After 10+ years of being vegetarian/pescatarian, I was “challenged” by a dear friend to give vegan a try for one month. Just one month. I knew I could do anything for 30 days, even if that thing included giving up cheese (which I loved very, very much). What I didn’t realize was how much that one month challenge would literally change my entire life. Although I had done a lot of research on nutrition, I started digging deeper into this plant-based thing and what I found was more than I bargained for… in a good way.
That cheese that I could never give up started looking a whole lot different to me. I will save the mammary secretions of animals for later; different blog, different day. Today I want to share my experience during my first month being vegan as well as the best and worst foods, most of which I’ve learned through doctors who actually research the connection between diet and health. (If you’re looking for scientific proof, read the China Study — or here are a few other sources here, here, & here!)
The beginning of the challenge for me was more mental than anything else. It really is true that your mind will make up the difference between can and can’t. I had to shut off the negative commentary of what I thought I would be missing out on or “couldn’t” have for a month. I also had to grow thick skin. For some reason, eating more healthfully and mindfully really offends people. I’m not sure why people are more concerned when someone chooses to eat nutrient dense foods but are completely okay with them stopping at the gas station for a soda and chips or McDonald’s for something empty and/or harmful in terms of nutrition. There are far less critics when you eat the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) than there are when you choose to give up animals products/by-products. Perhaps they feel you are personally attacking their choices when really you’re just trying to help and educate? I have a lot of theories, mostly psychological and in terms of justification of one’s own actions, but I don’t think it’ll be conducive to this post.
The journey was not a lonesome one. I had help and if any of you are thinking of doing this I suggest you enlist a professional, an accountability partner of your own, and/or do some research. One huge misconception people have is that vegans are skinny, pale, and unhealthy looking… and they’re right when it comes to junk food vegans. Vegan does not equal health and it is important that if you’re doing this, you focus on whole-food-plant-based nutrition and not boxed, processed junk food. I focused on adding real food; the things I read about from Dr. Fuhrman – GBOMBS! These powerhouse foods are loaded with phytonutrients and vitamins/minerals. I will follow-up on this later.
The results are hard to ignore…
What I noticed first came as a huge shock for me. I had been dealing with a slew of digestive issues for years and although becoming vegetarian helped, I still had problems. For a reference point, I had my first colonoscopy at age 17 and was told I would need one every year for the rest of my life (I never had another one after changing my lifestyle). I did colon hydrotherapy on more than one occasion to help with the issue. I was also completely inconsistent with bathroom visits which would sometimes result in intestinal autointoxication (it’s as yucky as it sounds). The first thing I noticed, aside from craving/missing cheese, was that I was actually going to the bathroom consistently! Yes, every single day! If you’re not going every day, that is NOT healthy… I’m sorry but I don’t care what your doctor says. They are gathering data and using that as a reference point and calling it “average” instead of insisting that you expel that waste on the regular! Trust me, that junk needs to come out. If you’re not grossed out yet, keep reading.
The next thing I noticed was that my PMS wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been for YEARS. I would be sent home from school with cramps, sometimes just curled up in a ball and thinking that if I moved at all I would vomit. Now, I won’t say there were no cramps at all after going vegan… I think that’s just part of this whole process and everyone is different. Some women have them, some women don’t but I noticed a significant decrease in the pain and nausea that were a constant for me since middle school. (sorry if this is TMI for any guys reading, but it’s reality) By removing dairy, I noticed tremendous results during my monthly visit in just the first month. The hormones added to the cows was just not working for me.
After a few more days, the cheese and dairy cravings completely subsided and the headaches stopped (I was having withdrawals). My body was getting used to this new, healthy way of eating. I didn’t change my exercise routine any but I noticed some pretty amazing differences in my current regimen. I stopped having as many stomach cramps while running (which I thought were normal), I ran faster, felt lighter, and wasn’t nearly as tired after a 30-60 min gym visit. By that point I had been running for only 2 years about 2-3 times a week and I was able to cut some serious time off of my mile! In that first month of changing my diet from pescatarian to vegan, my fastest mile went from around 8 minutes to just over 6 minutes! That’s a huge improvement for a 27 year old female who had only been running for a short period of time. That was also the month I was the first female finisher in a 5k by running a pace of 7:31. For me, that’s fast! I had never run a pace of more than 8:27 for a 3 mile stretch.. Maybe this whole vegan thing isn’t so bad after all!
