A vegan is for life, not just for Christmas. Unless that is, you are me; a carnivorous being who could easily devour two or more portions of meat per day, washed down with six eggs and the obligatory whey-produced protein shakes, a litre of milk and the occasional foray into cheeses and butters. I’ve been a devout meat eater my entire life and so, when it came to the challenge of Veganuary, I was as good a candidate as any to see what this dramatic change would do to my health and mental wellbeing.
For those not aware, Veganuary is a trend that sees people like myself commit to a vegan diet throughout the month of January. Always up for a challenge, I was ready to accept the fate of excluding any meats, or animal products, for those long, dark thirty-one days. While not doing this for any particular ethical or health-related reasons, I aware that I do perhaps eat too much meat and that there could be a real issue of sustainability in the future.
There were so many questions that I had about becoming a temporary vegan, and there have been so many questions from my friends, family and peers about the change that I’ve made. The most common have been answered below…
Is it difficult to make the transition?
In a nutshell, no not really. It was actually fairly easy to exclude meat from my diet. Whereas my previous foray into Sainsburys would be a brief hunt for a slab of meat and a handful of veg, I now look for more flavour and am much more experimental in what I put into my body. Herbs and spices become even more important, as do the beans and pulses. The real difficulty comes in those meals on the go; not everyone has the luxury of Veggie Pret on their doorstep and there have been few instances where I have forfeited food because I simply had no choice. Meat is easy to avoid, but far too many on-the-go snacks rely on dairy products for flavour (and eating rice cakes on the tube is both unsanitary and frowned upon).
How do I feel physically?
This is a very difficult question to answer. A few other vegans and a few studies do you point to the fact that after just two weeks your blood gets healthier and therefore you should feel better and cleaner. I am also coupling Veganuary with Dry January, and to the lack of alcohol will obviously make me feel fresh and more alert. One thing I have realised is that protein can be very difficult to get into your diet if you are conditioned to having very large amounts of each day. I would usually rely on eggs, chicken and steak as my main sources of protein (probably overconsuming the holy trio), and so my body has been conditioned to having 200+ grams of protein daily that just cannot be matched by a vegan diet. The results? While I feel lighter, feel sharper, and feel more alert, I do feel that my body aches more after my workouts. Of course, sourcing protein is something that needs to be refined over the years, and cannot simply be tailored within the 31 days.
How do I feel mentally?
This is a slightly easier question to answer. I’m not one to preach, but I do feel like I am making more considered choices with my food. It is far too easy now to simply going to the supermarket and buy prepackaged steroid filled chicken or steak that perhaps hasn’t been reared and culled in the most ethical way. I may just be one person out of 7 billion but, considering how much meat and animal products I would typically consume, I do feel as if I will make a difference if I simply adopted a more flexitarian diet. I do feel hungrier too (due to the increased fibre in my diet) and, perhaps surprisingly, this actually makes me feel more mentally alert. Gone are the meat comas, instead replaced with a sense of “lightness”. Of course, this may just be an extension of the enlightenment that comes with switching to a vegan diet. I prefer to accept the theory that it just makes me “think more”.
Will I stick to being a vegan?
Probably the most common question of all, and the answer is always going to be a no. My main barrier to continuing this diet in a full time capacity is convenience; it is not yet convenient enough for me to sustain a vegan diet with a busy lifestyle. Within the confines of my own home I am fine, but it is much more difficult on the go. I will adopt a flexitarian diet instead; Meat Free Mondays and a conscious effort to choose more sustainable alternatives where possible. I still enjoy the taste and texture of meat and no amount of tofu could ever compare to a perfectly seared steak. My new found love for carrot sticks, hummus and coconut will remain for many years to come, as will my new appreciation for flavour.