You’re probably asking “what on earth do these three places have in common”?, and you know what, I am a bit unsure myself. All I know is that in some way they are linked to my happiest memories from home. I’ve lived in Australia for nearly 5 years now and though I accept it as my home and love it dearly, I still unfortunately experience home “cravings” from time to time. I no longer call it homesickness, as homesickness and a twinge for home or “craving” as I call it, are two very different things. The first year after I had moved to Australia and even well into the second year I was homesick. The homesickness didn’t affect me every day, but when it struck it was worse than the flu, debilitating and painful. I felt helpless and unable to concentrate or function properly. I could compare it to the feeling you have after you lose a loved one. That inescapable feeling that things will never be normal again and functioning without them is impossible. Back then I was holding on for dear life as I waited for what I was told would happen, to happen. I was waiting for the unfamiliar to become familiar. I was waiting for the smell of damp earth after the torrential rain to make me feel anything except uncomfortable. I was waiting for the sounds of the native birds in the morning to remind me that I was home, instead of an early morning notification that I was thousands of miles from the hum of my local freeway outside my window. It wasn’t my first time feeling homesick, after spending several years overseas when I was growing up I should have been a pro. But there was one very distinct difference this time. I didn’t have my family with me. I didn’t have a support network. My success depended largely on my determination to stick it out and make the best of things. I remember googling homesickness and trying to find cures and aids, much like you would if you were experiencing a health condition (you know you do it too). It was something to pass the time, but it wasn’t very helpful. Eventually, things became less foreign. After a few complete seasons I started recognising the indications on the native plants that the season was changing. Certain scents and songs began reminding me of times spent in Australia instead of home. I now breeze through my days hardly giving a second thought about where I live or goods and services available… except occasionally, and thats when one of these three places will flit across my mind. Sometimes its a weather pattern, a ray of light, a scent, a song, or a warm dry breeze blowing across the tarmac in one of the outports like broken hill. And then it hits me, just for a second, its almost tangible pain. Pain so sharp and palpable it momentarily takes my breath away. A reminder of a place that exists that I am no longer a part of. As humans, it is my belief that we are largely comfort seeking individuals. We desire financial security, a comfortable home, a reliable car, a sustainable job and the people we love to be preferably close by. When any of these items are removed, we become uncomfortable and it sends us into comfort seeking mode. So how does this relate to diet? Massively! Food is for most of us a comfort item. Sure its a necessity and ideally that is how we would treat our dietary habits, however not many of us do. Even now, when I catch a cold, I fondly remember laying in the arm chair at my Mimi’s (my grandmothers) house while she served me hot tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. The food is tied to the memory of absolute love and comfort. Its not just comfort either, its pure joy! Bbq’s on the Fourth of July! Turkey on Thanksgiving and chocolate on Valentines day. The food we crave and eat regularly are intricately woven into our lifestyles and our happiest celebrations. When we take it all away, it feels like we are removed from normality and comfort.. home. We basically become “homesick” for the foods we have grown accustomed to. To make matters worse, there are scents, and visual reminders everywhere that keep these items fresh in our minds. It can feel a lot like torture. The hardest part can be when this torture is self inflicted! You may start your day feeling great and ready to shun the meat, dairy and sugar eating world forever. You may even feel a bit self righteous as you pass on the cappuccino and order yourself a long black. But come mid-day or late afternoon your squirming as your searching for a bit of comfort. This is the hardest part, and this is where some support is beneficial. Whether it be a friend, an online support group or even your family, asking for support is a fantastic way of feeling less alone on the journey. Remembering why you started the journey becomes hard when the cravings hit, and thats why its crucial to have someone to remind you. The most important thing to remember is that even though a lentil burger wrapped in lettuce is hardly reminiscent of a cheeseburger, it will eventually be tied to a memory, a happy one. After a year, every memory from the previous year will be bound to healthy food and lifestyle. The subsequent years will follow and all of a sudden what was once foreign and uncomfortable becomes shiny, new, exciting and best of all more comfortable. So while I may never understand why Santa Barbara, Las Vegas and the 99 cents store are my triggers for a bout of “home craving”, what I do know is that I appreciate them as a reminder of where I came from and a promise that with determination, I can overcome anything.
