Needless to say, I will preach body positivity until the day my body gives out. Your body transforms into a bikini body as soon as you seductively slip on your swimsuit.
But while I aim to be unapologetically content and grateful for the skin I’m in, I’ve also battled insecurities and tried to reach a certain goal that seemed to never travel closer even as I cautiously approached it. Despite my waist growing smaller or my butt becoming bigger, I felt like I needed more extreme proportions as I was influenced by the altered images floating through the Internet. Such a notion was physically impossible, and unnecessary, but I struggled to accept this.
However, I’ve learned to ground myself in reality. There’s no conceptual maximum on the perfect body; no one has every ideal, unachievable, socially desirable quality and even a ‘flawless’ body can always be somehow added to or be made more perfect. Those bodies that do come close, in the media’s eyes, are usually helped by a surgeon’s scalpel. Hourglass perfection is a myth, a social construct that has never actually graced my presence in real life.
As cheesy as this may sound, beauty really is about how you feel; both mentally and physically. I am by no means an expert on fitness and health but, through trial and error, I found what works for me to make me feel and look my best.
Specifically in the sweltering heat of July, when the minimal clothing makes me feel like I’m under a microscope open to thousands of probing gazes, fitness habits put my mind at ease. These tips and tricks took me years to accumulate (and I’m still learning) but they help me feel like I’m making effortless progress and are genuinely not that hard to adopt. Everybody and every body is different but this is just what works for me. It’s also mostly supported by the general scientific consensus, if that helps.
There are more reasons to go vegan than there are animals in the world. The arguments from ethics, environmentalism and sustainability render any mediocre hedonistic spoils derived from meat absolutely unnecessary. Even if you naively believe that animals were created for human kind to use at our disposal, theoretically speaking veganism could solve world hunger and save all those ‘higher’ ranked humans which centre at the core of meat-eating arguments. If all food crops were fed directly to humans instead of animals, around 70% more food would be added to the world’s supply, which would be enough to feed 4 billion additional people- over half the humans on earth. This surplus would therefore very easily alleviate the starvation of the 925 million people who face hunger every day (Chatham 2014).
Admittedly, If you’re as vainglorious and superficial as I sometimes catch myself being, appeals to logic or the good of this planet aren’t likely to tug on your heart strings as much as a threat to your physical appearance might. The corporeal matters, evidently. So read on for the physical benefits of veganism…
- Clear, luminous skin:
Having been raised in the confines of an Eastern European and American culture where no meat and no dairy usually equates to no food, I painfully struggled to even transition to vegetarian whenever I had briefly considered it in the past. I was submerged with cheese and milk by the truckload. Whenever I had eaten a lot of, for example, Greek yoghurt, I felt my previously fine skin start to become irritated, cystic and blemished directly afterwards. There’s no making this up: my omnivorous diet was clearly the problem, as it is for a lot of people. There was clearly a correlation.
This comes to no surprise since IGF-1, a main component of cow’s milk, is one of the main culprits for acne. “Cow’s milk is meant for rapidly growing calves and it is full of bovine IGF-1, which is identical to human IGF-1” (Mooers 25).
When you consume dairy, IGF-1 levels will rapidly increase and consequently cause acne. Mother cows are injected with hormones so that they produce milk constantly, even if they naturally cannot, and are artificially inseminated (technically raped) to produce bucket-loads of liquid fat. Therefore, dairy causes a rapid increase of your insulin levels and your IGF-1 levels spike.
“These two polypeptide hormones work together to open the male hormone receptors that turn on acne (both in males and females)” , according to Dr. William F. Danby of Dartmouth Medical School). Dairy makes your skin produce excess sebum and clogs pores by binding dead skin cells inside your hair follicles. The raised levels of IGF-1 also promote inflammation. Some people can consume dairy without showing signs of acne simply because they genetically lucked out and are missing a hormone/gene combination that is present in about 90% of the population (Rognlin).
The sweat and discomfort of the sunrays will make you want to put down your foundation and pick up your sunscreen. Going plant based will help you do that.
- Rapid Weight Loss, Toning and Improved Digestion:
If you’re looking to lose weight and ultimately tone up, a plant based diet is such an easy and satiating option as you can eat more in terms of quantity; vegetables are far less calorically dense than meat and dairy and cholesterol is completely eliminated from your diet.
I won’t go into the full health details or scientific spiels but research has compared veganism with other popular diets including the Atkins diet and The American Diabetics Association diet and found that being plant based can help you lose five pounds more in a far shorter term (with less calorie restriction).
