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4 Important Life Skills I Learned from Being a Vegan

Passionately Kere

A week ago I celebrated the four years anniversary of becoming a vegan. Four years! Four very humbling, challenging, eye-opening, thrilling, wonderful years. I’ve learned so much from this journey that I thought the best way to celebrate my anniversary might be by sharing some of the skills I’ve learnt from my four-years (and counting) vegan journey.

Passionately Keren

To be honest, transitioning to a vegan lifestyle wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as difficult as what most people think either. I love exploring new ways of cooking and veganising old favourites, and I love feeling healthier and more fulfilled, and knowing that I’m doing something good, not just for my body, but for the animals and the environment.

My goal with this post is not to convince you to go vegan (although if you do decide to pursue that path, I’ll be jumping up in joy!). My goal simply is to share with you some of the valuable life skills I’ve learned from the last four years. Skills that you too can acquire, should you so choose.

I have to say that I feel a little uncomfortable sharing this post because deep down, I don’t feel like I’m a good enough vegan – I still own and wear a lot of my leather accessories from my pre-vegan days, I still make mistake and let egg and dairy slip into my meals sometimes, and I still have immense abhorrence towards cockroaches. I mean, I bomb them every three months and I don’t think that’s a very vegan thing to do.

But we can only do our best right? And I believe that I am doing my best at this time. I also believe that it is better to do something, however imperfect it might be, than doing nothing at all. And so here I am doing something, and it has served me well. This post itself is a testimony to all the life skills I’ve acquired, in particular Life Skill # 2, # 3 and perhaps a bit of #4.

Here they are.

Life Skill #1 – Empathy

What is Empathy? Merriam Webster defines it as “understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another … [being] without having [those] feelings … fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”.

Empathy is at the core of a vegan lifestyle. Once we’ve learned about the cruelty involved in factory farming, or the harmful impact meat consumption has on the environment, we stop consuming animals. We now understand what these animals have to go through in order for us to enjoy our burgers and steaks. Even though we don’t know them by name, even though they can’t express their pain the way we do, we still can feel their pain.

Vegans are not only empathetic towards animals; we’re empathetic towards humans, too. And this is not just my words. One study reveals, through brain scans, that vegans and vegetarians are indeed more empathetic to human and animal suffering than omnivores.

Empathy is one of the most important life skills you can have as a social creature. It allows you to connect better with people, understand them more fully, and deal with them more effectively. Empathy facilitates greater communication and helps you understand what drives people, what motivates them, what makes them tick.

Empathy helps you become more compelling, more convincing, and more encouraging. It makes you a better leader, a better employee, a better colleague, a better friend, a better partner, a better daughter, a better son, and a better human being, overall. It’s a nice side effect to feeling great physically, don’t you say?

Life Skill #2 – Vulnerability

Being a vegan helps me become more vulnerable, which is not something that comes naturally to me. Growing up, I’ve always guarded myself against rejection, or the potential of being rejected, ridiculed or mocked.

I’ve always had a soft spot for animals. In fact, I first became a vegetarian when I was eight years old, after watching the movie Babe. It only lasted a few months as my mother convinced me that Babe was not real and that animals don’t feel the way we feel. And because I couldn’t resist her delicious spaghetti bolognaise.

Being vulnerable is about being authentic, honest and true to yourself: not just revealing the pretty and shiny part of yourself, but all of you. Putting all your feelings and hopes on the line. As a woman (and with Asian heritage) this can be extremely difficult, as we’ve always been taught that vulnerability is a weakness, not strength.

Truth is, there is nothing more vulnerable than announcing to the world – to your non-vegan friends and loved ones – that you will change the way you eat, that you will no longer eat meat, chickens, fish, cheese, eggs, dairy, the kind of foods that you used to enjoy together, that you value the lives of the animals more than you value sharing those plates with them, that some of your principles no longer align with theirs, that you are now… a vegan.

It was one of the very few times where I was vulnerable by choice, and willingly opened myself up to judgement, criticism, and rejection.

Being a vegan has been a gateway for me to practice vulnerability, at every function, at every social gathering, every time I make new friends, or when I enter a new work environment. Practice, practice, practice. It’s not always easy, but it does get easier each time. And I’m all the better for it.

Passionately Keren

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Brene Brown.

Skill #3 – Courage

Courage is not the absence of fear, rather, it is the ability to do something despite of that fear.

