Plant-Based Protein: Tips and Tricks

**Written June 5th, 2018**



That’s how many protein bars I used to eat a day.


Two years ago, I was terribly misinformed. I didn’t challenge the information the diet industry put forward. Young and impressionable, I believed anything that a shredded spokesperson posted on their Instagram feed. So it’s not surprising that my relationship with protein has ran quite a varying course.

From what I understood, too much fat would make me fat, too many carbs would make me fat…but protein was safe. How did I know? I was mesmerised by body builders and bikini competitors, always insisting that the key to their desirable physiques was protein protein protein. Too much protein simply didn’t exist. The more, the better!

On top of adding protein powder to nearly everything, I was also eating large amounts of meat with lunch and dinner. Let’s break it down. On a daily basis, I was consuming heaping scoops of protein powder, greek yogurt, eggs, deli meat, chicken breasts, and protein bars. Most days two bars, some days three. To me, the bars were simply tasty snacks and nothing more. I never considered exactly how much protein I was eating. Not once did it cross my mind that maybe protein wasn’t as pure as the fitness gods painted it to be. It was only a matter of time before I realized that protein was more than just Quest bars that somehow tasted like a brownie but also helped me grow muscles without the fat and carbs I was taught to fear. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.

Eventually I began to move away from being fitness-obsessed and dove into the world of plant-based eating. After endless amounts of research, I was finally developed a stable relationship with food. I learned that not all protein is the same; that the source matters. And the amount is not a free-for-all like I had thought.

Now that I have been (mostly) plant-based for over a year, I feel comfortable sharing my experience with this diet change. The hardest obstacle is getting enough protein, but after trial and error I’ve found what works for me!

Before, I was depending on protein bars and powders as my main sources of protein. More often than not, these products contain added sugars, sugar alcohols, artificial flavors, and animal products. I was under the impression that these other ingredients didn’t matter because all that was important was getting as much protein as possible. Clearly I was ignorant to the fact that long-term consumption of these additives on a daily basis would NOT work in my body’s favor.

Diet culture is heavily influential on today’s youth, especially those who are new to health and wellness. It’s far too easy to fall victim to the myth that people need heaping amounts of protein. There’s barely any chatter pertaining to the sources of our protein. Instead, we’re encouraged to worry solely about what protein can do for our outward appearance while neglecting its impact on our body’s functionality.

My story is just that; one personal account. I’m not here to provide nutritional advice as I’m not qualified to do so. However, sharing my experience may prove insightful for those inclined to revamp their own lifestyle decisions.

For the past year, I’ve been *mostly* plant-based. My biggest concern is finding balance, and balance is subjective. At first I tried to go vegan because I thought this was the best route for me. I barely lasted two weeks before my egg cravings went wild. Since then, I make the conscious effort to simply eat whole, real foods. Think of eating ingredients themselves, not foods with ingredient lists. Aside from eggs and salmon, everything else I eat comes from plants. These two foods are major protein sources for me, so I don’t plan on getting rid of them anytime soon!

I used to depend heavily on meat as my protein source. Sandwiches overflowing with deli turkey, huge stir fry dishes with two chicken breasts, you get the picture. Now that these aren’t options, I’m left to seek out plant-based sources of protein. Some of my favorites include:

  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Lentils (steamed, cooked)
  • Lentil or chickpea pasta
  • Hemp hearts
  • Quinoa
  • Black beans
  • Vegan protein powder (Nuzest is the only one I use! Discount code: “healthful_radiance” to save!)
  • Chia seeds
  • Nuts! (Nearly everything I eat is nut-based)
  • Almond milk greek yogurt (Kite Hill brand)

After removing animal products from my diet, and specifically changing all of my protein sources, I’ve noticed significant increases in my energy and mood. It’s hard to pinpoint one specific cause for one effect, especially since a lifestyle is made of many influential aspects, but I do feel that my protein sources and intake has contributed to these benefits. I feel stronger and more energized. I’m also not eating nearly as much protein as I had in the past. Less is more in this case! What’s hard is finding the perfect balance. Once I decreased the amount of protein I was having, I began to feel better overall. Naturally, I took this and ran with it. I thought this meant that cutting my protein down even further was the way to go.

