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  • Writer's pictureKris Barling

Going Plant Based

I am going to be up front right from the beginning, this particular post will probably upset anybody who is a devout Vegan, for that, I apologise in advance and suggest that perhaps you should avoid reading this post. The reason being is that I am not a Vegan. I follow a Plant Based Diet where I choose to not consume animal products, among other things however I am not Vegan by any means. I completely respect Vegans. They are passionate about the welfare of animals and their lives reflect this 100%. They deserve a great deal of respect for their lifestyle and desire to change the world.

I’m not that person and this is where Vegans should probably walk away and not continue to read any more of this post. I grew up in the country. I grew up going to my Step-Fathers parents farm on the holidays (which I absolutely loved) and worked in the shearing sheds to make some money. As a kid, earning a couple of hundred dollars over the school holidays was nothing to be sneezed at. I loved helping out on the farm and they had every sort of animal you would find on a big farm. Pigs, Sheep, Cattle, Ducks, Geese, Chickens, you name it. Most of them as part of the business to sell to be consumed by humans. We ate animal products at just about every meal, including things like sheep brains and liver (not tasty at all in my personal opinion) and that was normal life for us. My gran had cows and we used to love drinking fresh milk and cream straight from the cow. My Stepfather was a Racehorse trainer and I spent so much time at the races and helping out with the horses. My dad and stepmum are dairy farmers, and I never want to see their business, or other businesses like theirs go down the gurgler. That is the last thing I would want to see. They are hard-working, beautiful people, they treat their animals exceptionally well and deserve the best in life.

I’m the first person to admit that I love the taste of animal products. Steak, Bacon, Eggs, Pork and Cheese are among my favourite tastes. The fact that I have continued to eat them for over 30 years shows that. I did eat Vegetarian for a couple of years in my twenties but didn’t stick with it because of judgement from outside influences and I wasn’t strong enough in my convictions to continue with that lifestyle. I love and care about animals, although most Vegans would suggest otherwise, which I also respect their opinion, however I know that I do love animals. Like just about every other person who eats meat, when I am sitting down to a meal I don’t analyse exactly where it has come from. Call it ignorance, call it whatever you like, it doesn’t make me a bad person. I feed my dogs meat based meals and won’t ever change that because I don’t wish for them to become malnourished.

I am no crusader for animal’s rights or for the environment. I drive a car, I use aerosol cans, and I contribute to pollution in the environment. I have furniture that is made of wood from trees that have been cut down. I do my best to choose products that are not tested on animals but still choose affordable items……. Basically I’m no incredible Good Samaritan. I would love to say that I am all these things but the reality is that I’m just not.

My choice to go Plant Based with my nutrition was 100% selfish. It was all about me and helping my back injury to repair itself. It was because I couldn’t bear the thought of having to undergo surgery on my back, not being able to live the life I want, giving up exercise and potentially not being able to walk by the time I hit 60 years old. I made the decision that I wanted to heal my own back and to hopefully never end up in this position again so I researched like a crazy person to find out what foods were inflammatory so that I could cut them out of my diet, and what foods were anti-inflammatory and that would boost my immune system so that I could include them in my diet. Inflammation is responsible for a wide range of chronic conditions and slowing down healing times. Healing my back extrusion was a combination of my immune system removing the fluid that was compressing on my sciatic nerve, reducing the inflammation around my disc and in the sciatic nerve and assisting the body to repair the very large tear in my disc. It just turned out that the foods that would hold me back in this process were foods such as red meat, chicken, pork, bacon, dairy products and the foods that boosted my ability to heal were plant based. It was my healing diet, for a reason, for a purpose.

According to a paper published by the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, some foods that cause inflammation are:

  • Refined Carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries

  • Fried Foods

  • Soft Drink and other sweetened beverages

  • Red meat, in particular processed meat

  • Margarine

Foods that fight inflammation are:

  • Green leafy vegetables

  • Tomatoes

  • Olive oil

  • Nuts

  • Fruits

Other foods that have been found to cause inflammation, even low level, are:

  • Dairy

  • Artificial Sweeteners

  • Beef, Chicken and Pork. In particular, we are led to believe that grass fed meats are better for us, however, in order to combat this unnatural diet for them they have to be injected with anti-biotics to prevent them from becoming sick

  • BBQ’d foods or foods cooked at a very high temperature

  • A second glass of alcohol

  • Foods and drinks which increase acidity- including coffee and salt

More foods/drinks that fight inflammation are:

  • Green tea

  • Turmeric

  • Beetroot

  • Beans

  • Chia Seeds

  • Whole Grains such as Brown Rice and Quinoa

  • Garlic and Ginger

  • Coconut and Coconut Oil

  • Ginger

  • Garlic

Based on this information, I was able to decide what sorts of things to eat and the sorts of foods to avoid. As you can see from the lists above, foods such as refined carbohydrates, hot chips, potato chips and coffee would all be suitable for a Vegan diet, however, they didn’t have a place in my healing diet.

