Dry January

As you may have seen in my 10 Things I’ve Learnt In 2018 post,  one of my New Year’s resolutions was to complete Dry January, which is a popular resolution for many every year. While I usually have a ‘dryer’ January every year anyway, I’d never officially completed Dry January, and I realised that I probably hadn’t had a month of drinking since I was about 17 years old.

I’ve never have the healthiest relationship with alcohol, and I think this is what motivated me to complete a whole month off drinking to see if I actually struggled to do it. I had my first couple of alcoholic drinks when I was 12 years old at my dad’s 50th birthday party, and I remember getting that buzz of confidence that I’d always longed for. After that, there were occasions at 13 and 14 when I used to drink with my friends in local parks, with one occasion resulting in my friend’s dad carrying me through my front door as I was too drunk to walk. I even tried to sneak a few cans of Strongbow into school because I was desperate to feel that confidence in class that I was always lacking. It’s easy now in hindsight to realise that I was struggling with anxiety throughout school, however until I had counselling in sixth form, alcohol was my only coping mechanism.

From 15/16, many of us in school were drinking regularly on a Friday night in the park, and it wasn’t until I went to university at 18 that I realised just how young I was when I started drinking. Some people at university were only just starting to get their first taste of going out and drinking, whilst I’d been going to house parties since I was 15 and had been going for nights out in Nottingham with my sister’s ID at 17. University drinking culture of course just helped me to continue using alcohol as a coping mechanism, and it’s so easy to get caught up in the social aspect of drinking. I definitely made many bad decisions whilst I was drunk, and my bank account certainly didn’t thank me for the amount I was spending!

After university, I struggled to get a job for a while, and it certainly brought back old negative feelings that I’d experienced before, but with the financial concerns on top of it all. Even when I got my first admin job, I would still look forward to Friday night when I could go out and enjoy myself, and I was definitely in a bad habit of drinking every Friday to Sunday. This was another factor that swayed me to quit by job and go travelling back in 2016/17. I was fed up of the same routine of going to work for not much money, and counting down the days until I could go out at the weekend. It was a bad habit and I needed a change. I was also starting to dislike the person I would become when I was drunk, often making decisions that I’d never make sober and then waking up full of self-loathing the next day. Travelling really did give me the chance to alleviate a lot of the causes of stress I was experiencing, and while I still enjoyed drinking and some nights out while I was away, it just felt like a sociable thing rather than a way to relieve stress.

Nowadays, I think I’m starting to get a healthier relationship with alcohol. I certainly don’t drink as much as I did during my university days, and while I still may have a bit too much than I intend some nights out, I think I’ve gotten better at recognising when I need to tone it down. I also really enjoyed completing Dry January and I didn’t struggle as much as I thought I would. For me, I love making plans that don’t involve drinking, and I only want a drink when plans involve nights out and things (as I really don’t think I’d be able to handle a sober night of dancing in a nightclub!). If anything, it was my friends who seemed more bothered about me not drinking than I was, which just goes to show how our social plans usually revolve around drinking. Instead, we enjoyed doing some other activities like escape rooms, lots of meals out, and going to London to see the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child plays.

I’m really pleased that I found Dry January as easy to complete as I did, and it’s reassured me that I can still be a fun person to spend time with, without having alcohol to help me. I think many people, especially in the UK, don’t recognise that they have a slight dependency on alcohol. We all have a judgmental image in our heads of what we picture an alcoholic to be like, however we don’t realise that many of our friends, relatives and coworkers can also be dependent on alcohol. While I’ve only ever drank on social occasions and never by myself at home, I know many people rely on having a glass of wine in the evenings to unwind. It’s taken me a while to admit to myself that I don’t always have a healthy relationship with alcohol, and it’s okay to recognise that and keep working on it. I don’t know if I could ever go full teetotal, as I will always enjoy drinking at certain occasions and the taste of alcoholic drinks, but I’m determined to get to the point where I have a 100% healthy relationship with booze.