No enough protein is just as bad too much protein. How did I know I wasn’t getting enough? Everyone’s body is different, but for me I experienced:

  • Low energy
  • Bad mood swings
  • Waking up lightheaded
  • Headaches

When these symptoms began to arise, I knew what to do: amp the protein up! I did this slowly and incrementally which helped me find a balance that left my body and mind at peace.

Life is all about getting to know yourself, and this is a process that’s constantly in flux. Everyday is another chance to learn. I often get asked exactly how much protein I eat in a day. My past with numbers has led me to choose not to know. I have spent years trapped between ranges of grams far too low, far from healthy. I’ve found my greatest success in listening to my body as opposed to a recommended value. However, I do recognize that for some people having a range or a set number is the best way to reach their goals and feel their best. All bodies are different. I can’t speak to any other body aside from my own. All I can do is provide my experience and hope it sheds some light on someone else’s situation. I’m not a professional, or even a student of nutrition (hopefully one day!) so I’m not comfortable giving direct advice or numbers.

If that’s the case, what do I want you to walk away with? This: you are not the next person. What works for them may not work for you. In all areas of life, trial and error are crucial. Nothing is fixed, permanent. Be willing to test new waters, new habits, new experiences. When it comes to health and wellness, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We hear about “superfoods” all of the time, but not every single one works for every single person.

For example, you probably noticed that “collagen” isn’t listed on here. Why? It’s not because it’s an animal product (as you already know I’m very flexible about that). Instead, I don’t use it because I’ve tried it in the past and it simply doesn’t work in sync with my own body. After using collagen for about two months, I was experiencing extreme bloat and my digestion was off. I used up my supply, let it run out and didn’t restock. When I stopped adding collagen to my smoothies/drinks/etc., these symptoms were alleviated. This process of experimentation was so important for me. At first I felt guilty that this magic health wonder wasn’t working for me. I felt bad. I suddenly wasn’t healthy. But then I realized: I’m healthy for listening to my body and removing what was hurting it, not because I wasn’t conforming to the wellness world’s ways.

If collagen works for you, go for it! If you’re not sure, try it out. You are in control of your own wellbeing, to a greater extent than we tend to believe. I encourage you to experiment in a safe and fun way. Make sure you’re eating enough! Other than that, it’s free from here. The best part about food is that we need it all day, every day, for our entire lives…so you might as well have fun with it!