Stereotypically, courage is often represented as stoicism and a projection of invulnerability. But this is not true courage. True courage is opening yourself up to vulnerability, recognising the fear, embracing it, and saying, “this feels scary, but I’m going to do it, anyway.”

“You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” Brene Brown

The last four years as a vegan have strengthened my tiny courage muscles in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined.

It took courage to ask the receptionist at work to fill the office fridge with dairy-free milk.

It took courage to ask for a customised meal at the restaurant for the first time.

It took courage to refuse food that my mum made for me, food that I used to love.

It took courage to announce my new lifestyle to my meat lover friends, which was pretty much everyone I knew.

It took courage to say no to cruelty, and yes to compassion and kindness.

And these tiny acts of bravery has helped me with other big decisions I’ve made in my life; like shutting down my four year food blog to start a vegan food blog from scratch; like asking for a pay rise at work; like quitting my cushy corporate job to spend time with my family overseas; and like starting my own business.

Who knew one could practice courage by simply changing what they eat?

“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Skill #4. Not giving a damn

Previously a chronic people-pleaser, being a vegan fixed me right up.

I used to buy ‘things’ to fit in, talk in a certain way, do things I didn’t like, and say things I didn’t really mean simply to try and make people like me.

I used to feel upset when way people looked at me a certain way (or if they didn’t look at me in the first place), if they didn’t ask me about my weekend, compliment my new dress, or ask me to join them for lunch. I used to care about all that stuff.

And then I became a vegan and I stopped giving a damn.

Passionately Keren

How? Why?

I believe it is because I no longer felt part of the existing social construct so I stopped feeling the need to impress people who still abided by that construct (i.e. almost everyone I knew). Instead, I started focusing on how I could be a more effective human, in my own right, and how to get the most out of this one life that I’ve been given.

And the last four years have taught me that the only thing you can control is yourself, what you do, how you think, who you choose to see. The rest is out of your hands, so why waste your energy worrying about it?

Does it really matter if people think I’m a bleeding-heart weirdo, if I don’t get invited to certain dinner parties because I’m a vegan, if people criticise me for still wearing my old leather shoes and bags after all this time, or if nobody like my photos on Instagram?

The truth is, there are so many more important things in life than all the superficial details and trivialities we all cling onto – our vain feelings, our pride, our ego.

It’s not that I don’t give a damn about everything, it’s that I’m picking my spots and only give a damn about things that truly matter, the big things, the important things. Health. Family. Friends. Loved Ones. Values. Purpose. Pancakes.

The less damn I give, the happier I become.

Passionately Keren

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. If you’re a vegan, let me know what other life skills you have gained from this lifestyle in the comment section below. And if you’re not, what skills do you think you would gain, if you choose to experiment with this lifestyle?

Keren x

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15 Things You Can Do to Boost Your Mental Health

“They called me mad, and I called them mad, and damn them, they outvoted me.”
― Nathaniel Lee

To celebrate Mental Health awareness week in Australia, and the National Mental Health day on Tuesday 10th October, I thought I’d share with you some fun ways you can boost your mental health. But first, let’s clear up some confusion, shall we? What is Mental Health?

What Mental Health is NOT

The term mental health is often misunderstood. I too have been guilty of misrepresenting it. For a long time, when people talk about mental health, I think about a particular mental health condition, such as paranoia schizophrenia as depicted in the movie A Beautiful Mind, which by the way, is a very good movie; or clinical depression, which is another common (if misunderstood) condition.

But mental health is not about mental condition or illnesses or the absence of these conditions.

What is Mental Health?

According to the World Health Organization, mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

So it is the combination of our emotional and psychological well-being. It affects how we feel, how we think and how we function in the society.

It is more about wellness rather than being about illness.

I like this explanation from Beyond Blue:

“…it’s important to remember that mental health is complex. The fact that someone is not experiencing a mental health condition doesn’t necessarily mean their mental health is flourishing. Likewise, it’s possible to be diagnosed with a mental health condition while feeling well in many aspects of life. Ultimately, mental health is about being cognitively, emotionally and socially healthy – the way we think, feel and develop relationships – and not merely the absence of a mental health condition.”

Why we need to look after our mental health

When we look the true definition of mental health, it is clear that keeping in good mental health is vital in order to function at your utmost in life.

