Welcome to the final diet roadtest!

After a year of trying a few weird and ‘wonderful’ diets, I thought I’d finish on a high with trialling the Mediterranean Diet for eight weeks. To recap, to date I’ve trialled:

  • a bodybuilder diet (remember the twice-a-day egg whites?)
  • the Keto diet (don’t even go there)
  • starvation (for charity!)
  • vegan

This time around, I’m hoping it will be more palatable and more sustainable that some of the others!

So what is the Mediterranean Diet?

The NHS in the UK sums it up nicely:

A Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy living habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Italy and Spain.

The Mediterranean diet varies by country and region, so it has a range of definitions. But in general, it’s high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.

The Mediterranean diet has been linked with good health, including a healthier heart.

Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos from La Trobe University in Melbourne is the ‘godmother’ of the Mediterranean Diet in Australia. Her team have studied and reported on its health benefits, and she’s even written a cook book based on her studies – which one of my PT clients happened to have and has leant to me for inspo! During her studies, subjects were asked to eat until they were full while following the diet, and still none of them gained weight. You could say that’s ‘food for thought’!

In this article from the ABC, Dr Itsiopoulos talks about the ’10 commandments’ of eating a Mediterranean diet, which are:

  1. Use extra virgin olive oil as the main added fat (aim for around 60 mls /day)
  2. Eat vegetables with every meal (include 100g leafy greens and 100g tomatoes, and 200g other vegetables/day)
  3. Include at least two legumes meals (250g serve) per week
  4. Eat at least two servings of fish (150-200g serves) per week and include oily fish: for example Atlantic and Australian salmon, blue-eye trevalla, blue mackerel, gemfish, canned sardines, and canned salmon. Canned tuna is not as high in the important fish oil omega-3, but still a good choice to include in your fish serves
  5. Eat smaller portions of meat (beef, lamb, pork and chicken) and less often (no more than once or twice a week)
  6. Eat fresh fruit every day and dried fruit and nuts as snacks or dessert
  7. Eat yoghurt every day (about 200g) and cheese in moderation (about 30 to 40 grams per day)
  8. Include wholegrain breads and cereals with meals (aim for 3-4 slices of bread per day)
  9. Consume wine in moderation (one standard drink a day, which is about 100 mls), always with meals and don’t get drunk. Try and have a couple of alcohol-free days a week
  10. Have sweets or sweet drinks for special occasions only


What I’m eating

I’m still working with my dietician, Ellena, to ensure my meal plan covers off my requirements for my goals (enough energy to train and build muscle while also shredding fat). In general, so far my days have looked like this:

  • Breakfast: The usual overnight oats with berries. (Although I think I’m going to switch that up with something super Mediterranean … )
  • Lunch: Roasted sweet potato and cherry tomatoes, with pan-fried mushies and capscium (with garlic, of course), broccoli, kale, a drizzle of olive oil, and tin of tuna.
  • Dinner: Vegetables (last night it was mushies, zucchini, and capsicum), with olive oil, served with oily fish, like salmon. If I’ve trained, I’ll also have carbs like sweet potato, brown rice, or pulse pasta.
  • Snacks: Fruit, zucchini slice, toast with natural peanut butter.

So I think there’s still a bit of work to make it ‘truly’ Mediterranean, but we’re on the right track!

Let’s see how we go!

PS. Did you see I’m allowed to have one standard glass of wine a day? 😀

Diet Roadtest #4: The results are in!

Diet Roadtest #4 – the Vegan edition – is now done and dusted, and I am not ashamed to say the haloumi and eggs I had for brunch on the weekend were potentially the greatest things that ever went in my mouth and graced my tastebuds.

At work today, one of colleagues even remarked how much happier I seemed … was I really that miserable for 7 weeks?!

So, let’s talk results!

Following a nutritionally balanced meal plan designed by my dietician, over the course of the roadtest I was able to reduce my total skinfolds by 10mm and, after an initial loss of muscle, I was able to gain a bit of muscle back and maintain it. Here’s the report:

Skin folds end of vegan

What does the dietician say?

Ellena has provided a few points on the potential downfalls of vegan diets that she considered when creating my meal plans:

  • “Overall diet inadequacy especially if meals are not prepped, needing to eat out lots or not having a clear idea of nutrients you need to target due to cutting out meat and animal products.”
  • “Iron deficiency (more so after 4 months) – symptoms can start gradually such as decreased energy levels and feeling fatigued especially surrounding exercise. Good idea to be tested for iron deficiency by your GP after going vegan, they will be able to tell you when is appropriate to be tested, flag with them the dietary change and how long you have been following for.”
  • “B12 deficiency – symptoms start gradually such as decreased energy levels, tingling, reduced sensitivity to pain etc. Onset of these symptoms depends on diet adequacy prior to going vegan (especially in adults) as the body can store several years worth of B12 in the liver.”

There’s also a few other things Ellen had to consider, like ensuring I was getting enough calcium and that it wasn’t competing with other nutrients for absorption. This is where it absolutely pays to have the help of a dietician!


What worked well?

Having a meal plan to follow definitely helped, rather than just trying to figure it out myself. In particular, ensuring I was getting enough protein – this is always a challenge for a vegan diet.