Having Expectations for Your Body, and How To See Beyond Them

**Written on June 25th, 2017**
Recovery is a lifelong process. This is a reminder I always offer, but one that I’ve only recently TRULY allowed to resonate with me. I’ve been leading a normal, healthy life for over two years now. I’m beyond the stages of recovery. However, throughout the duration of these two glorious years, I’ve always focused on my body’s appearance to an extent.
Only a short while ago was I able to uncover the underlying drive behind my body discomfort. My lifestyle has been through drastic changes; coming out of a rigid, heightened meal plan with no movement to reintroducing exercise to my regimen. This took place the summer going into my senior year. Then during my senior school year, I was working most of the week and had more rest days than I did days in the gym. The summer before college was the same in terms of work, but now I had time to workout most days before my shift. Once I left for school, I was walking ten times the amount I ever had at home. I lived off campus this past year, and was in the city walking around on my days off. I was extremely active. Now I’m home for the summer, and working out most days, but barely walking at all. My point is that my lifestyle has seen all different patterns in recent years, and I’ve always (ignorantly) connected these patterns to my body’s appearance.
For example, if I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, I’d dismiss it as “I’m not walking as much, things will regulate soon”. I guess this is a healthier alternative than jumping to restricting and overexercising. I spent four years of my life implementing this approach, so I know for a fact it’s deadly. Plus, being so far into health and happiness, all past behaviors are simply unappealing to me at this point. I can confidently say that restricting my intake is something I will avoid at all possible costs.
But dismissing my body issues and coming up with excuses that weren’t even valid isn’t healthy either. Yes, it keeps my physical health at bay. But what about mentally? I was just playing mind games. I was refusing to accept my body because I was EXPECTING it to be something else, and pathetically believed that my body would obey such expectations.
Here’s what body expectations looked like in my life: I’m very open about details about my body issues. For me, you probably already know, my midsection always gave me anxiety. I was never lean, with a toned stomach or small waist. I’m built more like a little boy than anything else, and my gut tends to stick out. From the side, I find I’m not lean like so many people I see. This is where expectations came in. When I was extremely active at school, I found that I was most at peace with my midsection. (Keep in mind this was not over exercising, it was simply the conditions of my situation. I was also eating a lot more at school to account for this). So when I returned home and my lifestyle took a turn, I began to notice these changes being projected onto my midsection. Once again, I found myself “puffy”, “swollen”, and “constantly bloated-looking”. For the first month or so, I was lying to myself.  I was telling myself that I know my body is capable of looking better, that it will get there if I just change some things around. This was because I EXPECTED it to look a certain way.
Holding onto expectations for your body is holding you back. If you’re engaging in certain lifestyle habits because you EXPECT them to translate into the body you want, your drive is in the wrong place. I’ll be the first person to admit that I began a higher fat lower (but not low…pasta please??) carb intake in hopes of changing my body. It sounds pathetic and petty but it’s true. When nothing changed, I flip flopped and hoped for results. This left me the same as well. I got so frustrated that I just decided to ditch all regimens and eat how the hell I wanted. And because I wasn’t obsessing over the details of my intake for my appearance’s sake, I began to pay attention to my body less and less.
Every Sunday is my rest day, and I sleep until 12 (at the earliest…). After an unintentional long fast and a lot of sleep, I tend to wake up feeling “lean”. I used to always wake up, change into my bra and underwear, and stagger over to the body mirror and just take in my reflection. I would spend about ten minutes admiring how lean and empty I was. But I’m proud to say I can’t even remember the last time I engaged in this activity. Seriously, it’s probably been 3 months? But on this Sunday morning, I woke up and got dressed with no body mirror to intervene. I came downstairs, made breakfast, and then out of nowhere realized this feat. Then I kept thinking about it; I hadn’t picked my body apart in weeks. I hadn’t given it much thought.
I feel so liberated. Upon analyzing why this shift took place, I traced it all back to body expectations. Once I stopped expecting my body to react to lifestyle habits, to change in response to how I was trying to manipulate it, I was able to find body acceptance. My life has been so damn GOOD lately. I’ve been getting super creative in the kitchen because I have the entire culinary world at my fingertips. I no longer have to use this specific product or that one or exclude ingredients because they don’t align with my new “lifestyle”. I’ve been so social, grabbing meals out with friends and going to parties without worrying about if I can get a “low-carb” meal there. My digestion isn’t giving me the trouble it used to, and I attribute this to the lack of stress surrounding my body and intake.
Is my body where I want it to be? Here’s my answer to that: if my body is allowing me to live my best life, then that’s where I want it to be. Am I “lean” like I used to so desperately obsess over? Nope! But here’s the thing. I realized that nobody FREAKING CARES. I go swimming with my friends and to the beach and I don’t self-detonate because I’m not a little bit leaner. My life doesn’t fall apart if I’m a few pounds more than I expect to be. I’m not a failure because of what I look like. I can’t spend my entire life focused on making changes solely for the purpose of manipulating my body. It becomes exhausting.
Letting go of body expectations is a matter of acknowledging that they’re there. Identify them. And then tell them to screw off. Because in all honesty, the expectations are irrational. Find your best life and let your body look the way it needs to in order to live this way. Not the opposite. Don’t go shaping your life around how it will make your body look. Don’t expect certain diets or exercise routines or whatnot to give you the body you’re after. I’m not saying that changing these things won’t change your body, because they can and everybody is different. What I’m saying is not to execute these changes BECAUSE you expect these changes. Make choices because your heart and your soul are in it. Life is trial and error. See what works for you. But don’t expect. Accept your body where it is and recognize that the life you lead in is better when the body’s appearance is an afterthought.
Sending love!!