Many of the most toned women on the planet including Victorias Secret angels (such as Bridget Malcom) are embracing veganism, especially during fashion show season when they aspire to look their most radiant. Iconic seductresses such as Christy Brinkley, Michelle Pfeifer and Pamela Anderson attribute the upkeep of their looks and agelessness (face and body) to a plant based diet. Internet sensations such as Ariana Grande, Andrea Russet, Amanda Cerny, Sophia Miacova and Carli Bibel also show how a cruelty free lifestyle can benefit their lives in multiple ways.
Beyonce herself swears that, simply by embarking on 21 days of veganism, she lost five pounds and got that met gala, mega glow body:
“What I discovered was increased energy, better sleep, weight loss, improved digestion, clarity and an incredibly positive feeling for my actions and the effects it would have on those around me and the environment.”
But veganism isn’t just a trendy niche you should try out for a bit to mimic the ‘cool kids’ (or in this case the intellectually aware eye candy). We barely reap any benefits from meat and are inundated with extra hormones from animal protein. Milk is a cow growth hormone that is proven to actually weaken bones due to its acidity levels while there is a direct correlation between meat and an alarming variety of cancers. They can actually prevent you from losing weight, even if you remain very careful.
Dairy is detrimental to the digestive system, a notion we are blinded to by the consumer driven industry. The government is literally payed to promote it and legally puts a disclaimer on the recommended guidelines. Yes, many a glamorous fitness person may consume it in moderation and look fine but they could achieve results much more quickly by eliminating it completely.
→Casein is the main protein that is found in dairy products and can also be a problem for the digestive system. Improving gut health and digestion is essential to speeding up weight loss. Thus, eliminating any irritants could significantly improve results.
→Lactose is found in all dairy products and it is a form of sugar. The sugar content in dairy is not sky-scraper high but it’s enough to elevate your insulin levels. When trying to lose weight, you want to normalize and regulate insulin. Therefore, it should come to no shock that dairy is barring major progress.
→Dairy products are also an acid forming food. A healthy diet contains balance between acid and alkaline foods. Having a more alkaline quality improves digestion and overall health. Acid overload also increases inflammation throughout the body and can contribute to disease.
If you are looking to maintain a lower BMI for your health, it is worth knowing that meat-eaters are three times more likely to be obese than vegetarians, and nine times more likely than vegans. On average, vegans are 10 to 20 pounds lighter than adult meat-eaters. Vegetarian diets are also associated with higher metabolic rates (around 16 percent faster for vegans compared with meat-eaters).
Furthermore, the eradication of the toxicity in animal products and the increase in fruits and vegetables lets your hair and nails grow faster and stronger due to the vitamins consumed. And you, as a result, smell (and even taste) so much better.
- Meal Plans
Apps such as MyFitnessPal are useful for beginners to track calories and figure out how much intake is needed to quantify their goals. Personally, as a guideline, I try to eat around 2,000 calories daily to maintain my body weight or 1,500 if I want to lose weight. But never stress if you stray over this (stress aggravates your skin and general Looks ™)
§•High Protein Vegan meal plan:
- Breakfast: 1 cup of Oatmeal (6 grams of protein), one cup of blueberries (1.1 grams), one cup of soy milk (8 grams), 1/4 cup of hemp seeds =7 grams of protein
- Lunch :Spiced Red Lentil, Tomato, Kale Soup =around 40 grams of protein
- Dinner: Tofu and Brown Rice (with broccoli) =around 25 grams of protein
- Snack: Veggies and Hummus with hemp seeds =Around 20 grams of protein
The myth that vegans are weak and lack muscle is laughable. Not only have I gained ass and toned my abs on this diet but I’ve never felt more full of energy and less lethargic. Farewell food comas and cardiovascular disease, hello summer glow and vegan booty.
Athletes such as Heather Mills, Carl Lewis and Novak Djokovic have embraced this protein rich diet. During the tennis season, Serena and Venus Williams also follow a mainly raw vegan diet- “I think it’s a great lifestyle for long term stability.”
The only way to build muscle is through exercise– it’s a myth that protein alone does this. Bodies need a modest amount of protein to function well. Extra protein doesn’t give you extra strength.
→For older children, teen girls, active women, and most men, the guidelines give the nod to two daily servings for a total of six ounces (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
→To gain muscle, 7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is recommended, and for the average person, it’s closer to .5 grams per pound. So let’s say you weigh 180 pounds and you’re looking to pack on some muscle. Your maximum protein intake should be 90 grams per day. Everyone who eats an eight-ounce steak is getting excessive amounts of protein along with scoopfuls of artery-clogging saturated fat as well.
Protein may be important in building muscle and losing weight but eating the right kinds is more important.
