Know what to expect before you give up on meat and dairy.
- What to anticipate when trying a Vegan diet.
Are you thinking about turning vegan? You're not the only one who feels this way: People try out a meat- and dairy-free diet once a month for ethical and environmental grounds, as well as for their own health. Shilpa Ravella, MD, gastroenterology and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, says, “I believe there are compelling benefits to a whole-food, plant-based diet, which is why I do prescribe this sort of diet for many patients.” Among the health advantages include a lower risk of chronic illnesses and the potential for weight loss.
But, before you lay down your grilled cheese and bid farewell to all of your favorite chicken dishes, keep in mind that it won't be simple. “Vegan diets are restricted and difficult to maintain for those who grew up consuming animal products daily,” says Shira Eytan, MD, a board-certified endocrinologist.
Is it, therefore, worthwhile? To answer that, you'll need to understand what it's like to go vegan, particularly during those potentially difficult first 30 days. We talked to nutritionists, physicians, and vegans (some who have been vegan for decades and others who are brand new to the diet) to find out precisely what to expect throughout a month (or longer!) without meat or dairy.
2. Weight reduction… or weight gain
“Many of my clients have told me how simple it was to lose weight after switching to a completely plant-based diet,” says Jennifer Mimkha, MPH, RD. According to Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, this might be because many plant sources of protein are fewer in calories than meat.
Another explanation is that It's not always simple to eat as a vegan, which may be irritating when you need to grab a bite on the run, but it does have the benefit of preventing mindless munching. For example, Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, a vegan for almost 25 years, points out that she can't normally engage in enticing, unhealthy samples at the grocery store since they almost invariably contain meat or dairy.
Bottom line: The consequences of being vegan on your weight will be determined by how you consume. You may gain weight if you consume vegan junk food or eat too many carbohydrates in place of meat and dairy. If you make healthy, balanced choices, you may lose weight, especially if your pre-vegan diet was high in saturated fats and processed foods.
- Changing preferences and appetites
Vegans claim to perceive a difference in their taste receptors anecdotally. “My entire sense of taste has been heightened, and food has brought me so much joy.” And my hard-to-control sweet taste almost vanishes,” says Alexandria Abramian, a content director in California who just transitioned to a vegan diet.
This change in taste buds has been confirmed by science. “Even if you go a few weeks without junk meals and animal products heavy in salt, fat, and sugar, your preferences start to alter,” Dr. Ravella explains. “Even after,” she says.
“Our taste receptors' sensitivity to fat can change even after just a few weeks.”
- Gas, bloating, and associated gastrointestinal distress
Forward bends, twists, and a variety of other positions serve to stimulate the digestive tract and maintain regularity.
- Transformations in the kitchen
With so many items forbidden, it's no wonder that some of your tried-and-true meal ideas won't work. That's a treat for some vegan newcomers. “I enjoy the challenge of coming up with new ways to prepare a meal. “I've found new ingredients and don't feel limited,” Abramian adds. “I personally believe it's fun to try different dishes,” Rizzo says.
Others discovered that their new high-maintenance approach took some adjusting. “The first few nights at home, I remember wondering, ‘What the heck am I going to eat?'” says Rob Mohr, a vegan for four years and an amateur Ironman triathlete. “I worked out some go-to dinners where veggies are the center of the dish after some recipe study,” he adds. “The idea is to come up with five or six of these dinners that you enjoy and can prepare quickly.”
Natalie Slater, a vegan cookbook author, and blogger anticipated a smooth transition because she was already a vegetarian. However, because her family was not vegan, meal preparation proved to be more difficult than she had anticipated. To be honest, I used to be envious of them when I saw them devouring a gooey cheese pizza “she explains.
- Friends and family will join you.
Ella Mills, the founder of Deliciously Ella and the author of Natural Feasts, discovered that her family and friends were initially confused by her new diet. “At first, everyone thought I was crazy! Plant-based cuisine was relatively unknown in the UK six years ago, and no one could understand why I would consume it. It was assumed that it would be disgusting to eat “Mills reminisces. With supper, she was able to win them over. I began cooking for my friends and family whenever I had the opportunity to persuade them.” I began cooking for my friends and family whenever I had the opportunity to persuade them.” (Try some of her filling plant-based meals.)
- Feeling more energetic.
“I instantly felt a boost in my energy level,” Mimkha adds. “I just required one cup of coffee in the morning to keep me energized for the rest of the day, whereas [previously] I would reach for a second cup by 1 p.m.”
Is this, however, owing to a vegan diet—or something else entirely? “We don't have any genuine evidence to indicate that folks who go vegan have more energy,” Messina adds.
The greater energy (and absence of afternoon naps) might be the consequence of a better diet in general, especially if turning vegan means avoiding sugary snacks and processed meals, which, as Rizzo points out, cause blood sugar spikes and falls.
- A radiant complexion
Several vegans said the difference in their skin was immediate—and stunning. “My skin had the most noticeable physical alteration. My complexion appeared to clear up once I changed my diet “Slater explains. Mimkha had the same experience: “I've had skin problems my whole life, and it's never looked better since I became plant-based.”
- A hunger that will not be satiated
Even if you're ordinarily knowledgeable, a good cook and a meal planner, all the specifics of a new diet may not connect until you're in the midst of it. Talia Koren, recipe developer and founder of Workweek Lunch, says, “Eliminating out meat was easy, but cutting eggs and cheese was much more challenging.” “It wasn't difficult to be vegan for a month thanks to meal preparation. What I found tough and the reason I gave up: I was constantly hungry, which left me exhausted by the end of the day.”
- Vitamin deficiencies
Dr. Eytan warns that as healthy as a vegan diet might be, there remains a risk of vitamin deficiencies, particularly in B12. “A vegan diet may be low in omega-3 fatty acids, albeit [they] can be obtained in flax seeds and walnuts.” Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about if you should consider taking supplements to replenish these nutrients, as well as iron, zinc, and calcium, she advises.
- A makeover for your microbiota
Your gut microbes can have a significant influence on your health. According to Dr. Ravella, a typical American diet promotes the growth of disease-causing bacteria, whereas a more fiber-rich diet promotes the formation of a diversified microbiome consisting of beneficial bacteria. When you switch to a fiber-rich vegan diet, your gut flora changes quickly. “If you transition someone from a meat-based to a plant-based diet or vice versa, you see substantial changes in the microbiome after only a couple of days,” she explains.
- Exclusions and cheats
You're not alone if a full-time vegan lifestyle—or even a 30-day challenge—isn't for you. “I now have one vegan week every month to change my diet while being a flexitarian,” adds Koren.
With one daily exception, Bramian remains committed to a vegan diet. “I have a daily cheat,” she admits, “because almond milk in coffee is really horrible.” “I can't do it—coffee is too vital a ritual for me, so every morning I have some heavy cream.”
If being a vegan is primarily motivated by health, this type of loophole can be a lifesaver in ensuring that the diet lasts beyond a one-time experiment and becomes a lifelong habit. Abramian expects to stick to her vegan-plus-a-tablespoon-of-heavy-cream diet for the foreseeable future.