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Let’s try that health thing again, shall we?

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Warning: this is about health and eating, not about travel! For travel, go here.

A year ago, when I retired from my job at the UN, I decided to take a month, go to Sri Lanka, and put my health back together.

I’d abused my body for a hectic lifetime of fun and constant travel. Raised a foodie, my favourite pastimes usually involved such outings as a visit to Les Halles Paul Bocuse in Lyon, a cooking class in Tuscany or Barcelona or a food tour in Istanbul.


This is my local village pastry shop. No more going in there!

My Sri Lankan month was a success but when I came home I drifted into bad habits. Everyday life took over and now I’m back to where I started: high blood pressure, nerve inflammation, sluggishness… Hell, I’ll be 63 next week and have no intention of spending the rest of my life in genteel deterioration.

So yet again, I’m challenging myself to do something about it. I’m a Taurus and nothing if not stubborn.

I recently read How Not To Die, by Michael Greger, the doctor behind NutritionFacts.org, a healthy eating site I’ve lurked around for a while. It’s one of many recent books about the benefits of plant-based eating but it’s simple, easy-to-read and less preachy than most. Although my brother has been a vegan most of his life… Tofu? Tempeh? When I could have tajine or tortilla? Non merci.

I also happen to live in rural France, where the cows are healthy and grass-fed, the cheese rich and tangy, and the cream, oh, the cream…

But I digress.

All those delectables have taken their toll. I need to get a grip on my weight (about 25kg/55lb over the healthy limit) and on those other ailments, along with possible future ones I don’t even want to think about.

Through my research I discovered a free plan called Kickstart 21, to zap you into a vegan in three weeks. Now let me be clear: I have no intention of becoming a vegan. BUT – I do want to get my health back. So somewhere between plant life only and my present eating habits must lie a point of compromise. The programme starts on the first of every month and I’ve signed up for May.

Getting ready for three weeks of veggies

Herein lies the major problem: I dislike vegetables.

I love mushrooms – slathered in cream; rocket is divine – drowned in parmesan cheese; I can even tolerate broccoli or sprouts – drenched in butter. So I’m only partially a lost cause.

I do love exotic fruit, so that’s a plus, although my local supermarket tends to stock apples, bananas or pears, fruits I only eat out of duty. And berries. Yes, berries. I love berries and they should keep me afloat. Maybe I’ll just eat berries for three weeks.

Back to reality.

I may not like vegetables but even the briefest scan online shows me they can be transformed into something significantly less offensive.

I’ve now collected a series of potentially acceptable recipes and shall try one each day. My other two meals will be snacks (no way am I cooking three times a day).

Yesterday I drove an hour to a specialty shop. My fridge is now full of such ‘delicacies’ as fennel, celery, Chinese cabbage, kale (it’s awfully – GREEN) and other green things whose names I’m not sure of. My poor fridge has no idea what to do with all this colour!

vegan fridge

This is what my fridge looks like right now. No cheese. No meat. Lots of plastic.

Last night I couldn’t get to sleep trying to figure out breakfast.

And then it came to me – oatmeal! Made with rice milk, cinnamon, nuts and berries sprinkled on top. That should be delicious.


It was ALMOST delicious. I forgot I didn’t have rice milk and had to use water instead. Grrr.

So, kicking and screaming, I’ll be running this experiment for three weeks. To be utterly transparent about it, I now weigh a whopping 87.5kg (193lb). I’ve weighed more, and I’m not exactly small-boned but still, a lot of that excess has to go.

Then there’s the blood pressure, hovering around 130/88 – and that’s with medication. And the nerve inflammation, which doesn’t allow me to drive more than 40 minutes without excruciating pain in my leg. And the lack of focus and the tiredness.

So… It’s not Sri Lanka, and there are no beaches (although I can get a pretty mean sunset at home).

I’m not happy to have to do this, not happy at all. But I am determined.

Three weeks. Surely that’s not impossible.

To keep me honest I’ll document my efforts on my Women on the Road Facebook page beginning today with the hashtag #kk21 – please drop by and give me some encouragement!

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some salt-free beans to boil.


A spectacular sunset at home. Not bad, eh?


  1. Kathe on April 29, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    Determination is the key! Progress not perfection is the goal.
    And I Assume you have tried acupuncture for the nerve pain.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on April 29, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      I’ve tried everything under the sun for the nerve pain – no go. This is my last-ditch effort. Now if only one could do it all with determination rather than veggies…

  2. Laura Carolina on April 29, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    As a decades-long vegan (now 62.5 years old) whose only regret is not doing it sooner, I want you to thrive! I knew you’d have researched this change of diet. I’m glad you’ve already read “How Not to Die” and know about NutritionFacts.org. I also recommend http://www.theveganrd.com/ and her books “Never Too Late to Go Vegan,” “Vegan for Her” and others. These are supportive sites when personal health is your motivation: http://www.forksoverknives.com/. You can find thousands, if not millions, of plant-based recipes online. A Vitamin B-12 supplement is needed by many over-50s, omnivores included, but necessary when avoiding animal products. Enjoy your new way of eating! (There are vegan travel bloggers you might find interesting to follow, including http://www.burgerabroad.com/, http://www.angloitalianfollowus.com/, http://www.vegan-nomad.com/ and http://www.thenomadicvegan.com/.)

