If It Doesn’t Challenge You, It Doesn’t Change You

The first thing I need to do after this long hiatus from blogging, is thank all my loyal friends, supporters, and blog followers. I haven’t posted any updates in over 2 months, and there is a reason why, which I will delve into in this blog post. I just checked my stats on my blog, which tells you how many people are reading your blog daily, and I am astonished to find out that every day since my last blog post people have still been visiting my blog. It  means the world to me to know that I still have my loyal supporters, even when I have been absent on my blog.

Now the reason why I have not blogged as of late, is because I went off my vegan diet about 6 weeks ago. It was a very long and emotionally tiring week for me leading up to my decision to end my vegan diet. My best friends can attest to how conflicted I was about making that decision. Many things contributed to my decision to stop my vegan diet. What initially triggered it was my Rheumatologist telling me I was on the verge of becoming anemic, and deficient in a list of other things. I mean, I definitely started to notice it a few weeks prior, but I just thought it would pass. My fatigue was worse than normal, and I was extremely light headed and weak all the time. I also noticed I was losing a lot more of my hair. Since I’ve been diagnosed with Lupus, I would say the amount of hair I had has decreased by about half. So seeing even more hair loss than usual was an immediate red flag. I tried to take iron supplements and increase my spinach and kale intake, but it just didn’t make a significant difference (being that my own body attacks the little amount of red blood cells I had, was also not helping); plus iron supplements are extremely hard to digest and left me feeling constipated. With my Lupus, blood count has always been a struggle for me, I just felt like I did not need anything else contributing to any sort of deficiencies.

I was tired of being restricted from all the foods I used to love so much. I was tired of going to restaurants or social places worried about whether or not I would be able to eat anything there. I was tired of getting weird looks and being judged by people when I told them I was vegan. Throughout my journey as a vegan, I have received a lot of negative responses from people when they heard I was vegan. They would automatically criticize me and assume that I was doing it for superficial reasons, or so that I could be “hip” and say I was vegan. It astonished me how quickly people were to judge me and what they thought my intentions were. I never gave those people the time of day and just chose to ignore their ignorance. It just amazes me how people get so riled up about such topics, when it has nothing to do with them. How does someone feel that they should have an opinion on the food that I choose or choose not to consume?

It came to the point where I realized that I just wasn’t happy being vegan anymore. I felt deprived. I wasn’t my usual happy and positive self, I was tired, worn down and just going through life. I realized veganism was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and so I decided to stop. I wanted and needed to find a happy medium. I think I naturally eat quite healthy already, I mean I have at least one veggie packed smoothie and a salad everyday. Vegetables still are and have always been my favourite food group, but now it is just a matter of adding certain proteins to help me get back to feeling good and energized.

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Since going off my vegan diet, I have been eating a lot of eggs, fish, and chicken occasionally. I had pork and beef once or twice and I felt ill almost immediately; those meats I definitely plan on refraining from. I have gained back the 5-7 pounds that I lost when going on my vegan diet, but I feel much stronger now. I lost a lot of muscle mass while on my vegan diet, almost all my muscle. I also never had the energy to do any physical activity, I use to love practicing Bikram yoga, going to the gym, and running, but the idea of working out made me feel weak. My muscles, or lack of, in my legs were tired from just walking up a flight of stairs. I felt depleted of my energy after any moderate activity. Since going back to a regular diet, I have been back at yoga, practicing 3-4 times a week. I feel fantastic. I feel strong, limber, energized, and like I actually have core muscles again. Do I miss being 5-7 pounds lighter?? Honestly….no. I missed my curves and being able to fit my clothes perfectly. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with a little extra cushion! 🙂

The reason why it has taken me so long to write this blog post, is because I was worried about how my supporters would react. I was viewing my decision to stop veganism as me being a failure. I did not want it to seem like I was giving up. I eventually came to terms with my decision and can now see what this whole journey was really about for me.

It was the first time I had ever taken my disease into my own hands. I never questioned my doctors and the drugs they would prescribe me. I never thought about alternative medicine or changing my lifestyle, I would just say “yes” to everything. Now I have a very open communication with all my doctors; they understand that I do not want to be on these medications and if there are alternatives to things, that I would rather go that route. They provide me with more detail and information on things I use to never think twice about, like how certain drugs may affect me in the future etc.

