Jessica Smith has an incredible story of triumphs and tribulations.
Born missing her left arm and then suffering a horrific kitchen accident when she was a toddler sustaining burns to 15% of her body, she defied odds and went on to represent Australian in the sport of swimming for seven years, culminating in representing Australia at the 2004 Paralympic Games.
Then as a young adult she broke free from depression and eating disorders. But perhaps the most important story there is to tell about Jessica, is that of the inspiring woman she is today; since retiring from her international swimming career Jessica has gone on to become an internationally recognised advocate for positive body image, dedicating her life to raising awareness around diversity and disability
This week we were excited to interview Jess on her recent transition to more of a plant based way of living - we asked her the how's, what's and why's of incorporating more of the good stuff into her life.
Tell us a bit about your new found plant based life and what your approach is to plant based living.
In recent years there has been a surge in popularity to 'go vegan' , which I personally think is a great thing! However, thanks to the world of Instagram and the rise of influencers who are now adopting this lifestyle, it could be argued that it's just a trend or a fad, but I like to remain optimistic and I believe that as a collective we are sharing more knowledge about food and animal products and in doing so, creating a wave of consciousness when it comes to how we live our every day lives.
Personally, I am not yet living a vegan lifestyle, but I do eat a plant based diet, with the goal of soon being able to proudly say that I'm Vegan.
I grew up in a household where dinner was the typical meat and three veg. Meal times weren't exciting for me. Then during my teens and twenties I battled with anorexia and bulimia - so food has never been something I appreciated, not like I do now.
For the past 7 years I have been on-again off-again when it comes to eating a plant based diet. As I've started to listen to my body more, I've started to understand what foods make me feel good.
What did you miss most or find the hardest to cut out when you started your journey?
Transitioning to a plant based diet isn't easy, especially in a world where we are so used to unconsciously eating animal products. It's taken me 7 years to get to the point where it's no longer a challenge for me to eat a plant based diet. I was able to cut out meat and fish, but struggled to eliminate dairy from my meals.
The main thing that prevented me from eating a fully plant based diet was milk - however, I've never liked milk on it's own, unless it was in a coffee! Every morning I would have a strong flat white, and this was one thing I just couldn't give up - of course I was addicted. The funny thing was, I always felt so bloated after my morning coffee, to the point where I would rarely finish it ... but it was those first few sips - liquid gold!
I did what anyone else would and tried almond milk and soy milk, but I hated the taste! It was destroying my morning coffee experience, and so, I kept drinking milk in my coffee, even though the thought of it made me sick (go figure!).
Other foods I struggled to eliminate were baked goods! Cake, muffins and anything that had eggs or dairy!
I realised that I was focusing on the wrong thing, rather than worry about what I would potentially be missing out on, I needed to focus on how I could add more plant based foods to my diet first. This changed everything!
I started consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables and gradually began switching dairy items for foods that had a similar textures. I started experimenting with new recipes, and before long I was thriving!
Did you face any challenges or set backs along the way?
I was so excited about this new lifestyle that I was adopting, but unfortunately those around me were not. Let's be honest, 'vegan's' don't always get a good wrap, so I've never wanted to preach or impose any of my ideas or beliefs onto anyone else, but it's ironic how so many others are happy to impose theirs onto me!
Family members and friends all came out with the typical statements and rhetorical questions, "where will you get your protein?" , "oh you're following that trend now are you?", "where will you get your calcium?" initially I would get quite defensive, but now I try to answer in a way that might hopefully educate someone about these common misconceptions.
The main question I get asked, and also a question that I had to ask myself is, "why?" It's a very personal decision and for me it is a combination of ethical, sustainable and health reasons. I am forever learning and discovering new reasons that support my decision, but it was just over a year ago watching "What the Health" that really cemented things for me. I can't unsee nor can I unlearn what I've watched or read. It's actually quite empowering to make a decision for my own health, that I also know is benefiting other industries. After watching 'What the Health' and "Cowspiracy" I went plant based over night .... I now drink black coffee, and I LOVE the taste!
How has it been trying to introduce more of a plant based approach with your family and children?
As a wife and mother of two young children I am often asked if our household is plant based, for the most part yes, however both my husband and children consume meat and dairy. Every meal I will make a plant based option, if my husband feels like meat or fish I will cook it and if my children want yoghurt or other products that contain meat or dairy I give it to them. It's not my place to impose my prefences onto them, however I hope that I can model behaviour that teaches my children about the importance of mindful eating and one day when they are ready, they can make the decision for themselves.
Overall what would you say are the best parts of your new lifestyle?
I enjoy cooking and creating meals, something I never allowed myself to do when I was living with anorexia and bulimia. I eat an abundance of food, a huge variety of seasonal fruit and vegetables and I've never felt better. I don't get that uncomfortable bloating, my skin has cleared up and I have so much more energy - which I need as I frantically race around after two young kids. There are so many delicious foods and recipes, I get excited just thinking about all the nutrients and vitamins that I'm literally feeding myself.
What does a typical day of meals look like for you?
Green Juice or Smoothie
Fruit and muesli with COYO
Avocado on Toast
Fruit and Vegetables (my kids love cucumber and mango)
Falafel Salad or Wrap - spinach, rocket, chickpeas, tomato, sprouts, nuts, hommus, avocado, onions, roast veggies - any
Roast Vegetables with salad and roasted chickpeas
Connect with Jess!