I went 30 days on a vegan diet and this is what I learned

I feel lighter. Writer Stella Adi after undergoing a 30-day vegan diet. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Are you thinking about ditching meat and dairy products from your diet? It was quite the rollercoaster.

  • You need to be on top of this diet or else the convenience of eating something non-vegan will overwhelm you. Plan, plan, plan and have an accountability person.

  • When you drastically change your diet, you are bound to feel horrible for a few days before your system can come to terms with what’s happening.

First, a round of applause to me, a meat-lover who completed the entire 30 days - no meat, no fish, no dairy (actually, I slipped with this. I’ll explain) and no eggs. No eggs! And another round for pulling it off while the rest of my household continued to pander to their carnivorous ways.

After hearing some pretty big claims on the wonders of living on a plant-based diet, from reducing one’s risk of high blood pressure and heart disease to the more vain reports of radiant skin and healthier hair, I was sold.

I chose January because I figured, heck – this is resolution month; the one time of the year universally accepted as the ‘new year, new you’ season. It was also a welcome time to detox after a particularly self-indulgent December.

Armed with my research and a fortified fridge and pantry filled with my staples for the next 30 days; packets of almond milk, mushrooms, and a wide array of fruits, vegetables, legumes and pulses (some of which I hadn’t eaten in years), I was ready.

Week One

It was quite the rollercoaster. I had read somewhere that the best way to successfully go through a restrictive dietary change, is to make sure you have enough of the right foods lying around to ward off temptation. Thankfully, I already had a soft spot for some vegetables (courgettes remain a struggle).

Since the rest of my household had no intention of joining me, I had to learn how to deal with the occasional aromas of cooked meat or fried eggs or sausages or bacon – oh bacon! Giving up my morning cereal didn’t help either (the plant-based milk didn’t taste right).

Week Two

Week two came with some weird mood swings. I’d go from euphoric and crave-free one day to unmotivated and defeated the next. Happily, this got much better. This was the week I learned to appreciate the wonderful joys of snacking. I’ve never been much of a nibbler. I was used to two or three big meals a day but now I’d pepper my day with a serving of peanuts or almonds, a small cob of boiled maize or if I’m in the mood, a bowl of popcorn. I realised that having fruit salad was a great way of adding more fresh fruit to my diet. One significant change I noticed is that my, errrm, movements were much more regular and the experience more pleasant. This I would attest to the uptake of fibre in my diet.

Week Three

It brought with it a tedium with repetitive foodstuff. Up to this point my diet consisted of the same types of food and the humdrum was getting to me. I was especially craving soup but since I was too lazy to make one myself - off to the supermarket I went and stocked up on lentil, vegetable and mushroom soups. A few packs down I realised that they all contained egg, milk and other dairy extracts! Nope, not vegan! To be honest they weren’t very good either. They have loads of chemicals in them and sadly I admitted that I was better off just making the soups from scratch myself.

This was a good week. I felt lighter and overall more energetic which felt so amazing! I could get used to this.

Week four

I felt better than ever. Honestly. I was alert, energetic and seldom tired or lethargic. I was likewise feeling very in tune with myself. I started feeling more mentally ‘clear’ and positive. The feeling only grew stronger week after week.

My skin was visibly clearer and smoother but between you and me, I was hoping for more dramatic results. Still, the new glow was enough for my friends to notice so a definite plus. At the back of my mind however, lay the fact that this was week four and I won’t lie…I was fantasising about what I wanted to do to a juicy beef burger with a side of cheesy fries. I wanted the week to end already!

Looking back though, I have a few regrets. For one, the next time I try this – and there will be a next time – I will pick something like fish or chicken or even eggs as my first non-vegan meal. I was so bloated after my meatballs and sausage breakfast that I couldn’t eat anything else for the rest of the day. Another is throughout the month I was so focused on the 30 days that I often forgot to relax and really enjoy my food. I also wish I dared to be more creative with vegan food.

What I know now…

Vegan food is so tasty! I dare say it can oftentimes be tastier than meaty meals even (meat-lovers please don’t come for me).

It’s pocket friendly. Unless you eat very few to no vegetables or legumes in your day-to-day life, this is one diet that you can pull off by simply taking away without necessarily adding too much more. I didn’t purchase any fancy shmancy vegan substitutes. I kept it simple and stuck with foods I know.

You can lose weight! I never imagined a diet heavy on rice, pasta and bread would result in weight-loss, but this was a delightful surprise. I lost about four kilos in all. I turned up the volume with my exercise which was more regular now.

What I wish someone told me…

You need to be on top of this diet or else the convenience of eating something non-vegan will overwhelm you. Plan, plan, plan and have an accountability person.

When you drastically change your diet, you are bound to feel horrible for a few days before your system can come to terms with what’s happening. This is completely normal.

Eating out (or ordering in) will be a challenge. Your options will be very limited. Fill up on something at home before leaving for a social call with friends.

You. Will. Be. Gassy. A lot.

In Conclusion…

These tips will make your transition to a plant-based diet easier.

Come up with a timetable in advance. I did this weekly. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

Keep a food diary. This not only helped me keep track of what I was eating, I would easily see if I was eating too much of the same thing.

Try not to go it alone. My friend Annemarie and her husband took up the diet too. We’d share pics of our meals, exchange recipes and articles and encourage one another when the cravings came knocking.

Technology is your friend. I used an app called VegMenu which came in handy for when I was feeling less than creative and got tired of the same old meals.

If you decide to go on a vegan diet on a long-term basis, consult your doctor to ensure you’re not deficient on any essential nutrients such as vitamin B12 which we get from animal products.