**Written on March 27th, 2017**
Man, today was rough.
When I was sick, and then “recovering”, and then relapsing, and the whole nine yards, I’d keep daily journal entries in my phone and update myself throughout my miserable days. Once I truly stuck to recovery and my life began to improve, I found no need to furiously type away my emotions into my Notes app. My days of emotional turmoil and distress were behind me.
For the most part.
I’m human. Every now and then I have these days where I just get hit with a wave of distress. I can never really explain them. But I’ll try. Today went a little something like this:
I wake up, and it’s hard. My body feels like lead. Without permission, my heart whisks my brain into a vicious dreamland where I can’t see any purpose to my life, where I feel so lonely and lost and directionless. The day will go on, I’ll embark on my morning routine. But something inside me feels like it could swallow me whole. I feel passionless. I go to the gym but feel no inclination to do anything. I go to class and can’t focus, trapped in a brain fog, berating myself for not being able to follow along and absorb the information. I find myself in the library between classes and volunteering. I just got swamped with an unmanageable amount of assignments. The overflow of work triggers the fear centers within me. I panic. I gloss over each class’ excessive workload and feel as if I don’t understand any of it. My attention span feels embarrassingly small. I open my math textbook and begin the 30+ problems that I have two days to do. Math is my weakness, my downfall. I spend twenty minutes on one problem and feel the tears forming as I squeeze my fists in frustration. I feel so OVERWHELMED. There’s too much to do. I have the gym, two classes, volunteer tutoring, a scholar’s event, and all of this homework. On top of these obligations I have to find time to eat and shower and at one point I even find myself trying to schedule in my stops to pee. Today, the world just feels like too much.
My to-do list, both short-term and long-term, seemed to multiply by the second. Today was an emotional train wreck. I felt as if I was pushing myself too hard, trying to read sixty pages of East Asian History in the mere half hour I had before spending two hours tutoring my student, racing back to campus to crunch out some more problems in the library before darting off to the program’s event. On the walks between obligations, I FaceTimed my mom with a trembling voice and tears that threatened to flood my cheeks. I couldn’t explain why I was crying, what was wrong. I was just overwhelmed, and the world felt heavy and I felt helpless and for some unexplainable reason, I just felt as if I had no potential. I felt that all tasks being asked of me would not only be impossible to complete, but to even understand. Brain fog. Extreme brain fog. That’s all I can term it as.
College has brought me a handful of these days, and in them I have learned more about myself than I ever thought possible. By expressing these fears and metaphorical weights to my family and friends, I felt a release. I reached out to my best friends, one who cheered me up with a video chat and the other who left me a voicemail that I’ve listened to repeatedly all evening. Just hearing my mom’s voice grounded me, reminded me that I’m not alone.
Our minds can play wild tricks on us. I know what it feels like to be trapped in a depression, and to experience extreme anxiety. While I am thriving and healthy and happy in my current life, I am no less human. These depressive and anxiety-ridden traits sometimes attack when I least expect it, and that’s life. How I choose to handle them and reflect on them is up to me. Fate had it that this terrible, no good day took place on the same day as the scholar program colloquium for tonight, titled “Grit”. Tonight, a group of like-minded people met together to discuss what grit means to us in our education and beyond. Collaborating with fellow students and intellectuals truly opened my eyes. My peers had such powerful insights as to what grit is, so much so that at some points I found myself taking their words and implementing them into my own life, seeing them ring true.
After the discussion, I felt ten times better. We talked about how grit is a next-level perseverance, a toil with failure on the way to success. Having grit means dedicating yourself to your goals and working toward them with complete diligence. With grit comes passion. Exercising grit requires you to push yourself, to exceed your limits and self-expectations. But my favorite piece that was contributed was the notion that when exercising grit, one also has to stay mindful. “Grit”. It’s a word that sounds so relentless and tough, so macho if you will. However, to truly succeed and be happy, you have to put yourself first. If your goals are doing more harm than good, then stop. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Only push yourself in ways that you can handle. Take a step back to reflect. Grit isn’t a non-stop process. Work hard and rise above failures, but don’t beat yourself up.
Today, I needed to be reminded of this. I tend to overwhelm myself with my work, my extracurriculars, my passions. On days where I find myself in this emotional hurricane, in this overwhelmed state of mind, I have to step back and reflect. What does grit mean to me? It means working hard to put myself and my wellness above all. My dad called me tonight and, as usual, lifted my spirits. He told me that all my work will get done, that I’m doing so well in all fields of life and that my health comes before anything. This day has physically and mentally exhausted me, and he picked up on that right away. My own father told me to put the schoolwork on the back burner. Call out of tutoring if I mentally can’t handle it today. Take a deep breath and a hot shower and make a good meal. Without your health and your stability, you have nothing.
I knew I needed to vent out about this day because it was just SO. MUCH. I couldn’t think of any better way than to share it than a blog post. I don’t know how many of you can relate, but I do hope that if you ever find yourself in a fleeting slump, remind yourself to reflect. That you don’t have to push yourself to a breaking point. Have the grit to put yourself above all else.


