Plant-based nutritionist and personal trainer, Giulia Sgro-Ralph shares the reasons and process behind her going vegan.
Giulia explains the benefits of adopting a plant-based diet for the individual, animals and the environment, and how you can make the transition yourself.
The Thrifty Philanthropist (TTP): What does a typical day look like for you?
Giulia Sgro-Ralph (GSR): A typical day for me usually consists of coaching at the gym, training, and nutrition work. That might be meeting a client, writing up a plan, putting together resources, or admin work.
I also actively strive to maintain and keep my nutrition knowledge up to date. I read articles, listen to webinars, and attend lectures whenever I can squeeze them in!
There is always something to do. Sometimes it feels like a continuous marathon of improvement, but I absolutely would not have it any other way. I feel extremely lucky to be in the position I am. It’s rewarding seeing that I have made a positive impact an individual’s life, no matter how big or small.
TTP: What was the main motivation for going vegan?
GSR: The main motivation was a documentary which touched on the dairy industry and what actually goes on.
At that stage, I had been vegetarian for a year, as the thought of eating an animal never really sat well with me. However I still consumed dairy every day, multiple times a day for that matter. I loved cheese and can confidently say I was addicted to it. Cheese is actually chemically addictive so there’s good reason there.
Like so many, I had assumed that dairy products were just by-products of an animal so it was okay. I didn’t think the animals actually got hurt or killed but I was wrong; the dairy industry is on par with the meat industry and maybe even worse. Female cows are repeatedly impregnated to produce milk. Baby male calves are taken away to be slaughtered.
After learning this, I felt a personal obligation to completely remove all animal products from my diet. I just couldn’t continue living the way I had with this newfound information.
TTP: Did you have a ‘wake up call’ moment, or was it more of a gradual process?
GSR: It was probably a collection of things over some time. I tried to go vegetarian at age 15 by just telling myself that I wouldn’t eat any meat anymore. That lasted about two weeks when one night Mum made chicken for dinner. I really wanted to eat it so I gave in and went back to old ways.
In year 11, I learnt how unsustainable fishing practices were, and tuna in particular. I decided to not eat tuna again. Prior to this, I would eat it every day at school.
In year 12, I decided to give the vegetarian thing another go. However this time I said to myself I would just see how long I could go without not eating meat. I was quite a big meat eater then – I would eat a lot of chicken, turkey and red meat. From that day, I never touched any animal flesh again.
The transition to entirely vegan was quite challenging for me. It was a gradual process, mainly because of cheese. Removing all other animal products was easy, but giving up cheese took a little bit more time.
I started off by eating completely vegan at home. Although, if I went out to a social event where something contained milk products, I would still eat it. I think this was partly because I still didn’t want to be a hassle for other people. I also wasn’t ready to make such a drastic change too soon.
Eventually, I cut this down too and finally removed cheese from my diet. From the time that I had become entirely plant-based, my only thought was “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” I felt incredible, it really was amazing.
TTP: In what ways do you hope or feel that being vegan is having a positive impact on the world?
GSR: Looking at the bigger picture, I’m aware of the huge strain that the animal agriculture industry places on the environment. I hope that as more people collectively adopt a plant-based diet, we can lessen the degree of damage done by climate change.
“What we fail to see, is that climate change doesn’t just pose a huge environmental burden, but a great public health burden too.”
So, what we choose to put on our plates and in our mouths, impacts so many things on so many levels; from our own physical and mental health and well-being, to the health of our environment, which will ultimately impact our health anyway.
TTP: Please tell us about your philosophy with your nutrition business, TakeOneHolistic.
GSR: My philosophy is based on a few things, firstly: Rather than trying a thousand different ineffective short-term approaches, why not just take one holistic approach?
People often get caught up focusing too much on one specific nutrient (protein as a prime example), instead of looking at the bigger picture and ensuring that they are meeting all of their essential nutritional needs rather than just a few.
Being honest, reliable and trustworthy is another key element. There are a lot of people out there who will simply take advantage of vulnerable people. I strive to share honest and reliable information and I do this by continually educating myself through legitimate sources.