This journey has pushed me to open up about my health. My family and friends know more about my health then I have ever shared in the last 9 years. I feel empowered that I was finally able to let my wall down and know that I am not weak for showing my vulnerable side.

I started a meditation practice 5 months ago and it is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. Looking at new things I can do for myself to de-stress internally was something I always said I was “too busy” to do. My daily meditation practice has really provided me with internal peace, calmness, and tranquility. Waking up every morning knowing the first thing I am going to do is meditate, focus my energy, and cultivate peace and happiness is something I cherish now and look forward to.

This whole journey has led me to my new calling and what I am pursuing in school now, naturopathy. I want to help people find that balance between Western and Eastern medicine, and that it doesn’t have to be black or white. That people with chronic diseases can have the best of both worlds, they just have to educate themselves and want to take control of their health. I want to help people realize that they can have a strong influence on their well being, and that when you feel that something is wrong, often times there are ways that you can contribute to your recovery. The easy thing to do is go see a doctor and get a prescription. The hard part is making lifestyle and diet changes and staying committed to them; the upside is that these changes will last a lifetime.

I am happy with the decision I have made to end my vegan diet, and I feel like such a winner after this whole experience. I live with no regrets, and this last year has been an incredibly remarkable and challenging journey. I have learned more about myself in this last year, than I have in the last 5 years combined. It is an experience I will always look back on and say, “Wow, I can’t believe I did that.” I have taken so much more from this experience than I had ever anticipated, and I am grateful for everything I endured, because it has brought me to where I am now, feeling refocused, peaceful, and enlightened.

I will continue to write about my life with Lupus, although I am unsure as to when I will be experimenting with natural medicine again. All I can promise you is that I promise to continuing sharing real, raw stories and experiences that I think someone out there, going through something similar may benefit from hearing.

Much love,

Chauf

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Trader Joe’s Vegan Must Haves!!

I did a big shopping trip down to Trader Joe’s a couple weekends ago, and have been dying to share my new favourite vegan staples! I HIGHLY recommend making the trip down to Trader Joe’s; the selection and price is unbeatable, and the quality of their products is unmatched.

1) Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy Mini Ice Cream Sandwiches: OMG. This is the best and closest thing I have gotten to ice cream since going vegan. I have to tell you now that they are extremely addictive..they are “mini” sandwiches, so expect to have 2…maybe 3 in a sitting. They taste like the real thing- I honestly could not taste the difference. I even gave one to my brother and he was hooked! I absolutely love them and cannot imagine my vegan diet without them now!

ice cream

2) Trader Joe’s Vegan Cream Cheese: Again, another huge winner! This cream cheese beats out the disgusting Daiya version of cream cheese any day. I love adding this cream cheese to my sandwiches, or just having it on crackers. It’s a creamy spread substitute that you can actually eat on it’s own, which is actually very hard to find.

cream cheese

3) Trader Joe’s Vegan Microwave Popcorn: I have not seen vegan-friendly microwave popcorn anywhere before! When I am craving popcorn, I tend to pop mine fresh and add Earth Balance vegan butter. Now, when I’m in a rush or feeling lazy I can have great light tasting popcorn in 90 seconds! The bags are the perfect size for one portion, and are not heavily “buttered” or salted.

popcorn

4) Trader Joe’s Bruschetta Sauce: Most bruschetta sauces are vegan-friendly, but I had to add this to my list because it is one of my absolute favourites. It has the perfect balance of garlic and basil to highlight the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. I have been adding it to my sandwiches, salads, or just on crackers. It is the perfect topping for anything!

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5) Trader Joe’s Vegan Marsala Burgers: I have never found a vegan burger with such an original blend of flavours. The indian spices really add another dimension to your typical bean and quinoa vegan patty. I love having the marsala burgers with a mango chutney, or just alongside a salad. They are super versatile and flavourful enough to have on its own.

