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How To Successfully Transition From Junk Food To A Vegan Diet

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While researching bloggers for our health food-tographers post, we came across Ella, of the recipe blog Deliciously Ella. Her story is pretty remarkable— in an effort to treat an unexpected illness, she went from a regular young woman who regularly enjoyed the simple pleasures of convenience-store grub, to a major player in the health-food game. Her recipe app received over 17,000 downloads in the first month of its release, and she's currently hard at work on her first cookbook, which is coming out later this year. We asked her to share the story of her successful—and swift—transition to a plant-based diet.

Until three years ago, I was a total sugar addict. My diet primarily revolved around chocolate, cookies, fizzy sweets, peanut butter, and jam eaten straight from their jars, and some pesto pasta here and there. It was absolutely delicious and seemed totally normal at the time. Then, in June 2011 I became extremely ill overnight. It started off with an insanely swollen stomach (so swollen that I looked at least six months pregnant) and a hangover-like feeling—very groggy, lethargic, aching all over my body, and so on. After five days, my symptoms hadn’t changed, so I went to the first of hundreds of doctors appointments.

Over the next four months I did a hospital tour of London, visiting countless specialists and undergoing every test that they could think of. As my symptoms worsened—I was losing my vision, becoming unbearably dizzy every time I stood up, and was in constant pain to the point that all I could do was sleep—the doctors got increasingly confused, as all the test results were inconclusive and seemed to show that there was nothing wrong. Of course this lead to me being accused a few times of having a psychological illness, which was beyond frustrating—who would to choose to look pregnant and sleep all the time?

In September I finally got a diagnosis: I had Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, which is effectively a breakdown of your autonomic nervous system. This is quite an issue, as your autonomic nervous system controls almost everything that goes on in your body—your heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, immune system, digestion, and more. For six months I followed my doctor’s advice, taking an array of different medications and steroids, assuming that if I took my pills properly, I would surely get better. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, and in January, after a disastrous attempt at a romantic getaway in Marrakech (which ended up in me being brought home semi-conscious in a wheelchair), I realized that it was time for me to take some responsibility for what was going on with my body.

Over the next few weeks I started researching natural healing, and came across an amazing woman named Kris Carr who had dealt with her cancer through changes in diet. I was so inspired that I decided that moment I was starting a plant-based, whole foods diet. There were a few issues, though. First of all, I didn’t like plants. Secondly, I had no idea what whole foods even were, and thirdly, I couldn’t cook! Nevertheless, I was determined to try, so for the next three months I ate the same easy-to-make things every day. Porridge with blueberries and bananas for breakfast (the fruit I'd put in right at the beginning, and mush down to the bottom so I'd forget it was there), then for lunch I would eat buckwheat bread with mashed avocado. Dinner was brown rice pasta with a vegetable sauce, which I'd make by just throwing veggies in a saucepan with some olive oil and tomato puree. It was all really delicious, but became a little monotonous, as you can imagine. I had continuous food envy, and dreamt of all the foods I missed—most of all the taste of something sweet. I have to admit that this did lead to some late-night candy binges, as I was just craving it so much. I’d feel so ill afterwards and would always regret it, but at the time I really just felt that I needed it.

The thing was, that even with the occasional slip-ups, I was starting to feel a bit better. Before I changed my diet, every time I ate, my torso would feel burning hot and the areas around my lymph nodes would really ache. This feeling had totally disappeared (except when my hand reached for the Haribo packet!). My energy was also noticeably different, and the overall body aches were lessening. I want to point out that there weren’t any crazy sudden changes, as healing with food isn’t like healing with antibiotics. It wasn't instant, but it was happening, which was incredibly inspiring. I realized that if I really wanted to feel like myself again, I would need to try a bit harder and really learn to cook. This lifestyle had to be sustainable and enjoyable, otherwise it would never work.

The first thing I needed to do was deal with my sugar cravings, which I did by experimenting with deliciously sweet recipes like raw brownies, energy bites, and sweet potato brownies. As soon as I had these down—and made sure that I always had them in the house—my desire to eat processed sweets started to dwindle. Eating those made me feel a million times better, they tasted amazing, and were actually really easy to make. I no longer felt like I was being deprived of anything, but instead it felt that a whole new world of food had opened up, which was really exciting.

At the start, it was pretty weird eating this way around other people. I felt really awkward being the ‘difficult’ one that had to have something special, and I was quite hesitant to tell people about it. It took me a few months to really embrace how awesome it was and to feel confident enough to talk to everyone about my diet, at which point I started cooking for my friends and family. Cooking for them turned out to be the best decision, as they all loved the food and lots of them have become converts! Healthy eating and a plant-based lifestyle both have negative connotations attached to them (which I absolutely subscribed to before I tried it), so I think once they saw that the food really was more than iceberg lettuce and grated carrot, they understood what I was raving about.

It took about six months for this new way of living to feel easy and natural, and for me to really get the hang of what I was eating and how to make it awesome. The best thing of all, though, was that 18 months after starting my healthy eating adventure, I was able to come off all of my medication. My illness is now in remission and on a day-to-day basis I truly feel amazing. I wake up with such incredible energy, which I never had before my illness, and I really feel so in tune with my body. I am careful to keep my health as it is, so I’m conscious of sleeping eight hours a night, doing regular exercise, avoiding excessive stress and eating well—but those are all things that I enjoy anyway. This has really become a way of life for me, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

That’s not to say that everyone has to eat this way all the time, but every change, no matter how small, makes a difference. The trick is preventing yourself from becoming overwhelmed; just adding in one new serving of fruit or veg a day is fantastic. Some sweet potato wedges or guacamole make an insanely delicious addition to any meal, and they’re such an easy place to start. Whizzing up a smoothie in the morning is incredible, too, as it sets you off on the right track for a positive day. Making small changes every week over a few months will result in huge changes.

—Ella Woodward

Photos courtesy of Ella, and her Instagram @deliciouslyella.

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