The nutrition space is an over-crowded one. Now more than ever anyone can spread a whole lot of misinformation with the click of a button. Then there’s all the marketing by the food industry and misleading studies published in the media. It’s easy for anyone to feel overwhelmed and not know exactly what to believe.
I strive to make a meaningful impact through food and nutrition education. I aim to do this by providing clients with valuable information and resources that they can implement into their lives; helping them to feel empowered to navigate their way through this confusing space.
Lastly, I focus on nourishment not deprivation. Teaching people that not all food is the same and different foods can cause quite drastic results (both short and long- term). I place a huge emphasis on the small gradual changes which will ultimately lead to long-term sustainable results. I focus on longevity; not just a simple cookie cutter ‘this fits your macros so you can eat it’ approach. There is far more to it than simply macro-nutrient distribution and that is where a lot of people seem to get stuck or go wrong.
TTP: What question are you most tired of being asked about being vegan and how do you respond?
GSR: The biggest one would probably have to be protein. People seem to be under the impression that they can only meet adequate amounts by consuming animal products and that animal sources are superior. I explain that protein is made up of amino acids, which are present in basically everything.
So, if they are meeting their overall energy requirements for the day, they will naturally meet their protein requirements too. I also explain the benefits of plant over animal protein sources and the different by-products that are produced in the gut when digested.
Finally, being in a gym environment I’ll usually touch on the importance of carbohydrates; how they should be making up the majority of the energy consumed as they are the body’s main and preferred source of energy (for both the brain and body). In order to perform at their absolute best, they have to ensure they are appropriately fuelled from the right sources.
TTP: What do you find is the biggest challenge in living a vegan lifestyle, and what is the biggest benefit?
GSR: Honestly, the biggest challenge from going vegan was (and probably still is) dealing with people. In the beginning it was quite hard. I received a lot of negative comments. Jokes were made about me whenever someone found out I was vegan. It was never me to tell them. There was also a general lack of support, surprisingly from some of my close friends.
People often made me feel bad purely for opting to follow a vegan diet. This never made sense to me as I was simply trying to reduce the amount of harm done to others. There’s this kind of resistance many people have, and they can’t handle the topic at all. If it were based on a dog, it’d be a much different story.
I found it funny when the moment someone found out I was vegan, they would automatically turn into a nutrition expert. Even though I was the one studying, and now hold a degree in nutrition.
Fortunately, I realised and experienced the multitude of positive benefits early on to learn not to care what other people said or thought.
There is of course the health benefit (both physical and mental), and the animal side of things. One aspect I feel is extremely urgent is the environmental impact. However, if I had to pinpoint just one benefit of going vegan, it is how I feel personally.
“Some people just don’t know how good their bodies are designed to feel.”
They get used to feeling a certain way and that is their ‘normal’ so they don’t know anything else. I’d experienced the feeling on an omnivorous diet for the first 19 years of my life. In comparison, the difference is absolutely unbelievable.
TTP: This is a website for thrifty philanthropy. Do you generally find a vegan diet to be more or less expensive than an omnivorous diet?
GSR: A vegan diet, focused on wholefoods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds is certainly far more cost-effective.
Think about those in developing countries – their diet is based on rice and beans. A tin of beans costs less than $1, and is one of the most cost-effective and healthy staple foods available.
However, if you’re looking for processed vegan alternatives such as mock meats or fake cheese, the cost will add up. Basing a vegan diet around whole plant foods will be far more cost-effective than animal products. Go to the store and compare a can of lentils to an animal product and see for yourself.
TTP: Any advice on first steps for someone who is thinking about going vegan?
GSR: Everyone works differently, so start where you’re at and where you feel comfortable. You could firstly just try to reduce your overall animal product intake per week and gradually cut it down from there. You could start looking for other plant-based alternatives such as swapping cow’s milk for soy milk or feta to almond feta. Whatever you like, there is usually always an alternative!
Although some people can go ‘cold turkey’ (excuse the pun), I find for most people it’s a more gradual change. Focusing on building new habits and tastes will be more likely to last in the long term.
Also, remembering your core reason of why. People would often say to me that I have such strong will power. However, for me it was never an issue of will power. I know deeply the reason for making the switch and why I was never tempted to eat foods containing animal products like others say they would be.
Look for resources, support and guidance and find a good group of like-minded people too.