Experiment Log No. 10 — Eating vegan for 30 days
In this experiment I attempt to eat a vegan diet for thirty straight days. That means no meat, dairy or other animal products.
- The experiment begins Monday, February 21 and ends Thursday, March 24.
- I am limiting the lifestyle changes to my diet for now. Veganism is about more than just what you eat but also what you wear and who you buy from.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Well it’s the end of my first 100% vegan day. I’ve been about 80% vegan the last five days or so, and I’m already noticing that I feel unmistakably more alert and I have more energy. I like this feeling and hope it isn’t some temporary high. I feel light as an Aero bar.
I’ve restocked my kitchen with all vegan foods, including a lot of stuff I’ve never tried but which are probably familiar to established vegans: tamari, kale, nutritional yeast, flaxseed, soy milk, fake cheese. The veganized analogues are much better than they used to be.
Too early to say much, but the lightness I feel is pronounced and if it keeps up I think I may get used to this.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
End of Day 2 now and it’s still going quite well. Today was my first day at work and it was pretty uneventful. The only “moment of choice” I encountered was when one of the contractors pulled up beside me finishing a jambuster and said “Hey want a donut?” and pointed to a box of assorted Tim Horton’s. That’s a question I normally say yes to with zero thought, but I froze for a second and declined. Honestly I don’t know what’s in their donuts, but I learned when I got home. Turns out they don’t have meat in them, but they do have milk and/or eggs.
So no go on the donuts, and that’s fine. That would have been a guaranteed 300 empty calories any other day. I’m glad my reflex was “no thanks”, that’s what I’m looking for, so that I can always know what it is I’m eating.
Lots of people have been asking what I have been eating. I won’t do this every day but here’s what I ate today:
Breakfast: Kasha with a trail mix (including currants, seeds and legumes) and a banana.
Mid-morning: An avocado and veggie wrap (with greens, shredded carrots, cucumbers and soy cheese.)
Lunch: Another wrap like that (I need some more brown-bag lunch ideas) and four-bean salad, and a banana.
Dinner: Outdid myself here. I made Sweet Chili Lime Tofu with Steamed Collards and Quinoa. Outstanding recipe from Lolo at veganyumyum.com. I substituted kale for collards.
Anyway this is actually really fun. I’ve been working mostly from the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook, which is made form recipes on the site I linked above.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
It’s been really easy so far. The only thing I have missed is my homemade lattes. I have been making them with soy milk and almond milk but it really becomes something quite different. The non-dairy milks overpower the espresso and they don’t froth as well as cow’s milk. But they are still worth drinking, and I’ve been making long blacks (Americanos) more and more instead.
Cooking continues to be a fun adventure every day (not that I needed to go vegan to get into cooking like this) and I spend more time preparing food. As I settle into a few favorite dishes I expect not to spend as much time.
My breakfasts and lunches have been the same for the past two days: kasha in the morning, and two veggie/avocado wraps for lunch. I switch up what I put in the wraps, and I’m definitely not getting sick of them, but I’d like to experiment with some new lunch options. I almost always eat “in the field” at work so I can’t really bring anything that requires a microwave. Kasha is my staple breakfast and has been for years now.
Tomorrow I might have my first minor social challenge. We have a breakfast meeting at work, which usually means bacon-egg-sausage breakfast. There will be close to zero vegan sensitivity in this crowd. I’m not sure what the alternatives there will be for me, because I always used to get the bacon-egg type, but it’ll probably be a few sides: hash browns, unbuttered toast and maybe a fruit bowl. I’ll report on what happens.
Friday, February 25, 2011
My dining-out breakfast experience was okay, but I was surprised quite how little there was that I could eat. I did end up with a fruit bowl and roasted potatoes.
I really expected there to be at least one proper breakfast dish that was offered with vegans in mind, but there was nothing. People are expected to all eat animal products freely, and I guess I knew that. I decided not to ask for any substitutions or omissions from non-vegan dishes, which would have given me more options.
