Results Of My Vegan Experiment

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The results are in… finally!

Many of you have written to me, anxious to read these results.  Thanks for your patience.  Let’s get to it…

First off, this post focus on my experiences and the results of the experiment.  If you want to know more about why I decided to eat vegan for a month or how I approached the experiment, read My Vegan Experiment.

How hard was it to eat vegan?

It was actually quite easy.  I did have to educate myself a bit at the beginning and develop some new habits, but before long eating vegan became quite simple and straight forward.

How limited were your food choices?

I have to admit that eating entirely vegan was a scary prospect.  I dreaded the thought of f being so limited with my food choices.  I suppose that’s why I hadn’t tried it earlier.  However, I quickly discovered that eating vegan was not limiting at all.  On the contrary, it was quite liberating.  How many meat options do meat eaters have to choose from?  There is really just beef, poultry, pork and fish/seafood prepared in different ways.  Now consider that there are thousands of vegetables in the world.  Thousands!  Talk about options.  Add to that the wide range of fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains and other plant-based foods and you can see just how many options vegans have to choose from.

Why don’t you just eat more veggies with your meat?

You certainly can and should.  Do you?  I didn’t.  My friend and chef extraordinaire, Luisa Rios, owner of Cooking Journeys, had an interesting observation.  We usually think of meat as the focal point of our meals and add vegetables as a second thought.  That often results in uninspired vegetable choices and preparation.  And when those limited meat options and uninspired veggie preparations gets boring, how do we make our meals more palatable?  The answer is usually unhealthy, creamy and fatty sauces or sugary toppings.

Eating vegan awakened me to the incredible variety and flavours that plant foods have to offer.  If you’re still doubtful, check out this article and this article for some pictures of what I was eating throughout the experiment.  I can honestly say that I enjoyed my food more consistently throughout my vegan experiment than I can remember at any other period in recent memory.  I attribute that to two things… mindful eating and the food tasted frickin’ amazing!

Was it difficult to eat out at restaurants?

Okay, this part of the experiment had me worried.  I love going to restaurants.  Luckily I have a few amazing vegan and vegetarian restaurants close to my home that I visited regularly.  And surprisingly, non-vegan restaurants presented less of a challenge than I anticipated.  Many restaurants have vegan options listed on their menu and most vegetarian options can easily be made vegan.

And believe it or not, the best vegan meals I had during the experiment were at non-vegan restaurants.  I would simply explain to my server that I required a vegan meal and asked that the chef surprise me.  And surprise me they did.  I enjoyed some of my most memorable meals ever at these restaurants.

Did a vegan diet actually satisfy you?

Yes.  The food tasted amazing so there was no issue in that respect.  I should note that at the beginning of the experiment I did feel hungry.  Or so I thought.  What I quickly realized was that I wasn’t really hungry.  I just felt lighter.  Prior to the experiment when I ate meat it would sit in my stomach for a long period of time being digested.  It gave me a sense of being heavy and weighed down.  Plant foods were the opposite.  They would fill me up, but still leave me with a sense of lightness.

What happened to your energy levels?

They increased.  I could literally feel the plant-based foods fuelling my body.  Instead of being weighed down by meat I was energized by plants.  However, I did have to eat regularly.  If I skipped a meal I would feel my energy levels drop quickly.  I expect this was because plant foods digested quickly and wouldn’t sit in my gut for extended periods of time like meat would.

I also think my energy increased because I was slept better.  I can’t say for sure that my vegan diet was the cause, but during the experiment I seemed to fall to sleep easily, slept well and woke feeling well rested… even with a 6 month old baby.

How did your sport performance change?

This is the one area I wish I had more quantifiable results to offer.  This experiment took place  at the end of my triathlon season so I was not training nearly as often or intensely.  However, I do have some anecdotal results that I have heard echoed by many vegan athletes such as Scott Jurek, Brendan Braizer and the No Meat Athlete.

When I did train I felt much more energized and my endurance seemed to improve, but what I was most stuck by was the lightness I mentioned earlier.  When eating meat in the past I would have to take time to digest my meal before even considering a workout, but eating vegan allowed me to train almost immediately after eating.  The food didn’t weigh me down, it energized me and helped fuel my workout.

