Well Being

Vegan For A Month: Lessons From My 30-Day Vegan Diet Challenge

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I recently went vegan for a month. After reading so much lately about the benefits of a vegan diet—both for the body and the earth—I decided it was something I needed to try.  Despite the fact that I “look like a vegetarian,” I enjoy cheese, chicken and the occasional burger in my regular diet. But regardless of how my diet continues to evolve, I know now that I'm not only capable of giving up animal products but that it's also something as easy and enjoyable as it is healthful.

I'm sure most of this will be old hat to long-term vegans, but if you're thinking about trying veganism or just want to dabble in it, this information is for you. Here's what I learned:

The energy thing is no joke

I'd heard that you get a big energy boost when you cut animal products out of your diet. For me, this was definitely true. I had a TON of energy and felt overall lighter and more alert mentally. I could get up in the morning and start to work without any caffeine and the usual three p.m. slump wasn't nearly as slumpy as usual.

It was a lot easier than I thought

I anticipated that eating vegan for a month would be difficult, especially since my cohabiting boyfriend was not joining me in the experiment. This proved wrong. Yes, I had a couple of pizza cravings here and there, but overall I found it considerably easier than expected to stick with my plant-based diet (even knowing there was regular milk and cheese and lunchmeat inside my fridge!). I don't know if it was a case of hardened willpower or what, but by the time my month was up this past Tuesday, I didn't really even want to eat non-vegan food.

It's not more expensive

It seems like veganism gets a bad rap for being more expensive than the Standard American Diet. I didn't find that to be true. If anything, I saved money by not buying meat or fancy cheese and being limited in my ability to eat out at restaurants.

I ate a lot (and I mean a LOT) of beans, which are really cheap and versatile, so that was one way to keep costs down, but I also didn't buy a lot of the fake meats that are common in natural foods stores. For me, it seemed to make sense that if I was going to do the challenge, I was really going to try to commit to eating in a very healthful way, so I didn't want to just replace animal products with processed non-animal foods. And filling your plate with a lot of vegetables isn't truly as spendy as everyone seems to think it is, even if you buy stuff like organic kale (which, yeah, I did). I ate vegetables and fruits at almost every meal. I made my own cashew cheese. My grocery bill stayed more or less the same, if not cheaper than before.

Yes, you feel full

I actually felt considerably more satisfied with less food than when I was eating on a omnivorous diet. This was probably the most shocking thing to me. I expected to feel hungry and want to snack a lot, but after about a week, I found that my hunger seemed more fully satiated than when I was eating meat and dairy products. I'm assuming this has to do with the greater fiber and nutrient content of the meals I was eating (and perhaps because I ate soup almost every day), but it was really a nice surprise.

Preparation is key

One huge takeaway from this whole experiment was the importance of being prepared at all times with appropriate vegan food. Kind of obvious, I guess, but I found that on the nights I hadn't planned my vegan dinner, I ended up drinking a smoothie or eating sauteed greens on toast because I was too hungry to think of what to make (not usually as large of a problem when I'm eating meat and dairy, because quesadillas or a grilled cheese seem like easy options).

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Photo: Flickr user Banalities

If you're a new vegan, meal planning is your friend. I went out and did a big grocery shopping trip before the month started and I found that planning meals not only made me excited about cooking them, it made me less likely to slip up and eat an animal product out of convenience.  This can be as complicated as planning meals for an entire month or week or just flipping through a cookbook in the morning so you'll know what your dinner is going to be. The “be prepared” rule applies to snacks, too: keeping fruit leather or a small bag of almonds in my purse made it much easier not to give in to the temptation of white cheddar popcorn or Cheez-its at the gas station.

Staple foods during my challenge: Veggie soups, lentils, hummus and smoothies.

Vegan foods I strangely didn't eat much of: Quinoa, tofu, vegan cheese.

I'm not going to commit to a fully vegan diet in the future, as I don't have a moral or ethical objection to eating animal products. But I like the idea of living a more sustainable lifestyle environmentally. And since I've directly seen the benefits of veganism on my body and health, I'm thinking of ways that I can make a new normal for myself.  Perhaps a “vegan until dinner” approach like Mark Bittman? Or I might decide to eat vegan at home and non-vegan when I'm out at restaurants.

Overall, eating vegan was a really eye-opening experience for me. I've eaten a bit of chicken and some cheese in the past few days, but I don't have any plans to go hog-wild on animal products anytime soon.

Disclaimer: My vegan experiment was centered only around food, not as a total lifestyle choice. This information relates only to animal products as food. I am also not a doctor, dietitian or nutritionist, so all information here is purely anecdotal and should not be used as scientific evidence or fact.

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