Saigon. It's one of those emotive words that captures the imagination and conjures up mental images of faraway lands.
Renamed, Ho Chi Minh in 1976 after the revolutionary leader, it is still widely referred to as Saigon, which I think better captures the feel of this emotive city, known as 'The Pearl of the Far East'.
It has a heavy French influence, left behind from it's time under French rule from 1859 to 1955 and, forgive me if I stray from the facts here, but the feeling I got as we soaked up the atmosphere was that Ho Chi Minh feels like an untamed Paris.
That 'rough around the edges', crazy, chaotic, rebellious nature of Paris in the days of Picasso, Hemingway, Miller, the 'crazy years' (Années Folles) and the 'age of enlightenment'. It's streets paved with gold for the dreamers, the drifters, the writers and painters.
The area we stayed in was, in my opinion, much more interesting than the smarter areas in the city and it is this area which gave me my first impressions of Saigon as I mentioned at the start of this post. The centre of the city around the Notre Dame Cathedral (that's about as real as a 'French influence' can get!) is smarter, cleaner and overall nicer. But to capture the raw, real life feel of Ho Chi Minh city head to the streets around Bui Vien walking street. Here you will have your emotions accosted and your senses assaulted as you wander through the maze of alleyways, catching glimpses into people's living rooms (tv, chair, motorbikes), dodge the fish washing in the markets, weave around the ladies who appear to be burning fake US dollars on little street fires (I've yet to google that and try to find an explanation!), soak up the party atmosphere of street cafes whilst sitting on a tiny plastic chair, eat a banh mi chay (veggie baguette) from a street stand, have a bowl of Pho (noodle soup) and be amused and bemused by the array of random-ness that welcomes you to the streets of Saigon.
What can you expect from Plant Based and Positive in 2018? What are we working on? What are we doing and what are we planning?
Firstly, I've been writing an eBook. It is a collection of everything that helped and inspired me to go from where I was in 2013 to where I am now. Long story short, in 2013 I hit the wall with my mental and physical health. I had very bad anxiety, I was having panic attacks, my diet was increasingly unhealthy and I was not exercising in any way. As a result I was gaining weight and experiencing various physical ailments because of all the stress and tension I was holding in my body. As you can imagine, this downward spiral left me feeling depressed with very little energy and confidence.
Today I'm healthier, happier and fitter than I've ever been. This eBook outlines the tools I used to make this journey. I include everything from videos I watched and books I read to mindset changes and practical everyday tips and techniques.
I like to think of it as an 'Inspiration for Change' Toolkit. My reason for creating this collection is simply to put out there as many things as I can remember that helped me, in the hope that one or two of these things will help someone else out there to reach a more positive place in their life.
Secondly, we are moving on to Vietnam at the end of this month and we may be doing some bike touring up the coastline. This will be a new mental and physical challenge for me and as such I hope to document it as best I can through blogging, videos and social media.
Speaking of mental and physical challenges, I hope to continue taking on or embracing new mental challenges that come my way. Last year there was our London to Paris ride, this year so far there has been my aim of achieving a sub hour time on Doi Suthep, (the mountain in Chiang Mai). My current time is 1 hour, 2 minutes so we're nearly there! Next there may be bike touring in Vietnam and if we're back in the UK this summer I have some ideas of things I'd like to take on over there so we'll see what comes up.
The overall aim of Plant Based and Positive has always been to share my thoughts, my lifestyle tips and what I've learnt so that others that are struggling might find hope, help and inspiration to start taking steps towards a healthier, happier mind and body.
These are my thoughts right now, we're only in February, who knows what will have happened by December. In the short term, I'll keep you posted on my eBook, links to the website and social media are below. I'm going to try and be a little more consistent in uploading content on these so please follow along on whatever platforms suit you.
You can follow me here:
Strava: Sarah Vickers
Have you heard of Sanctus? An inspiring new company based in London who are on a mission to change the perception of mental health and encourage people to becoming mentally fit. They believe as I do that our mental health is the same as our physical health and we can do a lot to gain and maintain good health and fitness in both areas.