Did you lose muscle?

Again, I wish I had more quantifiable data.  I’ve usually focused my exercise on endurance sport and not on building muscle.  That said, I do have a good sense of when my body is feeling toned and strong, and during the experiment I did feel toned and strong.  I believe this was due in large part to the plant-based foods providing me with the nutrients I needed to train well and recover quickly.

How did you get enough protein?

Protein is necessary to maintaining your health, however how much protein we need is a hotly debated topic.  I’m not going to open that debate here.  Let me just say this…. regardless of how much you think you need, all of your protein requirements can come from plant sources.  Even bodybuilders can get all the protein they need from plant sources.  Check out VeganBodybuilding.com and VeganBodybuilding.org to see some examples of just how much muscle you can build without animal products.

Did you gain or lose weight?

I had tried eating vegetarian and vegan diets in the past and gained weight because I took an unhealthy approach to the diet.  I ate a lot of “fake” meat, pasta, bread and other high glycemic carbs.  This time around I avoided those foods and focused on unprocessed, natural plant-based foods.

So what was the result?  Despite being in post-Ironman shape and reasonable weight, I still managed to easily lose weight without really trying.  During the experiment I lost 8lbs and almost one inch from my stomach measurement.  I suppose that some could argue I lost muscle weight, but keep in mind that I felt strong and the change in my stomach measurement indicates fat loss.

Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that while I was training during the experiment, it was very limited.  This post-Ironman period is usually one in which I pack on fatty post-season weight.

Was there anything that surprised you during the experiment?

Yeah, a few things really stick out.  First, as I’ve mentioned before, it was easier than I thought.  I was also surprised by just how good and light I felt and how easily I seemed to lose fat without really trying.

I was also surprised at how my values were affected.  As I mentioned in My Vegan Experiment post, I was not going vegan for ethical reasons.  That said, I started to feel good about the benefits my vegan diet was having on the environment and the treatment of animals.  It wasn’t until I cut out animal products that I realized just how many I was consuming.
What surprised me the most during the experiment were the hidden animal products.  I discovered the most unexpected animal products in the most unlikely places.  For example, gelatine in bread and egg whites in wine.  Yeah, you heard right… wine.  Many wineries (not all) use egg whites to filter the wine.

Was it expensive?

No.  Actually, I saved money eating vegan.  Even buying exotic and organic plant foods is much less expensive than a diet that includes animal products.

So what did the blood tests have to say?

I had blood tests immediately before and after the vegan experiment.  While the tests were not entirely comprehensive, they  measured a number of indicators that gave me a pretty good indication of how the vegan diet affected my health.  Here are the results worth noting:

  • B12 - my B12 levels dropped during the experiment, which is not a good thing.  B12 plays a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and in the formation of blood.  If you’re low in B12, it will usually result in low energy levels and will reduce your blood’s ability to carry oxygen.  So how do you get B12?  Animal products are pretty much the only source for B12.  Many vegans will note that our vegan ancestors would have received B12 from the soil when picking vegetables, but these days most people prefer to wash their vegetables before eating them.  I have yet to see any solution for vegans other than to supplement their diet with B12.
  • Iron - there was a small drop in my iron levels, but nothing to worry about.  Perhaps longer terms tests would give more cause for concern.
  • PH - PH refers to the acidity or alkalinity of your blood.  The higher your PH, the more alkaline and the better.  The lower your PH, the more acidic your blood will be, which results in a state that promotes disease.  My post experiment blood tests showed that my PH went up and became more alkaline, which was a benefit I wasn’t surprised to hear since vegetables are widely considered an excellent way to raise PH levels.
  • Thyroid - While I didn’t have thyroid problems prior to the experiment, test results indicated that the vegan diet helped to normalize my thyroid.
  • CRP - CRP is an indicator of your inflammatory state.  The more inflamed your body, the greater your chances of disease.  Inflammation can present itself in obvious ways such as puffiness after a big sugar binge,  pasta meal or night of drinking, and  it can mask itself in much more subtle ways that promote disease and later reveal themselves as arthritis, cancer and a whole host of other diseases.  CRP is measured in cancer patients and used to help determine a prognosis for survival.  The higher the CRP and more inflamed, the lesser the chances of survival.  So what happened to my CRP?  Not surprisingly, it dropped to an excellent level during the vegan experiment.
  • White Blood Cells - One surprise was an increase in my white blood cell count.  Both my naturopath and family doctor were surprised by this result as it is not typically associated with a vegan diet.  They both suggested that it was probably due to me fighting a cold or the result of a recent hard workout, but as with all of these indicators, it was too difficult to draw sound conclusions with the limited number of tests.

