My 30 Day Vegan Diet Experiment

My orig­i­nal inten­tion was to write a post on the 5:2 diet and my expe­ri­ences exper­i­ment­ing with it over the past year.

How­ev­er, hav­ing been inspired and chal­lenged by a num­ber of recent posts (includ­ing here & here) and hav­ing just com­plet­ed John Rob­bins’ book — Healthy at 100, I’ve decid­ed to change course, ful­ly embrace a plant-based/ve­g­an diet for a full 30 days & close­ly mon­i­tor my results.

How did I arrive at this point?

I’ve always been pret­ty lean (skin­ny as a kid), active & up until my mid-to-late 20’s strug­gled to gain weight. Some­what inevitably how­ev­er, as I moved through my 30’s & into my 40’s and my over­all lev­els of activ­i­ty decreased (and my metab­o­lism shift­ed), I grad­u­al­ly gained weight (rough­ly 0.5kg/1 lb per year ever year). Not notice­able over a short peri­od but over 20 years it adds up. I think this is a pret­ty com­mon pat­tern for men in par­tic­u­lar.

In terms of my diet, I’ve been a meat eater all my life apart from short peri­ods of veg­e­tar­i­an­ism & I have always eat­en dairy prod­ucts. Ear­ly on (in the 1980’s) I took on board the nutri­tion­al advice of the day, which advo­cat­ed a switch away from high-fat foods towards low-fat prod­ucts. (The real­i­ty as we now know is that food man­u­fac­tur­ers replaced fat with sug­ar in many of their food prod­ucts to replace the flavour that fat pro­vid­ed). Con­sis­tent with that advice & not hav­ing weight gain as a con­sid­er­a­tion for the first part of my life meant that I devel­oped the long-term habit of con­sum­ing a large per­cent of my dai­ly calo­ries from car­bo­hy­drates (often refined).

In the Sum­mer of 2012, I watched a doc­u­men­tary on the BBC titled: Eat, Fast & Live Longer which explored the phys­i­cal and phys­i­o­log­i­cal ben­e­fits of fast­ing. The pro­gramme con­clud­ed that beyond the weight loss achieved through fast­ing there were oth­er report­ed ben­e­fits such as reduced lev­els of IGF‑1 (high lev­els of IGF‑1 have been asso­ci­at­ed with cer­tain types of can­cer), the switch­ing on of DNA repair genes, reduced blood pres­sure, cho­les­terol and glu­cose lev­els. Sub­se­quent­ly, I was inspired to explore and exper­i­ment in this area.

Over the past 15 months (since ear­ly 2013), I’ve been exper­i­ment­ing (on and off) with the 5:2 diet and at times rad­i­cal­ly low­er­ing my intake of car­bo­hy­drates of all types. Over the first 10 months of the pro­gramme, (from a start­ing weight of 83.5 Kg/184 lbs) I dropped approx­i­mate­ly 8 kg/18 lbs (BMI was 24.1/now 21.3) and have remained at a weight of approx­i­mate­ly 75.5 kg/166 lbs. I now lim­it my calo­ries to approx­i­mate­ly 600 per day 1 time per week.

More impor­tant­ly, I’ve been able to shift quite a bit of weight from my mid-sec­tion (which appar­ent­ly is the most dan­ger­ous area of the body to accu­mu­late & retain fat)). While I am (and have always been) pret­ty active (I walk/hike quite fre­quent­ly & lift weights occa­sion­al­ly), the weight-loss around my mid-sec­tion only occurred once I began to fast on a reg­u­lar basis (the the­o­ry being that once you strict­ly lim­it car­bo­hy­drates, then your body will begin to more eas­i­ly burn your stores of fat for ener­gy).

Beyond the objec­tive ben­e­fits that I’ve achieved on the 5:2 diet, I believe that I now have much more con­trol over the foods that I eat. I’ve expe­ri­enced a sig­nif­i­cant reduc­tion in food crav­ings espe­cial­ly as it relates to foods high in sug­ar & fat. I’ve also learned that feel­ing hun­gry is not nec­es­sar­i­ly the same as need­ing to eat.

For years, I’ve also bought into the ‘break­fast is the most impor­tant meal of the day’ idea. I don’t know whether it is or not. What I do know from my own expe­ri­ence, is that my abil­i­ty to car­ry on my dai­ly activ­i­ties with­out eat­ing from 7pm until 1pm the fol­low­ing day was not notice­ably impact­ed neg­a­tive­ly on the days that I was fast­ing. In fact, a dis­cov­ery for many who have under­tak­en the 5:2 diet is the increased alert­ness they feel on days when they do fast.

