Review of a vegan diet based on personal experience
Being vegan takes some time to get used to – here’s what I learned from one month of veganism. (And especially the weeks after.)
Eating only plant-based for a month sounds very daunting and scary for many – myself included. I still gave it a go in order to challenge myself, try new recipes and be a better role model for my nutrition coaching clients. Read all the reasons in this previous post.
With Veganuary long behind us, I still want to share with you what I learned from living plant-based for a month. In general, being vegan is actually a lot easier than I thought. Yes, you might miss cheese and crave some particular items, but all in all, it’s really more than doable. Let’s talk about the good, the bad and the ugly truth.
Spoiler alert: There’s absolutely no need to eat tofu-burgers, tofu-sausages, fake turkey, beyond meat burgers and all that processed bulls*it.
The good – Challenging but very rewarding
If you go vegan you will become more adventurous, conscious of what goes into your body and might even lose a few pounds.
Eating only plant-based pushed me towards trying a lot of new things and products in the kitchen. The main reason for me to try veganism in the first place was to broaden my recipe repertoire. I became more adventurous in the kitchen again and tried more new recipes in a single month than I did in the whole year of 2019. Most of them were absolutely delicious. Especially if you try new recipes that try to simply swap out the meat for something else you will be delighted. Many of the recipes that I tried made me question why I was eating meat on a semi-regular basis anyway.
Veganism drives you towards being a lot more conscious of what goes into your body. You are forced to pretty much read the label of every single packaged or canned item in the supermarket. Animal products are hiding in a lot of places you might not expect them to be at. I knew about gelatine in wine-gums, but even the ones without gelatine have beeswax in them to make them shinier. Huh.
If you start digging into veganism, you will learn so much about nutrition, animal welfare and the misinformation spread about vegan nutrition. Even as a certified nutrition coach I learned so much more about protein, B vitamins, nutrient deficiencies and the power of plants.
A whole foods plant-based diet also encourages you to cook more from scratch. Less processed foods, less manufactured products, and very little take-outs meant that I lost around 7 pounds in a month without counting any calories.
The bad – It’s not a magic bullet
“Your skin will clear up, your energy levels will increase, you will feel amazing on a vegan diet!”
I call bullsh*t on that one. I did not feel any different on a vegan diet than the times when I was eating clean and avoiding highly-processed foods.
The first two weeks of being vegan I ate pretty much everything in the supermarket snack aisle that was vegan. Lots of dark chocolate, oreo’s, coated crunchy nuts, chips, and other ultra-processed deep-fried salty potato snacks. Guess what, you can eat pretty unhealthy on a vegan diet. French fries, cola, and Oreos are all day every day? Totally vegan. Good for you? Probably not. It’s very much possible to gain a lot of weight and mess up your cardio-vascular system on a totally vegan diet.
Here’s the truth from my personal experience: A vegan diet will probably make you feel gassy and bloated! Even though legumes, beans, peas, and lentils were already staples in my diet, they become a lot more prominent. I also ate a lot more whole-wheat and whole-grain products. Pretty much all pasta and rice I ate was whole-grain. The extra fiber and starch in legumes and whole-grains can be quite unfamiliar for your gut and digestive system. That’s when you become bloated and gassy. Long-term vegans will tell you that this goes away after a while. It did not in the month that I tried a fully plant-based diet. Never in my life before did my gut felt so uncomfortable on a regular basis.
Being vegan can be quite difficult to maintain in social situations – as is pretty much any dietary change though. People will probably keep asking you why you are doing what you are doing. They might even get a little defensive about their own eating patterns, even if you are not trying to be preachy about your vegan choices.
The ugly truth – I choose not to stick to it
Being vegan is easiest if you never dine out, eat in isolation or only mingle with other vegans. Otherwise, you will have to deal with making sure you have something to eat that matches with your dietary choice and have to deal with the social stigma that is still attached to veganism.
If you want to dine out you are best advised to check the menu before to see if the restaurant you are planning to go to actually has options for you. It’s getting a lot better but a lot of restaurants (and your non-vegan friends) won’t be prepared for your arrival. If you are lucky enough to live in a big city, you will have more options. I live in Amsterdam, a city where there’s a lot of choices when it comes to vegan food and restaurants. I’m very aware that this is a lot harder to do in a smaller or rural city.
I choose not to stay fully vegan. While I’m writing this we are hitting the end of February. Veganuary is long behind us and currently, I’m still eating around 70% vegetarian and vegan, while having some fish or meat occasionally. (Current stats 24-02-2020: Out of all days this year 64% have been fully vegan, 5% were vegetarian, 31% had some meat or fish in them). I’m aiming for 80% plant-based and try to give animal dishes a more special place in my diet, rather than eating them mindlessly on auto-pilot.
What annoyed me most about sticking to a vegan lifestyle was this polarizing WE against THEM mentality on both ends of the spectrum. Why does it have to be MEAT-EATER vs PLANT-EATER? Just opt for the middle ground. Try to eat more vegetables and eat fewer animal products. It’s better for your health and better for the environment.
And there you have it. More than a month of veganism. I learned a lot, I regret absolutely nothing and it changed my eating habits for the better.
Practical tip: Start small – Try 2 new vegan recipes this week
The cold-turkey (kicking all animal products in one go) approach can be daunting but might give yourself a reality check. All-in-veganism is literally quite life-changing.
If you are vegan-curious, ease your way into a plant-based diet. Try 2 vegan recipes you have never tried before in the next week. Familiarize yourself with the ingredients you don’t know yet and get ready to be surprised.
More in-depth articles about how to be vegan coming up
In the upcoming weeks, I will release a few more posts that go into more detail of specific aspects of a plant-based diet.
The 7 best vegan recipes I tried in Veganuary
How it improved me as a cook
How you can deal with food cravings
How to get enough protein for those gains in the gym
And which vegan products I tried and can highly recommend (and which ones sucked…)
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In case you wonder why I chose to give veganism a try in the first place, read here why.
Comments are obviously more than welcome! Have you tried sticking to a vegan diet? Any concerns, questions, hesitations, and fears? Share them here with us and I might be able to share some first-hand experience about it with you.