This is a response article to runner Natalie Diblasio and the article she wrote about her 50 day vegan diet…
I wish this article was titled differently, perhaps without the word “vegan” in it. I believe the symptoms this author is having are not from a vegan diet, but rather from a change in the foods she is eating and perhaps a drastic change in her caloric intake.
The author never goes into detail about the diet before switching to all vegan food, so certain assumptions have to be made. Every change in the diet is going to have some affect on the body. Initially this can be comparable to withdraw-like symptoms. If one is on a standard American diet, filled with processed foods, etc. the chemicals in those foods become addicting and your body acclimates to receiving these foods everyday. (Check out this article on how junk food can be as addicting as drugs ). So when one switches from highly processed foods to more complete, chemical-free foods, the body will have a reaction much like withdraw symptoms. A good example of this is people who try the Whole30 program. Take a look at this person’s timeline on Whole30 and how the first three weeks of her Whole30 challenge went. The beginning of this person’s Whole30 challenge sounds very similar to what this author is describing in her article on the vegan diet, which is most likely their bodies adjusting to a chemical-free food diet. The paleo diet can have similar affects. When the body is used to living and digesting certain chemicals that, amongst a switch, are no longer being digested, the body is going to have a reaction that simulates withdraw So, it’s not just the vegan diet that is making the author feel crappy, it’s the changes in her diet, and lack of what she was eating originally.
Dr. Garth Davis, a gastro-intestinal surgeon, turned plant-based advocate has a similar response to people that denounce a vegan diet,
“If you make a huge change and go from a standard American diet to a vegan diet, you may not feel good in the beginning. So many people tell me they switched to a plant based diet but felt horrible and quit. You cannot go from the average 10 gm fiber a day to 40 gm fiber without serious GI upset. Part of this is due to having a micro biome that has adjusted to the heavy meat intake…”
The author, Natalie, never discusses what her diet was before she switched over to a vegan diet. The crappier the foods Natalie was eating before she turned to a vegan diet, the longer it will take for her to experience the positive effects of veganism. Like switching to any clean-eating diet, the crappier you’re starting place, the worse you’ll feel during your transition.
Switching to a Vegan Diet
There are a few common things people complain about when they first switch to a vegan diet. One complaint is bloating. This is caused by the increased amount of fiber on intakes when there is an increased amount of fruit and vegetable in one’s diet. The body has not learned how to efficiently digest the fiber, which leads to bloating. Another common complaint is tiredness. This could be one of two reasons: either daily caloric intake is too low (read my article on counting macros here). Or, the right foods are not being eaten. The latter complaint comes from many vegans who do not go plant-based and stick with highly processed, low nutrient foods.
My recommendations for people switching to a vegan diet would be to start slowly. Monitor your increases in fiber intake on a daily basis so you experience minimal intestinal discomfort. If needed, one can add in probiotics or beano to help with the adjustments until your body learns how to effienctly process the increased fiber. Also, make sure caloric intake is adequate. This can be harder than one may think. Increased fiber can make one feel full quickly, which for most is a good thing that can lead to weight loss. However, for competitive athletes, or those trying to gain weight, this fullness can make it harder to eat all the calories one needs on a daily basis. This is one of the reasons I’ve found it helpful to start tracking my macronutrients.
Like Natalie, if you are having adverse reactions when switching over to a plant-based lifestyle, give your body some time to adjust to the new foods. I hope Natalie started seeing positive changes from the diet after her withdraw period and did not stop her 50 day vegan challenge early.
If you have any questions about switching to a vegan diet or adding more whole foods into your diet email me- link above 🙂