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on May 3, 2016 at 10:26 pm

      Thanks Laura – I’ll look into all these. I don’t plan to continue this after the 21 days, but I will try to stick to it 4-5 days a week, while being extremely cautious the remainder of the time. But then, after 21 days, who knows how I’ll feel!

      • Laura Carolina on May 4, 2016 at 5:41 pm

        Some days per week is better than none, and the more days the better! If you could go a few weeks with no dairy at all, you might notice some good results. Good luck. I see you’re already enjoying some new meals.
        Suddenly, everyone is interested in what you eat! 😉

  3. Irene on April 29, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration Leyla. I’ve just signed up!

  4. Fran Moreno-Randle on April 29, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    Will be following you every day. I was thinking of a detox cleanser – but only liquid for days? No! I cheat too much when I cook even healthy meals – a little sample of this, oh let’s go ahead and have just a piece or two or three of that. My body loves low carb and thrives on seafood, meat, eggs, and oh that wonderful cheese – but then I miss my carbs and cheat. My mouth loves chocolate, pasta, breads, sweets – my weight does not. I was beginning to think about eating only vegetables for a while – maybe 3 days, a week, or 10 days. But the thought of it …. hmmm…well, I’ve never asked for seconds of a vegetable – unless it is spinach sauteed in Parmesan and cream, or yams cooked with brown sugar, condensed milk, and pecans, or a baked potato with sour cream, bacon, chives, butter. So when you said you don’t like vegetables but were going to try this diet for 3 weeks, I decided to follow your experience. I have about 3 weeks of food in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Decided not to buy more groceries until the end of your experiment. At the end of your trial run, I just might have the will to try it, too. Go, Layla!!!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on April 30, 2016 at 9:51 am

      Seems that in the grand scheme of things, three weeks is manageable. I couldn’t give my best foods up ‘forever’ but for three weeks? Even I can do that!

  5. Bonnie on May 3, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Before you go a lot further you might want to check out this web site. http://www.dietdoctor.com/
    I’m 66 and have been losing steadily for the last 3 weeks and you wouldn’t have to miss your cream. Be sure and read the whole story and testimonies. I’m a foodie too but have diabetes and I am almost off of all my oral medications. Good Luck, believe me I know the battle it is.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on May 3, 2016 at 5:00 pm

      Thanks Bonnie! There are good health reasons I’m doing it this way but when my three weeks are up and I slowly start adding things to my food intake, I’ll be sure to look into this!

  6. SarahGraymatter on May 3, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    I’m exactly on your page. I’ve been traveling for the last 5years and I’m home now. My health has deteriorated significantly as the weight has increased. I’m going to take an unlimited membership for a month at the yoga place, and I do love vegetables. I’ll be very interested in following your lead. Hope the health benefits manifest significantly by my birthday in mid-June
    All the best,

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on May 3, 2016 at 6:32 pm

      Good for you, Sarah – taking things in hand is so darn hard! At least you like vegetables – I’d be well ahead if I did. Still, I’ve lost 2kg although that’s not the main goal here, just an added goodie!

  7. Sharon Nuttall on May 3, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    If you want an added boost to your resolution to eat healthfully, watch “Forks Over Knives,” a documentary available on Amazon and Netflix – and of course, for sale on the FOK website. It’s the same approach to eating as Neil Barnard’s excellent recommendations. Another excellent resource is anything from John McDougall, MD (www.drmcdougall.com) and his wife, Mary, who has come up with hundreds of recipes for the vegan way of eating. Dr. McDougall has just come out with a new book, “The Starch Solution.” I commend you on jumping on this sooner rather than later! All the best to you.

  8. Sonali V Iyengar on May 3, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    I used to be 82kgs. But with diabetes & high blood pressure I had to check my rather unmethodical food consumption. I have always loved fruits & vegetables and fortunately we have a good variety of traditional veggie recipes . I am now down to 78kgs. I should ideally have more protein & less carbohydrate but I hate fish so chicken, tofu, lentils are my options & thankfully they can be made light & tasty.

  9. corina on May 4, 2016 at 9:27 am

    Good luck with it, Leyla. I struggle the same so I understand what you’re going through. I might join you on the 3 week diet. I don’t have high blood pressure or diabetes but I do have aches and pains.
    Best wishes

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