Vegan-ish March challenge
Obligatory Disclaimer - I'm not a doctor or dietitian. This post does not substitute consultation with a professional. This post is not a call to action and should be read for entertainment purposes only.
On March I decided to convert to Veganism (with caveats, more on it later).
Why you ask? As far as I know, there are two reasons why people convert to veganism.
It's no secret that meat and dairy industries are cruel. Cruel in the way they pollute our atmosphere (https://ourworldindata.org/greenhouse-gas-emissions-food); cruel in the way they use our land (https://ourworldindata.org/land-use) which leads to forest destruction; and cruel in the way they treat the animals (I'll save you from sources, but they are easily available online).
An ethical vegan is a person who's eyes were opened by a documentary they've accidentally saw or an article they've read - about the cruelty of the meat industry. Armed with the desire to save our planet and stop animal suffering, our individual decides to adopt veganism.
I, too, care about our planet. I try to sort my garbage and avoid plastic bags. I prefer to take a walk or ride my bicycle instead of driving a car. But I do it as long as it does not harm my comfort too much. If I forgot to bring a reusable bag with me, while going shopping, I'll take a plastic one from the shop as opposed to fill my pockets with apples.
I also know that many industries are bad. All the electronics we use require tantalum which is a chemical that still obtained unethically. Even things we take for granted such as electricity, still comes mainly from the polluting fossil fuels (https://ourworldindata.org/fossil-fuels). And yet, I haven't got rid of my phone and left society to live off grid in a tent in the forest.
So as long as something is good for me at it wasn't obtained 100% unethically, like a stolen item, I'd probably ignore the fact that it harms our planet.
And meat is good for us, right?
The second reason people become vegans is associated with health. There is this myth that people can not survive without meat. Meat is the source of important nutrients like protein or Vitamin B12. You most likely heard about a friend of a friend who became vegan and now need to take supplements because he can't source B12 from plants. How a diet with supplements can be healthy?
Well, the fact is - it can. Protein is largely available in plants (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321474#15-best-vegan-proteins) but B12 indeed can not be obtained from plants. It also can not be obtained from animals, at least not directly.
Vitamin B12 is produced by a bacteria that lives in our soil and water (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_B12#Sources) and since we wash our veggies and filter our water - we kill this bacteria (along with a lot of other harmful bacteria). But how animals get it then? In two ways - they either live a happy and free life and eat unwashed grass with dirt and drink unfiltered water which contains this bacteria; or they get supplements. The same supplements that vegans get.
The meat industry has a very good marketing campaign to convince us that meat is a necessity. At least that's what I though, before I saw a random documentary about plant based diet.
And among all the things I dislike, I very much dislike when I'm being lied to. And I also want to be a super human. So armed with knowledge, determination and excitement - I've started my vegan Month.
As with my February challenge, I needed to set rules. And based on my rules, I've come to realize that I'm not 100% pure vegan, hence the challenge was called "Vegan-ish March". Here are my rules:
- No meat products [obviously, duh..]
- Up to 1 time fish per week during social events [I don't remember why I decided that fish is fine, but spoiler alert - I did not eat any. I don't like fish in general]
- Ghee butter is fine in moderation [My wife started to use Ghee while cooking, so not to complicate things in the kitchen, I included this rule]
- No eggs
- No dairy products
- First two weeks up to one pizza with no meat [I wanted to make the transition easier and not be an asshole during social events when everyone wants pizza and I'm like "I'm vegan"]
Before we proceed to the results, lets talk about my relationship with food.
Food for me was a source of energy. It was something I had to do in order to live a good life. I usually ate meat at least once a day and had this idea in my head that I need meat on daily basis in order to stay healthy. I focused on chicken, and ate red meat only at restaurants where they could prepare a good steak or an amazing hamburger. I dislike fish, so I rarely ate it. Dairy products in general make my stomach upset, so I've limited their usage. Eggs for me were nice for quick breakfasts.
It is recommended to switch to vegetarian diet first, and not jump towards veganism right away. But since I'm not your typical meat eater who eat 5 portions of meat a day, and I mostly live by the rule of "all or nothing", I've decided to jump straight into veganism.
The first few days were amazing. I was energized, excited and ready to conquer my challenge on the way to become a better human being. I was armed with knowledge and science and instead of simply eliminating meat for my meals, I've looked for replacements in forms of beans, grains, legumes and nuts.
But then, by the end of first week, I've started to feel cloudy and tired. I've started to suspect that maybe I don't eat enough and have nutrient deficiency, so at day 8, I've started to count calories.
Counting calories helped, I did realize that 100g of bell pepper is not the same as 100g of chicken breast and that I do have nutrient deficiency. Armed with this new knowledge, I've educated my self even more and started to plan my meals based on the nutrients I need.
And things started to become better. I was more energized, felt great, no more cloudy. Until day 12, when life happened. As with my February challenge, I've broke my diet on day 12.