I mention them because this post is a padded out version of a reply I posted on their instagram a few months back and I believe in what they're doing and want to take the chance to give them a shout out.
So, onto the 5 simple tips on eating better for mental health. I could write lots of these but for now, here are five more!
1. Transition to a low fat, plant-based diet.
This was a game-changer for me! I started cutting down drastically on the amount of meat, fish, dairy and egg products I was eating and started increasing massively the amount vegetables, greens, fruit and whole foods in general. One of the key points is to keep it low in fat, oils and processed food. You can see more of what I eat by checking out my other blog posts and my instagram :)
Click here to read '5 Ways Going Vegan Helped My Mental Health'
2. Start the day with a fruit juice or a smoothie.
This was one of the first changes I made to my diet and I saw effects within a week or two. Starting my day with a big smoothie or fruit juice really sets me up right. Our brains run mainly off of glucose so getting enough sugar to the brain through whole foods is important for well functioning mental health.
Below is an excerpt from an article recently published which you can read here:
Sugar has benefits for your brain health, says Doctor
“Sugar is vital for your brain health - which is the biggest guzzler of the sweet stuff in your body,” Dr Drew Ramsay... He explains that our brains use up 400 calories of glucose every day, but that doesn’t mean scoffing two chocolate bars is going to give your brainpower a boost.
It’s all about where you get your sugar from. Fructose - the sugar found in many artificial, processed foods - isn’t much use to your body. But natural sugars - those found in honey, maple syrup and fruit, for example - can help boost your brain health.
About a year into my experimenting with a low fat, whole foods, plant based diet I purchased a juicer. Once again, another game-changer! I love making a green juice in the morning. It feels like I've just drunk a glass of vitality and kick started my day. Maybe you think green juice looks or tastes gross, I assure you it doesn't have to! You just have to put enough apples in to sweeten it up!
4. Drink enough water
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! I am terrible at this.. I never drink enough water. But I'm getting there. My tips for drinking more water would be firstly, to add something to it initially if you don't like the taste and then move onto pure water once you've got used to drinking more. Secondly, just keep a bottle next to you at all times and keep sipping from it – those sips WILL add up! Thirdly, do some exercise as this will get you wanting to drink water and it's also really good for your mental health so you'll have done two things to help your mind!
5. Eat Enough and Don't Go Too Long Without Food
Food is out fuel. It's quite simple. There have been studies done that show that when people don't eat enough, when they aren't getting enough calories, it affects their mental health. So eat well, eat the good whole foods and eat enough. Live a life of abundance not restriction.
A lot of us live lives which are unnaturally busy these days and unfortunately, sitting down to a meal falls further and further down our list of priorities. You don't have time to eat, you go longer without food then you're really starving and that's when you make the worst food choices. Not to mention, your brain goes into meltdown and you're not as ready or able to cope with whatever life throws at you!
It's definitely worth putting in a bit of time sometime in your week to do food prep, think through what meals you're likely to need during the week, do you take lunch to work with you? Will you need a quick meal in the evening between work and the next plan? Just a little bit of forethought can help you make better food decisions and result in you eating on time, eating healthier and eating enough to properly fuel your body and importantly, your brain.
Click here to read '5 Ways to Make Going Vegan Easier'
Click here to follow Plant Based and Positive on Instagram for meal ideas and inspiration
The NHS have a great 'health tool', the Couch to 5K, a running plan to get you from sitting on your couch to running a 5k distance. Don't be intimidated by the 'r' word, in my own experience this happens when walking becomes faster walking which becomes 'jorking' (a mix of jogging and walking) which in turn becomes consistently jogging and ultimately ends in what we think of as running!
