Now, I‘m not usually one for diet plans or even recipe books at all; I‘m not a passionate cook and tend to eat the same few dishes on rotation, and I come from a family where diet and portions were strictly controlled, so I balked at the idea of following a meal-by-meal guide.
However, when the noticeable drop in my fitness level upon switching from a full time to part time career in sport coincided with somebody close to me expressing an interest in veganism but not really knowing where to start, I realised a rough outline could help us both get on track.
I was already using Fitness Blender‘s free workout videos, later purchasing their extremely handy exercise plan for, 'busy people,' and after being impressed with the quality and effectiveness of the workouts, the down-to-Earth nature of the husband and wife team, and the accompanying literature‘s focus on fitness, not thinness, I took the plunge and purchased their vegan meal plan.
The downloadable pdf does not attempt to promote veganism from a health standpoint, assuming that its audience is already committed to plant-based foods. Rather, it contains a lot of information on nutrition in general, such as how to calculate how many calories one needs based on weight, and the importance of drinking enough water. Myths and frequently asked questions, from the effects of skipping meals to all those supermarket labels, are addressed before the actual meal plans, outlining three meals and three snacks per day for a total of four weeks.
For those who find the idea of designing a healthy vegan meal a bit scary, the sheer number of suggested dishes is undoubtedly useful. But how does the plan fare in my opinion overall?
Let‘s start with the positives:
- The authors‘ attitudes are very refreshing. They acknowledge that strict plans are hard to stick to, especially on special occasions, and discuss how often it‘s reasonable to, 'cheat,' whilst the focus on health and fitness rather than body shape is clearly stated and reassuring in a world where we are bombarded with pressure to look a certain way, sometimes sacrificing nutrition along the way.
- Along the same lines, this isn‘t a, 'get slim now,' programme. There are five possible daily calorie limits to choose from, depending on whether one wants to lose, maintain or gain weight, so the publication does not become useless after one reaches any weight-based goals.
- There are a lot of opportunities for adaptation, with the authors acknowledging allergies and that not everyone finds every foodstuff particularly tasty:
"For example, if you don’t like unsweetened almond milk, you can substitute the kind of milk (coconut, rice, soy, etc) that you do like. Keep in mind that when you switch to different ingredients that are not listed in the plan, you will need to check to be sure that you aren’t unintentionally altering the calorie content. There are only 30 calories in a cup of unsweetened almond milk, so if you wanted to switch to a full-fat version, you would have to use a smaller portion in order to match calorie content.“
- Both the snacks and the meals are very varied, offering new vegans plenty of ideas.
- When following the plan exactly, even in accordance with the lowest calorie limit, I felt full of energy and was never uncomfortably hungry, indeed barely hungry at all.
On the other hand, there were a few negatives:
- The authors acknowledge that not everyone has time to cook, and suggest some shortcuts, but overall imply that more time should simply be made for cooking and eating. With my schedule, it was near impossible to cook three meals per day, especially breakfast, and as a morning person who generally wakes up and starts work immediately, I resented the complicated breakfast suggestions. I know that a large breakfast is healthier than a small one, but I‘m sure there are many people who cannot spare the time to prepare a cooked tortilla on a morning weekday. I ended up choosing a few of the simpler cold breakfasts and eating those each day instead, which saved time but meant that I did not experience the full variety of the programme. Likewise, the lunches were more time-consuming than I would have liked, so I bulk-cooked three or four portions of my favourite options at once, rather than the specific daily option. I‘m sure with a bit of planning and the use of a freezer many of the more complicated dishes can be prepared in advance, but it was difficult to manage from day to day.
- There are a few assumptions made with regards to equipment, for example, that all readers will own a blender and a steamer. However, I did not find these too difficult to improvise around.
- The shopping lists at the start of each week only include the items, not qualities. This is in order that one can adapt the recipes to feed their whole families, but a per-person guideline would have been helpful.
- Fitness Blender is a US-based company, and as I knew that in advance I should not really complain about this next point. Just for your information though, if you are based somewhere that uses the metric system, there will be a lot of converting to do. Perhaps in the future, a metric version will be published, but currently, if the mathematics confuses or bores you, it might be worth investing in a cheap imperial scale, or a set of measuring cups from the USA.
Overall, I would recommend this plan to new vegans for the sheer number of suggestions; better to try these ideas than eat pasta every day as I did at the start! I also found the nutritional information interesting and useful, and the realistic advice and support are great in comparison to many 'fad‘ appearance-focused diets. Yet, unless one is able to dedicate a lot of time to food preparation, I feel it‘s best used as a guideline to monitoring calorie-intake and nutritional benefits, rather than a strict, regular plan.
Image courtesy of Olearys, used unchanged under the terms of the Creative Commons license.