Turning vegan may seem like an absolute nightmare for a hardcore foodie, especially in countries where people don’t support giving up food for health reasons and ask questions like “why would you ever willingly put yourself in such a burden?” Similar is the case with Vijayalakshmi Vikram, who was born and raised in a traditional manner on the territory of Chennai. “I was a vegetarian from the beginning because of our religion and belief: an athletic kid who was very focused on education and food,” she explains. Despite the fact that she comes from a south Indian family, she says she never enjoyed idli or dosa and prefers to eat chole and paranthas.
The joy she derived from food, however, didn’t last long. She had to work on improving her gut health because she suffered from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) early on. Speaking of her experience, she says, “IBS is a serious intestinal disorder that affects millions of Indians, but that many people avoid discussing it because who wants to talk about stools, constipation, and diarrhoea!” Vijayalakshmi explained that she switched to a plant-based diet 12 years ago to manage IBS.
Despite her dietary restrictions, her mother always came to her rescue to satisfy her food cravings. While reminiscing her days from childhood, Vijayalakshmi recalls, “We had a Punjabi family in our colony and whenever I used to go to their house, I always thought that how lucky these people are as they can satiate themselves with such a long list of delicious delicacies like rajma and paneer.” Even so, as a foodie, my mother always went out of her way to cook things that I liked, customising authentic recipes so that I can enjoy and love what I’m consuming.”
Nevertheless, she found herself in dire straits when IBS began to erode her self-confidence. Vijayalakshmi admits, “The issues began when IBS began to take over my confidence and threatened to derail my life. People used to make jokes about how I used to have to wear diapers because I had to use the restroom so frequently. She claims she has spent her entire life trying to find a way to get rid of this condition, from consulting multiple doctors to taking medications to stop loose stools.
Even though she was running out of hope, Vijayalakshmi saw light at the end of the tunnel. “I met a doctor who said that the only way to combat IBS is to manage what you eat and that’s when I decided to shift to a plant-based diet. The transition was extremely difficult as I had to dig deep through the process of research, keep an eye on my cravings, and check out the proportions, quantities and nutrients I was gulping so that it does not harm or worsen my condition,” she sighs.
Soon after she got the opportunity to volunteer in an animal shelter as an animal lover, which inspired her to try veganism. “While going through this big lifestyle change, I stumbled upon various articles that spoke about dairy being the biggest culprit for human health,” she recalls.
“It was really a difficult transition because our ancestors, our parents together have told us that dairy is really good for the health. I started from scratch, checking whether plant-based ingredients are suitable for my condition so that it does not aggravate IBS. But I did notice a huge change in my skin and gut health altogether when I stopped consuming dairy and eggs,” Vijayalakshami confesses with a big smile on her face. “90% of my health issues were resolved, including the IBS that I had been suffering from since childhood.”
Vijayalakshmi then shared her journey on social media to dispel people’s misconceptions about veganism. She began posting videos of South Indian variants of vegan food on social media while adding variety to her plate with the sole purpose of encouraging people to break free from the myths that veganism carries. “I wanted to make people of the misconception around health and fitness. I don’t judge anyone for eating what they eat, but I encourage people to embark upon a lifestyle that is sustainable for them and most importantly animals, without being judgemental,” she says.
“India is a land of plant-based foods. So, right from Mango Kozhambu that uses raw mango to Majige Saaru, a dish in Karnataka that I prepared using plant-based yoghurt; the options are many. Using ingredients like coconut milk yoghurt and even tofu to enhance protein intake of the meal has been a revelation. Going vegan has given me much room for creativity. Experimenting with a few recipes that are traditionally evolved using dairy, milk, ghee, curd or dairy-based alternatives can make the transition easier while fuelling you with the accurate nutrients.
Vijayalakshmi emphasises the importance of nutrition in life. “Internal nourishment from within is a therapy for me that nothing else can ever provide. Veganism helped me with good gut health but also cleared out my skin issues, and it even boosts my heart health. No matter what diet or lifestyle you choose, always eat a well-balanced meal or else your nutrition will be compromised!” she signs off.