I would suggest checking out where you local Parkrun is and combining that with your Couch to 5k. Parkrun is a free 5k run in parks around the country on Saturday mornings. They are for people of all ages and all abilities and from my experience, I can assure you that ALL ages and ALL abilities do indeed show up there! The very old and the very young, parents jogging whilst pushing a pushchair, people running with their dog on a lead and never fear, there are people walking along, doing the best they can and everyone is encouraged, cheered on and simply enjoying being there :)
"A year from now you will wish you had started today"
I'll just interject at this point and say that Parkrun is also good if you stuggle with social anxiety or get a bit nervous meeting other people and doing things in a group etc. It is very casual and there is nothing required of you, you can turn up walk, jog, run the route and leave without having to engage in conversation other than a smile or a thankyou to whomever scans your barcode. Your barcode is something you print off when you register on the Parkrun website that allows you to have your time recorded. You use the same barcode every time and can use it at any Parkrun.
So, why not give Couch to 5K a go, or just sign up for Parkrun and go for a walk/jork/jog/run every Saturday morning with a friend or by yourself? Ease into, take it safely and slowly and above all keep it enjoyable! Just the act of getting outdoors regularly will boost your positivity, blow away the cobwebs and start you on a journey to a healthier, happier you! :)
To check out the NHS Couch to 5K plan click here
To find your local Parkrun click here
Going Vegan has helped my mental health. Fact. The effects were almost immediate. Within the first 2-4 weeks I was seeing differences. I was hooked. I hadn't even gone Vegan yet, I'd simply made a few tweaks to my diet to direct myself in that direction.
For more on what I had started to do, regarding diet, in those early stages, click here.
So, here are the top 5 benefits I experienced mentally through eating a Whole foods Plant-Based diet:
Note: it's important to eat a 'clean' vegan diet as opposed to a junk-food one! For my thoughts on the difference, click here!
1. More Energy
This one is a game changer. Eating a Vegan diet gave me more energy and in turn my mind, my brain, now has enough good fuel to function properly. It's easier for me to think clearer, my mind feel like it's running on a full charge rather than struggling on the minimum. The increase in energy also gave me more motivation to move more and incorporate exercise into my life which leads to point number two..
2. Increased Fitness
Increased energy leads to increased fitness, in my experience and being more active, getting more exercise can positively impact your mental health. A few months after beginning my transition to a vegan diet I felt so full of energy that I decided to go for a jog, something I hadn't done in ages! I was amazed by how much better I felt, I wasn't getting out of breath like I once would have, my body seemed to move better, everything felt like it was well oiled and running smoothly. This short little jog added to my growing belief that my dietary changes were having a far reaching affect!
3. Better Sleep
I had never suffered massively with insomnia but I would get restless nights, find it very hard to go to sleep, not sleep deeply or have vivid upsetting dreams. Since I've been vegan this has really changed. I'm getting better sleep, less dreams (or at least, less upsetting or disturbing ones) and I'm waking up feeling like I have actually slept. This, of course, massively helps my mental health in the day that follows.
4. The Future Got Brighter
I had been thinking very negatively about the future but quite simply, as these changes started to take place I started to see that the future had a lot more possibilities in it than I had been thinking. Suddenly I was thinking that things which had previously seemed out of my reach or impossible were in fact, coming closer and all I had to do was continue on this pathway to health and who knows where it might lead!
5. Much better overall health
Although I started this journey to see if it would help my health mentally, I could never have imagined the wealth of positive effects going vegan has had on my life in every aspect. Physically, mentally and spiritually. Every avenue has been benefited, not a stone has been left unturned. It is as if I have built myself a new body and a new life. My mind, body and soul now feel lighter, happier and on top of their game. I now understand them, I work WITH my body, I listen to it, I help it to do it's job in the way that best suits it. The flow I have now with mind, body and spirit is beautiful.
If any of this inspires you, please do give a plant-based diet a chance, you could have much to gain and nothing to lose by just giving it a go :)
I didn't go Vegan overnight, it was a slow but sustainable transition. Here I share with you the first 3 changes I made towards going Vegan. My main motivation was my mental health and overall wellbeing so my only rule was 'no restrictions, no rules, no stress'. I would simply try to eat more plants and less animal products and take it slowly but surely.
