Guest blogger Luke Jones explores his battle with ill health, detailing how veganism finally allowed him to unlock his health potential - and his compassion.
During my first year at university, things were not going according to plan. The mouth ulcers I had experienced mildly throughout my childhood were back with a vengeance, making simple tasks like eating and talking pretty painful experiences.
Flare-ups were getting more frequent, and each time they reappeared, I became more frustrated. Partly because I was increasingly tired and inflamed, and partly because nobody could answer why I kept getting these problems.
Deep down, I knew the reasons why. Ultimately, it was because I was in a strange new environment, a long way from home, studying for a difficult degree that I wasn’t that interested in. I was also overtraining, sometimes three times a day, with a go hard or go home mentality. To top it off, my diet was rich in animal products and protein powders, turning my body into an acidic breeding ground for disease and inflammation.
In short, the illness was there because my body, mind and soul were completely stressed out.
But I was stubborn. For the best part of the next three years at university, I carried on like this: tired and run down, with a mouth full of ulcers, struggling to eat and talk, and feeling sorry for myself.
After a particularly bad flare up sometime during my third year, I revisited the hospital for blood tests. The results suggested that I may have Crohn's disease. Although I never received an official diagnosis, doctors were quick to present a cocktail of pills and potions.
That was a wakeup call. I didn't want to face a lifetime of medication without really knowing what was wrong. I was 21 years old, and still had dreams to compete as an athlete. It was time to stop playing the victim, take control of my life, and start making some changes.
The first one? Diet.
The Vegan Diet
I have been interested in nutrition since my teens, when I realised my food choices could affect my sports performance. That interest carried on throughout university, my diet evolving along with it. Sure, it was laden with meat and protein powders, which at the time I thought were healthy, but I also ate my fair share of fruits, veggies, legumes, whole-grains, nuts and seeds too.
Around the same time I received those blood test results, I read “Finding Ultra” by Rich Roll. Rich is a former fast food junkie and alcoholic, and the book documents his journey to becoming an ultra-endurance tri-athlete. The interesting thing? He fuels himself with a vegan diet.
That was it. I had the evidence that you could heal yourself and perform well as a vegan, so I made the jump. I disposed of the meat and dairy, and upped my intake of whole foods.
I would love to say the results were immediate, but although the ulcers became less frequent, and the inflammation gradually began to die down, I still had work to do. I realised that although diet was important, it was only a part of the big health picture. There were other areas that I needed to work on if I wanted to be truly healthy. So I started focussing on how to create other lasting, healthy habits.
I began meditating regularly, which helped me deal with mental stress. I reduced the intensity and volume of my training, and visited a chiropractor. I read about personal development, and set out on a journey of discovering myself and finding my place in the world.
That journey continues today, a few years on, and things are always improving. All the changes combined have made a marked difference, but at their core is the diet – eating a variety of whole, nutrient dense plants, whilst avoiding processed foods and animal products.
It’s been a gradual process, but I have come a long way. I now rarely get sick, and although mouth ulcers pop up occasionally, they’re nowhere near as severe as before. The inflammation has died down, and recent tests showed no signs of Crohn’s disease whatsoever. Also as an athlete, I feel that I can recover from workouts faster, and I’m less prone to injury. I also feel lighter, more efficient, and generally more energetic.
The Vegan Lifestyle – seeing the bigger picture
Although I was initially in it for selfish reasons, veganism opened my eyes to bigger issues, including the exploitation of animals. I became more compassionate, and learnt how the choices we make (particularly with our food) can affect the health of the planet and the other species we share our home with.
When university finished, I decided to carry on this health journey, and try to help as many others on the way. I created my website Health Room, where I explore and share ideas that I’m passionate about: plant-based nutrition, movement, mindfulness and sustainability. I had no idea how I was going to make it work, but I had a powerful reason why.
Since then, the website has flourished, I’ve written an eBook on plant-based nutrition, and opportunities have sprung up that I could never have predicted. And this all stems from making that change in my diet.
I’m grateful for the health problems I experienced. Although it pales in comparison to problems some people are going through, it was the wakeup call that I needed. It led me to the vegan diet, which was the catalyst for the lifestyle changes I implemented, as well as my more compassionate mind-set. It’s the reason why I’m enjoying the life I’m living today.
You might be going through your own struggle right now. Maybe you’re facing health issues, or you feel stuck in a rut. I strongly urge you to start with the food on your plate. Gets that right, start eating for health and compassion, and everything else might just fall into place.
Luke Jones is a multi-sport athlete, plant-based blogger and wellness advocate. He runs the website Health Room, where he explores and shares ideas nutrition, movement, mindfulness and sustainability. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.