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10 Things I’ve Learnt In 2018

I know we all say every year that we can’t believe how fast the year has gone, but it really doesn’t feel that long ago since I wrote my last end-of-year blog post! This time last year, I had just moved back to Sheffield to start my new job and everything felt a bit overwhelming, yet exciting. Now, one year on and feeling much more settled, I thought I would reflect on ten things I’ve learnt this year.

1. You are of value at work

I think many twenty-somethings like myself worry about their place at work, and often don’t realise how much value they can bring to a company. As I went through a lot of job rejections last year and then was temporarily made redundant at my current company earlier this year, it can make you feel pretty worthless. However, since getting kept on at my current role, taking on more responsibility and receiving good feedback, I am finally starting to believe that I can be an asset to a company and that I have a lot more useful skills than I realise.

2. You need to let yourself be happy too

All my life I’ve been a serious people-pleaser, and I’ve always worried about people not liking me or not being happy. This falls into my relationships too, where I let myself feel unhappy because I’m so worried about hurting the other person. However, as tough as upsetting someone is, I’ve learnt that you need to be honest with yourself and other people so that you can all move on and be happy.

3. You never stop making new friends

One thing I’ve loved most about this year is how many new people I’ve met and become close with. The great thing about starting a new job and moving into a house with new people is making new friendships, and I’ve been so lucky to become close friends already with my housemates and colleagues. It’s mad to thing that the people I spend the most time with these days are people I’ve only known for one year!

4. Veganism is amazing for your mind and body (and the environment!)

One of my New Year’s resolutions last year was to complete Veganuary. Not only did I go vegan for January, but I’ve actually carried on for the entire year. Now, I can’t imagine ever going back, as I’ve enjoyed it so much and I truly feel better knowing that I’m helping the environment and the welfare of animals through just the one simple change. Another huge factor that made me carry on the vegan lifestyle is the fantastic health benefits: my skin is clearer, I’ve got tons more energy, and it’s helped me lose a lot of fat!

5. My goals (however small) are achievable

As well as completing Veganuary, I set myself a few other New Year’s resolutions last year. I’m pleased to say that I’ve achieved them all, which is a great feeling! They included learning to do 1-5 pull-ups (I can now do a couple of sets of  3 at a time), being on my phone less (I’ve certainly been trying to stick to this) and visiting two countries (I ended up visiting 3!) I know a lot of people joke about people never sticking to New Year’s resolutions, but I think the key is to set small, achievable goals which you can measure easily. So for this year, I’ve chosen another health related month-long resolution of taking part in Dry January and another fitness-related resolution of learning to do pistol squats. 

6. It’s okay to hang out with yourself

This is quite an important one for me as growing up, I was always terrified of going to things by myself, even to the point that I would be nervous to pick a certain subject at school because I didn’t want to be in a class without a friend. Of course this has gotten better throughout the years since going away to university by myself, and flying to and from Thailand by myself last year, however I still think it’s something I’m working on. I’m certainly starting to get comfortable being by myself, and I am learning that it’s okay to go to the cinema or to a gig alone, or to even enjoy a meal on your own in public.

7. Everyone else goes through shit too

With everyone’s lives looking so perfect on social media, we forget that everyone else is going through stuff too. I’m  guilty of comparing my life to others and sometimes feeling a bit sorry for myself when me and my family are struggling, but we need to remember that we never know what’s going on behind closed doors. I’ve comforted many friends this year through relationship and job problems, to dealing with the death of loved ones, and it makes you realise that sadly we all go through problems. However, it’s important to turn that around and focus on the friends and family you are still to have around.

8. Exercise and hard work really does pay off

I’ve been documenting my physical journey throughout the year and it’s awesome seeing the progress I’ve made along the way. I’ve had down days where I’ve felt like I’m not seeing much difference in my physique, and then bam, another day you’ll be looking in the mirror and noticing all sorts of changes. It’s pleasing to see that hard work and dedication really does pay off, and I’m excited to continue getting stronger in the new year.