It also turned out that I simply wasn’t having enough protein anyway in my lunches each day, and I have upped my intake of vegetables significantly, which is always a good thing!

Being on a vegan diet also helped me to break my habit of raiding the lolly jar at work – given most of the lollies had animal products in them (eg, gelatin or milk solids), I simply couldn’t eat them so this was a nice side effect. The challenge now will be maintaining that!


What didn’t work well?

  • Trying to get a source of protein when out and about was difficult in some places. It’s not like the local RSL is going to offer tofu!
  • I replaced greek yoghurt with coconut yoghurt – it’s definitely not a like-for-like swap, and it cost twice as much.
  • Vegan protein powder sucks. There. I said it.
  • Having more vegetables is great, until it’s too many vegetables and fibre, and you deal with the consequences … every. single. day.
  • When eating out, good luck finding a vegan wine on the wine list. So if I did indulge in an alcoholic beverage while out, I’d go for a vodka/lime/soda.
  • Getting enough protein in general – it was really hard! I started taking creatine as well to help limit muscle loss.
  • For the first week particularly, I felt really lethargic. Then I stabilised a little, and then about week five began feeling really tired again, which is when I introduced the creatine.


What will I keep doing?

  • Right now, I’m still not keen on eating meat. Before this roadtest, I didn’t eat red meat or pork anyway. But now the thought of eating chicken or fish is not sitting well with my guts. I think I will need to ease my way back into it with a fairly bland fish to begin with and see where we go from there.
  • I will definitely keep eating the quantities of protein I’ve been eating – I simply wasn’t getting enough in my regular diet.
  • I will keep having almond milk for most of my beverages like tea and protein shakes. I’ve realised how sweet skim milk tastes in comparison!
  • Using creatine to help retain water and build muscle.


What won’t I keep doing?

  • Avoiding all animal products like the plague. I can absolutely understand if you’re vegan for ethical reasons (in fact, that’s why I didn’t eat red meat, pork, lamb, or veal before this challenge), and if I were doing it for those reasons I would stick to it of course. But personally I’m comfortable eating eggs if they’re free range, and I just really like cheese.
  • Using vegan protein powders – once I’ve used up my stock, I will be moving back to a whey protein powder. My guts just did not like the vegan protein powders – that stuff goes straight through me!


Would I recommend it?

Honestly, it comes down to your own ethical viewpoint and what you’re trying to achieve. Living a vegan lifestyle is absolutely do-able, but I strongly recommend you see a dietician to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need to have a healthy diet and reach your goals. If you’re going vegan because of your own personal values, then you will find it much easier to stick to than going vegan because you think it’ll be good for your health, simply because you’ll likely have a much stronger motivation to make it work.

You also need to be prepared to have the time to put into planning and prepping food, keeping in mind that there may not be many vegan-friendly options in your day-to-day life.

Personally, for me I think being vegetarian would be much more sustainable, particularly considering how much training I do and my own values.


So that’s the roadtest! One more to go this year … until then, I’m easing back into eating more dairy and eggs, and we’ll see if I can get to eating fish or chicken again. Thanks for coming along for the ride!


Where are my gains at?

It’s now nearing the end of week four of my vegan roadtest, and there have been a few ups and a few downs.

Here’s what’s down:

  • Lean muscle mass
  • Overall weight
  • Skin folds

I had my fortnightly consult with our affiliate dietician, Ellena, last week. And while my skin folds are down (yay!) and my weight is down, I have along the way lost lean muscle mass.

And there’s only so much more tofu I can stomach in a day.

So it’s time to add more supps! I’ll be taking doses of creatine to help me build and maintain muscle, in addition to using protein shakes. I’m fast realising that while there are plenty of vegan body builders out there, they must be using a LOT of supps to get to competition standard.

Here’s what’s up:

  • My appreciation for tempeh
  • My bowel movements
  • My intake of carbs and fats … unintentionally

I used to quite like having tofu in my lunch every day. But when you double the amount you eat in one sitting, and then also have it for dinner every night, one tends to lose ones appreciation for the thing.

So I ventured into tempeh and I have to say, I really quite like it! It has a different texture and nutty a taste, and in general I’e found it to be more satisfying.

…at least until I get sick of it too.

Here’s the other thing I’ve fast discovered about eating vegan – with so many more vegetables in my diet – and using vegan protein powder – my guts have never been ‘cleaner’! Too much info? Never – you deserve to know the truth! This is the people’s blog!

My other key takeaway from the past couple of weeks was the reaffirming that it’s REALLY difficult to find vegan protein options when you’re out and about. I was at a work event for three days offsite, and had to rely on the food provided by the venue (they had been pre-warned there were a few of us vegans floating around). While they were great at providing ‘healthy’ carbs and fats, proteins were pretty much non-existent. So for about 2.5 days I had very limited protein and so had to fill up on carbs when I had the chance. With my energy levels already sapped from working crazy long hours, this did not help at all.


And so the roadtest continues. I’ll be interested to see if, in the next two weeks, the addition of creatine to my diet makes a difference in my lean muscle mass. I’m also planning on having a blood test then to see if there have been an impacts on my iron levels. #science

Here’s a few pics of some of the meals I’ve had over the past couple of weeks. Trying to get as much variety in there as possible while still being time-poor … that in itself is a challenge to be dealt with another day!