Greetings, dear Readers. You may be wondering where I have been for several months and whether I actually finished the 30 day vegan challenge. Did I finish it? That is a fair question. The answer is unequivocally, yes.
In fact, I finished the challenge and I survived. Now, let’s be clear: I did not, by any definition, thrive on this diet. I merely survived. There were many highs and lows, and points where I felt like quitting altogether because giving up meat, dairy, and sugar simultaneously was ludicrously difficult. I think if I were to redo the vegan challenge, I would definitely incorporate more ‘cheat meals’, fewer carbs, and more variety in the recipes I was using. That being said, the exclusion of cheat meals and variety was entirely my choice and only I can be held accountable for that mistake. Unfortunately, I fell right off the bandwagon and started eating animal products approximately 2 weeks after the challenge. I simply did not have strong enough moral, ethical, environmental, or health reasons to stick with the vegan diet. Perhaps that will change in the future. For the time being, I am back to eating unprocessed, low-carb whole foods (read: not tonnes of meat, but definitely fewer grains) and I am acutely aware of how many animal products I do consume. I have made a conscious effort to avoid them or replace them with healthier options where possible.
So without further ado, here is a summary of my experiences. I like to get the bad out of the way so my writing becomes progressively more positive.
Social awkwardness. I think the biggest detractor from the challenge was the social element. It was very difficult not to feel as if I was being arrogant and pious every time I would turn down a meal because it had X or Y in it. Many times, when confronted with the question why I was refusing homemade pie or cookies, and I would simply respond it was because I was attempting to complete a challenge. I found people more easily accepted the explanation that I was challenging myself to be healthy rather than the vague explanation that I was trying to do something good for the planet. Sustainability, evidently, is less important than an egoic pursuit of health. Go figure. People seem to have some cognitive dissonance when it comes to the connection between what’s on their plate and what surrounds them. But I digress.
No real moral or ethical grounding. Another social sticking point had to do more with feelings of guilt than actual empirical fact or occurrence. Often, I would have people offer me meals at celebratory occasions or as a kind gesture for me as a guest in their household, and I found it supremely awkward to explain that I could not eat their food. I could not supply more than weak arguments for my refusal when presented with a food I genuinely liked that was locally or sustainably sourced. There seemed to be something inherently culturally specific and socio-economically privileged in having the choice to turn down certain types of foods in the name of ‘health’ or ‘ethics’. I also found that there was sketchy evidence to support the claim that a plant-based diet is necessarily better for humans or the planet. (Side note: I know that factory farming IS appallingly bad for the environment and I am resolutely against it.) I found more research on health and nutrition supported the compelling claim that humans are better adapted to be omnivorous than herbivorous.
A case of the blahs. Healthwise, I didn’t feel too great towards the end of the challenge, but thorough blood work revealed everything was normal. That leads me to think this could have very well been more of an emotional sense of malaise than a physical one. I just felt very ‘blah’ and unmotivated by week 4. This was possibly due to the lack of chocolate and too many freaking carbs, since I’m highly sensitive to high carb content in ANY form. More than likely due to the lack of chocolate…which is not a vegan problem. Damn. You win this time, herbivores…
At this point, you may think that I’m a curmudgeonly lifter who gained NO positive experiences from this 30 day challenge. If that is what you’re thinking, I can assure you that your thinking is incorrect and I did glean some positive takeaways from the experience.
The recipes! There are so many fantastic and delicious vegan recipes out there on the internet and within the pages of physical plant-based cookbooks. I got a lot of my dessert recipes online and some of my lunch/dinner recipes from books like “Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ck” (Thug Kitchen, LLC) and “The Oh She Glows Cookbook: Vegan Recipes To Glow From The Inside Out” (Angela Liddon). I would highly recommend browsing the internet for gems like Chocolate Covered Katie and the Minimalist Baker, who both have amazing recipes that are plant-based or plant-based friendly (with a few ingredient tweaks). It was nice to be able to have a dessert every once in a while without fretting about its ingredients or nutritional content.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Meal preparation and meal planning was a breeze. To be fair, I had a meal plan that I had bought online, so it took much of the guesswork out of meal planning. I became intimately familiar with the ins and outs of meal prep after a while, so I think I could possibly do it myself now if I had to. I probably would not weigh every single ounce of food, however. That was my least favourite part of the whole process.
Lower costs. Despite what most people say about vegans having so many ‘specialty’ foods and how much they cost, it was actually cheaper to buy vegan ingredients like lentils, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, spaghetti sauce, pasta, and (frozen) greens in bulk and prepare them at home. The processed foods were very expensive, so I shied away from them most of the time. The only luxury foods I bought regularly were Daiya cheese and sriracha sauce–which I naturally put on everything.
New restaurants! Woo! Although it’s pretty easy to get everything vegan-ified these days at ‘regular’ restaurants, I really enjoyed the process of finding new restaurants to eat at. There are at least 3 completely vegetarian (2 of those are vegan) restaurants in the city that accommodate plant-based folks. I wish I had taken pictures of the food at the places I ate, because they were so aesthetically pleasing–and tasty! Every single restaurant served delicious and high quality food and provided consistently excellent, friendly service. Honestly, I think vegetarians are just friendlier people in some respects. Or maybe just the people I encountered? Jury’s out on that one.
Now that I have gone over the pros and cons of a diet consisting primarily of beans & greens, one question remains…
DO YOU EVEN STILL LIFT, BRUH?
I am proud to say a resounding yes! I’ve become A LOT stronger over the course of a year and I can lift more impressive numbers. I haven’t updated them yet since I haven’t tested for my 1RM (1 Rep Max) again this year, but once I do, you will be the first to know. I have officially fallen in love with Olympic Weightlifting in a way I never thought possible. This sport has given me so much confidence and joy (and DOMS…), and I can’t see myself not lifting any time soon. It’s truly a beautiful and highly technical sport.
In relation to sport & diet, I think the diet did its job in providing me with adequate energy to perform the lifts, but I didn’t feel much different than when I was eating an omnivorous diet, to be honest. I try to focus more on the numbers on the bar than the caloric numbers on my plate, so I try not to focus too heavily on diet these days. I just try to keep things simple
In sum, I probably could see myself adopting a mostly plant-based diet in the future, but I would take it a lot more slowly to adjust to it than I did this time around. I would also give myself more leniency with sweets, look up more common arguments & retorts, and find further research to support sustainability & health claims. I hear Peter Singer (philosopher, activist) and Rich Roll (ultra-athlete, author, all-around awesome guy) have some pretty good arguments for a plant-based diet, so I may have to read those and make further decisions. For now, I just try to keep things relatively simple: whole. nutritious. unprocessed. fresh.
Thank you for tuning in.
I will be doing another challenge in the near future…so keep your eyes peeled. 😉