What happened when the vegan experiment ended?

I finished the experiment feeling great.  That said, I wanted to eat meat again for two reasons – I was interested to see how I would feel eating meat again and I missed it.  What can I say, I like the taste of meat.  But, as I started to eat meat I was reminded of how heavy it makes me feel and how it seems to rob me of energy.  It wasn’t a good feeling.  I also ate dairy products again and was amazed at how quickly I became congested with a stuffy and runny nose.  I also got a small cold. Whether it was due to eating meat is impossible to say, but it did make me wonder.

Are you now a vegan or a meat eater?

I have to admit that I’m now eating far more meat than I’d like.  I don’t feel nearly as good as I did when I was eating vegan since the end of the experiment I have tried to find a balance with my diet.  Over the past few years I have experimented with a number of approaches to my diet, including paleo, slow carb and now vegan diets among others.  The one undeniable truth I have discover throughout all of my experiments is that vegetables are key to my feeling healthy.  Lots of vegetables!

I don’t think meat is bad.  I enjoy it and I think I operate better with some meat in my diet.  However, I believe that most people eat far too much meat from unhealthy and processed sources, with far too few veggies in their diets.  If you take one thing away from this article, it’s EAT MORE VEGGIES!

My diet going forward will be a combination of all the approaches I’ve taken in the past and will be very similar to the approach I outlined in My Simple Six-Step Strategy For Healthy Weight Loss, but with a little less meat .  In a nutshell it will look like this:

  • Lots of veggies.
  • Some fruit.
  • Some nuts and seeds.
  • Very few grains.
  • Very little dairy.
  • Meat as a garnish, not as the focal point of my meals.  And from organic, free range and grass-fed sources as much as possible.
This vegan experiment was an eye-opener for me, and while I’ll be eating meat again, I’m so glad that I did it.
If you’d like to experiment with a vegan diet, I’d like to offer some help.  In a soon-to-come article I’ll be sharing some vegan tips from a meat-eater.  If you have any questions, ask.  Just post them in the comments or send me an email using my contact form.  And if you’re a vegan or have some vegan experiences of your own, please share them.

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23 Comments

  1. Wow what a great experiment! I would love to do the same with the paleo diet Every time I try to eat grains it makes me tired. Sugar or sweeteners, worst! I agree about the veggies… I believe in the rainbow diet, pack in the color on your plate! This is my goal:
    Eat protein in the morning (sometimes I make Brandon’s vega smoothie) and at noon more meat and veggies, and this is important: just veggies for supper. That way you need the protein to energize you and build muscle, B12 etc. However, you need to make sure you have an extended time where your ph levels can be elevated as this will help you body to heal itself. So from 12nooishn to 8am the next morning the body is effectively healing , repairing and cleansing.

    Hope this can help someone.
    Hugs!

    M-C

    • Thanks MC! Very helpful since I am considering a vegetarian diet and intend to go vegan in January just to try it out! Namaste.

    • You should definitely give it a shot with your pale diet, MC. I’m always surprised at how much I learn just by recording and observing the effects of what I eat and do, even if I don’t make any significant changes from my current diet.

      I like your approach of only eating veggies in the evening. I think it’s important to give our digestive system a chance to rest and if you’re constantly stuffed with food that won’t happen. I’ve played around a bit with Intermitent Fasting in the past. Perhaps I’ll write about it.

