Along the way I’m sure I have ruffled feathers, but I can’t wipe the grin of satisfaction off my face. Not only has my lifestyle of being a vegan helped to improve my current health and set me up for the future, but it’s also inspired my family to re-evaluate their lifestyle choices as well.
So if I may, I’d now like to formally end this by saying:
Hi, my name is Rachel and I’m gluten free, soy free, legume free, low sugar (definitely no artificial), hold on most fruits, and vegetables vegan, and I’m rocking it in a vegan kick ass Low FODMAP kind of way. Thank you.