Motivated by curiosity and challenge, I shifted from an Omnivore diet to a Vegan diet for 30 days. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed the change. Could I have kept it going for another month? Probably. But I know it would have become less enjoyable and I would’ve had to get more strategic to ensure I was hitting my energy and nutrient requirements. Here’s a summary of my experience!
Click here for a more detailed explanation of WHY I went Vegan. For those who want the short story, here it is:
The goal in changing my diet was to support my cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, and improve circulation. It was also because I found myself having a major resistance to giving up animal products and wanted to address and challenge myself on that.
Did going vegan help me achieve my health goal? A little bit. The swelling and discoloration in my fingers remained mostly the same. In terms of cardiovascular health, I had a lipid panel taken before and after the 30 days. The main findings were a drop in LDL, Total Cholesterol, and Triglycerides. Before I went vegan my practitioner kept throwing out the word “statin” during a few of our calls, but please read my blog about Heart Health if you want to know how I interpret a Lipid Panel. I actually went back and read it myself, and still stand in agreement with that research. And to be clear, my numbers were on the higher end of things, but not off the charts by any means. So even though she was saying the word “statin,” I never felt threatened by one. Jeez, it’d be a really wild day if I ever agreed to taking a statin. A REALLY wild day. I get sad for my liver just thinking about it.
Anyways, the drop in Total Cholesterol actually made me nervous. I’ve struggled with maintaining a menstrual cycle in the past and things have been really steady lately. I was nervous about the abrupt drop in cholesterol because our steroid hormones ( i.e. sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, vitamin D etc.) are CREATED from cholesterol, so I was worried that I’d lose it again. BUT, I’m happy to report everything is still normal here! So I do feel good about where my current lipid numbers and ratios are, and it’s also a great reminder of how IMPACTFUL diet is on our heart health! Our cardiovascular system responds really quickly and powerfully to an appropriate change in diet. If you have any type of cardiovascular condition, I’d highly recommend you look into a diet change to better support your body! The diet change has to be individualized, so it will be a little different for everyone — I’m in no way encouraging a 30 day vegan diet for EVERYone! Has to be personalized.
So, what did I learn? On the “behavior change” side of things, I learned that once I honestly commit to something, I will follow-through. This was a big diet change for me, and even though most feedback from people was positive, there was also a lot of “WAIT. YOU’RE GOING VEGAN? THE GIRL WHO EATS LIVER AND SARDINES FOR BREAKFAST?!?” Again, it was a big’ish change so I knew I had to find ways to hold myself to it. I made myself accountable by telling everyone I knew and by blasting it on social media the day before I started. I have a hard time letting myself down, but an even harder time letting other people down, so once I told other people my commitment felt strong and unshakable.
I wanted to see this challenge through, so there wasn’t any cheating or “maybe just this one time” thoughts. My intention was to be a “whole food” vegan as much as possible, and I succeeded in that. I didn’t eat any fake meats, fake butters, fake cheeses, oreos, etc. The goal wasn’t to be perfect and I sure wasn’t, but the goal WAS to do it as well as possible. This meant an allowance for processed foods as they came about and down below you’ll see a list of the ones I chose. Although, if it was longer than 30 days, I would have had to made more allowances or been more diligent about my fat and protein intake. More on that soon.
For this next part I’m just going to start listing things. I find it’s a more effective way to read information, especially from someone as wordy as myself. But honestly, I just love a good categorized summary, so here ya go!
- Tofu wore me down. I still believe tempeh is superior in terms of protein bioavailability, but I no longer think of tofu as this processed watery block with not much to give. I plan to keep it in my rotation.
- I had plans to eat more grains and beans but totally didn’t. I soaked and sprouted wild rice, quinoa, lentils, and black beans, but they only were 2-3 servings each. This is a group I’d have to give more attention to if I went vegan for longer
- Highly Craved Foods: Peanut Butter, Pumpkin seeds, and Hummus! Couldn’t get enough. Interesting because for the last few years I’ve largely preferred almond butter over peanut butter, but my vegan self reallyyyyy wanted PB
- Most Frequented Foods: oatmeal with chia, hemp, coconut flakes and bee pollen nearly everyday. Fruit, nuts, seeds, and hummus and veg during the day. Veg stir-fry with tempeh, tofu, or jackfruit at night. Blueberries, almond milk and pb for dessert or dark chocolate
- Not much vegetable oil. My total cholesterol went down 46 points and tri’s went down 4. Vegetable oil (damaged fats) is one of the main players in jacking up those numbers and creating the inflammation in your body. When I’m not vegan I tend to pick up little goodies here and there that for sure have vegetable oil in them (I’m not a crazy person thinking you have to completely avoid any one thing UNLESS you’re seriously sick). When I was vegan, I was reading more labels, seeing some sort of milk fat/protein, and putting them back. It was a long, hard month without yogurt pretzels.
- FAT: unintentionally, my fat intake was low. I didn’t do a good job at prioritizing it. Looking back I should of blended MCT oil in my coffee (in addition, and not as a replacement to, an actual breakfast), had more olives, avocados, coconut products in general, perhaps bringing ghee back into my life.
- Protein: for sure not enough. Dizziness, fatigue, brittle hair – especially towards the end of my period. This is where I could of utilized quinoa, lentils, amaranth, and certain higher protein beans better, as well as had more volume of tempeh and tofu.
- Carbs: check.