It can be very easy to dismiss the idea of maintaining a good mental state if you haven’t had to go through difficult times. If you have had some hard knocks or you’ve experienced traumatic events, then you’ll know how important this can be.

Think of mental health like your physical health, but for the mind. And just like your physical health, if you want to improve your mental fitness, you have to do the work!

And that brings us here, to a list of things you can do to boost your mental health. If you can make time to go to the gym, then you sure can make time for some of these activities, especially since they’re all fun!

15 Things You Can Do to Boost Your Mental Health

  1. Watch a feel-good movie
  2. Take that class that you’ve always wanted to take, just for fun (such as an art drawing class)
  3. Paint, draw, write or do something creative
  4. Eat something you absolutely love
  5. Spend some time outside in nature or visit a museum or a gallery
  6. Pat a pet, or your friend’s pet, or a stranger’s dog at the park
  7. Do something fun or silly that makes you happy
  8. Spend time with close friends and other people who lift you up
  9. Enjoy a long bath or shower
  10. Wear something that makes you feel and look great (the two go hand in hand, by the way- if you look good, you’ll feel good as well)
  11. Do a mini spring clean and find things to donate to the less fortunate
  12. Learn yoga and mindfulness practice
  13. Read your favourite book
  14. Exercise (think of fun exercises like rock climbing, dancing, martial arts, pole dancing?)
  15. Play – whatever that might look like to you

If the list above sounds unexpectedly simple, that’s because it is. Self-care, social interaction, and play are all simple but oh-so-vital to maintaining your good mental health.

Please note that if you are non-neurotypical, or suffering from a debilitating mental illness, or simply feel overwhelmed by the above list and the potential of not being able to achieve many of the activities. Don’t stress. These are just suggestions. Just try to pick one of the activity if you have the energy and don’t feel defeated if you can’t. You might even have other things you love to do that is not on this list.

On that note, what are your favourite things to do for mental health? Do share them in the comment section below.

Keren x

If you need any mental health advice or support in Australia, visit Beyond Blue – they have a great library of resources on their website and a good support network.

Disclaimer: The content provided in this post is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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5 Tips On How To Get Rid Of Food Guilt

Guilt: A cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation. (source:  Wikipedia)

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I used to feel guilty after eating… Maybe not all the time, but a lot of the time

I would feel guilty after eating some chips at a party or some ice-cream after dinner. At one point I even started to feel guilty after eating bread!

It’s a tricky situation because on one hand I knew that I shouldn’t be so harsh on myself. Afterall, I eat fairly well most of the time and I exercise regularly too. But on the other hand I just couldn’t help myself.

So I decided to do something about it.

How t

I mean, as I food blogger I’m continually surrounded by food. I cook them, shoot them, photograph them, talk about them, and eat them. It’s what I love to do.

So I want to, I need to, stop beating myself up everytime I eat something more that a salad or a smoothie. I need to be at peace with myself and with the food I’m eating, whatever it might be.

Though it’s still an ongoing journey for me, I can gladly say that I’ve made huge progress. No more self-loathing and shame after eating, well, most of the time anyway. Occasionally shame creeps in, but I can quickly recognise it’s face and kick it out the door. What’s interesting is that, since I made a conscious effort to stop feeling guilty after eating, I’ve eaten less bad food as a result. Go figure.

So I thought I should share some of the lessons I’ve learned from overcoming this ‘food guilt’. If you have guilt and shame issue in relation to food (or you know someone who does), this post might be helpful to you. You too can free yourself of shame and self-loathe after eating anything. No complicated formula, just a few simple tips and tricks.

But first, let’s dig down to the root of the problem.

Why do people feel guilty after eating?

I think it all boils down to these two things:

  1. They don’t feel like they deserve or have earned the meal
  2. They ate something they themselves or the society, generally, label as ‘bad’

When you eat something that you haven’t ‘earned’ or think as ‘bad’ food, you feel like you have rebelled against your better judgement and it triggers that feeling of guilt.

On top of that, our parents, TV, and magazines are all telling that we need to ‘watch what we eat’, ‘not eat too much or we’ll get fat’, and we should be ‘good’.

And we know than when they say ‘good’. They don’t just mean being healthy, but also being ‘slim’.

No wonder so many women around the world have food guilt issues!

But here’s the truth. And it is also the reason why I no longer feel guilty after eating, be it a bowl of ice-cream at 11pm or a warm choc chip hot cross bun slathered thickly with vegan butter…hmmm.