For 5 Ways Going Vegan Helped My Mental Health, click here
After 2-4 weeks of these three changes I was already feeling positive effects:
I was aiming for a diet low in fat, high in whole foods. Check out my post '3 ways to be a healthy vegan'
1. Fruit Smoothie for Breakfast
The very first thing I started doing in my move toward Veganism was making a smoothie each morning. I bought a cheap blender and I would blend grapes and bananas with a little water (you can also use a plant based milk if you wish), sometimes I'd use other berries instead of the grapes. It would be a large smoothie, maybe a litre or so. Beginning my day with fruit, and plenty of it, has a very positive effect on my physical and mental health.
2. Changing the portion size of plants vs animal products
I did not go vegan overnight, it took almost a year before I was eating a predominantly vegan diet. My plan was to go slowly but sustainably into the dietary change so I focused on eating MORE plants and LESS animal products. I would include meat and dairy in my meals still but the portion size would be very small in comparison to the amount of plant based products on my plate. I would also fill up on the plant based foods before eating the animal products which would result in a lesser amount being consumed. Little tweaks like this led to a sustainable vegan lifestyle and the animal products moved out of my diet almost without me noticing.
3. Eating More
I started eating more. I encouraged myself to eat when I was hungry and until I was full. I had never been a calorie counter or dieter, always feeling that I didn't have the willpower for that! I realised that I needed to fuel my body with lots of good, wholesome nutrition for it to be able to operate to the best of its ability. Forget about getting fat or being fat for the moment, this was about helping my body do the work it needed to do. If I gained some pounds, so be it. As it turned out I lost a stone over the following year or so, simply as a side effect!
Bonus tips.. Hydrate! Drink plenty of water, aim for at least 2 litres a day. Move! Even if it's just walking, get some movement in every day if possible. Exercise is great for the body and the mind.
This was my personal experience, maybe it will be of some help to others out there. I do hope so :)
Although a vegan diet is always a good ethical and environmental choice, simply just eating vegan does not mean you will reap the health benefits, of which there are indeed many! Today I want to share my top three tips on how to be a healthy vegan :)
Quite simply, there is vegan junk food. There are a lot of processed vegan foods and while these aren't all bad, as with any processed or junk-y foods it's always healthier to keep them to a minimum in your diet. You should also try to keep your diet low in fat and, as much as possible, oil free.
So here's my 3 top tips on how I helped myself become a healthy vegan:
1. Build Meals Around Whole Foods
Try to build your meals around whole foods. It sounds difficult when you're first beginning, it definitely did to me because I wasn't at all into cooking!! But once I realised that a meal could be a smoothie, or some rice with a tin of sweetcorn and mixed beans, or beans on toast with some salad leaves or.. the list goes on! You don't have to get fancy about this. And sure, by the frozen stuff and the conveniently packaged stuff but just try to keep it as close to nature as you can! You'll find that it gets easier the longer you do it :)
2. Keep It Simple
I cannot emphasise this enough! You don't have to suddenly start creating magic in the kitchen or using foods you've never heard of. Jacket potato and beans is vegan, beans on toast as I mentioned above, is vegan. Some tins of soup are vegan. Toasted sandwiches can be vegan if you just choose the right stuff to put in them. Potato wedges with ketchup! Rice and a mixed veg stir fry. Pasta with a tin of mixed beans and some salad... Think about what you normally eat and eliminate the meat and dairy from it. Again, try as much as possible to keep it whole foods, low fat and as unprocessed as possible. But cut yourself some slack in the beginning ;)
3. Eat Plenty!
Seriously, make sure you eat enough good, clean food and get yourself a decent breakfast in the morning. This will keep the cravings away. Cravings, most often for junky or high fat food, is simple your body's cry for nutrition so make sure your body is being consistently fuelled with enough good, clean foods and it will keep the cravings away!
So there we go, hope my own experience with this has helped you.
Remember: Keep it real, keep it simple and above all, enjoy your food! :)
I wanted to challenge my limits, mentally. It was the mental challenge that had inspired me to do this. These were my limits at that point and I was pushing them. I reminded myself of all the things I had been through mentally before. I told myself that 'the body achieves what the mind believes' so get on with it!
It was a beautiful experience! I spent a lot of my time on the bike reflecting on how I had got to that point, realising how far I had come and of course, wondering if I would dry out before the next rainstorm!