9. There’s no such thing as too many holidays

Of course, money dependent, there probably can be such a thing as too many holidays, but what I mean is that time spent travelling is invaluable experience. I ended up taking three holidays this year to Amsterdam, Malta and Germany, and although it’s stopped me saving as much money as I would have liked to this year, it was money and time well spent. With the cold weather continuing to creep in, I’m already starting to think where I could head to in 2019…

10. 2019 will be a good year

Okay, this isn’t something I’ve learnt, but it’s something I’m positive about. After quite a tough start last year losing my grandad, I’m confident that 2019 will hold good things. I’m finally in a more stable position in life, and I’m excited to see what will happen next. Happy New Year!

Knowing when to say ‘no’

Today I woke up from the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. If you’ve ever experienced sleep problems, you’ll understand how you can enter into an endless cycle of bad sleep, which can last for weeks or even months sometimes.

It’s got me thinking again about just how important it is to look after your mental wellbeing. I focus all my time into eating healthily and going to the gym several days a week to keep in good physical shape, yet I’m terrible at remembering to focus on my mental health. When my body is desperate for a rest and a good night’s sleep, I guilt trip myself into another gym session so I hit my target number of days for the week. I’ve become so used to channeling my stress through exercise, I forget that sometimes a good rest is just what my body needs.

I recently found out that I was going to be losing my job and it was really difficult knowing I was going to have to go through the whole job hunting process again after having so many job rejections over the summer. It then came to no surprise that it took a toll on my mental health and sleep, as I was so anxious about finding work again. And with stress and a lack of sleep, of course I then ended up running myself down with a cold. After feeling ill now for just under two months, I’ve since found out from the doctors that I’ve got CMV virus, caused by a weakened immune system. So now I’m beating myself up for obsessing over staying in shape and being sociable, instead of looking after myself when I first starting to feel ill.

I’ve always gone through life choosing to saying ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ to things, which during my school and university years was partly due to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). My dad always encouraged me to enjoy travelling, festivals and experiences, even if it meant being in my overdraft for all of university. While I’m now grateful to be out my overdraft, I’m pleased that I filled my university and graduate years with so many wonderful experiences, rather than worrying about saving money all the time.

Yet this week I’ve enjoyed saying ‘no’ to things and indulging in some guilty pleasures. I’ve had a week off the gym, binged-watched a lot of Netflix, eaten heaps of pasta, had a a fresh hair cut and colour, bookmarked a load of clothes I want to treat myself to on payday, and even booked a flight to Amsterdam for my birthday weekend. While it’s great to eat healthily and exercise regularly, sometimes indulging in a little ‘me’ time is just what the doctor ordered!

7 Days of Vegan

While veganism is by no means anything new, the popularity of vegan and plant-based diets is certainly on the rise. Be it for ethical or health reasons, many people are choosing to reduce their meat and dairy consumption, leading to new terms like ‘flexitarian’!

I’ve always led a reduced meat diet; I first went vegetarian when I was 8 and continued for about 9 years before choosing to eat meat and fish right before I went to university. Now, 5 years later, I’ve been vegetarian again for about 8 months. I’ve always found a vegetarian diet pretty easy to maintain, and I’ve slowly been trying to head towards a more vegan/plant-based diet. As I’m primarily vegetarian for ethical reasons, it seems wrong for me to still be consuming dairy products when I’m still aware of the horrible conditions and procedures animals have to live through in order for me to enjoy my delicious cheese!

After hearing about so many benefits that come from a vegan I diet, I decided to eat fully vegan this week for a number of reasons:

  1. To find out whether I could even do it!
  2. To finally try out some recipes from the multitude of vegan cookbooks we’ve got floating about the house
  3. To see if I can spot any health improvements, such as better skin, more energy etc.
  4. To see if I can still enjoy weight training and fitness on a vegan diet

Admittedly,  I already knew that I may find this challenge easier than most, as I’ve already eaten many vegan meals due to living with my sister who’s been vegan for nearly 2 years. However, as a massive lover of cheese and eggs, I still knew that the week would be a challenge!