The fruit bowl was totally good though, and they happened to be featuring a fruit smoothie too, which several other people ordered which made me feel less conspicuously fruity. Everyone else had the heavy animal breakfasts though, but nobody gave me a hard time when I explained that I’m off meat and dairy right now. I didn’t use the word vegan though.
I also felt kind of bad physically for the first time today, because I drank too much black coffee. I’ve had that too-much-caffeine feeling many times and often it makes me cranky for the rest of the day. But I recovered quickly today.
I am desperately in need of some take-to-work lunch ideas though. I didn’t have any ripe avocados today so my wrap was based on red peppers and other veggies, and it got all soggy and gross in my bag. I need a switch. Any ideas? Remember, I have no microwave available to me.
- Golden chickpea and artichoke salad
- Leftover glazed green bean salad
- Leftover sweet chili tofu
- A few falafels
I’ve also fallen in love with chili garlic sauce. I used to put sweet chili sauce on everything, but it’s almost pure sugar, so I don’t buy it any more. But this chili garlic stuff has virtually no sugar and is pretty low in sodium too.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Day 8. It’s almost becoming like autopilot now. All the food in my house is vegan, so when I make something to eat there’s no “Oops I can’t have that” reaction. I’ve learned about ten great new recipes and I’m making another one almost every day.
This week I discovered smoothies. I have always been a non-smoothie person, even a little anti-smoothie. But I’ve been experimenting and it’s an awesome way to consume fruit. I’ve been making smaller portions for dinner, and eating earlier, and if I get hungry later I toss some fruit in a blender with almond milk and I have a filling and healthy 200-calorie snack.
Also, for you vegans who like espresso coffees. My biggest peeve with veganism is that I haven’t been able to make a decent latte with non-dairy milk. It just doesn’t froth well and has a burnt taste. I learned a trick from a vegan barista: put a drop of canola oil (or another mild oil) in the milk pitcher. It will froth so much better and taste better. My lattes were almost undrinkable before I learned that, and now they’re pretty good.
I have lost some bodyfat, and I’ve began working out daily again yesterday.
Jamaican sweet potato curry soup, with puri (a fried Indian Bread.) A fruit smoothie will follow.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Not much new to report. It’s all quite normal now and sometimes it doesn’t seem like I’m doing anything unusual. Animal foods aren’t very appealing to me most of the time. Occasionally I’ll feel a pang of attraction to ice cream or something with cheese, but it passes quickly as I remember how short-lived that particular pleasure is — of buying and eating the exact thing you want right now. There’s no real joy behind indulging that desire. Sooo many times I’ve bought an out-of-character chocolate bar or pint of ice cream, just to let myself be a bit reckless, and it’s been disappointing. I end up thinking, “wow that wasn’t even close to worth it.” The kind of joy I get when I cook or when I’m walking around feeling light and healthy is so much deeper and long-lasting than the pleasure from any kind of junk food. I’m getting wise to the bad ROI of indulging those kinds of passing food impulses.
I have been feeling a bit tired this last two days. There are a lot of factors here: my new role at work is getting to me; I’ve got a writing project that’s been hanging over my head forever and I really want it to be gone so I can get on with my life; I have let a few important things lapse in my life and I need to straighten them all out; I haven’t been getting as good a sleep as I was two weeks ago and meditation has kind of worked its way out of my routine. Mainly it’s my job. I no longer like it and it takes up such huge swaths of my days and weeks.
Since I’m not too crazy about soy lattes (even though I’ve been drinking them every day) I’m going to go off caffeine for the remainder of the experiment to see what effect it has on my sleep. I’ve been getting about seven hours, and though that may not be quite enough, I know that cutting out caffeine will probably make me better in the morning. We’ll see.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Life continues on and this is feeling like a pretty permanent lifestyle change. Like I’ve said a few times now, I don’t think I’m going back.
The main reason I wanted to do this was to put some clear boundaries in what I ate, and this has worked extremely well.