The truth is that: Your health is not defined by just one meal. It is defined by everything else you do. Like getting enough sleep for example, or exercising, or if you’re me, spending an hour every Sunday making green smoothies for the week ahead.

Sure there’s always something ‘better’ or ‘healthier’ to eat. But if you’ve already plan on having pizza night with your friends, then you may as well enjoy it. Tomorrow is a new day. The next meal is a new day.

That said, I believe that it also important to know the difference between feeling guilty to feeling ill, bloated or any other adverse physiological reactions your body have on a particular food, in which case you need to stop eating the food in question and consult your doctor!

As for the psychology part, here’s my tips for getting rid of your food guilt. They work for me so they may work for you too.

1. Earn your meal

If you don’t want to feel guilty after a meal, then you need to work for it. Make it a reward for a task, be it exercise, assignment or any task you wish to complete. It’s very simple and yet so effective. Just think of a celebratory lunch or dinner you had after completing an exam or a gruelling project. Did you feel bad after that event? Probably not.

I remember a couple of weeks ago I earned my weekend lunch (a burger and chips) by walking down to the beach (at least twenty minutes’ hustle) to get it, and then walking back uphill after. It felt good. It felt like I’ve earned my lunch and then some.

I also think that all that walking made food taste so much better. You know what they say, the greater the effort the sweeter the reward.

Try it. Next time you want to eat something indulgent, try to earn it and feel the difference.

2. Make it healthier

Most of the time you feel guilty when you’re eating junk food. So why not make it healthier so you can feel better about it?

And you don’t even have to make a massive change. It can be as small as reducing the portion size or making some minor adjustment to the meal.

Take a burger, for example. There’s no reason why you can’t make a burger healthier while still retaining the delicious taste: perhaps swap the burger patties with mushroom, or skip the burger bun, or ditch the dairy and replace it with hummus or avocado instead, or maybe you can simply ask for extra salad.

These changes, although small, can significantly reduce the guilt feeling you have after the meal.

3. Believe in yourself

In other words, follow your own intuition.

Would you believe if I say that when you allow yourself to can eat whatever you feel like, whenever you feel like it, you’ll end up wanting a variety of food, not just the bad stuff?

No? You don’t think you can be trusted? Then answer this question: “What do you normally have for breakfast”?

You know that you can have chocolate cake for breakfast everyday right? No one is preventing you.

The fact that most of us don’t eat chocolate cake everyday proofs that our intuition is working and that we all have the ability to listen to what our bodies needs. We just need to take those intuitions with us and pay more attention to it. Everything we crave is exactly what our bodies need, including that occasional chocolate bar.

4. See food differently

Food can mean so many things to people. But when it comes down to the basic definition of food, it just means sustenance. All the things we eat, we eat them to stay alive.

Though some food may give us more pleasure than basic survival needs, they all have the same purpose, to keep us moving. Just like the air we breathe and the water we drink.

When you see food in this way, you realise that there is no need to feel guilty over an indulgent meal. The energy has been transferred from the food to your body, your body will metabolise it as best it can and prepare itself for the next meal.

Life goes on. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to to nourish your body again, and again.

5. Be grateful

Last and not least, just be grateful.

Instead than feeling guilty after having a delicious dessert, be grateful for what you have – food.

Yes it is a cliché, but it is so for a reason. A lot of people can’t afford food let alone worry about calories, sugar, fat, grains, non-organic ingredients, whatever. Be grateful that you’re here now, able to eat and enjoy food. You’re still alive. Calories can be burned but you can’t re-live your life. So enjoy it.

And if you’re finding it hard to keep a positive mindset, then maybe learning about the Nocebo effect can change your mind.

Have you heard of Nocebo effect? It is essentially the opposite of Placebos. Placebos induce a positive, beneficial effect, Nocebos induce an adverse effect. And it’s all psychological! Cue the song Zombie here… ‘in your head….in your head… zombie.. zombie…zombie..’

So watch those thoughts. Don’t add unnecessary nocebo effects to your bodies. Better yet, embrace the placebo effect and believe that there’s nothing to worry about. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Because there is no shame in enjoying food.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. With my wedding only three weeks away, this also serves me as reminder as I prepare for the day, to not stress out every time I indulge and eat a cookie here and there.

If you have any food guilt story or tips you wish to share, leave it in the comment below, I’d love to hear from you.

xKeren