- Processed Foods: when I wasn’t being a whole food vegan and acting more like a functioning member of the human race, here’s what (very enjoyably) went down: rice cakes, popsicles, Siete chips, coconut milk ice cream sandwiches for the 4th of July!, vegan cookie dough that was eaten as such because I was too lazy to bake them, larabars, very dark chocolate, Ezekiel sprouted grain pita bread pockets, and dark chocolate nonpareils (these became such a spark of joy for me, since my normal bulk bin purchase are their neighbors, the vanilla yogurt pretzels)
- Bloating increased during the first week, then started decreasing during the second week and onward.
- Energy, sleep and mood – all remained normal and good
- Training – my runs were great, didn’t see too big of an effect except after my period. I felt really low in just about everything, especially iron. I could of sworn I was living at 20,000 ft. It also should be noted that my running was cut in half right before I went vegan due to my ultramarathon being cancelled and an achilles tendon issue. Helpful.
- Allergy test IgE – I got over 25 of the foods I eat the most tested for immediate allergic reactions and they all came back negative. The main reason for this was to see if I was reacting to animal proteins, and I still may have a sensitivity to any of these foods which would cause some suspect inflammation, but nothing immediate is taking place.
REINTRODUCTION: here’s a list of non-vegan foods I had the first few days. I asked my body what it wanted and started with those. I took it slow and actually didn’t feel that great for the first 2 days. Sharp pains in my abdomen. Could of been one of these foods, or could of been multifactorial.
- Peanut m&m’s (mountain day, crushed them up and put them in my wrap for lunch, no regrets)
- Butter/Banana Bread
- Tiny piece of steak
As the end of my vegan experience came into sight, I began thinking about what sounded good to eat. What do I want? What could I envision eating? What tastes good in my imagination?
- Not eggs. This surprised me, but they just didn’t sound good
- Chicken, fish and butter all sounded good. Leaner red meats also sounded good, but not the fattier cuts.
- When I had the sharp abdominal pains for the two days after I had salmon in the fridge ready for dinner, but I looked at it and shut the door. My body wanted nothing to do with it. Fat content? Low on enzymes? I’m now eating fish again, but at first I think the fat content was too high after eating lower fat for a month. It was one of those things that gave me pain just looking at it. Easy choice.
It’s been a month since I reintroduced these foods and I feel way better. Things are steady and I feel great. Even though I did feel good and enjoy my 30 days as a vegan, I also felt like I was missing something rather massive. The swelling on my fingers has gone down but mostly because it’s 90 degrees out. I’m not convinced diet is playing as big of a role as I speculated. There is still experimentation to be done, but for now I’m going to eat what looks good, and enjoy all of it. Health is just one thing, it has several pillars that all need to be addressed. Sleep, exercise, stress, diet, social connections, environment. These are the main pillars, and if you are struggling with a chronic health condition, they all need to be addressed in some way! There is no shortcut to greater health, you have to put in the work in more than one area to achieve the outcome you desire
I’m going to end this summary with answering some FAQ’s:
- Did you discover any new foods that you’ll continue to eat?
- Tofu and Jackfruit. I’ve had tofu before, but never cooked it myself or given it much thought. I still prefer tempeh for its greater protein bioavailability, but tofu has made the rotation. I don’t think I’ve ever had Jackfruit. It has its strengths and adds a nice variety to the mix!
- Any that I won’t?
- No, I enjoyed all the foods I ate and aside from tofu and jackfruit, everything was very familiar
- Did I see any benefits?
- The main one that comes to mind is bloating went down after a week or so. At first I figured it was just part of my monthly cycle, but then it stayed down for the most part. My best guess is that it was a combination of a few things: the absence of energy dense animal foods, the increase in soluble fiber, the increase in the variety of fruits/veg, and less physical stress because I was exercising less
- Any negative effects?
- I felt pretty dizzy the last 10 days. On a macro level I felt like I was falling short on protein and fat. If I was going longer than 30 days I definitely would have made adjustments to increase both of them. On a micro level, I felt I was falling short on Iron and Iodine, despite supplementing with iron daily.
- How did it feel to eat meat/dairy again?
- Mostly fantastic. I did have a couple days worth of stabbing pains when standing or walking after the reintroduction, but nothing bad since. I also had joint pain in my fingers that I am still trying to figure out if it was something I ate (narrowed it down to butter, eggs, or sardines) or if I unknowingly slammed my hand no a rock while floating the river (it happens).
- How did it go?
- I think it went really well. Other than 3 days post menstruation, everything was maintained. My energy, mood, sleep – all the same. With the increase in fiber, I felt satiated. And even though I was eating less protein than usual, my blood sugar was balanced. The swelling in my fingers didn’t go down, but it seems like my body really enjoyed the change-up.
- What did you learn?
- How important it is to rotate through different foods. If you’re hoping for different results in areas of body composition, mood, sleep, performance etc. than you need to address your food. Food has the capacity to make us better. We make our hormones, our cells, our neurotransmitters out of the food we eat. Don’t discount it and go through the motions, buy something new! Eat a different cuisine, try a new recipe, it’s so important!
- In terms of following through on a challenge, I learned the importance of getting specific on my “why,” the importance of accountability (tell EVERYONE you know), and the importance of making a pact with yourself that you will commit to this. When you follow-through and complete your goal, it strengthens the trust we have in ourselves and ability to make tough decisions, and if we can find ways to always increase our ability to trust ourselves, we’ll be set up to take more risks and continue to grow.
Thanks for reading and following along! I received so much support and interest in this experiment. Please reach out with any questions or if I can help you in any way!