The best sources of protein are lentils, black beans, tofu, almonds, nato, quinoa, amaranth, soy milk, chick peas, spinach, edemame etc… I also try to incorporate nutritional yeast into recipes (has a cheesy flavour) as well as a large variety of seeds (flax seeds and chia seeds) onto salads and muesli along with soy milk.
I personally don’t feel the need to take supplements other than an occasional b12 vitamin (just in case) because I get far more than enough through food. However, there are plenty of vegan options that beat whey protein every time.
Brown rice protein isn’t a complete protein by itself, meaning you need to buy a powder that contains enhanced amino acids—or you need to pair it with something like tofu, quinoa or beans, that will round out the nutrients you need. Still, it has its own unique benefits. “It’s high in fiber, gluten-free, lactose-free and full of B vitamins, which help out with muscle metabolism and growth.” (White). Bonus: Brown rice protein is labeled as hypoallergenic, so it’s less likely to irritate your system or cause an allergic reaction.
I like: Growing Naturals ($19 for 16.8oz; growingnaturals.com)
Other powders include pea protein, hemp protein, soy protein… I could go on. Overall, veganism is abundant in proteins which can be paired with supplements like brown rice protein. Brown rice protein also makes you feel less bloated than the latter which is always a plus.
- Healthy Carbs:
As a general guideline, I try to eat less carbs and more protein. However we don’t need as much protein to build muscle as we are conditioned to believe. Kim K even blames a high protein, low carb diet for the ‘unflattering’ pictures which plagued the internet (this was pure, international body shaming but let’s ignore that for these purposes). With the help of her diet coach, she now focuses on including lots of healthy carbs such as rice and vegetables into her diet and has abandoned disgusting fads like the Atkins diet.
We can reap the health benefits of good carbs by choosing carbohydrates full of fiber. These carbs get absorbed slowly into our systems, avoiding spikes in blood sugar levels. Examples include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans.
→To meet the body’s daily nutritional needs while minimizing risk for chronic disease, adults should get 45% to 65% of their calories from carbohydrates, 20% to 35% from fat, and 10% to 35% from protein (September 2002, the National Academies Institute of Medicine).
This is the main benefit of the vegan diet- you easily get enough fiber to meet these recommendations in contrast to the fat and cholesterol abundant in meat and dairy.
- Junk Food
Another added benefit is that most mainstream junk food like biscuits, chocolate and pizza often incorporate dairy at the very least, which limits your options of snacking. The unhealthy snacks are less available to you, meaning you are less likely to succumb. This inadvertently eliminates sugars and preservatives like that from your diet as you’re more likely to adopt the habit of consuming ‘healthy’ junk food like nuts and seeds, guacamole, avocado on toast, peanut butter etc..
But don’t get your panties in a twist, there are still plenty of junk food options as well (but this isn’t about that so let’s keep those on the low key). Even vegan pizza is relatively harmless compared to the ‘real thing’.
Top tip: Hummus is my life.
Don’t be a thirsty person; ‘spiritually’ or physically. Water will clear your skin up, improve digestion immensely, eradicate cellulite and speed up weight loss by a milestone. The current IOM recommendation is roughly at least three litres. While this includes water in fruits and vegetables, you can never have enough (within reason). All I drink is water, exceptions are few and far between. For three years I’ve been drinking at least three litres daily. Sometimes I panic and frantically drink half a litre in fear that I’ll forget. Look at it as a challenge at first and then it will formulate into a habit (but maybe don’t be as extreme as I am).
Dehydration can lead to overheating, headaches, and muscle fatigue. The key is that if you feel thirsty, it’s too late: you’re already dehydrated.
Counting calories and limiting yourself creates a toxic mental environment and can lead to a negative outlook on food. Starving yourself and fad diets can only cause you to ultimately gain weight or make no progress because all you lose is water weight. I personally never look at the scale to avoid thoughts of losing or gaining weight and instead tune into what my body is telling me. The goal should be feeling better physically and improving your health.
Not to mention, restriction can lead to a slippery slope towards eating disorders such as types of anorexia and binge eating. Or at the very least it will end in unhealthy snacking.
Therefore, to adopt a healthy mindset, you should focus on a balanced lifestyle. Your outlook should be positive even while hoping to eventually change for the better.
If you want to tone up and build muscle it really is important to eat, and eat the right things. Instead of decreasing food in general, focus on decreasing processed food, fats, oils, unhealthy sugars and preservatives, and increasing protein and healthy carbs.
- Do Not Resist (Cravings):
Fad diets are a faux pas.
- First, your body goes into starvation mode. When this takes place, your metabolism starts to shut down. Your body starts to think that it’s not going to get food for a long period of time, so your body starts saving every calorie and ounce of fat. This is actually a protective mechanism to keep your body alive.