My break from caffeine never happened. I just cut it down a lot, but last night I had a coffee at about 6:30pm and it was super weird trying to fall asleep. There were swirls behind my eyes when I closed them, and when I dosed off I had very aggressive, disturbing, hyper-realistic dreams. I was living in a filthy house, on my hands and knees sorting out little plastic toys, and there was a mini rhinoceros in the next room (in my bath tub) and when I looked up there was a tiger lying on my couch in the filth. It was pretty intimidating, even though it felt like it was a regular feature of my house. It growled and snapped at me, and I just about leapt out of my bed and woke myself up.
So I seem to be suddenly more aware of the effects of caffeine and other substances in my body, like there’s less grime in there so it’s easier to notice. I like being completely clearheaded, especially when I’m going to sleep, so I have between zero and two coffees a day now, and never after supper.
I mentioned that I’ve been more alert. This has continued, although I’m pretty used to it now. One interesting effect is that even when I’m tired (from doing a lot of physical work), I can feel the fatigue in my body but I’m completely alert and I have no urge to lay down and I don’t get cranky. When it’s time to go to bed, I’m tired enough to go to sleep, but I’m quite awake until I don’t want to be anymore — I don’t fall asleep accidentally while I’m reading, for example.
Other than that there’s not much to report. Oh, I will tell you about my digestive system situation, if you want to hear about that kind of stuff.
Without getting into too much detail: my, uh, movements happen a lot more often, they are a lot less of a fuss. Everything about the process is more consistent and predictable. The whole system seems like it’s really running like it’s supposed to. Just to experience this feeling alone, I would urge anyone to give this a try, even if it’s for a week. I didn’t know what I was missing.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
I’m currently having my first intestinal difficulties. I’ve felt fantastic this whole experiment until about an hour ago. I think it’s food poisoning, and the culprit is probably a bag of broccoli slaw that I bought weeks ago. I was making falafel wraps for dinner, and I came across the bag in the crisper. I was amazed to find it didn’t look or smell bad, and I figured it was relatively benign so I put some in the wrap. After a while I realized I had bought it before I even went vegan, which means it is at least 18 days old and probably more.
I hope it is one of those short spells of food poisoning that are over in a few hours. One time in Mexico I was incapacitated for days.
This bout came as quite a shock because I’d felt so unshakably good all this time. It feels weird to be under the weather like this. I really felt invincible.
Update: I lived. It only lasted a few hours.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
I had a few drinks last night and I’m really feeling it. I’m starting to think I can’t really drink any more. I’m not sure how much of it has to do with my diet, I think I’m just getting really tired of it. It’s so costly in terms of time and money, especially when you factor in cab rides.
That’s the least of it though. The hangover is a very much accepted cultural phenomenon, like it’s an inevitable byproduct of having too much fun. But it’s really just what it feels like to have poisoned yourself, and it’s amazing how as otherwise sensible people many of us subject ourselves to it over and over again.
I notice I have increased sensitivity to my body’s needs. I can tell when I haven’t quite gotten enough sleep, for example, or when I’ve had too much caffeine. My body gives me clearer feedback on the things I do to it. Before, it was broadcasting so many warning signals that I couldn’t see what was causing what, and it all seemed normal. It is normal. I don’t want to be normal in that regard anymore.
The truth that’s emerging here is that I can no longer get away with myself. I have been pummeling my body all these years with alcohol, bad food and bad sleep habits, and I haven’t been able to see the consequences clearly because they were all interfering with each other, and because I live in a culture where most people are constantly trying to justify these same bad habits.
So I’m not quite sure where alcohol will settle in my life. I’m not planning to cut it out completely, but I have a growing feeling that my days of drinking too much to say, drive, are coming to an end. It’s just too costly now. I think the best role for alcoholic drinks in my life is as another food, which makes it absurd to drink six or seven of them at a time, because obviously it is a different kind of appetite driving it by that point.
