Oh, we’re about to get up close and personal…
When you make the change to a vegan diet, you may notice a few physical changes to your body. Some of these changes you may be expecting, such as weight loss and glowing skin, but there may be a few changes you were not expecting. Let me share with you the changes I experienced, both temporary and long-term, when I started a vegan diet.
DISCLAIMER: This article should NOT be viewed as medical or nutritional advice. I am not a doctor of medicine or a licensed nutritionist. This article is simply a post of my personal experience and my personal non-professional advice.
If you read My Vegan Story, then you would know that my transition to the vegan lifestyle was rather quick. I stopped eating meat last December, ate a vegetarian diet for three weeks, and then went full-fledged vegan. My vegan diet when I first started included whole, plant-based foods, much like the items you can find on my basic grocery list. I didn’t start to incorporate too much junk or processed vegan food until a couple of months down the road.
My happy first 2 weeks!
The first two weeks of my vegan diet, I felt pretty good. I was eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, but that was about it. I lost 8 pounds in the first 2 weeks without implementing any exercise. And let’s be clear. Looking back, I am sure that the weight loss did not solely result from a plant-based diet, but partially resulted from not eating enough calories for my body.
As well, I felt more energized when I woke up in the mornings. When switching to a plant-based diet, many vegetarians and vegans report feeling more energized due to: 1) the natural sugar rush from an increase in fruits; and 2) the less energy your body has to use to digest food.
And then the month went on…
After the euphoric first two weeks, my body started to change again. This time, it didn’t feel so great. Acne started to appear on my face. I was constantly gassy and I felt bloated all the time. Many refer to this stage as the detox stage, as your body tries to get rid of the toxic elements that you have been feeding it for so long. This detox phase isn’t unique to the vegan diet, and can happen just by switching from a high fat, processed food diet to a healthier diet.
Why does your body produce so much gas when switching to a vegan diet?
Plant foods usually contain higher amounts of fiber, unlike animal-protein foods. Though fiber can be beneficial for your body, it is in fact an indigestible carbohydrate that can sit in your lower gut and produce gas. This is only temporary though, since your body will soon adjust to the higher amount of fiber and the bloating and gas will subside.
What causes acne during the detox phase?
As creepy as it sounds, just like your body eliminates toxic waste through your digestive system, your body can also push out the “bad” through your face. Acne is a common sign of detoxing and luckily, can be short lived and will stop once your body balances out.
2-3 months in
Luckily for me, the horrible changes I was experiencing for the first month started to subside. I was finally eating enough calories in the day to stay energized. My digestive system cooled down and I started to understand my new bathroom schedule. As well, bloating only occurred immediately after I finished a big meal, but went away within an hour or two.
Though I wasn’t losing weight as rapidly, I was still losing about a pound every week or two without implementing a serious workout regimen. Aside from the actual shedding of pounds, my stomach became flatter. The increase in fiber finally adjusted with my body and I experienced less bloating.
The last six months
The last six months have been great! I am still losing weight, but much more slowly and I plan to implement a workout regiment soon. Since becoming vegan, I have lost about 28 lbs. My digestive issues are pretty non-existent and my digestive system works like a clock! My energy levels are usually high. I have no problems waking up and I have no problems falling asleep!
Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel! Sticking with a plant-based diet may prove difficult in the beginning and the changes to your body may freak you out. But stick with it! The benefits more than pay off! Remember, your transition may not follow the same path as mine. It is important to make sure you are implementing transition strategies that will help keep you healthy and strong.
For a little extra guidance, I have listed a few tips below for a smoother transition.
Slow and steady
If you are planning to transition to a plant-based diet, transition slowly by adding more fruits and vegetables in your diet and replacing animal products with plant-based products. Please notice, I did not say that you should cut anything out of your diet!
A common misconception surrounding veganism is that it involves cutting out all the meat and dairy you are used to eat. DON’T CUT, JUST REPLACE. If you like eggs and pork sausage for breakfast every morning, try replacing with a vegan sausage and tofu scramble! If you like cow’s milk in your coffee or tea, try replacing with almond, soy, or cashew milk.