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Progress Report #8

doctor-clipboard

 PROGRESS REPORT #8

 

 

  1. How many days of adopting a vegan diet have I accomplished?
    I am on my 170th day of eating vegan. I am at my 6 month mark now, and I am feeling great. I am still shocked I have not slipped off track one bit! 🙂

  2. How do I feel today?
    Today I feel well. Now that I am done with school for the holidays, I am able to catch up on sleep, my friends, life, and just reenergize. As well, I can really focus my energy and time on physiotherapy for an injury that happened from a car accident two months ago. I have been doing physio twice a week for the last month, so it really has been consuming all the free time I had for myself. Now that I am on break, I can breathe again 🙂
  3. How is my energy level?
    My energy level has been depleted the last few days. Finals ended on Saturday, and since then I have been sleeping a solid 10 hours each night. I know my body is trying to catch up on all the sleep I lost during the final weeks of the semester, so I am being patient and allowing myself as much rest as it needs.

  4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how prevalent are my Lupus symptoms? Joints? Skin? Fatigue? Kidneys?

    My rating: 2-3

    Joints: My joint pains and morning stiffness have been more noticeable with the cold weather. It is sometimes a challenge in the morning doing things with my hands, but by mid-morning I am good to go.

    Skin: The rashes on my scalp have been extremely noticeable the last few weeks, which I know is related to how much stress I have been under with school and work. I did bring this issue up to my Rheumatologist but he explained it was one of the side effects of the steroids I am taking.

    Fatigue: My fatigue levels have been really prevalent the last few days, but again I know it is because I barely slept last week during final exams. I am sure it will start to mellow out in a week or so. Kidneys: I am still experiencing swelling in my legs when I have a meal that has too much sodium. I talked to my Nephrologist about this problem, and she suggested I just watch what I eat. I explained I’m already on a vegan diet, so most of the food I have has very little salt. She also recommended another medication to help with the swelling, but I haven’t tried it yet. 

  5. Have I displayed any new symptoms? Good or bad.
    No new symptoms to report this week.

  6. How long have I been back on my steroids?
    It has been 82 days. My Nephrologist increased my kidney steroid dose a month ago, I am doing weekly blood work to monitor it and see if it interacts negatively with my liver, like it did the first time. I have a 24 hour urine collection due at the end of the month to see whether or not the protein levels in my urine have decreased with the higher dose. If it hasn’t, my Nephrologist wants to switch me to a new, stronger steroid. I am uneasy about this, because switching to new steroids is always problematic. You never know how your body will react, and if it will adjust slowly or quickly.
  7. Have I learned anything new to adopt in my natural approach?
    The last month I have been so consumed with school, work, and physio that I have not had the time to make all the vegan meals I love to cook. I have been opting for eating out and quick on-the-run food, because I have been so busy. I can’t wait for the holidays because I plan on experimenting a bit with traditional holiday dishes and veganizing them! I will definitely share them on my blog, once I have perfected the recipe.

 

The Tears That Will Never Dry Up

I have had Lupus since I was 14 years old, almost nine years now. It takes a lot for me to cry about my health or situation. I mean, I cried endlessly in the beginning when I was first diagnosed, but after that I vowed to never feel sorry for myself, or to cry again. These moments are few and far in between that I can remember the specific moments; when I was diagnosed, when I was hospitalized for flare ups in the early years of my disease, when I diagnosed with Nephritis, and more recently while I was on the natural medicine and off my steroids. In the nine years and with all that I have been through with my Lupus, that was the first time I had cried from the physical pains of my disease, that was when I knew I had to stop the natural medicine and get back on my steroids. Now the reason why I am sharing this is because I had an experience today that really shook me emotionally, and brought me back to feeling vulnerable, as if I was just being told about my Lupus for the first time.

