Aaron Calder smiling (a man sitting down in a café)


Alia Halstead

Aaron Calder: Surviving alcohol addiction by going vegan

In a café in Brighton, vegan advocate and food blogger Aaron Calder speaks candidly about being hospitalised with cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol addiction and how transitioning from vegetarian to vegan has helped transform his health and perspective. As an oat milk mocha and black americano are consumed, we also discuss others’ reactions to him going vegan, medicine, the ripple effect of veganism, and how a vegan diet can heal the body and improve fitness.

V-Land UK (V-L): As a vegetarian since childhood, what triggered the transition to veganism?

Aaron Calder (AC): I was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver because of alcohol addiction. I had to quit my alcohol usage over ten years ago when I was hospitalised as a result of it.

Four years later I decided to try veganism for two weeks to see what it was like. After those two weeks, I instantly felt better and noticed changes. My skin got clearer, I lost weight, my eyes were clear, I felt more alert and I had more energy, so I thought, “I'm going to continue and see how it goes”. Six and a half years later, I’m still vegan. 

I'd watched documentaries on Netflix and Amazon, which were more about the health benefits of a vegan diet than animal welfare or environmental perspectives. I was vegetarian already, and the same things kept coming up where people had health conditions and got better on a plant-based diet. But I was reluctantly thinking, “but you need milk for calcium, I need cheese or eggs”, or “I’m not going to get protein” - all these things that you are conditioned to believe are obviously not true. 

V-L: How did people around you react to you going vegan? 

AC: When I turned vegan, people at work and family asked what I ate. I’d reply, “I had a burger last night”, or “I had pasta and pizza”, and they would always say, “you can't have that. It's not vegan”. I would explain that I’d have the vegan version. I thought if I start an Instagram account and post my food there, they could see what I eat. 

Then, as my following grew, I felt I had to do a bit more, so I posted my recipes. I felt I had an obligation to show what a difference a vegan diet can make for your health. 

I've been lucky with social media. I've hardly had any negativity, and it’s great when I post my meals, and someone says, “I tried that the other night”, and they aren’t vegan, but they are willing to try something without meat. I posted fast food from Oowee Vegan on my Instagram, and a couple of people at the gym said they’d try that, and they aren’t vegan, which is amazing. Once they get the taste and think it’s nice, they are more likely to try vegan alternatives. So it's all positive. 

V-L: That was such a positive, and powerful way of responding to comments in your personal life, by showcasing how enticing a vegan diet can be. Has veganism improved your health?

AC: After about six months on a vegan diet, I went for a check-up at the hospital with my specialist, and they told me that I had lost weight, my cholesterol had improved, my blood pressure was normal, and I was looking good. The specialist asked what I was doing. 

I explained that I’d gone vegan, and their response was that they didn’t recommend that, and I shouldn’t go vegan, but in my mind I was thinking “you just said everything about how my health has improved”. They became quite inquisitive, asking what I ate, and naturally, I did worry because you think specialists know better. But as I persevered, every time I went for a check-up, it got better and better. One of the major things was that when I first had a FibroScan the measure was the worst possible score at 75. I was informed that it doesn't get any worse than that. But six months after going vegan, the score almost halved to a score of 39. A year later, it went down to 31, and the last time it was down to 29. 

I found things online where people with the same condition as me have completely reversed their cirrhosis. I must point out that I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist, but these people are seeing an improvement, which is fantastic. It just shows how powerful our diet can be.

V-L: What has been your experience with finding vegan medication? 

AC: When I was hospitalised, I was given medication, and it didn’t say if it was vegetarian or whether it was tested on animals, but I needed it to survive. The definition of veganism is that you do your best. Once I was doing better, I researched and found some gelatine-free tablets, so you can sometimes make more conscious decisions.

The charity I work for has given some money to XCellR8, an organisation that experiments on human cells rather than animals. We did a podcast with them, and they mentioned how most of the experiments on mice for cancer treatment would have good results on the mice, but when tested on humans, the treatment doesn’t work. So, testing on mice was pointless. Whereas if you test on human cells, which are donated - so it's ethical - the results are more accurate.  

Additionally, I researched the medication I was on for side effects and the long-term impact; for example, I took prescribed pills for stomach acids for six years until I found out they shouldn’t be used for more than six months. It’s bad I wasn’t told that. I was on 21 pills, and from a healthy vegan diet and undertaking extensive research, I have weaned myself down to one pill a day.

Image 1 (2).png

onurdongel/Getty Images Signature via Canva Pro

V-L: How has veganism impacted your alcohol addiction? And have you noticed an impact on other areas of your life? 

AC: Doing my posts and recipes is a way of me focusing on something good rather than being swayed back into drinking. 