What my expe­ri­ences over the past year of exper­i­men­ta­tion have taught me is that there are times when I need to be my own expert. While I have to rely on well-designed and peer-reviewed stud­ies to under­stand the impact of the food & lifestyle choic­es that I make today on my health of tomor­row, I can also edu­cate myself wide­ly and exper­i­ment in real-time to test out the results I get, with my body, my genes, my envi­ron­ment and my cul­ture. 

Why am I doing a vegan diet experiment?

The promise of phys­i­cal & men­tal gains:
Some folks who have moved to an all-plant based or veg­an diet have spo­ken about 2 improve­ments which they’ve expe­ri­enced almost imme­di­ate­ly after switch­ing:

  • a sig­nif­i­cant increase in ener­gy &
  • improved men­tal clar­i­ty

Cur­rent­ly, my diet is rel­a­tive­ly healthy w/an empha­sis on good fats, whole grains, high qual­i­ty meat and dairy & I’m pret­ty active — gym 2 or 3 times per week, dai­ly walk­ing and reg­u­lar hik­ing & I get plen­ty of sleep. How­ev­er, while my ener­gy lev­els are pret­ty high & sta­ble through­out the day, and my (good) mood is pret­ty sta­ble & con­sis­tent, I’m also a lit­tle frus­trat­ed that at times I don’t have more ener­gy. I think there’s some­thing more to be gained here and so I’m intrigued by the pos­si­bil­i­ty of improve­ments in these 2 areas on a veg­an diet.

Desire to remain healthy and active
As I’ve not­ed to some of my hik­ing part­ners whilst out on the hills, I want to remain active long into my ‘retire­ment’ years. While there are some stud­ies which show that veg­e­tar­i­ans or peo­ple on a veg­an diet live longer lives & are less at risk for cer­tain dis­eases, as always it’s hard to sep­a­rate out exact­ly why that is. The human body is incred­i­bly com­plex and it is hard if not impos­si­ble to sin­gle out indi­vid­ual activ­i­ties or habits as being the cause of good health.

What does seem to be true how­ev­er, is that there are clus­ters of behav­iours that are more com­mon in folks who live longer and health­i­er lives. And it would seem to me that a num­ber of these behav­iours are self-rein­forc­ing, espe­cial­ly as peo­ple get old­er. So, for exam­ple liv­ing an active lifestyle does tend to increase the like­li­hood that you’ll take more of an inter­est in what you put into your body — be that food, alco­hol or oth­er types of drugs. In return, eat­ing well does seem to increase the like­li­hood that you’ll con­tin­ue to (and be able to) stay active. I’m hope­ful that this veg­an diet exper­i­ment can con­tribute to help­ing me make bet­ter food choic­es going for­ward as well as help­ing me achieve & main­tain high lev­els of phys­i­cal activ­i­ty.

Over­com­ing ‘The Plateau Effect
Mid-life is a time of great change includ­ing com­ing to terms with one’s mor­tal­i­ty and the phys­i­cal changes tak­ing place. If we let life play out nat­u­ral­ly, it would seem that the result for most of us results in some nar­row­ing of choic­es — be they career choic­es, an unwill­ing­ness to try new things & often a dwin­dling of our social cir­cle (espe­cial­ly for men). We know what we like to eat, what we enjoy for enter­tain­ment and who we like to hang out with. This is for most of us very com­fort­able and non-chal­leng­ing/threat­en­ing. We are in fact expe­ri­enc­ing, in my view what Bob Sul­li­van & Hugh Thomp­son describe as The Plateau Effect.

Accord­ing to this the­o­ry, our body and our brain gets used to things (or accli­mates) quite quick­ly. We see this effect quite clear­ly in the exam­ple of drugs we take quite reg­u­lar­ly (be they pain killers or alco­hol for exam­ple). As a gen­er­al rule, the more fre­quent­ly we take the drug the high­er the dose that is required to achieve the same effect (all oth­er things being equal). Anoth­er exam­ple is when that new car that gave us so much joy in our first few weeks of own­er­ship slow­ly los­es its appeal as the months and years go by.

Fit­ness experts will encour­age us to add vari­ety and increased chal­lenge to our work­outs because with­out that our body will remain the same (after any ini­tial gains) if not con­tin­u­al­ly pushed by stress­es of a dif­fer­ent type.

I’m apply­ing this the­o­ry in the area of diet — real­ly chal­leng­ing my body to change (hope­ful­ly in a pos­i­tive way). And my hope would be that the pos­i­tive impact of these dietary changes would fil­ter out and have some pos­i­tive knock-on effects across oth­er areas of my life.