Today I had my six month check up with my Rheumatologist. I had lots of new things to discuss with him, because he wanted to know about my experience with the natural medicine and where my health is now. After I explained how the last 4-6 months have been, he is happy I am back on my steroids. He asked me how I am doing and if I had anything I was concerned about. I mentioned to him I have been having extreme difficulty with my sleep pattern and fatigue levels, and that I was recently involved in a car accident, and am unsure if it is Lupus related or injury related from the accident. One week, it took me 2-3 hours to fall asleep; I would be tossing and turning for hours so frustrated and beyond exhausted. Now this week my fatigue has really kicked in and my sleeping regime is the complete opposite. I have been going to bed around 6pm-7pm, and sleeping for 12-13 hours every other night. I have had to miss work too, because I just don’t have the physical and mental energy to go to work. He reviewed the lab work that I have done since going vegan and revealed that my hemoglobin levels have gone down, and that my diet change may be a contributing factor to my fatigue. I am at a count of 100 for my hemoglobin, when the normal range is 120-150. He did make an effort to tell me that a low hemoglobin count could be due to diet or lupus related, so I will be doing iron deficiency testing with my next month’s lab work. We then reviewed my urine collections and the amount of protein in it; my Neurologist and Rheumatologist are frustrated that I have been on my kidney medication, which is a very strong steroid,  for a year now, and it still has not stopped my protein loss completely. The plan is to now increase this steroid again, and if it reacts negatively with my liver, like it did the first time, we would try a new stronger steroid. Like I mentioned in my first post, treatment is a constant battles of drugs, at varying doses, seeing if there are any negative side effects, and then changing them if there are. I left the appointment feeling very meh about everything. I know ‘meh’ is not a real word, but I don’t know how else to explain how I felt. I just felt so helpless and careless at the same time.

Now I was out for lunch with my mom when I decided to go see her pharmacist to get my medications refilled. I usually go to London Drugs, but the lineup is always so gosh darn long. Plus my mom’s pharmacist is Vietnamese, so it’s nice that he can explain things to her more effectively than I can when it comes to my Lupus. So we walk in and she hands him my prescription, and he says to my mom “oh wow you are starting all these medications at this age??” And she goes, “oh no, this is for my daughter.”

The way he looked at me said it all. It was a look I was so used to getting. I hated that look. It was the look of sadness and pity.

After a brief pause he says “oh wow. I’m so sorry for you. The types and amount of steroids you are on are extremely harsh, it must be very serious.” I looked at him and said “I have Lupus.” He then asks “what have they said about your future?” To be honest, I was speechless. I have never had anyone ask me that question before. I replied, “I mean I just keep taking new drugs and more of them as new problems arise.” He replied, “and has it been getting worse since you have been diagnosed?”, and I said “yes it has.” His last remark was: “well I can only pray it gets better for you with these steroids, otherwise you are looking at more severe treatments like steroid IV injections, or chemotherapy.” At that moment my heart sank completely. I don’t know why. I mean, this wasn’t news to me. The possibility of more severe treatments is something I have always been aware of, but for some reason today it really hit home. I guess, because I have had Lupus for so long now, I sometimes even forget I have a disease. It is when I have experiences with people who find out for the first time, that it brings me back to that day I was fourteen, and alone in the hospital where I was told I had Lupus.

Today has been a complete emotional roller coaster. I had intended on writing a vegan recipe to share with you all, but I couldn’t produce that blog piece with so much weighing on my mind. I realized this was the reason why I made the blog, to share my experience with people, however raw and emotional it may be at times. One thing I know my family and friends can attest to is that I always try to be as positive and optimistic about my health as possible. Talking to the pharmacist today really just put things into perspective for me. Today he just reminded me about the truth-that I am only twenty-three years old and on some of the harshest steroids out there, and that I am suffering from kidney dysfunction. It makes me wonder, what will my health look like in five-ten years? Experiences like this one are just a reminder that Lupus is something I have to struggle with for the rest of my life. Most days I am strong and occasionally think about my health, nothing beyond my regular pains or taking my medications. Some days I am an emotional wreck, feeling discouraged and hopeless. Today is one of those days, and I thought it would be valuable for people to see that I don’t always have a brave face on. Even after all these years, certain experiences can bring me back to the day that changed my life forever.

Progress Report #7

 

doctor-clipboard PROGRESS REPORT #7

 

 

 

  1. How many days of adopting a vegan diet have I accomplished?
    I am on my 136th day of eating vegan! It honestly feels like it has been longer than four months since I have had any meat. To this day I still have not slipped at all, yippee!!
  2. How do I feel today?
    Today I feel okay. I was involved in a car accident a few weeks ago, so I have been experiencing a lot of stiffness and pain in my back ever since. I  noticed I was getting more stiffness in my joints, specifically in my hands, since the accident. It probably is stress-induced.
  3. How is my energy level?
    My energy level is not great today. I slept for nine hours last night, yet I feel like I could use two whole days to sleep. I have been back at the gym for a few weeks now, which is super exciting. I took a long break from working out and doing any physical activity, because I was in so much pain from being off my steroids. Now that I am physically able to workout, I just have to find time between full-time school, and work. I am hoping that a regular workout regimen will help get my energy level up.
  4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how prevalent are my Lupus symptoms? Joints? Skin? Fatigue? Kidneys?
    My rating: 2-3Joints: My joint pains and morning stiffness have been more prevalent since the car accident, which I am sure is due to stress. I am happy though that I am able to go about my regular routine everyday without any assistance.