It’s 12:30 on the only day I have truly to myself during the week, and I’ve accomplished nothing other than watching a movie I’ve been meaning to watch for a while.
I know this little rant isn’t directly related to veganism, but it relates to the bigger picture of what I choose to subject my body to. This kind of drinking has been a losing deal for so long, but I’m only now seeing it in such clear relief because of how healthy I’ve felt recently.
Moving on, I have three more days in my thirty day commitment and I am not sure what’s going to happen afterwards. I leave for Hawaii next weekend, and I will probably try a few animal foods on my trip just to see how I feel about it, and how my body feels.
Monday, March 21, 2011
I didn’t feel well today. Yesterday evening too. My hangover from saturday seemed to leave my body and mind susceptible to a crappy feeling that never really left. I was tired and I had upset stomach.
I did get a good sleep but I felt crummy all day. It was a stressful day at work, and that’s still not something I’m used to. I’ve always been pretty good at dealing with day-to-day job stress but I’m still not adjusting well to my new role. But I think it was more than that. I wonder if it’s still my body’s reaction to the alcohol on Saturday night. Probably a combination. I’m not sure how much (if any) is diet-related, but I feel really down.
I have been getting lots of dietary iron, and taking supplements, so I don’t imagine it’s that. I will take it easy tonight, get to bed early and see how I feel tomorrow. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just the psychosomatic effects of stress at work. If it continues, we’ll see if it’s any match for a week in Hawaii.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Well today’s day 30 of 30. I just finished an awesome super-healthy vegan supper (apple cider brussels sprouts, sweet chili dry-fry tofu, couscous and lemon kale) and I can’t say I’m raring to jump back into my old diet. Right from the beginning I’ve suspected that this was not going to be just a temporary change.
I still don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow. I think I might break my animal-products fast in a small way, just for the sake of it, by having a regular latte instead of a soy milk latte.
But I have pretty close to zero interest in having a burger or eating cheese or anything like that. People have been asking me if I’ve craved meat or cheese, and the answer is an honest no. At this point the only thing that attracts me about them is that non-vegan food is more convenient.
And convenience is a two-way street. Yes, there is a momentary benefit of being able to pick up something quick for lunch, but the (much greater) downside is that I would no longer be in total control of what I ate. If I don’t make my lunch myself before I go to work, I open myself up to a lot of unhealthy possibilities. It’s remarkably hard to find something truly healthy in a restaurant. Even the typical salad is loaded with fat from dressings, cheeses and often meats. And I’m not even talking about fast food.
Trying to find something vegan without any planning is difficult. You usually end up eating a fruit cup. This means there is no question as to whether I’m going to prepare good food to eat. I can’t just forego my morning lunch-making routine for ten more minutes of sleep, and pick up something to eat later. I don’t buy unhealthy groceries (never really have) and I don’t cook unhealthy meals, so almost everything I eat is healthy now.
So I like the restrictions I’ve put on my diet, because it’s made me live in such a way that I must take total responsibility for my food. I am the decider, as George Bush might say. I have become the full-time manager of what goes into my body, and when it comes to something as intimate and far-reaching as what I eat, it would be absurd to let anyone else to have that job, even part-time. But that’s what I was doing before: leaning on the convenience food infrastructure that so well pads the cradle of civilization.
Not that I was any fast-food junkie, but if the boys at work said “Let’s go for breakfast,” to me that meant “Okay, today’s one of those days where I’m going to eat plateful of heavy, fried substances, and it’s justified.” I always thought I was in control of what I ate, but because everything was an option, I was really easily swayed to make exceptions to my “generally eat healthy” philosophy. When there are no hard edges to one’s diet, it’s really easy to fall into the grooves of convention and convenience. And we’re talking about something ultra-important here — what we put into our mouths, and what our bodies must build themselves out of. Yet it’s so easy to let convention be the main decisionmaker here. It’s easy because it’s normal, and I’m glad to have become abnormal in this regard.
My final report will be out in a few days.