Ah self control. It’s something that we all have the capability of enforcing in our lives yet some of us are better at it than others. Its been called self discipline, self constraint and strength of character along with several other terms that I find significantly annoying being a headstrong/rebellious type. I will freely admit that the best way to ensure that something gets done… is to tell myself not to do it. Another thing that we all have is an ideal or a goal that we want to achieve, often this goal has to do with our physical appearance or our health. Whether the goal is weight loss, an increase in energy or a change in health, the vehicle for transporting us to that goal is, (unfortunately), self control. So what is self control in tangible terms? Well, have you stayed up late watching infomercials while stuffing your face full of macadamia nuts to the point of physical discomfort and most probably exceeding your caloric intake for the next two days? (Hmm, me too, yea, this is not self control), Have you watched as the host has sold you on the next big product to sweep the market and if you buy it right now it will transform all of your problem areas just by utilising this one product? Yes! This is the answer! No self control required, only five easy payments, but wait, theres more! At some point, self control has got to come into play. When you go to make those payments, does that take self control? “No”, you say, “thats just what I have to do”. This is a rule that you have made for yourself using self control. You know that if you don’t make the payment, you wont keep the item that you want. You know that if you don’t pay your bills, you’ll lose everything. We all know that there are huge consequences in the adult world for not exercising self control, yet we look at our health and wellness as something that is optional. For myself, I decided a long time ago that I feel mentally and emotionally more stable when I exercise every day. I have been told that I am genetically blessed with a fast metabolism, or that I’m lucky to be a morning person. I have been told that the reason I am fit after having children is because I had them while I was young. The truth is, I set a solid boundary for myself by binding my workouts to my work day. If it was a work day, then it was a workout day. If I wasn’t too sick to call in for work, then I wasn’t too sick to exercise . This was a brilliantly effective way of creating a habit as well as a set of healthy rules for myself. This is how I became a “morning person”. My body became so in tune with this habit that it stuck with me even on my holidays and days off. The key for me was binding exercise to something that wasn’t optional but that had to be done anyways. Once that became a habit, making other healthy choices became easier as my resolve and self discipline strengthened. Often we become overwhelmed with what needs changing. Maybe you want to start exercising and you need to change your diet. These are big changes, and for me, moderation isnt a balance I find easy to strike. Im an all or nothing type of girl, I am impatient and often compulsive. But these are traits that have improved with my exercising self discipline. My advice is to recognise the road to your goals as being just as important as the destination. If the destination is good health and a healthy weight, the journey will be full of healthy meals and memorable runs! You will pick up souvenirs along the way like perseverance, endurance and resolve. You will start reaping benefits long before you arrive! Small changes lead to bigger change, but any change means you will have a different outcome and after all, isn’t that why we seek change in the first place?
You would think that telling friends and family about a new, healthy lifestyle you have decided to follow would be met with not only excitement and pride, but also interest in why you began this journey and how they might (a) support you and (b) potentially benefit from doing the same at some point. Monique and I are really fortunate in the sense that we both have very supportive families, particularly in regards to this subject. My Dad was diagnosed with third stage melanoma 18 years ago. The cancer had metastasised into his lymph system and basically he was given a very grim diagnoses. I will write in more detail about this at a later time, for now I will just say he overcame cancer through diet and alternative medicine. My Mom and Dad still adhere to a plant based diet and they have seen many long term health benefits, for my Dad, surviving cancer was only one of the many benefits. Monique’s Mum may not be following a plant based diet, but upon hearing of her change in diet was immediately supportive and looked for ways to accommodate her. For many others this is not the case.
Meat and dairy are the foundations of the western diet and to remove these would seem extreme. We’ve been conditioned to believe that without these staples our bodies cannot grow “big and strong”,(insert image of disapproving mother pouring another glass of milk). Many of these ideas have stemmed from what we have been fed through media and marketing campaigns often funded by the meat and dairy industry themselves. These nutritional “facts” have been handed down through generations and are deeply engrained in most of us. It doesn’t take much to scratch the surface and find the myth below these “facts” but one must be open minded as well as receptive to change, this isn’t always the case with family or friends. Monique has been met with emotions just barely falling short of rage, waiters that roll their eyes and interrogations that would have made the Spanish Inquisition seem mild. Friends that never would have given a thought about nutrition in their own diets, automatically became experts on the necessity of meat and dairy. Monique was even accused of not loving animals enough for it to be a valid reason to go vegan, (I tend to agree, I’ve seen the way she looks at her goldfish while holding the wasabi and soy sauce).
