My vegan weekends at IASIS, Bulacan: What to expect

Before anything else, I’d like to clarify that I’m not vegan. I’m a pescetarian talking about a down-to-earth real personal experience of trying a vegan diet, beautifully provided by IASIS Health and Wholeness Center in Angat, Bulacan :)

In January and early February, I would spend my weekends in IASIS as a yoga teacher, holder of space, and a writer. One of the benefits of that was that I was fed by the wonderful cooks of IASIS’ Nourish Cafe and for those weekends, I was on a vegan diet.

What does that mean? It means that for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner, I had purely plant-based food with no traces of any animal products at all. (READ from The Vegan Society: Definition of Veganism)

If you talk to vegans you’ll get a variety of answers as to what got them leading a vegan lifestyle. Some will talk about animal rights, environmental sustainability, health reasons, life transformations, etc. Across the board though, you’ll find that their plant-based diet keeps them healthy and in possession of strong immune systems. Reading up on it a little bit more I found out the following on the environment and on health:

“When the researchers combined the trends with forecasts of population growth and income growth for the coming decades, they were able to project that diets in 2050 will contain fewer servings of fruits and vegetables, about 60 percent more empty calories and 25 to 50 percent more pork, poultry, beef, dairy and eggs. These are changes that are known to increase the prevalence of type II diabetes, coronary heart disease and some cancers.

Using life-cycle analyses of various food production systems, the study also calculated that, if current trends prevail, these 2050 diets would also lead to an 80 percent increase in global greenhouse gas emissions from food production as well as habitat destruction due to land clearing for agriculture around the world.”

– New Research Says Plant-based Diet Best for Planet and People

The major benefits for patients who decide to start a plant-based diet are the possibility of reducing the number of medications they take to treat a variety of chronic conditions, lower body weight, decreased risk of cancer, and a reduction in their risk of death from ischemic heart disease.

A plant-based diet is not an all-or-nothing program, but a way of life that is tailored to each individual… Physicians should advocate that it is time to get away from terms like vegan and vegetarian and start talking about eating healthy, whole, plant-based foods (primarily fruits and vegetables) and minimizing consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products….

There is at least moderate-quality evidence from the literature that plant-based diets are associated with significant weight loss and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality compared with diets that are not plant based. These data suggest that plant-based diets may be a practical solution to prevent and treat chronic diseases…

Too often, physicians ignore the potential benefits of good nutrition and quickly prescribe medications instead of giving patients a chance to correct their disease through healthy eating and active living. If we are to slow down the obesity epidemic and reduce the complications of chronic disease, we must consider changing our culture’s mind-set from “live to eat” to “eat to live.” The future of health care will involve an evolution toward a paradigm where the prevention and treatment of disease is centered, not on a pill or surgical procedure, but on another serving of fruits and vegetables.

– Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets, case study for physicians

Obviously, a plant-based diet is good for us, especially if we’re dealing with any chronic diseases. So why is it so hard for us, including me, to try it out? Perhaps it’s not for everyone but, for those who are considering the vegan diet, I believe the hindrances are: not knowing what to expect, attachment to one’s current lifestyle and diet, and not knowing how to maintain it. It’s these areas that I’d like to discuss from my own experiences of being on vegan diets, and I have the privilege to discuss this thanks to my experience at IASIS :)

  1. What to expect from a vegan diet
  • Light meals, light feeling – When you go on your own vegan diet, of course what you eat and how much you eat will be your decision. At IASIS, the Nourish Cafe decided that for me and I let them do that with full trust since, managing detox programs, they know what they’re doing. For breakfast we had fruit bowls, lunch and dinner was brown rice and ulam/viand that were Filipino-inspired or Asian-inspired, desserts had no dairy and were usually fruit-based, our snacks were either smoothies or simple kamote/sweet potato.

If you’re used to eating a whole lot during one meal sitting, suddenly eating just plants will feel light to you – maybe even too light. One of my vegan friends, Mirabai of The Healthy Pinay blog admitted to eating huge portions so, there’s no saying you can’t compensate if you do feel the diet is too light. At the same time, not eating meat or any animal products will definitely give you a light feeling. Qualitatively speaking, I’d say I just have more energy, I feel light, and there was rarely an after-meal food coma. Since it’s easy to digest, the body uses much less energy to absorb and digest what you ate, which let’s admit, can truly make us tired.