You Spent HOW Long At The Gym?

**Written January 21st, 2017**Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
Fitness is an important part of my life.
No, I’m not training for a competition. No, I’m not a college athlete. No, I’m not a personal trainer or exercise-science major or WHATEVER.
I’m a REGULAR PERSON. I go to the gym to feel good, to keep in good health, and to have fun.
Today I’m going to rawly ramble about how aggravated I get when I see so many girls and guys on Instagram forget that they’re REGULAR PEOPLE.
When I was trapped in my eating disorder, I was also orthorexic. I was addicted to exercise and believed that the longer I spent at the gym, the “healthier” I was. Other people would admire my drive, my dedication, my FITNESS. Yeah right. I was severely underweight, had no fuel or strength. The “muscles” I was adamant I had were simply my skeletal make up being exposed by a lack of body fat. I thought I was “vascular” because I was strong, when in reality it was because my skin had become pale and paper thin, a clear sheet to expose them.
Yet, if my workout was any shorter than X amount of time (here X is an extremely absurd amount of time), then I was weak. I had given up, I’d lose my “muscles” and “strength”. And I could NOT let that happen. Everybody looked up to me! I was on top! I WAS THE ONE WHO SPENT MY ENTIRE NIGHT AT THE GYM, NOT THEM.
Get the point?
Deep into a healthful and thriving lifestyle, I’m constantly amazing myself by effortlessly making changes in my mindset that I would have never dreamed possible years ago. One of my favorite aspects of my new, healthy life is the release I’ve taken off of exercise. I spent my whole disorder believing that I had to train at every second of the day. But why!? Who was I? I was, and still am, a regular person. I have many, MANY other concerns and goals in my life besides from the gym. It was not my job, it was not the focus of my career, it was not a determining factor in where my life was going.
Today, I realize that. I understand that the gym is simply a pleasure in my life. I prioritize it because I lead a health-conscious lifestyle, and it goes without saying that the gym is a big part of that. I love pushing myself, I love challenging my limits, I love knowing that I’m improving my body, inside and out.
The message I want to drive home to you is this; if you’re not a competitor, if it’s not your career…then WHY DO YOU PUT SO MUCH STRESS ON YOURSELF? I see so many people out there judge their worth based on the amount of time they worked out that day.
Read that out loud. Doesn’t that sound outright ABSURD!?
That’s because it is! Lately I’ve been shortening my training sessions to break free of this attachment to more time=more respect. My training sessions are always under an hour, and I always stop sooner if my body is telling me to. Quality over quantity, always. Three hours at the gym is first of all destructive, second of all TIME-CONSUMING, but lastly, simply useless. What’s the point? So you can go around and flaunt your feat? Workout because you love it, because it’s good for you. If right now, it’s NOT good for you, DON’T do it. It’s that simple. And believe me, it will be obvious which category you fall into, even if you’re in denial about it.
I want you to see this post at a discussion starter. I feel like this is a topic that can be expanded upon deeply, but I’m super curious to what you have to say. If this concept resonates with you, tell me about it! Reach out via email, Instagram DM, etc.
I tend not to share my workouts on Instagram because I worry for my more fragile followers, and their health and happiness matters to me more than getting likes on a selfie. However, if you do have workout questions, I’d be happy to answer privately 🙂
As always, thanks for following along with my rants…sending love!