As I’m also a keen lover of the gym and weight training, I’m also interested in finding out whether I could sustain a vegan diet and still get enough protein and energy to build muscle. I don’t tend to hear about many vegan weight trainers, but maybe this is something I need to do more research into!

Monday

So my first day wasn’t off to the best start as I’d had an awful migraine Sunday night and I woke up head-achy and tired. Therefore my meals were pretty unadventurous and not too healthy, but I plan to experiment a lot more further into the week!

I was also super hungry from not eating much the night before, so for breakfast I opted for crumpets with some vegan soy butter we already had in the fridge. I’m not the biggest fan of butter anyway (although I am partial to a hot buttery crumpet), so this was a pretty easy switch for me.

I ended up missing lunchtime as I’d been out on a long 4 hour walk, so I just had a piece of toast with some vegan cheese spread, which was surprisingly really tasty! I’ve tried vegan cheese in the past and found it to be very plain, so I was surprised that this spread tasty as cheesey as it did.

As it was a super hot day, it seemed rude not to have a BBQ at teatime! My sister had some falafel mix, so we made that up into two burgers, which we ate with couscous and salad. I’m already a bit fan of falafel, so these were super tasty, although I can find falafel pretty dry without any kind of sauce or mix. I found out the guacamole we had in the fridge wasn’t vegan, so I just had ketchup instead.

This meal was a struggle for me as my dad and his girlfriend BBQ’d some halloumi, which is one of my favourite types of cheese!

Tuesday

Yet again I woke up with a headache, so I opted for the same breakfast as yesterday – crumpets with vegan butter.

Thankfully by lunchtime I was starting to feel okay again, so I decided to put a bit more effort into my meal! I’d recently tried the Fry’s meat free chicken strips and they were really yummy, and not dry like a lot of meat free products. I fried this up in some sweet chilli sauce and ate them with some spinach, watercress, rocket, tomatoes and celery, dressed in lime.

I was still a bit hungry after, so I finished lunch off with some hummous and carrot sticks – which is always my go-to snack.

My meal at teatime was a bit of an odd one (we’re currently waiting on an online food delivery, so there’s not a great deal in the house and I had to improvise). I made a Mediterranean style quinoa and chickpea salad with chopped tomatoes, cumin and some other spices, and had it with spinach and some vegan fish fingers which we had lying around in the freezer. It tasted okay, but it certainly didn’t look nice enough to photograph!

Later in the evening I had a bit of a sweet craving, so I enjoyed some delicious dairy free vanilla ice cream, which honestly tastes as good as the real thing. I don’t know how they make it that creamy without dairy!

Wednesday

As I was off to the gym that morning, I had a big bowl of porridge made with soya milk and chia seeds mixed in for extra protein. Usually I’d have honey on my porridge, but as I couldn’t have that this week, I mixed in a spoonful of peanut butter for some taste.

We were still waiting for our online shop to arrive, so lunch was another random concoction. I had chickpeas, quinoa, cumin, celery and tomatoes mixed with some falafel and sweet potato balls, topped off with lime juice and sweet balsamic glaze.

By teatime the food shop had finally arrived, much to our delight! I decided to cook one of my favourite vegetarian stir fry recipes by Jamie Oliver, adjusting it slightly by taking out the honey and swapping the egg noodles for rice noodles. I love this recipe as there are so many flavours from the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, chilli and lime, and you can add as much veg as you like. However I have to say that the honey really does add to the recipe, as it helps the sesame seeds and cashew nuts to stick to the tofu, although I still enjoyed this vegan version. The photo does not do this dish justice I’m afraid!

Thursday

Again I wanted another good breakfast, so I opted for porridge and banana with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. I’m not usually a big fan of cinnamon, but this actually went really well together.

