My Vegan Experience

By now I’m sure many of you have heard of the Netflix documentary, What the Health. If you haven’t seen it, here is the sparknotes version.

  • Chicken causes cancer
  • Beef causes cancer
  • Fish has ridiculous amounts of mercury, so it might as well give you cancer
  • Dairy causes cancer
  • 1 egg = 5 cigarettes (obviously gives you cancer)
  • The major cancer societies sponsor products that actually cause cancer (e.g the American Cancer Society is a major sponsor of Yoplait yogurt)

The end insists plant based diets are the only healthy option and you will notice a major difference in your health after 2 weeks. Several athletes even claimed a plant based diet greatly improved their athletic ability. Now are the claims about everything causing cancer true? I've heard otherwise and still need to do my research. Regardless, since I've never had a special diet, I decided this was the time to try a vegan diet for 3 weeks to either confirm or reject What the Health’s claims.

My struggles:

Week 1 was so difficult!!!!!!!!!!!  I can’t stress this enough. On the spectrum of crazy health nut to fast food junkie, I fall right in the middle. I rarely eat fast food, but I’m also not a frequent consumer of food like chickpeas, quinoa and tofu. I knew it would be a big adjustment, but the first 5 days of my experiment I could not get Wendy's or Shake Shack out of my head. I spent most of the day thinking about my next meal and wondering which meat-like substitutes I could find. I even had a dream about chicken tenders! My fantasizing felt more like withdrawal, which made me realize, I am addicted to bad food?!?

Week 2 was much better because I actually took the time to look up vegan recipes and meal prep over the weekend. I was never going to last if I kept walking past NYC restaurants on an empty stomach. This week was monumental because I started embracing the vegan experience instead of missing what I couldn’t have. I looked forward to trying new recipes and vegan ingredients like nutritional yeast. My cravings were better controlled because I started carrying snacks to make sure I was never hungry.

Personally, I disagreed with the movie. Two weeks is not enough time to appreciate a difference. It wasn’t until the middle of third week that I truly believed vegan diets were worth the sacrifice. I felt great and I was finally able to reject meat and diary products based products without hesitation or sadness. People also pointed out I also looked slimmer in the right areas, which was perfect timing for last beach days of summer.

My learning experience:

1. My awareness about everything that entered my body increased tremendously

 In all honesty, I’ve never really taken the time to think about all the ingredients of my meal. As long all my meals consist of the basic food groups I’m doing something right. A vegan diet forces you to be aware of exactly what is in each meal and how it’s cooked. Pinto beans? Cooked with pork. Caesar dressing and Mayonnaise? Made with eggs. I was shocked to realize how much food I couldn’t eat and realized how difficult eating out was for vegans.

2. I felt pretty amazing after a meal

You know when you have the first piece of your mom’s mac and cheese or a really well marinated steak and your brain is exploding because it’s so delicious! Yea that rarely happened…. It wasn’t until the end of my experiment until I really started enjoying my meals. However, I’m sure it would have gotten better if I kept experimenting with more recipes. Unfortunately, after that amazing taste we’re used to comes the feeling of heaviness and exhaustion, which is definitely the biggest plus to a vegan diet. When I stopped eating it was because my brain recognized I was full, not my stomach. After I was finished eating, I felt light as a feather and food babies were nowhere to be seen.

3. Returning to meat was not as amazing as I hoped

I could not wait to get my hands back on meat and dairy (cheese specifically for some reason). After a couple of days of my old diet, I hated it. I felt heavy all the time, I was definitely more tired throughout the day, and I just didn’t feel good about myself. I’m not sure if my subconscious was upset because I knew these foods were bad for me or if I was actually physically was affected. Regardless, I decided I definitely want to return to that feeling I had during my vegan diet.

My takeway:

After 3 weeks of trying a vegan diet, it was a little too restrictive so I have decided to try a pescatarian diet for the next month. Pescatarian diets restrict meat and only allow fish, restricting diary is up to the individual. I think it will give a perfect balance of having a little more flavor and meal satisfaction I’m looking for, without the negative effects of meat. I’ll let you know how it goes!

WARNING!!!:

I spoke to a dietician halfway through my experiment and he gave me an excellent reminder. A proper vegan diet is not just fruit and vegetables. You really have to ensure you’re getting enough protein in your diet. Many of his patients who try vegan diets after a year have serious vitamin deficiencies and high triglycerides (bad fat). If you are contemplating an extended diet, definitely do your research and/or speak to a nutritionist to make sure you’re doing it right.