As Twitter goes crazy for Beyoncé’s actual diet plan that she used when her and Jay did the 22 day Vegan challenge, I thought I’d share my own experiences of ditching animal foods with you. I wrote this article for a university feature and became a vegan for three days a week for three weeks. FYI, harder than it sounds…
Every year a number of new diets take over our lifestyles all promising to instantly improve our health and appearance. So-called magic formulas like the 5:2, the reboot or the honey diet are hailed as the next-best health fix and, in our constant search for the perfect lifestyle we fall for them every time.
But most of these demand big changes to our lives which many women find impossible to commit to.
The latest craze is the part-time vegan. Women everywhere have been inspired by Beyoncé who recently showed off her svelte results of the 22-day vegan challenge at this year’s Grammys. Bey gave up animal products like meat and dairy for three weeks. However, the thought of giving up our cheese boards was a little too much for us mere mortals and so the part-time vegan was born.
According to Juliet Gelletlay, the founder of Vegetarian and Vegan Charity Viva!, there are numerous benefits to being a vegan. She explains, “Going vegan means helping to protect yourself against chronic diseases such as heart disease. This is because a vegan diet is packed with nutrients that fight for our health.”
Shop like a vegan
Filled with the positive vibes from Viva! and the image of Beyoncé in THOSE shorts at the Grammys, I decided to take on the challenge for myself. For three days a week for three weeks, I became a vegan. To prepare I researched online and downloaded an app, called Is It Vegan?, which enables you to check ingredients, by scanning their barcodes or tapping in names, to see if they use any meat or dairy products.
I also spoke to Dr Eva Detko, a nutritional therapist, who says I needed to “get the right balance of essential nutrients” including fresh fruit, wholegrain, pluses, nuts and vegetables.
Dr Eva is an advocate for limiting meat and dairy (as well as sugar and gluten) as they are both highly inflammatory. She says, “Most people should have at least 3 vegetarian or vegan days in their week.” Because eating more fresh produce “contributes to a higher intake of important dietary components, such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and enzymes.”
Being a vegan means excluding ANY products which have come from an animal, so as well as the obvious things like meat and cheese, I’d also have to cut out honey and check for certain additives like gelatine or lactic acid. Armed with my new knowledge I headed out for my first shop.
Whilst gazing dreamingly into the chilled aisle, I found myself envying the lady next as she picked up a big chunk of mature cheddar. I wanted that cheese so bad that I probably would have tackled her to the ground if my willpower hadn’t stopped me.
My trip revealed that a lot of thought goes into vegan shopping. You end up picking up every product and analysing the ingredients like you’re revising for an exam. Even long-time vegetarians like Cardiff blogger Laura Schwormstedt (Side Street Style), who recently tried the vegan challenge, found this hard. She says, “I still don’t fully understand the vegan diet and often vegetarian options contain either egg or cheese, which means you have to do a lot of planning ahead and always have snacks on you so you’re not left going hungry.”
Even though I’m a pretty healthy eater, I’m a grazer and growing up with the sights and smells of a family run bakery meant my love for cakes was pretty much given to me at birth. Forget born with a silver spoon, mine was more like a wooden spoon covered with cake mixture and topped with hundreds and thousands, so finding treats was a priority. Luckily for me, dark chocolate is vegan and also good for the heart, apparently! (Any excuse)
On my first day of being a vegan, I just ate a soya yoghurt for breakfast as I was late. For lunch, I’d made a packed lunch of; hazelnut milk, a banana and a tub roasted vegetables and red lentils. Despite my failed attempt at cooking lentils, where I only cooked them for 20 mins and then over-used the chilli to compensate, it was pretty satisfying.
My first obstacle was when I went to Nando’s. I know, I couldn’t help but laugh either. I’m pretty sure the manager thought I was trying to pull a fast one or that I was secretly filming them for some undercover prank show. I mean how many people do you think head to a well-known restaurant where the menu is basically anything with a side of chicken and ask for their vegan options? I ended up with a handful of chips, a side of ratatouille and a very hungry belly.
As I was doing the challenge on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays, I was already longing for the freedom of the weekend.
Even though the welcoming bacon and cheese sandwich which I practically inhaled into my stomach on my first non-vegan day did taste incredible, I was looking forward to my second week.
In week 2, my skin was clearer and my stomach felt less bloated. However, being slightly anaemic, I knew that my iron levels could drop due to a lack of the vitamin B12 in my diet (not naturally found in Vegan diets) and by the end of week two I had to start taking my iron tablets, which taste like you’re chewing foil, and up my intake of hazelnut milk which is high in B12.
By week three, I was really enjoying cooking meals and spent more time experimenting with different foods like butternut squash, puy lentils and coconut oil. My newfound love of vegan food was soon overtaken by stomach-ache, which was due to the increase in fibre in my diet.
I was also bloated to the point where I felt like I could have easily gotten away with one of those baby-on-board stickers that expectant mothers wear on the tube. According to Dr Eva, this is completely normal as “Pulses and raw cruciferous vegetables are hard to digest so excessive intake may lead to bloating and intestinal toxicity.” The joys of being a part-time vegan were starting to wear off.
The vegan verdict
After my challenge, I was left with mixed feelings. It’s easy to adapt meals to be vegan and there are loads of substitutes that are available like soya instead of milk and agave nectar instead of honey. However, some are more processed than non-vegan foods.
Laura agrees, “Even though I don’t eat much cheese, when it came to making homemade pizzas, I really struggled to find a substitute that looked and tasted anything close to it.” Dr Eva says that even substitutes like soya, need to be consumed sparsely “due to its high phyto-oeastrogen and toxicity levels.” There are also endless additives that sneakily hide away in the ingredients list that you have to be aware of like the glazing agent shellac, which comes from insects.
I realised I could never go fully vegan as the temptation of some of life’s joys, like cheese, is just too much. But it has made me think about where my food is coming from and the changes I could make to be more aware of this.
Would I go full time? Probably not but you never know, maybe I’ll just start a new diet craze of vegan Fridays instead…