    Skin: Since being back on my steroids, the rashes on my scalp have returned. How bizarre! It is something I will bring to the attention of my Rheumatologist when I see him next week. 

    Fatigue: My fatigue levels have been all over the place this week. Most days I am feeling like I need at least another 3-4 hours of sleep. Some days I have had to cancel my plans or errands and take a midday rest to get energy for the evening. 

    Kidneys: The swelling that I get in my legs are back to being very prevalent. It is extremely sensitive to my diet, specifically my sodium intake. It is quite odd that when I was off my steroids I rarely ever got any swelling in my legs from my diet. Now that I am back on my steroids, I am experiencing it more frequently, yet I am still on the same diet. This is something I will definitely mention to my Neurologist when I see her in two weeks. 

  5. Have I displayed any new symptoms? Good or bad.
    No new symptoms to report this week.
  6. How long have I been back on my steroids?
    It has been 49 days and  I am back on my regular dose of steroids now. I am relieved that I am feeling well enough to get back to my usual dose.
  7. Have I learned anything new to adopt in my natural approach?
    I recently started an at home meditation practice. It has been a wonderfully empowering experience. Being that I have a Type-A personality,  I am constantly on-the-go, multitasking, and planning my daily and weekly schedule; it is extremely challenging for me to shut my brain off. I have learned to exercise my mental strength and tune everything out, which is something that doesn’t happen easily for me. I am trying to meditate once a day for 15-20 minutes, either right when I wake up or right before I go to bed. I have found it to be incredibly calming, centering, and relieving. I think that it will really help me alleviate stress from school, work, and life, which will hopefully in turn help my Lupus. 

 

No -Bake Vegan Protein Bites

These vegan protein bites are amazing replacements for your store bought granola bars. You would be incredibly surprised to find out how much sugar and sodium one of those granola bars contains! I absolutely love these protein bites; even if you’re not vegan, they are a great healthy on-the-go snack. I have them as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, or as a post-workout snack. They pack a lot of protein and fibre per bite, so they can definitely tie you over in between meals. And because I am a tad bit more generous with the chocolate chips, I find that they help curb my cravings for other unhealthier sugary snacks. This recipe makes roughly 8-10 bites, depending on how big you make the balls. I scaled down my recipe, so that you could test it out and see if you like the flavour of my protein bites. If you do, you can then multiply everything by two to make 16-20 bites, that’s the normal amount I make every time I make this recipe. They can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer for up to two weeks.


Ingredients:

1/3 cup roughly chopped unsalted, raw almonds

1/4 unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup of quick rolled oats

1/2 cup ground flax seeds (I bought mine in the bulk aisle and noticed they are the same price as the whole flax seeds, so why not get them already ground up to save you the work!)

1/3 cup of vegan chocolate chips ( I prefer the mini chips, I find they bind better in the mixture.)

1 tsp. of pure vanilla extract

1 tsp. of cinnamon

1 generous tbsp. of raw peanut butter ( I would prefer to use almond butter or cashew butter, but this was what I had on hand.)

2 generous tbsp. of coconut oil

1 tbsp of water (this amount may vary)


Directions:

  1. Mix all your dry ingredients together ( almonds, shredded coconut, rolled oats, and ground flax seeds).20141021_205431
  2. Combine all the ingredients well.
  3. Add vanilla extract, cinnamon, peanut butter, and coconut oil.20141021_205501
  4. Use your hands to mix the ingredients (the temperature of your hands will help the coconut oil melt and blend into the mixture much better than a spoon would).
  5. Combine the ingredients until it is all thoroughly distributed and just holding together.
  6. Add 1 tbsp. of water to start – continue mixing with hands.
  7. The mixture should hold together, but not be sticky. If it isn’t holding together add another tbsp. of water, if it is too sticky add more rolled oats.20141021_211201
  8. Once you reach the right consistency you can start forming your balls!
  9. You can pick the size of your balls, just make sure when forming them to really apply some pressure to ensure they keep their shape.
  10. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.