Another great indicator that the whole-food-plant-based diet plays a role in health was my SKIN! My skin was actually clearer, softer, and didn’t get irritated as much. Believe me when I say I was beyond excited about this change!
The next thing I did was research the environmental issues and treatment of animals. For years my stance was, “I don’t do it for the animals, I do it for my health…” and how completely selfish of me to neglect and disregard that part of life because I was raised thinking it is totally normal? It is the “norm”, unfortunately, and the demand is not sustainable for our planet. Because this blog post is about my journey, I’m just going to leave some references here, here, and here regarding the issue. I strongly urge you to do the research. Some of the resources are info-graphics if you prefer that to reading or watching the videos.
For me, this was enough to make the change a permanent one. I decided in that first month that this was the lifestyle for me. It makes the most sense. By joining hands and finding like-minded people you can learn a LOT. Through vegan potlucks and local events, documentaries, and just being mindful about what I was doing, I changed my life for the better.
Ignorance is not bliss, it’s just ignorance… and you have the power to educate yourself.
I have never and will never look back. I do not crave the foods I used to eat. It may seem impossible to change your nutrition and lifestyle but once you do, the vegetables are what you crave. Mostly avocados for me… I could live off of those things! I definitely indulge when I want, but that desire is not as frequent. One of my weaknesses is chips (I love Mexican food and they go great with guacamole!) and I know they don’t provide my body with the nutrients it needs to thrive, but sometimes I want them and I don’t tell myself I can’t do something. Reductionism is what causes people to think negatively about food. By realizing I don’t want it instead of not allowing myself to have it, I have changed the way I snack! It’s not a punishment, I’ve simply shifted the way I see food. When I look at it, I think of all of the things it provides my body with and not just “wow this tastes amazing, let’s eat 47 Girl Scout Cookies!” I want to fuel my body, not junk it up.
Vegan food doesn’t have to be boring!
Best and worst foods for your health
As promised earlier in the post, I’m going to share the best and worst foods — this information is from the extensive research provided by many doctors on a mission to help people heal and thrive with nutrition. Although there are several references I could site, I’ll be sharing from the website for Dr. Fuhrman’s work www.drfuhrman.com (all sources are cited in the links provided). He established a unique practice that specializes in treating a variety of medical problems with lifestyle changes and nutrition. You can learn about him HERE!!
THE BEST FOODS:
(please view the site for a full explanation)
•Green Leafy Vegetables (e.g. kale, collard greens, mustard greens, spinach, lettuce)
•Non Leafy Cruciferous Vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage)
•Seeds (e.g. flax, chia, hemp, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin)
•Nuts (e.g. walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, almonds)
THE WORST FOODS:
•Sweetened Dairy Products (e.g. ice cream, low-fat ice cream, frozen yogurt)
•Trans Fat Containing Foods (e.g. stick margarine, shortening, fast foods, commercial baked goods)
•Sausage, Hot Dogs, and Luncheon Meats
•Smoked Meat, Barbecued Meat and Conventionally-Raised Red Meat
•Fried Foods including Potato Chips and French Fries
•Refined White Sugar
•Refined White Flour
I will continue to learn as much as I can to educate myself on nutrition and am excited to share more of the journey with you.
That’s all for now. Thank you for reading!!
–Vegan for Life
**To dig deeper into this matter and to learn more about WHY each of these foods is either good or bad for you, please utilize the references cited.
**Please note that I am not a doctor. If you want to make any drastic changes to your diet and lifestyle I urge you to seek a professional and do the research to make the best decision for you!