All joking aside I feel it is important to have some cold, hard facts up your sleeve for when you are faced with these encounters. Usually these inquests come from a place of genuine concern but can seem a lot like opposition at first. There are a plethora of reasons that one chooses to go vegan. Each and every journey is unique and perhaps that is what needs to be shared. This being the age of acceptance and diversity makes it easier than ever to be proud of lifestyle choices, vegan being one of them.
Cheers- Amber & Monique
Even now I’m almost dreading writing this post. Its almost like having to write about a best friend that is no longer in your life anymore. That constant that has been there since day one, sugar is that item in most of our lives. Sugar is so immaculately and intricately woven into the fabric of our lives, that we don’t even realise its present most of the time. Unless you were raised in a home like mine, then you were more than likely exposed to sugar at a very early age. Monique had a very normal upbringing in this regard, mine was a bit different as both of my parents had done a lot of study on the benefits of a plant based diet and the negative effects of sugar. My parents may have protected me from over exposure to the white stuff, but through grandparents and life in general it crept in without being noticed. Sugar becomes one of the foundational associative memory patterns in many of us. If it doesn’t start before the age of 1, then it will definitely start then! We celebrate our first birthday with a big sugary cake. When we fall down we are given lollies to soothe and comfort. When we are sick, our childhood medicine is pink and sweet. When we are naughty we are bribed with sweets and we are rewarded for good behaviour with the same. As we become adults this same reward system is still very much in place. If we have a bad day we search for comforting food or drink which is usually full of sugar. When we suffer emotional upset or a break up in our romantic lives, we bust open that tub of ice cream and pop a bottle of champagne, (no? ok maybe Monique and I are unique in that regard… but champas and ice cream cure broken hearts-jus sayin). When it comes to sugar it is very hard to control and eradicate it because it is so insidious. Sugar is added to virtually everything! Even savoury items you would assume are safe, will have sugar added to them and it will be an item quite high on the list of ingredients.
When Monique and I first started this journey, Monique was the one that quit sugar first. Monique cut all gluten, grains and processed food completely out of her diet. She was still eating fruit but her diet was basically paleo with the occasional bit of fetta cheese on a salad. To be supportive and give it a try, I did it with her a few weeks after she started. Being the extremist that I am, I went one step further and cut out all fruit as well. I always had a pretty healthy diet and coming from a health conscious, vegan family I assumed this would be a piece of cake, (pardon my pun) especially since I have never been a sweet person, (most of my ex’s would agree). I couldn’t have been more wrong. I began what would be three entire weeks of physical and mental withdrawal. During a flight, the captains would ask me for a coffee and a biscuit, and I would have a physical reaction to watching them eat the sweet cookie. I would smell the sugary, buttery scent of the bakery in passing and it would be like looking at an ex boyfriend holding hands with his beautiful new partner, (I know, I should let it go) It was hard! Way harder than I would have ever imagined. Monique eventually quit fruit as well and together we completely overcame those sugar cravings. The beautiful thing is that the clean burning, sustained focus and energy that came from eliminating that nasty drug was amazing! There were no more ups and downs or late afternoon slumps. No more peering into the fridge searching for something sweet when you know your not hungry. Monique and I became pros at reading food labels. As a result of the complete elimination, we would be able to taste if there was any added sugar. Upon having a meal in a restaurant where sugar was added, we would become light headed two bites into the meal to alert us of its presence. All this may sound like a lot of work and initially it was difficult. Ok, it was very difficult! Like any habit it takes a while to form new healthy ones, however, the pay off is massive. Monique experienced increased energy and weight loss, level moods and clearer focus. I experienced increased and sustained energy and more endurance during my workouts, better sleep and improved moods. In place of food that was awash with sweetness, we began savouring our food and discovering new flavours. Food became enjoyable and nourishing without guilt or feeling sluggish and full afterwards. All of this from quitting sugar.
This was the first step on the path that would lead us to becoming full paleo /vegans. I told Monique a while back that I would never become complacent and allow sugar to seep back in, mostly because I cannot bare to go through the withdrawals again. We both agree that this is a highly sustainable diet/lifestyle. We have managed for a year now and we are both constantly on the go. It takes a bit of planning, a lot of self control initially, a dash of frustration with a current health or wellness issue and a deep love for yourself. I’m not writing this to tell you its easy, I’m just saying its worth it!