  2. Hey Jason, I’ve been moving towards becoming a vegan slowly over the past five years, but only recently let go of eggs and fish. So now I’m vegan. Never felt better. I watched the movie “Forks Over Knives” and that was the final push for me to see that meat has no place in my life. I hope you give it a look-see. It’s an inspiring and amazing examination of the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Thanks for leading me to Matt’s blog “No Meat Athlete” – it’s awesome and so what I need right now. See you soon.

    • Hi Katie. Sounds like you’ve progressed to being vegan in such a natural and healthy way. I have to admit I’m always a guys of extremes.

      I saw Forks Over Knives and it really opened my eyes. In my upcoming “vegan tips from a meat eater” post I plan to recommend some movies and that’s one of them.

  3. Amazing!!!
    So awesome that you did this experiment and I loved reading all your results. Having vegan experiments is a great way to get your feet wet without feeling tied down and committed. I have been living a plant based lifestyle for a year and 8 months now and everything, I mean everything has changed for the better! Having said that, I don’t think it’s an all or nothing thing. Any step people take to increase their vegetable intake and lower meat consumption is amazing and they will be truly contributing to their health, the planet and all the animals.
    Very cool that you did this for yourself and I feel that so many people will benefit from reading about your experiment.
    Much love and lentils,
    Tali

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      And so true about it not having to be an all or nothing approach. I think many people shy away from positive changes in life because they feel it’s all or nothing, but even small changes can have a big impact over time.

      Thanks for reading and sharing.

  4. So great and inspiring!!! I have almost let go of meat entirely in my diet, probably once ot twice a month now, and so many green vegetables, and vegetables and fruit from all of the colors of the rainbow. It was very interesting to read about your experience, it has opened the door to a new possiblity in my life, as of January, I intend to do the experiment for 1 month. I already have let go of dairy and fish, so I am actually not too far from a vegan diet. Thanks for the example … and advice. More vegetables please!!!! Namaste, Suzie

    • Suzie, I’d love to hear about your experiences when you conduct your experiment in January. Will you comment again and share?

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  5. Interesting article. I like that you were so methodical in your experiment. I haven’t gone that far, yet, but perhaps I will now. I do find that the less meat I eat, the less I want, so it isn’t any sacrifice at all to give it up. Perhaps I’ll feel the same way about seafood and dairy–what do you think?

    • I think everyone will have different experiences, so it’s hard to speculate. I’d suggest giving it a try. Start out with one day, or week and go from there. I believe the most important thing is to listen to your body. It’ll let you know what to do based on how you feel.

      Recording my experiences, weight, meals, etc. was also something I found very helpful. Consider it. Writing down meals can become a pain in the butt, but a quick snap with your phone camera is easy enough.

      Please be sure to share and let me know if you do decide to give it a try and do an experiment of your own.

  6. I love this post. A lot of people assume that because my site name is Bacon is Magic that I eat a lot of meat but its really the opposite – my meals are vegetable base but a little bit of pork whether it be pancetta or bacon or chorizo add a lot of flavour.

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      I love the name of your blog. So fun and unique. And I love your outlook on life and the choices you’ve made to live on your own terms.

      Any tips you can offer for my upcoming article of Vegan Tips From A Meat Eater? As someone who eats a lot of veggies with small amounts of meat for flavor I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say.

  7. Great post. I just returned to a Veggie diet myself. I was vegan and went back to meat eating… and felt exactly as you described.. weighed down. I finally (after a year) just went back to a veggie diet and I feel so much better. I’m training for a big run across america so my run mileage is getting up there… and I’m back to RECOVERING so much better.

    I’m certainly approaching it differently than I did before. I used to be very strict.. and would ignore any cravings for meat.. now if I want a burger .. I’m going to eat one. So I won’t call myself a vegetarian.. though I will eat predominantly vegetarian… I am an omnivore… by nature.. so I will honor that! :)

  8. PS.. having the meat / animal stuff here and there solves the B12 problem!! :)

    • As you noted, I think that recovery time was one of the greatest benefits of eating vegan. But I”m like you…. I’m eating meat when I feel like it and not being too rigid. If I listen to my body, I know the right choices to make for me and my lifestyle.

