I’ve been pescetarian before, vegetarian for the last number of years, and never really ate red meat as a kid. So, I decided to go vegan for a week as a challenge. I mean, how difficult could it be, right?
First things first, let me define the term “vegan”. Veganism is following a diet and lifestyle that is devoid of ALL animal products. That means no dairy, no eggs, no meat – obviously – but more than that, it means cutting out things like honey (produced by bees) not wearing products made with leather, as well as using avoiding any products that test on animals or using animal by-products as ingredients. For the purpose of this article, I’ll be referring to a plant-based lifestyle.
Here’s what I learnt over the week that I ate only plant-based foods.
Day 1: Read the labels!
I spend my first day reading the labels on everything and wondering what vegans survive on. There seems to be animal products in everything: if it’s not egg protein, then it’s whey protein or honey. On the bright side, I discover that Oreos, while not technically plant-based, are 100% vegan.
Day 2: Veganism can be pretty damn tasty
Despite vowing to eat nothing but peanut butter sandwiches for the rest of my challenge, I find myself branching out. So far, I’ve found recipes for veggie burgers, curries and even a vegan mac and cheese. The secret? No cheese and lots of nutritional yeast. And it’s really good!
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Day 3: Am I in cheese withdrawal?
Luckily, I don’t have a craving for meat like other carnivores seem to have, but boy, what is with this intense craving for cheese? Milk and eggs I haven’t given much of a second thought (although, I wouldn’t say no to an omelette right now), but the cheese is an issue. I do some research to find ways to overcome it, and accidentally stumble on the knowledge that cheese is somewhat addictive thanks to a mild opiate by the name of casomorphin that is produced as it digests. Am I suffering from withdrawal?
Day 4: People are really concerned about your health of a sudden.
Are you getting enough protein? How about B12? And what about your iron levels? Day four has me regretting my decision to tell my family about my vegan challenge. Everyone seems convinced that I am on the brink of nutritional deficiencies and I’m glad I did my research on the first day of this challenge. I’m taking a B12 supplement and people underestimate how much protein there is in plant form. Spinach and broccoli are loaded with it!
Day 5: The bloating is real
No jokes, it feels like someone’s trying to inflate my belly with a bicycle pump and it hurts. Turns out, this is quite common when starting a vegan diet due to the higher levels of fibre that gets consumed. What I should have done is transitioned slowly from lower fibre and built my way up, instead of jumping in with both feet. Research on this topic shows that a probiotic and digestive enzyme helps drastically with this issue. I wish I’d known that.
Day 6: Plant-based restaurants are a thing
Everything from vegan sushi to vegan pizza is available if you know where to look. Sure, some restaurants offer only sides like fries and garden salad that is veggie-friendly, but others like the Plant Cafe in Cape Town has an extensive plant-based menu. Definitely worth the trip!
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Day 7: Healthy vibes
I actually feel really good. It’s the last day of the challenge, and whilst it definitely has been tough, I feel a difference. No vegan powers to speak of (yet), but I enjoyed the experience and learning about what does and doesn’t work. If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from this experience, it’s that research is key and that not all dairy alternatives are created equal. Turns out, I really detest certain kinds of soy milk. Who knew?
Would you ever give veganism a shot? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below!