Many people think those that have addictions are weak, but it takes a lot of energy to be an addict. I was sneaking out every day to the shops without anyone noticing to get alcohol and hiding it from people - it consumed my life. Different things work for different people, and it’s important to find what works for you. Some people have attended Alcoholics Anonymous, and that works for them. I went to one meeting but didn’t like it. Luckily, I found that replacing alcohol with veganism works for me.    

Putting something good inside your body and consciously thinking about what you consume makes you reflect on other areas of your life. Going vegan has made me more conscious about recycling, trying to use less plastic, and create less waste. It has a ripple effect. 

I'm not perfect. I'm making mistakes. I do use plastic and things like that, but it's about making that conscious effort. If it makes you feel good internally, that's good for mental health because you're feeling optimistic, whereas if you do more negative things, that can bring your mood down. 

Interestingly, I did notice that I never felt guilty when I was a vegetarian. But when I went vegan, it was almost like subconsciously, something lifted, and I became more ethically aware. And as it’s more restrictive, you have to be aware and conscious of your choices. This has a wider impact as you think about what you eat, wear, and how you’re living. It also makes the world more interesting because you're more engaged.

V-L: Can you tell readers a bit about Aaron’s Alcohol and Addiction Support? 

AC: I get quite a few people emailing me for advice. So, Aaron’s Alcohol and Addiction Support is more of a service where I'll talk to find out their background, establish their addiction levels and chat over the phone or have a one-to-one Zoom meeting. I'll look for things I can relate to or circumstances that I might be able to help them with. 

The most important thing is to admit you've got a problem and find support, as it can be hard to deal with that alone. When I was drinking, I would say, “I'm not going to drink tomorrow. Tomorrow I'll stop”. But that didn’t work, and I got to the point where I was hospitalised - where it was out of my hands. The hospital detoxed me. 

Mentoring is a way to use my knowledge and the horrible negative part of my life to help people before they get to the point I got to. And a lot of it is just chatting and giving a person support and reassurance.

V-L: Veganism has become quite trendy with brands. Do you think it's greenwashing, or do you think there's genuine change? 

AC: To an extent, I think it's greenwashing. Many people are drawn towards an increasingly plant-based diet and sadly some companies exploit this for the wrong reasons. However, I do think it's still good because it's having an impact. 

V-L: With the rise of vegan fast food, it’s easy to eat unhealthily. What would you recommend for a healthy vegan diet? 

AC: I eat whole foods mostly and try to stay away from processed foods. But I'm not as strict as I used to be. I’ll have porridge for breakfast, fruit, and superfoods like cinnamon, turmeric and spirulina. And then once or twice a week, I have junk food, hopefully balancing it out. And I have been doing that for quite a while, and I’m still seeing health improvements. You want to have a bit of fun. I even think the junk food versions are still healthier because meats are carcinogenic, have saturated fat, and can contain hormones, antibiotics and steroids. 

I've been going to the gym for just over a year, so I changed my diet to include more protein, and I make sure I'm getting enough carbs and not too many unhealthy fats. But it's essential to educate yourself. There are so many different diets out there and people you can follow on Instagram who provide insights and recipes to help.

I've got a page on my website with tips and what I do for my condition and the supplements I take. 

V-L: Would you try lab-grown meat if it became vegan?

AC: For me, it's a big no-no because I wouldn't want to eat it for health reasons. It's a good idea for those people in the population who are not going to go vegan, and I suppose it could save millions of animals. 

I was reading Men's Fitness magazine, and there was a four-page article on plant-based recipes that featured professional boxers and athletes discussing how meat, dairy and eggs cause inflammation. So even if you get organic, grass-fed meat, or lab-grown, it can still cause health issues. Game Changers on Netflix is an excellent documentary to show your meat-eating friends because it breaks the myths that you need meat for protein, muscle and strength. 

V-L: You mentioned going to the gym, has veganism improved your fitness levels? 

AC: I was always told that I could never exercise because of my condition and that it would potentially cause too much stress on my body, but I have gradually gotten back into exercise.

I’ve been going to the gym for almost a year, seeing amazing results and building muscle. I was always tired when I went to the gym as a vegetarian. The weights were heavy. I couldn't wait to put them down. Now, I can keep going and going, sometimes doing cardio for 70 minutes. A vegan diet and lifestyle is amazing if it's done right, with the proper nutrients. 

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Aaron, and for being a truly inspirational vegan influencer. For more on fitness, check out motivating online vegan personal trainers to follow and increase your omega 3 intake with 5 best vegan omega 3 sources.

*The information in this interview is not a substitute for medical advice. Always check with your GP or a qualified professional when dealing with any healthcare issues. If you have been impacted by the topic of addiction, do not hesitate to seek support.

Read More