Colorful and juicy foods straight from nature could make the most exciting meals and recipes to keep your belly a happy one. People’s relationship to food has much more to it than just eating; our bodies have their own built-in cues that help guide us towards more nutritious foods, juicy ones, carbs or protein rich meals depending on our needs.
Egyptian Streets spoke with Yasmine Nazmy to take us as step-by-step into her vegan journey, lessons, and tips. Yasmine has recently launched ‘Happy Belly’ a book that features over 100 plant-based recipes without any gluten, dairy, sugar, meat or yeast.
Could you tell us a before-and-after vegan lifestyle?
My relationship with food helps me lead a life I am happy with through the choices I make on a daily basis. I would say that there is a 2012-Yasmine and a 2017-Yasmine.
The first one was someone who was very impulsive, impatient, short-tempered and not a very calm person. I also was never so disciplined at practicing sports. A few years later, I started cutting meat and dairy and I paid closer attention to my food intolerances, which I used to have since I was a teenager. I started monitoring my diet aiming for change both mentally and physically. Although 2013 was the year when I cut out meat and dairy, I was feeling the same.
Little by little, I started being more mindful while working in the kitchen; I maintained an open mindset that this journey is not only about food; I realized I needed to work on my personality. For example, being short-tempered and impatient were things I didn’t want to be anymore. I realize now that if a person wants to make changes to his/her life as a whole, they also have to change parts of their lives that can give you some improvements.
I am still not the ideal Yasmine, of course, but I am getting there little by little.
Let’s fast forward a couple of years later. I became more disciplined in my sports. I started being more disciplined to the journey I chose for myself. I realized there were a lot of foods that were not good for me. For example, I don’t eat meat, dairy, bread, wheat; I avoid sugar and I don’t do caffeine. No cauliflower and beans and too much watermelon make me allergic.
To make this journey enjoyable rather than stressful, I wrote down a list to remind myself of the ‘good foods and bad foods’ and starting revisiting it while my body changes and my cravings decreased.
What were the challenges you faced throughout your journey?
This brings me to the next point of not going overboard with eating obsession. An unhealthy relationship with food could go both ways: either not caring at all about your food intake which leads to high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and many other health issues or too much monitoring of your foods which could easily turn into an obsession called Orthorexia.
There were times when I would count all my intake of calories, fats, and proteins and I would end up eating so little.
Orthorexia is an eating disorder; there is a pattern that has been growing around the globe with people being too strict with their healthy food.
It affects your social life and mood as you are constantly self-criticizing. From my experience, I could confirm that I reached a physical goal but I didn’t reach a mental goal. I understand now that balance is important; I don’t want to become a victim of my food choice so I try to remain flexible. It has been a long journey of figuring out what fits me best and there is no guide to lead you all the way, but it is an experience worth going because you know how to reach your best self and how to avoid your worst self at the same time.
Why go vegan?
I think the most important question for someone wanting to try any diet regardless of what it is, is ‘why?’.
Why do they want to go on this particular diet? What are the benefits that they think they can get from it? Why are you making this choice in the first place? among many other questions.
In most cases for someone who is trying a new diet, they are copying someone or following a celebrity’s footsteps, or they got inspired seeing someone sharing a post on social media confirming effective results. Finding the ‘why’ matters because it is the only way you would be able to sustain a long-term lifestyle rather than a 3-month-routine. Also, this is the only way you would successfully achieve your goals. Any diet, in general, you don’t know the long-term effect unless someone has really been into it for 10, 20 or 30 years.
A vegan lifestyle could be chosen for health reasons to lead a more energetic lifestyle, ethical reasons for aiming to stop animal abuse or any other reasons. The most important question is to find an authentic and genuine answer to the ‘why’ and monitor the benefits you want to achieve.
Step one is to identify the reason. Once you have accomplished this, you can start monitoring the changes happening to you. Your body will guide you by sending you signals which way to go. For example, if you feel like you have less energy and your sports performance is declining, then something is wrong with your diet. You might be on a vegan diet but it is not the right kind of a vegan diet; in other words, the ingredients you are using are not the ones your body agrees with or simply they could be not in the right amounts. You might notice that your sleeping patterns have changed or you are having trouble with your digestive system. Don’t hate these symptoms, they help you telling you that what you are doing is wrong, change something. I also recommend seeing a nutritionist.
Everyone is different and there is no one solution for everyone.
Step two is to maintain an open mind and flexibility to changing your food patterns if you don’t see the results you want. The idea is to keep in mind what your goals are. Put everything in writing, draw it, paint it in big letters or create a collage from magazine papers, keep it at the back of your door, on your phone lock screen, anywhere that is visible to you to remind yourself why you are doing this. Have fun with it!
Finally, track how much carbs, protein, and fats you are eating. Don’t get too obsessed. Do it for just a week so you have an idea what your diet is. Usually, if you weight 60 kilograms then 60 grams of protein a day is a perfect amount for you. Taking B12 supplements is important for vegans; however, I don’t take supplements and I enjoy eggs every once in a while.
What have you learned most throughout your journey and life choices?
Through my food journey, I realized how easily influenced we are as human beings; habits are heavily embedded in our brains and it is not easy to break one. They say it takes three weeks to break a habit but I think it can be more than that if you really want it out of your life.
For example, if you have a bag of cookies, you will have one, then another and a third and will justify a fourth. But when you can really stop yourself, you still have the option to say no. This is not only about unhealthy food, even if you are going with the second serving of a healthy dish. If you don’t need it, you can always stop. It takes some practice of course, but it is amazing to be able to reach a point where you can control what goes inside your body.
Second, learn not to be too hard on yourself. Of course, you should have certain rules and guidelines but don’t hate yourself for going against them; it happens. All I can do from any mistake, you just learn from it and do my best to not repeat it again.
Finally and most importantly, I learned to listen to my intuition and instinct. Our bodies are marvelous and they have their own natural system that guides them; you only need to listen. For example, if one day I feel like eating fruits, I eat fruits till I am full. If I don’t feel like eating, I don’t till I am hungry again.
Also, social media has been circulating tips encouraging people to drink eight glasses of water; however, these popular tips are not in particular suitable for everyone. So no need to overburden your body with things it doesn’t necessarily need. What balance is today is not same as yesterdays. We have signals all the time. tune-in and it might take time and it is not what makes sense.
As for the future, it is important to know that there is always room for improvement. Reaching your goal is one thing and sustaining it is another. It is a process that teaches a person that a challenge could be fun and enjoyable. It is all part of self-awareness path.
I dream of growing my own foods; of course, I would need to buy a few items to secure my needs, but I hope one day I have my own piece of land and grow my own foods. I also dream of helping other people overcome food disorders.
Finally, I am currently working on a therapeutic tool that will help people overcome challenges; it is about changing your self-perception to develop a better relationship with food and other aspects of your life. Nutrition is what we have in common with the environment and food should bring us closer to the root and where we are living. To sum it up, my life journey is about openness, balance and discipline.