I've met with a friend and we went to a bar for a couple of cocktails and food. And the only food they had - was pizza. We were hungry, my friend wanted to share the pizza and I was weak. Technically, pizza falls under rule (6) but at that point I was doing great with my diet and decided mentally that I was not going to break it with pizza - but I did.
Other than this, no major accidents. I feel better, I'm more energized (according to my wife) and I started to like food and eating.
The messy part. Skip this if you don't want to discuss poop.
My bowl movement before vegan diet - was regular, but it wasn't.. perfect. I though maybe its related to meat and was hoping that plant based diet will help with that - but I was disappointed. It didn't make things worse, but it didn't improve either.
However one positive effect that I did notice, is that I now rarely have abdominal distension. I used to have it pretty often when I was eating meat, and it did bother me. Not anymore.
One more benefit of plant based diet I've read about is that you have more energy. Can do more things, is less tired and can lift more if you are working out.
And while I'm unable to judge my levels of energy - I'm still functioning normally, do my job, work out and relax; my wife claims I'm way more energized. I was hoping to have more energy for when I workout, but again, I'm unable to judge objectively. I do feel stronger but it can be also because I train regularly.
However, one big benefit that I do notice from plan based diet - is that I'm no longer tired after eating. Do you know this feeling, after when you eat a meal with meat, you suddenly feel full? You feel sleepy and tired ready for siesta even if its 7PM? Well, I used to have that. But after I've switched to plant based diet - I'm not longer having this feeling. I can eat at 4PM, I cat eat at 7PM and I won't feel tired, sleepy or full.
Yet another benefit of plan based diet is that people who have joint pain, experienced less pain or even no pain after switching to plant based diet. I'm not sure about the science behind it, but nevertheless I have chronic shoulder pain that no doctor was able to fix or even diagnose so I've learned to live with it. Plant based diet did not help to relief this pain.
The love for food
After switching to plan based diet, I fell it love with food and cooking. Dinners suddenly became colorful with a bunch of vegetables. I've educated myself about sources of iron, protein, calcium in plants. I even counted calories for some time (I've quit it about 4-5 days before the end of the months, as its too time consuming for me).
I've started to enjoy chopping and cooking; started to love the taste of food. I spend way more time in the kitchen and I did order way less take away food during this month.
Now you can say "Jeez Dmitry, you could have developed the same love for food and cooking by eating meat as well, should you cared enough" and I'd agree with you, I could. But for me, there is a mental association between vegetables and healthy food. And eating healthier food make me wanna prepare this food as well. Sometimes it takes a change to kick start a new hobby or habit, and plant based diet did that for me. So +1 for plant based diet.
Under the hood
The best indicator of health that we can get relatively easily - is blood test. I have blood test I've did around end of January, beginning of February. But I haven't yet done one after being vegan. I don't think one month is enough to have a noticeable effect, so I'll do a test in few months.
Another interesting fact is that I've lost around 2.5kg (~5.5 pounds for my non metric readers). I suspect I was not eating enough the first days and only when I started to count calories, I've realized that I need to eat more. Its hard for me to gain weight and I have a theory about it: it takes the body some time to adjust to new diet. Its like a shock since my body was used to meat and suddenly its not getting it anymore. So it started to burn it reserves. Not sure if it makes sense but I'll keep monitoring my weight, and will contact my doctor if I won't see any improvements.
The month is over, so as my diet. I proved to myself that food can be tasty, diverse and healthy.
But I also realized that plant based diet is not easy. Because I don't eat fish, I'm taking Omega supplements. But only after few days of my challenge, I've realized that Omega supplements are not vegan since they come from fish oil.
Somewhere around the beginning of March, I went to a local cafe with my wife and we ordered a couple of sandwiches but asked if they can be made without mayonnaise since we are vegans. The waitress said that it is possible. After we sat down at the table, the waitress approached us and asked "is honey fine, or to take it out as well?". I was baffled. Whats the problem with honey? Only later I've realized that honey is technically non vegan because it involves bee exploitation.
Eating proper vegan is hard. There are a lot of great vegan supplements for cheeses, burgers, sausages and even mayonnaise; but the idea of my challenge was not to replace processed meat with processed vegan food. While I do believe that a vegan burger is healthier than the average meat burger, they are both processed foods.
It also requires you to plan what you eat. Beans for example needs to be soaked for at least 12 hours before they are being cooked for another 60-90 minutes.
Am I converted? I'm not sure. I find a lot of benefits in plant based diet ranging from the taste, flavor and the process of preparing food; all the way to health benefits like not feeling tired or full after a meal. But food is a lot more than energy. Food is culture; food is experience. I'm yet to find a vegan restaurant that will give me the same experience as a restaurant that can serve me a great steak with melting butter and rosemary together with a glass of red wine.
Food is embedded in our culture and while I don't crave steaks, I'm not ready to give up the experience, the same way I enjoy a good beer in a bar, knowing that alcohol is bad for me. So for now, I'm going to stick to my plant based diet while eating at home or even ordering take away, but I'll reserve a special place for meat when visiting a great restaurant that can serve a tasty steak or an amazing burger.