- Second, after the starvation period is over, severe hunger occurs and we tend to gorge on food. It’s an uncontrollable condition that you don’t want to experience.
- Third, after gorging on a meal, the calories will be processed differently. At this point your body will run on a slower metabolism and try to save every calorie. The food that you eat will all be stored as fat.
The key to losing body fat is eating more meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism working. You’ll end up feeling less hungry and won’t eat as much.
- Not feeling bloated
Chew slowly and focus on what you’re eating so that your body can tell you when it’s full and so you don’t overeat. Have you ever caught yourself automatically stuffing yourself while watching something just to do something with your hands?
Some Key Exercies (Gym Optional)
→If you never add resistance or weight you’ll never see improvement. Warm up using a free weight bar with equal weight on each side. Start off at a weight that’s a challenge for you, but not too difficult, and continue using that for a couple of weeks. Whenever you feel like you need more of a challenge, increase the weight gradually, but you should never feel like you’re straining. “Your last two reps should feel like they are very hard to complete but not impossible.” Use heavier weights for shorter sets and lighter weights for longer sets. If you want to gain muscle, you do a lesser amount of reps with heavier weights. If you just want to tone, you do more reps with a lighter weight.
Always stretch before and after a workout!!
- Glutes: (5 reps of 30 or 3 reps of 50- total 150)
–Squats -keep up your form and make sure you do them properly; otherwise they are futile. Your feet should be shoulder width apart, your spine as straight and neutral as possible, and your knees should never pass your toes. Squatting should feel as natural as sitting in a chair.
-Donkey kickbacks– for this I try to use ankle weights and resistance bands when possible (100 on each side so I do two reps of 50 on each leg)
-Fire hydrants (two reps of 50)
-Lunges (5 sets of 20)
-Hip raises (placing a weight on your stomach, do 4 sets of 25)
I either use kettle bells or a bar (20-30 kg) but using dumbbells is equally good. When possible, using a stair master will help activate the glutes beforehand..
- Arms: (3 sets of 12)
Calf raises (holding two 8 kg weights)- 4 sets of 20)
If you’re aim is to put on muscle, avoid excessive cardio as this will decrease muscle growth- although it will help you tone up. Treadmills can feel like hamster wheels so make a date of a cardio session- jog in the park or play sports so you don’t collapse of boredom from staring at a monotonous gym all day. .
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise per week. This can be achieved through spending 30 to 60 minutes working out moderately five days per week or spending 20 to 60 minutes working out vigorously three days per week.
To avoid losing too much weight, I don’t overdo it (even though I’m not really in danger of doing so anyway but this thought is nevertheless comforting).
- Waist and Abs:
-Crunches (5-10 sets of 12-20 reps) – inhale when you expand your abs and exhale when you contract them.
-Standing abs– moving from side to side holding a prop in the middle.
–Straight Leg Raise (4 sets of 25)
–Knee-to-sides (4 sets of 25)
- Minimise resting time and focus on the same muscle groups at a singular time. To increase muscular endurance as quickly as possible, the best rest period is 45 seconds to 2 minutes between sets.This means your body burns carbs and fats in the presence of oxygen.
- Separate your workouts be dedicating days solely to certain muscle groups, like legs/glutes, upper body etc… Make sure you leave a rest day in between each leg day!
- Rest Days:
Rest days are just as important as working out. When feeling inadequate, we undergo an overly motivated mindset and may feel like we have to work out every day to make up for our lazier past, forgetting the importance of recovery time.
Resting is just as important as working out because it’s an equal part of the total process required to build strength, endurance, and muscle.
“Working out, especially resistance training, breaks your body tissues down. In fact, resistance training breaks down muscles causing microscopic tears” (Wynter). Rest days allow your muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue time to rebuild.
This regeneration process—which also requires water, food, and sometimes supplements—rebuilds your body tissues, allowing them to grow back stronger. If you don’t fully recover, you’ll never see muscle growth.
If your goal is to build muscle, but you’re not getting quality sleep on a regular basis, your production of growth hormones will be negatively affected and your efforts will be thwarted.
Ensure six to eight hours of sleep every night, and schedule a couple days a week to let your body heal.
At the end of the day, trying to be fitter or to look a certain way should only be done for you, because you want to. Your body is nobody else’s concern, except for maybe your doctor’s. The only opinion that matters belongs to the most important organ in your body; your brain. The key is to appreciate your present self now but also be open to change because there is no conceptual limit on being the most positive version of yourself, both mentally and physically.
Sources are linked throughout the articles. Images are either my own or sourced through Tumblr and Instagram. Egeislekel’s artwork is used, taken from Instagram.