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A large dish shaped like lungs holds avocado, pasta, apples, oranges, blueberries, carrot, peas, broccoli, and asparagus. It sits on a table surrounded by a small plate with bread, a glass of water and cutlery

CF and Veganism

An essential part of staying healthy with CF is the diet. Often CF patients are told to include high-fat, high-calorie foods. In my experience, this was due to the probability of pancreatic insufficiency, as well as digestive complications. Additionally, my lower body mass has been associated with lower lung function.

There are many reasons for this special diet. My days as a child were filled with globs of peanut butter, chocolate pudding, and meal replacement drinks. Keep in mind, these drinks were accompanied by a full meal; anything I could do to get the calories in. I stayed quite slim as a child, yet my skinny arms and legs were the opposite of my giant bloated belly. Excess amounts of food but slow digestion was my problem.

Until I was a teenager I pretty much ate whatever I wanted, in large quantities. I was always hungry because my body wasn’t absorbing the food’s nutrients either. All-you-can-eat buffets were my holy grail, and my family was happy because we always had good food in the house.

Uncomfortable around meat

When I was around 14 I started to think about becoming a vegetarian. I became grossed out with meat, possibly because I had eaten so much of it in my life. I started to do my own research about vegetarians and pescatarians to see if any of it resonated with me. A lot of the research I did made sense to me.

However, I was overwhelmed by all of the information out there. There were the hardcore plant eaters that had “Meat is Murder” plastered all over their sites, and there were the people who did it for the climate, and there were also the people who just wanted to include more plants in their diets to get healthier.

I was mainly looking for options because I knew I just didn’t want to eat the meat anymore. I found a lot of meat-alternative brands like Gardein and Yves, that made the transition easier for my family, especially my mom who did most of the cooking. At first she did not understand, especially with me having CF. I didn’t really understand either, but I knew I should follow my heart. My family called me “the vegetarian that doesn’t like vegetables”, and I was in fact not a fan. But I knew I had to try harder if I wanted this to work.

I was so happy and lucky to have supportive parents. It wasn’t a huge deal with my CF team because they knew that the meat alternatives had a lot of calories and fat anyway. Until my blood work came back and it showed I was deficient in a lot of nutrients.

Lots of people told me I should go back to eating meat. At this point I was committed and I couldn’t imagine going back.

Plant-based

After some more research I started to replace the meat-alternatives with real food like tofu and beans. This made a world of a difference. Especially once I learned how to cook them differently, I found so many unique recipes I had never heard of before. I found that I was actually eating a more variety of foods than I was when I ate meat. I started to like eating vegetables, fruits and everything under the sun, as long as it didn’t come from an animal. This is when I started to transition into a vegan.

I found that I loved animals so much by this time that I wanted to go all in. I found it more challenging socially than personally. Every event was filled with meat and cheese platters and baked goods with milk and eggs. I refrained from indulging because I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a vegan. Even though I wanted to eat it so bad.

After a year, I started to feel great. My blood work came back better than ever and I was keeping up with all my vitamins. I was even getting more nutrients than I ever had before.

Flexibility

This made me feel great about my health, I wanted to keep going. The only difference now was that I had gained a substantial amount of weight, due to my health being so much better. I was digesting food easier and absorbing a lot of nutrients. I found that I was a pretty unhealthy vegan. But as a CF vegan, I was just where I needed to be. This being said, I started to become flexible with my diet again. The only thing I didn’t like about my diet was the strictness of it.

To this day I retain a mostly plant based lifestyle, however, if I really want something that has dairy in it, I’m going to let myself. I want to enjoy my life and with all the strictness of taking care of myself while being on medications, doing treatments and monitoring my body, this felt great.

The best thing I learned from experimenting with different diets is that I should do what makes me feel the best, and there is comfort in finding a balance between what foods you want and what foods are good with CF. It doesn’t have to fit into a certain diet either. It can be customized to how you feel personally and physically, and nothing has to be set in stone. I hope my journey of discovering veganism can help anyone else who is curious. Always do what is best for you!

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