For me, it was important to heal up my injury as quickly as possible, so I was prepared to go to the extreme to change my nutrition. In the future, I wish to avoid further injuries and down the track I would love to be able to get back to training. As a result, I will probably continue to eat a similar diet to allow my body to recover as quickly and easily as possible.

I was able to find a couple of tasty Plant Based Protein powders as I also want to ensure that my protein intake is sufficient- plus it’s a simple and easy breakfast. I previously had a protein shake with banana as my daily breakfast, so this was an easy change.

In the beginning, while I wasn’t able to go to the shops to buy different foods and wasn’t able to stand up for long to prepare meals, I kept my diet very simple. My calorie expenditure was much lower also as my body was so used to training for a few hours most days so it didn’t matter that I was eating less. Once I was able to be a bit more mobile I was able to buy new foods and start to experiment with different meals. At the same time, I’m no expert cook and I have always been a creature of habit when it comes to food. I would be more than happy to eat similar things most days without getting bored. For someone who prefers to change things up a lot, there are so many plant based cook books around and recipes on the internet so that you can experiment. The key is to look for recipes that contain the foods that assist to heal and increase your well-being.

My meals are still quite simple and not overly creative. I start my day with a glass of water with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, a Turmeric Latte and a shake of greens and spirulina. Again, I am quite lazy when it comes to food preparation so I buy these things. But if you wanted to make a smoothie full of greens you could do that too. At some stage during the day I also take a magnesium supplement (in the form of powder), Flaxseed oil tablets, curcumin and Glucosamine. These are all supplements that assist my well-being. At the moment, as I rehab, I am swimming six days a week so I wait to have my breakfast after swimming which is always a plant based protein shake with some frozen banana and half a tablespoon of maca powder.

My morning and afternoon snacks vary but mostly its things like berries, nuts and seeds with coconut yoghurt, rice cakes with peanut butter, carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus, nuts and fruit. In particular, Pineapple is well known to be highly anti-inflammatory and an immune booster.

Lunches and dinners are interchangeable, but I stick to higher carbohydrate foods at lunch as opposed to dinner because I need the energy during the day rather than at night before I go to bed. I make up meals such as gluten free wraps with avocado, hummus and heaps of vegetables, vegetable stirfries, sweet potato and lentil patties with heaps of salad, homemade vegan pizza with veggies, wraps with avocado, fried mushroom and zucchini, quinoa with heaps of veggies like roasted tomatoes, capsicum, pine nuts or cashews, pumpkin and zucchini and the list goes on. I have found that I am happy to drink juices with beets and greens too, whereas before I didn’t really enjoy those sorts of tastes. Interestingly my tastes have changed quite a bit since going plant based and I enjoy the flavours of simple, plant based foods so much more.

Going out for lunch/dinner has been surprisingly quite simple and hasn’t caused too much of an issue. I have been coffee free for over a month now and instead of drinking coffee when I go out, I try different juice combinations that I wouldn’t have been keen to try in the past. I have actually found some really delicious (and quite interesting) combinations that I would be keen to have again.

In the future, I may probably be a little more flexible when it comes to my diet, but for now I am being quite strict due to my desperation to heal my body as quickly as I possibly can. I honestly don’t feel that I could have gone to this extreme as quickly as I did if it wasn’t for my injury, so if you want to change to a healing diet, don’t be too hard on yourself to be perfect straight away. Start to make small changes each week and gradually ease yourself into a new lifestyle. I also still have consultations with people where we discuss their diet and I tend to stick to the same principles that I did before, however if they are people who suffer from chronic conditions or injuries, I tend to give them advice as to foods that will assist their body as they move forward.

I still believe in balance and in implementing lifestyle changes that you will be able to maintain for the rest of your life. Just like with exercise, there is no point implementing changes in your diet that you can’t maintain long term and are so difficult that it will cause you to fall off the wagon. Most importantly, educate yourself as much as you possibly can and take control over your life. For me, changing my diet was one of the very few things I had control over when I injured myself so I did everything I could to change it. It also gave me something that I could focus on which helped to take my mind off all of the things that I wasn’t able to do.

I’m still very new when it comes to plant based eating and I am still learning about different foods and recipes, but I am enjoying the journey and tasting foods that I wasn’t open to before. It’s been interesting, eye-opening and fun and I truly believe it has been a game changer in my recovery!

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