Remember, DON’T CUT FOOD – JUST REPLACE FOOD!
Eat the calories you need for top energy
Many people give up on vegan diets quickly, assuming their low energy is a result of a lack of meat, when the lack of energy has directly resulted from the lack of calories. A lot of people also forget that though plant food is nutrient-dense, it isn’t calorically-dense. This means you have to eat MUCH more of the plant food to get the proper calories you need!
Use this calculator, to help get an idea of how many calories you should be eating per day. This amount is based on your age, height, current weight, weight goals, and you current physical activity levels. The number of calories you should be eating every day may surprise you.
Use a calorie counter and log what you eat for a day. I like to use Cronometer, which not only gives you a calorie count, but it will break down the amount of nutrients you are getting from your food. Are you reaching your suggested calorie count? If not, find new ways to add more calories to your day from healthy, plant- based food. This could be as easy as doubling your portions or adding a few snack times to the day.
If you are having trouble, make sure you speak to a competent plant-based nutritionist.
Don’t forget the water
Water not only keeps your body hydrated, but it can help with your digestion and getting things moving in there. Now, most health authorities recommend at least 8 glasses a day, though many health experts are now saying that is not a hard and fast rule. Like others, I judge my water intake by the color of my urine. If your urine is dark and yellow, you probably need to drink more water. Though you still need to make sure you drink water, most fruits and vegetables are made of mostly water. Incorporating them into your diet can help you stay hydrated!
More poop is good!
You may think constant trips to the bathroom may be somewhat of a bother, but a bowel movement is the process of eliminating toxic waste from your body. Believe me; you don’t want that toxic waste just sitting in your intestines. Get it out of there!
Research has found that it takes between 31 and 96 hours for bowel transit in non-vegetarians, in comparison to the 27 to 54 hours it takes for bowel transit in vegetarians. The research further concluded that the vegetarian bowel transit time averaged nearly 24 hours faster than non-vegetarian bowel transit time. In fact, we could go on forever about the importance of elimination! Make sure you check back here for an upcoming post about all the things your Mom didn’t tell you about good ol’ Number 2.
Log your physical changes
Keeping track of your physical changes, whether it’s in a journal or by taking pictures, can benefit you in two ways; 1) inspiration to stay with your plant-based diet; and 2) a great way to make sure you are staying healthy.
If not immediately, you will start to notice the physical benefits of a vegan diet. As an important reminder of why you started this journey, it’s nice to keep track of how your body is improved. Looking back at old photos and comparing them to recent photos can sometimes be the inspiration you need to stay with the plants! Can you see just how great you feel?
Keeping a log of your body changes is also a great way to make sure you stay healthy. You should check with a doctor to make sure your body is healthy and properly fueled through your transition.
Make sure you are getting the proper nutrients
This is definitely the most important tip! Just like eating an animal-based diet, eating a plant-based diet is not enough to ensure you are getting the proper nutrients to keep your body functioning. It has been established time and time again, that a plant-based diet provides more than enough protein and calcium can be found in more than just cow’s milk. However, many vegans and vegetarians are missing important nutrients, like Vitamin B-12.
But, don’t go running to the hills just yet! Most meat-eaters are deficient in these nutrients too. Your first step should be: see a doctor and get a blood test. The test can let you know the amount of nutrients you are getting, so that you can focus on making sure to get the proper amount. As well, you can ask your doctor for plant-based recommendations to supplement the nutrients you are lacking.
As I mentioned before, I like to use Cronometer to not only count my calories, but Cronometer can track the type and amount of nutrients you are getting from your food. I then make an effort to buy food products that include or are fortified with certain nutrients to make sure I am getting a recommended dose.
More on the health benefits of the vegan diet here.
Don’t give up just yet! Why? Click here.
More on boosting energy levels here.
In the comments below:
What changes has your body experienced since starting a plant-based diet?
Do you have any health concerns about switching to a plant-based diet?