I would growl to myself “why on EARTH are you doing this?!” and then chuckle as I responded with “Because of THESE moments, now come on, dig deep!”
Being out there on a long stretch of open road, seeing a thunderstorm rolling towards you. Realising you have to keep pedalling into the distance as far as you can see, doing so and getting drenched as the thunder rain rolls in. The mix of emotion right then is exhilaration. It made me high. My little legs were going round and round like crazy, fuelled by determination against the weather and excitement at feeling so incredibly alive in the moment!
On this ride I was acutely aware of the parallel with life, and for me, life is a mixture of good and bad, ups and downs, happy and sad, success and failure. We might not like it, we might try to avoid the bits we don't like but it's the embracing of all of this that makes us a deeper, better developed person.
I thought about my anxiety. For me, one of the best ways to overcome it was to stop running from the emotions, turn and feel them. Let them wash over you and realise that just as the waves wash over the sand, so the feelings wash over you. Life is bigger than what we feel. At risk of sounding weird, we are nothing, and yet we are everything.
As with my bike ride, I rode on. So with life, I move on. Through all the ups and downs, the Sun and rain. Just keep going.
You have not come this far to only come this far. Don't stop now. Life beckons to you, allow yourself to move through life like the river moves through the landscape. Breathe and keep going.
So, what's next? ;)
You can see more about my ride over on Youtube: Click here!
Four weeks until my London to Paris ride and I want to create a Wave of Positivity to highlight how important it is for our mental health to be consciously aware of what we are feeding our minds on.
Read on for how you can be part of our Wave of Positivity..
On September 12th I will be setting off from London to cycle to Paris. I'm doing this to raise awareness of mental health, following my own experiences with Anxiety and Panic Attacks, and most importantly, because I believe we are all capable of so much more than the limits we set for ourselves.
Everything it takes to do this cycle ride I did not have a couple of years ago. I didn't even have the idea of doing it until a few months ago, so far off my radar it was! Even the idea of me 'getting into' cycling was laughable. But somehow, here I am!
I believe that mental health is much the same as physical health and we can look after our mind like we look after our body. They say you are what you eat, I've learnt that you can also, be what you think.
Which brings me to my point.. What are you feeding your mind on?
Negative stuff happens. We don't need to seek that out and mostly, we can't avoid it BUT we can correct the balance by bringing in more positivity and taking care of our minds and emotions as best we know how. Focusing on the good, connecting with others who inspire and encourage us, feeding on the things that leave us feeling refreshed and motivated, this really does help us feel better.
As such, I want to create a Wave of Positivity over the next 4 weeks leading up to my ride and here's how I plan to do this (having not thought too much about this but rolling with it anyway!)..
I want you guys to send me the words that inspire you, encourage you, motivate you, ignite a fire within you.. It might be a quote, song lyrics, it might be words someone once told you, it might be a mantra or motto you tell yourself, it might be a purpose you have such as a dream or a goal.. Maybe you've been through something and you've come out the other side and you too want to share the joy that we CAN do what we think we cannot, please send me your story! Don't worry if you think it's not worth sharing, if it ignites that zest for life within you, it IS worth it!
So feel free to send those words of positivity to me and keep them coming! Let's focus on our strength in weakness, the beauty in our vulnerabilities, the words that bring a lump to our throat, that inspire us to get out there and live this life in the very best way we know how, to love each other more, to help, to be kind, and to live fully and deeply, embracing the ups and downs of this beautiful oppourtunity we have on this earth.
I plan on sharing as much and as many as possible over the next 4 weeks on my facebook page, my blog and my instagram, including my own contributions and anything I feel will be inspiring and motivational to others. Please do let me know if you'd like to remain anonymous and I won't post your name. If sharing on instagram, please tag me in your photo and use the hashtag #L2Pwaveofpositivity – thanks :)
You can contact me at any of the following or just message me using the 'Contact' page, and Like/Follow my facebook page and my instagram so you can feel the effects of the Wave of Positivity which we're going to create!
Plant Based and Positive on Facebook
Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you!! Looking forward to connecting with you all :)