So you’re thinking about taking on the exciting adventure of crowding meat and animal products out of your diet. You’ve figured out what veggies, grains, legumes, and fruit that you’ll fill your plate with. You’ve thought about all the places animal products are hiding that you will now look out for. You’re pretty sure you understand most of the health implications of what you’re about to do. Or maybe you’re already gettting started and you’re wondering… what’s going to happen? Am I going to wake up tomorrow feeling like a new person? Will I even notice anything next week? Next month? Am I going to feel any different at all? Is there a remote possibility that I’m going to feel worse?! Sadly, for many people, the simple fear of the unknown will keep them from even trying something new.
You’ve probably heard negative stories from someone here or there that ‘tried it’ and had some kind of negative experience and so they went back to their old ways and they wouldn’t recommend your own adventure of trending toward a whole foods plant based diet. Craziness!
Here’s the thing. You’ve been eating a certain way for a really long time, right? Maybe even your whole life. So what’s that, 18 years? 30? 45? 75? That’s a lot of years, no matter what your own number is. Old habits die hard, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, ignorance is bliss, yadda yadda yadda. All just cliches coming from beliefs that you can choose to buy into or not.
If what you’re doing right now is getting you what you want – feeling great, very few aches and pains (including headaches), sleeping great, waking up easily, having energy to burn, wanting to exercise just for fun… If you experience NO digestive upset – heartburn, diarrhea, bloating, constipation; NO symptomatic heart problems – chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid or irregular heart beat… If you have good numbers – cholesterol below 150, blood pressure below 110/60, BMI less than 25… If you do not take any medication other than birth control and vitamins, and you do not have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, then my only arguments for changing your diet would be to protect innocent animals from unnecessary pain and torture, and to help save the planet.
HOWEVER, if you experience even one or two of the aforementioned symptoms and/or have a family history that you do not want to be your future, then there’s room for improvement. You can do better, and my argument for changing your diet benefits not only the animals and the planet, but it will benefit you and your entire family. After all, they probably want you around longer, don’t they?
I used to think it was normal to nap on the couch when I got home from work. I’d sit down after a long day, watch a little tv, and bam – snoozefest. I used to think I was “prone” to headaches, back pain, and an upset stomach. I also used to think it was normal to have my weight fluctuate 5+ pounds from year to year. Up, down, up, down, trending with my exercise obsession of the month (or lack thereof). I used to think it was normal to feel bloated, tired, and gross after a big meal. I’ll admit I used to loosen my belt or even wear stretchy pants to big restaurant dinners, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Fortunately for me, I was willing to see that there was room for improvement. I wanted to help myself first and foremost. I wanted to outrun my family history, and I eventually learned just how much I was wanted to make a difference for the animals and our planet.
After a month or so of my new whole foods, plant based diet, I felt like a million bucks. As often happens with major changes, I did NOT notice things day by day. I noticed only when I looked back. I realized that I hadn’t been crashing on the couch after work. I hadn’t been having headaches. I hadn’t felt bloated and gross even after some enormous meals. I hadn’t been having back or neck pain unless I did something really obvious to cause it – like rearranging the living room furniture all by myself…
I must admit, that making my change cold turkey was likely part of the rapid turnaround. I have heard many stories and have personally known several people that didn’t have the same rapid turnaround. In fact, they experienced some uncomfortable symptoms like headaches, gas, and sometimes fatigue. These are all symptoms of withdrawal. There are addictive components of food that cause us to want more of it. Sugar, red meat, milk, yogurt and cheese all contain chemicals that are known to cause addictions. Not to mention caffeine in coffee, sugary soda, or chocolate. Just like any drug, when you stop using it, you are going to feel different. When you stop smoking cigarettes, you’ll feel like crap for a while, right? Headaches, irritability, digestive upset, fatigue, coughing, etc. These are simply symptoms of withdrawal. It is your body’s amazing ability to eject toxins from your body! Stopping smoking causes a cough? YES, of course! Because your body is trying like heck to rid itself of all the junk.
If a smoker feels like crap when they try to quit, they either push through it or they go back to their old ways, right? If they do manage to push through, the body returns to its normal healthier state in an unbelievably quick amount of time. Improved respiration, increased energy, the headaches go away, and the craving disappears. In fact in most cases, once they’re over the hurdle, a non-smoker will wonder how the heck they ever used to light up.
It’s the same with a major food shift. When you stop feeding your body meat, eggs, and dairy products, you will feel different. At first, you may experience some crappy withdrawal symptoms. This is NOT the veggies, grains, fruit, and legumes making you feel this way!! It’s simply a physiological withdrawal response. In no time at all, your body will return to its natural healthier state – increased energy, decreased headaches, the cravings will go away, and you WILL wonder how the heck you ever used to eat the way you did.
If you can relate your food transition to quitting smoking, you will understand better how your body is reacting. If you feel withdrawal symptoms, the best thing you can do is push through! If you go back to your old ways or “cheat”, you may eliminate the symptoms temporarily, but in the long run, you’ll still go through it all over again so you’re no farther ahead. For a smoker, the withdrawal symptoms can dissipate in 48 hours IF they quit cold turkey. The slower your transition, I would argue the longer your withdrawal experience may be. Cutting back gradually on meat, eggs, and dairy may be the only way for some people to do it, but I would encourage you that it may be easier to do it all at once so that you can get over your withdrawal in a matter of days instead of months, and you’ll never look back!
You may feel better immediately. You may feel worse for a little bit. Either way, you’ll end up feeling fantastic once you’re through the challenging initiation period.