I have been eating mainly Paleo for quite some time now. A friend introduced me to it and it has worked well for me. I was not strict about it though, so I would on occasion eat something made from grains, e.g. at restaurants or on special occasions.
Naturally, I had a tough time wrapping my head around the concept of Veganism, as this group is right on the other side of the spectrum of Paleo. But one day I came across this quote:
— Bryan Harris (@Harris_Bryan) November 11, 2014
Since I hate to leave great advice go by, I thought a 1-week Vegan challenge won’t hurt. And it didn’t. To the contrary, it greatly improved my knowledge about food and nutrition and actually had a major influence on my future diet.
Hint: If you want to be notified of more challenges like this, subscribe to my newsletter. If you do, you can get the entire list of what I ate during my one week challenge as a bonus at the end of this post.
During that week I learned 10 valuable lessons, that I’ll share with you below.
1. You better have a sweet tooth
I know you could technically eat an all hearty and spicy vegan diet, but it’s unlikely you will. Oats, almond or soy milk, and, most importantly, fruits are all huge contributors to a regular Vegan diet, especially for breakfast meals. You could have whole-grain bread with avocado and some sliced up veggies, but that’s a lot of work, and chances are you won’t have the time to do this every morning.
As someone who really likes a hearty breakfast, I often didn’t feel in the mood for Vegan cereal or fruit – but ate them anyway. This is really just a question of taste and personal preference, and a fruit-only breakfast is actually a great start for the day. It makes you feel light and energized, I didn’t feel as weighed down as with bigger non-Vegan meals before. So it’s not necessary, but if you’re a sweetie, then this is definitely something for you 🙂
2. Being a Vegan is lots of guesswork
Vegans do have it tough. The food labels and packaging sometimes makes it hard to determine whether something is actually vegan. I can only speak for European packaging, but I know this is similar in the US.
First of all, you really have to do your homework to be able to tell whether each ingredient is vegan or not.
Secondly, almost all manufacturers add loopholes like “May contain traces of lactose and gluten” and other clever tricks to save their necks.
While it’s often just a matter of non-vegan products being processed on the same machine as vegan products (with major cleaning in between), you never know how strictly each manufacturer enforces these regulations – and thus might end up eating something non-vegan without even meaning to.
3. It seems like you don’t have much choice – at first
In the beginning the vegan choice of foods seems very limited. You can’t have your frozen pizza, burgers, or even just pasta, given it has a sauce with cream or milk in it. One thing to do is resort to the easy and basic things: fruits, veggies, nuts. These are always good and always allowed. They’re also cheap and easy to find (for the most part).
I also experimented with some pre-made vegan food choices, like vegan bolognese. While I wouldn’t recommend relying on these substitute products in the long run (you can make them yourself and they’re also not really what veganism is about), I do suggest you make use of them for your first trial run, as they make things easier and help you stay entirely vegan, and trust me, it will be hard to stay entirely vegan, as you will see from my next point.
4. If something can go wrong, it will. So prepare!
My mum brought home some special potato-based dumplings, which I made myself for lunch on the second day. Only after the dish sat on my table I looked at the packaging and realized it contained an egg. Crap! I considered throwing it away, but I felt this would be worse than me eating 1 none vegan dish, especially since it was a trial.
So, technically, I already failed 2 days in, but then again I’m not gonna throw away perfectly good food when there’s someone, somewhere on this planet, who doesn’t know whether they’ll wake up the next day because they have nothing to eat.
5. Milk is very easy to get rid of – or rather substitute.
I had been drinking almond, rice, and hazelnut milk before, and now I just completely switched to it. Once you’ve gotten used to it, it’s way tastier. You can make great hot chocolate with it (e.g. with some rice milk, which is sweet anyways, and adding some natural, unsweetened cocoa powder) or drink it as is.
6. Prepare to go RAW(R)!
You can and should eat as much raw food as you can get your hands on. Not only is it very easy to peel a banana, chop some mushrooms or slice a cucumber and eat it, it’s also food in its healthiest form.
In a time where your fruits and veggies take at least 5 days from being harvested to arriving in your local supermarket, you’re gonna need all the vitamins and nutrients you can get out of them. And often that’s not much. Several scientific studies have shown that vitamin and nutrient levels in many kinds of fruits and vegetables have fallen 10%-30% between 1975 and 1997.
The problem: deficient soil. If you now go on and cook the food, imagine how much will be left after you boil, fry, or cook those precious veggies. There is a reason David Wolfe, world expert on nutrition and so-called superfoods, suggests 50% of all our meals should be raw.
Check out the great movie Food Matters for more information about this subject.
7. Vegans have lots of energy – time for some power workout madness!
I have never felt more energetic than with this diet. It might have been the vast amount of fruit I ate, but during swimming and working out, I felt like I had TONS of power and could have gone on and on. I also felt much less tired during the day, I didn’t have my normal lows after lunch for example, and drank a little less coffee because of it.
So no need to worry if you’re a high performance athlete, or just someone who works out a lot. You’ll have plenty of energy.
One word regarding muscle recovery though: This seemed to be a little worse than usual. I couldn’t have my protein bar after swimming (substituted it with a banana), and I noticed my muscles were more sore than usual the next day. Seems logical, considering I got less protein than what I got from my usual intake before the challenge.
8. All extremes are bad.
As Charlie Munger says: Avoid extreme ideologies – they cabbage up the mind. I kept it strictly vegan throughout the week, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be – at least 95% of the time. But those 5% when you’d really just like a piece of delicious cake your Mum made (with some eggs), or a cookie someone kindly offers you, they can really drive you insane.
Allowing yourself a treat every once in a while will neither make you sick nor ruin your conscience. Much to the contrary: They confirm what you do the other 95% of the time is the right choice and can act as a reward to keep you in play and improve your life’s perceived quality.
9. Introducing: no meat days.
Aside from eating better quality products in general I also felt the no meat policy for a full day, or several days in a row, really did some good. I felt lighter overall, my digestion was faster, and I also noticed some black spots in a wart on my finger go away. There really seems to be a cleansing effect to not eating meat for certain periods of time, and I continue to eat meat-free for multiple days in a row when I get a chance.
10. No (sweet) carb cravings.
Even though I didn’t eat any sweets I didn’t have any carb cravings. “Duh Niklas, you were on a high-carb diet, of course you didn’t!” Well, you’re partly right, but isn’t it amazing when the only sweet thing you eat is fruit, and you have 0 cravings for sweets? With any other diet, whether low-carb, or the no-limits-at-all diet I had a few years ago (which was also high-carb), I still felt the urge to eat something sweet after every hearty or spicy meal.
I never had those during my Vegan week. Even now, when they arise, I know I just need a tiny piece of chocolate, and I’ll be good. Eating an entire piece of cake has become a challenge for me.
So there you go, this is how much you can learn from only 7 days of eating vegan.
P.S.: By the end of it I even made my own vegan chocolate mousse and came up with a ton of great smoothies!
Ready to try for yourself? Or want to try a different diet? I make some suggestions here.
To help you get started, I listed my entire meals and food intake during the week, you can download it below.
Let me know which diet you want to try and what you learned!
Remember: Every step outside of your comfort zone is a step towards happiness.