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Progress Report #6

The last blog that I posted, I wrote it with the intention of it being my last. With me being unable to continue my journey on natural medicine I figured it made sense to stop my blog, because that was the whole purpose of it- sharing the experience of treating my Lupus naturally. I was overwhelmed with friends and strangers reaching out and encouraging me to continue sharing my story, regardless of the absence of natural medicine. People still want to hear about my journey with veganism and what it is like living with Lupus. I was incredibly touched that so many people had a genuine interest in my story. It just made me realize how something like a chronic disease could bring people from all walks of life together for a greater cause. It is truly inspiring. So for that reason I decided to continue my blog. I want to thank everyone for opening up  their minds and hearts to me. It is an indescribable feeling; to know that I am lucky enough to be in a position where I could possibly help, inspire, or move someone. That is something I will forever be grateful for.


 

doctor-clipboard PROGRESS REPORT #6

 

 

 

  1. How many days of adopting a vegan diet have I accomplished?
    I am on my 115th day of eating vegan, that’s almost four months! I can’t believe I have not slipped or caved into my old meat-eating ways!
  2. How do I feel today?
    Today I feel great. I feel like myself again, as strange as that sounds. The last couple months with the amount of pain I was experiencing, it really got me down and feeling helpless. I would wake up with no desire to do anything, because of the debilitating pain throughout my body. I have always been one to wake up and be excited to conquer my day – I’m happy to say that I am back at that place!
  3. How is my energy level?
    My energy level has been lower than normal the last few days. Some days I feel like I could sleep all day and never leave my bed. I’m unsure if it is solely from my Lupus, or maybe from the change in seasons as well.

  4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how prevalent are my Lupus symptoms? Joints? Skin? Fatigue? Kidneys?My rating: 2-3

    Joints: My joint pains and morning stiffness have improved immensely. I can do everything myself again, like brushing my teeth and tying my hair. It is a great feeling to regain my independence. I still have pains in the morning, but I honestly cannot complain when I compare it to the pain I was experiencing the last couple months.

    Skin: I have noticed a couple minor rashes on my scalp in the last week or so. It is quite odd, because while I was on the natural medicine I don’t recall ever getting a single rash. Now that I am back on my meds I am seeing a few. 

    Fatigue: My fatigue levels have been a bit erratic this week. Some days I wake up feeling like I haven’t slept in days and could go back to sleep for days. I am sure it is my Lupus and my body adjusting to my meds. One of the side effects of my steroids is that it can cause fatigue, and it is something I have been struggling with for a while now. 

    Kidneys: I have not been experiencing any abnormal swelling in my legs from sitting for an hour or more, which I am very happy about. I can now focus during my lectures at school without experiencing tightness in my legs and ankles. I will be doing another 24-hour urine collection test in a month to see where my protein levels are, and if it has decreased at all since starting my kidney medication again. 

  5. Have I displayed any new symptoms? Good or bad.
    Seeing some minor rashes appear on my scalp took me by surprise. I have not had a rash since I went vegan, so it is quite puzzling that once I started my steroids, they reappeared. It is something I will mention to my Rheumatologist (Lupus Doctor).
  6. How long have I been back on my steroids?
    It has been 28 days. I am currently on a higher dose of my steroids, because my Lupus was flaring and my pains were excruciating. It is just for the time being until my body adjusts to being back on meds. Once that happens, I can then talk to my Rheumatologist about decreasing them.

  7. Have I learned anything new to adopt in my natural approach?
    I have started experimenting more with cooking vegan dishes. It really curbs any cravings I may have for dairy, fish, etc. when I recreate one of my favourite meals, with a vegan twist of course! This way I don’t feel so deprived and limited in my food options. Recently I made a vegan fried rice and a vegan spicy lemongrass pho with mushrooms and tofu. I will share some of my recipes in future blogs!