Pos­i­tive knock-on effects
I’m intrigued to dis­cov­er what pos­i­tive knock-on effects might occur as a result of eat­ing a veg­an diet. For exam­ple, how does hav­ing increased ener­gy impact my choic­es of activ­i­ty? Per­haps it’s a sim­ple as choos­ing to take a walk instead of flop­ping down in front of the TV or reach­ing out to friends and fam­i­ly to meet up/talk by phone rather than com­mu­ni­cat­ing only vir­tu­al­ly. Or per­haps it helps over­come pro­cras­ti­na­tion just enough so that we make that phone call to a prospec­tive client or you write that piece of mar­ket­ing copy for your web­site that you (or in this case me 😉 ) have been avoid­ing?

In my expe­ri­ence, sin­gle actions pig­gy-back on each oth­er to cre­ate a web of activ­i­ty which even­tu­al­ly change our being or how we show up in the world. As the say­ing goes ‘A jour­ney of a thou­sand miles begins with a sin­gle step’. If I don’t have the ener­gy to take that step, I’m going nowhere!!

Sus­tain­abil­i­ty of a meat-based diet
I’ve tuned in much more to the debate recent­ly about the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of our glob­al love affair with meat. With increased afflu­ence through­out the world and the sub­se­quent increase in demand for meat, more and more of our land, crops & (our increas­ing­ly scarce sup­plies of) water are being divert­ed (both direct­ly and indi­rect­ly) to the feed­ing of ani­mals bred for slaugh­ter. It seems to me that to be a part of the solu­tion, eat­ing less meat would be a sen­si­ble thing to do.

Align­ing my val­ues
As a con­sumer who takes an inter­est in ani­mal wel­fare when buy­ing meat, chick­en or fish, I’m frus­trat­ed with the time and cost involved in con­sis­tent­ly find­ing those items that have been farmed eth­i­cal­ly and killed humane­ly. While the wel­fare stan­dards for ani­mals in Europe appear to be high­er than those in the US, I still feel that I’m con­stant­ly in a bat­tle with food man­u­fac­tur­ers to stay one-step ahead of them as they aim to, shall I say, cre­ative­ly label their prod­ucts.

And, I’m find­ing it increas­ing­ly hard to square the dis­con­nect between the dili­gence that I bring to food shop­ping when buy­ing fresh meat and the lack of that same dili­gence I apply when eat­ing out where often I have no clear idea of how that ani­mal has been treat­ed from birth to plate.

As I’ve start­ed to engage with this dis­con­nect, I real­ize that I need to and want to align my val­ues more close­ly & con­sis­tent­ly with who I am today.

Rules of the (veg­an diet) game

  1. I’ll offi­cial­ly begin my 30 day tri­al on Thurs­day, June 5th and end it on Sat­ur­day, July 5th.
  2. At this point, I’m going to lim­it myself to focus­ing on foods only. (There is a whole veg­an lifestyle which focus on the avoid­ance of ani­mal by-prod­ucts and more. That will not be a focus of mine dur­ing this tri­al).
  3. I’ll keep track of the fol­low­ing:
  • Ener­gy lev­els
  • Phys­i­cal activ­i­ties
  • Time to wake/time to sleep
  • Mood
  • Weight
  • Food
  • Cravings/triggers
  • As rel­e­vant, I’ll note things such as men­tal clar­i­ty, new health issues / impact on any cur­rent health issues, impact on pro­cras­ti­na­tion / pro­duc­tiv­i­ty / moti­va­tion, chal­lenges / suc­cess­es and any­thing else that looks like it might be use­ful.

I’ll pro­vide (approx­i­mate­ly) week­ly updates over the com­ing weeks.

Today is Wednes­day, June 4th and I’ve eat­en a 95% veg­an diet for the past few days. I’m look­ing for­ward to get­ting stuck into this exper­i­ment & I’m hope­ful that my expe­ri­ences can add some val­ue to both myself & oth­ers.

I’d real­ly val­ue any com­ments that you have to share 🙂

My 30 Day Veg­an Diet Exper­i­ment — Week 1 Update

My 30 Day Veg­an Diet Exper­i­ment — Week 2 & 3 Update

My 30 Day Veg­an Diet Exper­i­ment — Final Report

4 thoughts on “My 30 Day Vegan Diet Experiment”

  1. All very inter­est­ing and inspir­ing. I par­tic­u­lar­ly relate to the dif­fi­cul­ty and dis­con­nect between meat (and fish?) that I might choose to buy in the super­mar­ket ver­sus that which I eat in a restau­rant. Good luck with it all and look for­ward to read­ing more 🙂

  2. Thanks for tak­ing the time to read this Zoe & for your feed­back. Yes, I think this issue has been nig­gling me in the back­ground for some time now & it’s been help­ful for me to impose some clear bound­aries around these par­tic­u­lar food choic­es.

  3. Pingback: My 30 Day Vegan Diet Experiment - Recap Week 2 & 3

  4. Pingback: 30 Day Vegan Diet Experiment - Final Report | MoreTime4Play

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