      Good luck on your run. Sounds like it will be an amazing adventure.

  9. Hi Jason! Hope all is well, it’s been a while!
     
    So cool that you tried out going vegan. We seem to have similar views on diets as well!
     
    I haven’t given up meat completely, I’ve been about 80% vegan since July, I still have eggs sparingly and will have fish and maybe chicken on the weekends.
     
    I really love eating vegan, I feel great and have so much more energy. Like you said it’s actually very liberating and has pushed me to try new veggies, grains, and spices.
     
    Congrats on a higher PH! I’m no expert, but it eating lots of alkaline-forming foods is the key to energy and excellent health.
     
    Have a great weekend!
    Amanda

  10. Dylan Champion |

    how long were you on the vegan diet?

  11. I love meat but I love vegetables more. It’s all about seeing food as fuel and thinking about nutritional value.

    People have problems because they eat without thinking about what’s going into us. It’s not about demonizing one food group. it’s about appropriate balance.

  12. One word: nooch.

    Nutritional yeast is used in many vegan recipes. Would you have read Big Vegan first, you would have had none if the issues with maintaining proper nutrients that you do.

    Props for giving it a go. :)

  13. Samantha Aungle |

    I have previously been vegan. I have found that dulse (seaweed) contains B12, so too does tempeh amongst a few other vegan foods. I have found it best to supplement with VItal Greens powder. I have been disgusted with the meat industry, and after looking after a sick chicken, working as a volunteer with the RSPCA, seeing reports from the Thai Dogs for the Meat Trade on Facebook I am motivated to stop eating animals even when I have had the most local chicken to me – at the house, from the garden where I lived. I have been put off being vegan by having a Hydrochloric Acid imbalance, taking tablets from the herbalist for a brief time but then turning into bones, losing all protein with a lack of energy. Maybe also lacking energy due to lack of support from family and the allopathic medical community. I have been advised when a vegan to take fish oil capsules, was advised by a dr I saw just the other day to eat beef which I felt disgusted by, also the fact that she did not consider I might have another dietary option in mind. It certainly does feel lighter to eat vegan and my pancreas condition thanks me!!

  14. Why did you return to the animal protein consumption? I call it the “amino acids roulette”. The more amino acids the protein contains, the higher the risk for chronic disease to develop over a rather long period of time, but sometimes even over an unexpectedly short one.

    I’m 64 and I became a vegan, very strict, exactly two years ago. I have supplemented for my B12 and I’ve found that a long collection of foods, cereals, even whole grain bread, have been enriched with B12.

    Before I became a strict vegan, the surface of my arms was full of strange formations; hardened skin and stuff like that. It was all gone in less than 4 months! I had trouble with the joints of knees and shoulders; all of that is gone, no more strange pains.

    I eat ANYTHING that does not contain animal protein and I am VERY careful reading the ingredients of anything I put into my system. My wife had an accident and broke a wrist; her tests were so outstanding that two of the doctors that operated on her, separately, came to ask me if she was under a special treatment for such good levels of everything. I have not had an accident, but I do keep an insurance policy that demanded tests on me: they were repeated, because they didn’t believe the outcome (they said something like “that is not what is expected from my population”.

    It is difficult sometimes, because in my surroundings eating meat and fish is somewhat “classy”. I enjoy my tortilla guacamole and beans tacos, with onion and hot chile habanero and stuff like that.

    Life is so much better now than it ever was! I can’t understand why the lady that wrote this article decided to go back to introducing animal protein inside her body! To me it isn’t an experiment: it’s my way of living.

  15. Sorry, but I forgot to mention that people catch colds around me, and I probably do, too. Except that mine last for a few HOURS, while theirs last for days! My immune system, without the animal protein in my body, is capable of working as it was meant to be.

    I need to conclude that it is not so much the plants, but the lack of animal protein within your system what makes it possible for your pancreas to properly “understand” what it needs to do in order to keep things going smoothly within our bodies.

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