Two years ago, if someone had told me to go vegan or have meals without meat or fish, I would have laughed in their face. Then I suffered months of health issues, which wreaked havoc on my hormones, digestion, mood and life. So I decided in January 2018 to do a trial period of eating less meat and more plant-based foods. I wasn’t quite sure how it would go… would I be hungry all the time? Would I become morbidly obese? Would I have enough energy to exercise and lift heavy things? Would I waste away? Would my digestive system love me or hate me for it? Would I spend more money on food or less money on food? So many questions.
A few things happened, some positive and some negative, and I’m going to share the main benefits and drawbacks of plant-based eating, from my experience, with you today.
Five a Day
If you struggle to get your five-a-day, then go plant-based for a while. Making sure you get enough vitamins, protein and fibre in a diet that is mostly made up of vegetables, fruit grains and a few dairy products is not easy. I found myself making lunches with things like eggplant, butternut squash, carrots, chickpeas, tomatoes, courgettes, broccoli and brown rice. My snacks were apples and bananas on a good day, and dark chocolate covered almonds on a bad day. I drink almond milk and apple juice pretty regularly anyway, so I kept these in. Yum.
Eating vegetables does not give you the same bloat as eating meat. And if you suffer from any form of IBS or IBD, you’ll know that digesting meat can sometimes be painful and difficult. After six weeks of plant-based lunches, I can honestly say that I felt the difference. My meals didn’t sit like heavy rocks in my stomach. And I didn’t suffer from any uncomfortable gas either. My body liked them and digested them well. Sometimes I felt a little bloated after a carb-heavy meal but green tea and black coffee helped ease that symptom. My body struggled with some foods like broccoli and cauliflower, which are extremely fibrous, but as with any dietary adjustment, it just needed time and patience.
It is possible to feel full on this diet but you need to really pay attention to your protein and fibre intake. This was the only problem for me. I wasn’t always full after a plant-based meal. Sometimes I found myself hungry a couple of hours after lunch and honestly, I hate snacking during the day. It messes with my metabolism and messes with my mealtimes. If I don’t pick the right snack, it also sends my blood sugar levels all over the place resulting in crashes and mood swings and all sorts of horrors (yes, I’m human and sometimes I make bad choices.) I played around with meals including more chickpeas sometimes or lentils or quinoa. I don’t know if I ever nailed it but again, it takes time, patience and tweaks before you get it right and find your flow.
Plant-based eating means that you get to eat more carbs, which is great. Bananas, sweet potato, squash, carrots, berries, apples, brown rice, quinoa, oats, etc. More carbs means more energy, and fuel to thrive. If you’re a runner, you are probably used to eating a high-carb diet anyway. And if you’re not, then you’ll find you have more energy to burn in your workouts and cardio sessions. The only down-side to this way of eating? Sometimes, I did find myself over-eating or going too carb-heavy or too fat-heavy. It’s easy to fill up on bread and starchy carbs, but if you’re not using those to fuel yourself physically, the weight will start to creep back on. And on the flip side, it’s easy to go too fat-heavy and gorge yourself on nuts and avocados. But if you’re not burning fat in HIIT-based workouts or balancing that out with a lower carb intake, your body will turn that fat straight into fat. DISCLAIMER: Every body is different. My housemate can eat an entire baguette every day and still stay a size UK 6. If I even look at a baguette, my hips and arms grow by like six inches.
Plant-based eating is great for getting your five a day and your stomach and bowels will thank you for it. But beware of over-eating, under-eating and eating too many calorie-dense foods. It’s easy to eat a banana peanut butter sandwich and think, “this is plant-based so I’m a beacon of health.” But you should probably be having raw carrots and homemade avocado dip instead — unless you’ve just run a 10K of course. If you’re strength-training, you’ll need to load up on protein like chickpeas, beans, tofu and peanuts. In fact, my body craved yoghurt after gym sessions, which told me that I needed more protein. If there are two key reasons to really try this, it’s: (1) to challenge yourself to eat more fruit and veg and (2) to find a way of eating that is good for your body and good for the environment.