It isn’t always fruit bowls for breakfast, they also have these awesome creations at IASIS like gluten-free vegan pancakes <3 Images from IASIS’ Facebook

 

  • You will detox. – As healthy as I thought I was eating beforehand on my pescetarian and mostly organic diet, I still detoxed during my weekends at IASIS. Appropriately enough, that’s exactly what one is meant to do there as it is a place for healing, rest and detoxing physically and emotionally. (LOOK UP: IASIS’ retreat programs)

Common signs that you’re detoxing which showed up with me were breaking out, headaches, food cravings, influx of emotions, and fatigue. Before the lightness came was a period of just being sleepy all the time. I thought it was just the heat but Daniw of IASIS, a raw food chef for years now, saw all the classic signs and made it clear that I was detoxing.

If you’re transitioning to a vegan diet or if you’re going to visit IASIS, this is something you can expect to happen. It’s almost a 100% guarantee. I welcomed these signs though as it just meant that my body was expelling chemicals, toxins, and substances I no longer needed. What’s important is just to be mindful of it, deal with it by being gentle with yourself, and knowing that they will pass.

  • Strength, flexibility, optimal weight, clear skin – I had been on a vegan diet before at Bahay Kalipay where the menu was raw vegan. I continued my yoga practice and everyday I could literally feel myself getting stronger and more flexible – the exact opposite of what I feared (!), that I would get thin, weak, and lose all my muscles. Plants, etc all have protein and I saw them work on me. Today, I drink smoothies with plant-based protein too :) (READ from One Green Planet: 25 Delicious Vegan Sources of Protein (The Ultimate Guide!))

I unlocked a whole lotta arm balances at Bahay Kalipay, things I couldn’t do before!

On a surface health level, my skin was the clearest I had been after my raw vegan diet. At IASIS’, I broke out and I found out the root of it was my milk consumption (because I love milk with coffee). I experimented with coconut milk instead and the breakouts stopped.

As for weight, after Bahay Kalipay, I didn’t lose weight but I did lose a whole lot of mass (aka excess fat). Almost everyone commented on how much more lean I became when I got back and since I didn’t lose weight – I believe the weight from the fat just became more “productive weight” in terms of muscle :) After weekends at IASIS, I noticed myself losing mass again – so for my body type, it seems to be a continuing trend in reaction to vegan eating.

2. Attachment to your current lifestyle and diet

One of the reasons I’ve perceived that it’s hard to transition to a vegan diet is that we’re just so used to eating meat, again me included since I am a pescetarian. Especially if you’re Filipino. Eating meat is tied to our traditions, family, and culture. For sure, it requires a huge shift and commitment. One thing that I feel could help though is knowing that vegan food can be as delicious as non-vegan food, and maybe even more so. Here are some of the food you can expect at IASIS’ Nourish Cafe:

Vegan longganisa made from beetroot and carrot

Pasta where the noodles are also made out of veggies!

 

3. How do I maintain eating a vegan diet?

This is one thing I struggle with a lot as well.

During the time that I was at IASIS, it was easier to go back home and prepare meals because I was used to eating vegan on weekends I felt fully supported and strong after my weekends there.

Now it’s a little harder to maintain, which is why I tend to shuttle back and forth from pescetarian and vegetarian. I’ve learned though not to punish myself, and to take things easy. At the very least, I try to consume a whole lotta greens, drink green smoothies almost daily, eat organic and natural, and keep meat consumption to a minimum. On good days, it’s easy. On bad days, it’s so hard. Soooo hard.

I’m thankful though that I still have the people of IASIS to run to for questions and inspiration. :)

If you’d like to get started, IASIS can help you too! This coming April, they are having a Heart of Healing retreat which includes a food preparation workshop on April 9. If I wasn’t in Bali, I’d definitely come through as that’s one of the most important things to eating vegan – how to prepare your own meals :) (CHECK OUT the event page: Heart of Healing retreat April 4-10)

 

So, that’s my dance with veganism so far :) And I’m super excited to continue with it as veggies, fruits, and everything plant-based continue to call on me.

I hope that helped with any questions in your mind. The last thing I’d like to say though is that, it’s truly very important to have a support group in starting such a big life change as transitioning to a vegan diet. Check out IASIS for support and better yet, for a weekend immersion into eating vegan :)

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