Ever been curious about adopting a vegan-friendly lifestyle? Amaan Akhtar details his week spent eating strictly vegan foods and discusses both the positive and more challenging parts of going vegan.
This summer, my girlfriend and I decided to embark on a new eating experience: we challenged ourselves to become vegans for an entire week. While many individuals have their own reasons for changing their dietary habits, for us it was purely a matter of curiosity and experimentation.
For a very long time we had heard some of our friends rave about the radical difference a vegan diet had on their lifestyle. For instance, one particular friend mentioned how this switch in lifestyle helped treat her irritable bowel syndrome, while another commented on how they were always fully satiated and lively every day from the new burst of energy they acquired.
But would we really see such drastic changes such as these within a week? Well, there was only one way to find out.
Leading up to this week, we both laid out some ground rules to follow during this challenge just to make sure that it was sustainable and enjoyable for ourselves:
- The meal plan for each day needed to be balanced and varied as much as possible
- We had a budget of £50 to work with
- We were allowed to have vegan treats and convenience foods (due to our busy work schedule)
- Supplements could be used (as long as they were vegan-friendly)
1. Meal Preparation is Key
While this may come as no surprise (since homecooked meals require a great deal of prep work), a big thing for us was planning out our daily meal plans for the week. Although we mainly do a lot of cooking and baking anyway, we had never really scheduled a set plan for a week.
Additionally, since we wanted to vary the meals as much as possible and keep them nutritionally balanced throughout the week, we did a lot of research to plan this out – and ordered the bulk of our groceries online. In retrospect, I would say that this is a brilliant way of transitioning into a new dietary lifestyle as you have most ingredients readily available and you can easily schedule in advance when you wish to prepare certain recipes for the next day.
2. Newfound Energy
Needless to say, we noticed a huge difference in our energy levels on a daily basis. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what caused it, but my best guess is that the combination of more nutritionally-balanced meals and the higher calorie and carbohydrate intake meant that both of us always felt energised and ready to take on each day. Even after work, I still had the focus and determination to get on with other tasks that same evening, which I usually put off for the next day.
To put this into perspective, I usually have 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee. However, eating like a vegan meant that I no longer woke up in a groggy state and feeling the urge to reach for a pot of coffee in the mornings; instead, I woke up in a good mood to start the days with a 6 am workout session – something that I struggled to do consistently before this week.
3. Being a Vegan Can Be (Initially) Expensive
However, there definitely were some drawbacks. For instance, to maintain our varied and balanced meal plan we had to look for specific obscure ingredients that are rarely found in your local super market. So instead we checked out our local health stores – and much to our dismay, these additional ingredients were very expensive.
Because of these extra expenses, we exceeded our limit very quickly during the week and overall spent about double the budget we started with. Although, in hindsight this turned out not to be as drastic as we initially thought: since most of the products we bought were dry ingredients, it meant that they could be stored for a very long time, and we still have a lot of these foods readily available in tins or packages even a few weeks after the challenge ended.
In reality, it is initially expensive to buy a wide range of ingredients, but we would probably only need to stock up on fresh produce on a regular basis if we decided to maintain this as a long-term thing.
4. Vegan Recipes are Insanely Tasty
While I have made some delicious vegan recipes in the past, I never expected that each and every recipe we made for this week would consistently be tasty! Whether we made a Thai-style vegan curry, sweet potato and black bean burritos, stuffed peppers, or vegan mac ‘n’ cheese – they all left us drooling for a second serving. Each meal was so wholesome that we would be content for several hours without feeling the need to snack on anything in-between meals (well, most of the time).
5. Is It Vegan-Friendly or Not?
It can be an infuriating moment when you check to see whether a certain food product you always assumed to be vegan… is not. This was especially true when we found out on our first day that store-bought guacamole has cream in it – which led us to make fresh guacamole instead, which is not a bad thing (since homemade food recipes taste much better).
However, it certainly becomes monotonous when you have to check the ingredients label on everything you buy just to ensure that a little milk or egg is not used in the product. And while there are an increasing number of ‘vegan-friendly’ certified foods these days, the range isn’t yet enough to encompass the vast majority of food types that we all consume.
Unfortunately, this becomes increasingly difficult when eating out in a social setting since there are very limited options in restaurants and bars (if they have any at all), which can sometimes force you to ask the dreaded clarifying questions about certain items on the menu.
6. The Craving Is Strong
Since this was a big change to our usual lifestyle that consisted of regular meals with either meat, eggs, or cheese, it meant that quitting “cold turkey” would always be difficult. And while these recipes were very wholesome, it could only stave off cravings for so long.
It was to be expected.
Around mid-week, for me the cravings for egg and cheese became stronger and their absence led me to experience mood swings on several occasions. We even incorporated vegan substitutes to help combat this, but they did not do an effective job. Maybe my taste buds knew that I was trying to deceive them, at least for savoury things anyway. The substitutes for chocolate and other desserts were mostly good (with the odd one tasting alright). But vegan cheese won no affection from me at all.
7. Personal Struggles
The nutritional requirements were a personal issue for me during this week: before the challenge, I was actively making sure that I consumed a higher amount of protein intake than usual to help me recover from my intensive work schedule and my regular training sessions each week. But what I noticed during my vegan week was that I was unable to maintain this high level of protein (even with consistent supplementation from a vegan-based protein powder), and instead I was hitting a higher level of calorie and carbohydrate intake than usual.
I just want to state that this is my own personal opinion for my individual life and activity levels, as veganism is certainly different for every individual.
Also, meal-prepping eventually became tedious since it meant that we always came home after work to huge piles of dishes to wash before cooking each day. And while we did have some convenience ready-made food products, they were usually very costly to consume.
Overall, the experience was very enlightening and helped us re-evaluate how our bodies actually react to the food we eat. I would certainly encourage anyone to give vegan week a try, as it will certainly change your opinion on this way of eating.
A huge lifestyle transition like this can be daunting with issues like buying expensive ingredients and convenience foods, as well as battling with strong cravings for dairy, eggs, and meat. While this may be the case, this food adventure left a huge impression on us as we felt more energised and focused than before, and also got to enjoy delicious and nutritionally-balanced meals daily.
It may be a hassle to always check the ingredients list to ensure a food product is vegan, and I may personally feel that it is difficult to intake a high amount of protein without eating larger portion sizes. But my girlfriend and I both agreed that we now want to incorporate more vegan-based meals into our life. Personally, I find that right now a balance between vegan meals and non-vegan ones seems to work best for our general health and wellbeing.
But who knows, maybe someday soon we’ll consider a slow transition into a full vegan lifestyle!