For lunch, I made a variation of a Mexican bowl idea I found online, with tofu, black beans, sweetcorn, avocado and salsa. We only had a few of these things in, so I had tofu fried in chilli powder and taco spice, kidney beans and salsa. I tried to use avocado, but the ones we’ve got sadly weren’t ripe yet, which is always a pain! But it tasted good nonetheless. As the dish was missing some of the most colourful ingredients, I didn’t even think it was worth photographing this one.

In the evening we made homemade pizzas, using a really simple frying pan pizza recipe. I can’t believe how easy this was to cook – you simply fry each side of the pizza dough for 5 minutes, add your toppings, then grill the finished pizza for another 5 minutes. I added peppers, onions, oregano and vegan mozzarella cheese to mine, and I was surprised by how cheesey the mozzarella tasted. And it actually melted too, which I find most vegan cheese doesn’t do. It tasted good, although I think we made the bases a little bit too stodgy, so next time I think we’ll use less flour than it suggests in the recipe.

(I admit, it certainly doesn’t look appealing the picture haha, but homemade pizzas often look quite messy!)

Friday

For breakfast I had my usual porridge and chia seeds, but this time I had it with some delicious blueberries. I’m still missing having honey on my porridge, so having some sweet fruit on top helps.

For lunch, I went into town to meet some old colleagues for one of their birthdays. I was keen to go for a vegan meal out during this week, so I was excited to give it a go. We ate at Turtle Bay, which surprisingly has lots of vegan options to choose from. I went for the spiced chickpea and mushroom wrap with a portion of sweet potato fries, and it was so tasty.

As I was pretty full from lunch, I just got a portion of chips at the pub later on as I enjoyed some drinks!

Saturday

I woke up on Saturday pretty hungover, so I ended up having a late breakfast/brunch. I just wanted stodge and comfort food, so I had beans on toast topped off with some Henderson’s Relish.

In the afternoon, me and my sister decided to do some baking, and chose the ‘Fudgy Wudgy Blueberry Brownies’ from Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I was amazed by how gooey and rich these brownies ended up without using butter – they were delicious! We used coconut oil instead, but the taste of blueberries and chocolate really come through. I’ll definitely be baking these again.

For teatime, I was keen to try out a recipe from another vegan/plant-based cookbook, and decided on the Dahl curry from Niomi Smart’s book Eat Smart. I’ve always wanted to make a curry from scatch, so I thought this was a great time to give it a go. Inside the curry we had lentils, tomatoes, coriander, garlic, onions, ginger, coconut oil and lots of spices. While the curry was nice, I think it could have definitely done with some more flavour, as none of my family like a mild curry, and I found the recipe didn’t quite leave us with enough sauce. So next time, I think I’ll adjust the measurements slightly!

Sunday

For my last day of vegan week, I started off with porridge, chia seeds, blueberries and grapes with. I’m actually starting to get pretty used to porridge without honey, so maybe I’ll stop being so reliant on it for breakfast!

Our avocados are finally ripe, so for lunch I had some avocado on seeded toast – one of my all-time favourites! Usually, I’d have poached egg as well with it, but the toast was still pretty nice with just a bit of cracked pepper on.

As I had tons of lentils  left from the Dahl the night before, I sought out some vegan lentil recipes online and made a lentil, quinoa, spinach and chickpea stew (as the weather has already started turning cooler today!) Despite missing a few of the ingredients, this actually ended up being so tasty, and loads more flavoursome than the curry the day before.

Food for thought

All in all I’ve really enjoyed this week, and I’ve found it a lot easier than I thought I would. Other than a couple of moments where I nearly ate chocolate or added honey on my porridge without thinking, I didn’t find myself desperately needing eggs or dairy.

I’ve also felt pretty healthy all week, and still found that I had plenty of energy for the gym. So it’s great to know that changing my diet in the future won’t affect my exercise regime.

In conclusion, I think I’ll certainly make the effort from now on to reduce my dairy consumption and experiment more with vegan meals – there’s still tons of recipes in those cookbooks that I’m now dying to try out!