Here’s how veganism pushed my health down the hill and why you may need to rethink your decision before joining the bandwagon.
Diagnosed with Lactose Intolerance around a year back, instead of cutting out just the dairy products from my diet, I decided to go vegan altogether; well, mainly because I wanted to get on the “Vegan Lifestyle” bandwagon. Initially, I was uber excited about this cruelty-free lifestyle and a part of me was also secretly thrilled to finally live the life of the girls I’d admired on Instagram. So from one day to the next, I Instagrammed every meal of my day, shared recipes, and the love and support I got from the fellow vegans was overwhelming.
Fast forward to a couple of months later, it finally dawned on me that living a vegan life isn’t as glamorous as it is portrayed to be. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Aside from having the “Instagram-perfect” life, nothing about this remotely contributed to a “pleasant experience”. Something about my body began to shift, and not in the direction I would’ve liked. The shift continued, till I woke up one day and decided that I couldn’t continue eating in a way that was not contributing to my health.
Disclosure: I neither have anything against veganism nor am I trying to impose my beliefs onto others. This is simply my experience and my response to this lifestyle.
The first two-three months of following a vegan diet did shower me with a few solid perks which motivated me to stay true to the diet.
Multiple studies have shown an association between acne and milk intake. Dairy products can possibly trigger breakouts in sensitive people. While some studies suggest that the hormones in milk may also play a role, others point to the high levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in milk.
Hormone regulation controls the oil production by your sebaceous glands. Dairy and meat products, more often than not, come packed with a bunch of foreign hormones and it can send your own hormones totally out of whack. Eliminating these from your diet can thereby allow your body to regulate the hormones normally without any external interruptions.
Now, I am not gonna mislead you by saying that a vegan diet is a one-stop solution to treating acne. But for someone like me with acne-prone skin, this diet definitely did help me witness a marked reduction in the breakouts.
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Improved Digestive Health
A study that included over 1000 participants, reported that the group that followed a 20-day vegan diet displayed a healthier gut microbiome and an improvement in overall digestive health, compared to the control group on a non-vegan diet.
Digestive issues have bothered me for the better part of my life, thanks to my undiagnosed lactose intolerance. A week into the vegan diet, I started witnessing lesser bloating and better digestion. I was also able to tame my inflammations well under control, which led to fewer IBD flare-ups.
Years of research, outlining a variety of theories, cumulatively point to a simple mechanism for weight loss on plant-based diets: reduced calorie intake and increased energy expenditure. The reduced caloric density of the overall diet and the improved satiety is partly due to the increased production of SCFAs by the gut microbiota.
My calorie intake varied between 1200-1500 a day, on the vegan diet. Women need to eat 2,000 calories each day to maintain weight. To lose weight, this number drops to around 1,500 calories a day. Though I wasn’t consciously trying to limit my calorie intake for weight loss, adopting this diet automatically meant the consumption of fewer calories. So, I ended up losing around 20 pounds over a span of 3 months.
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I was happily sunbathing in the benefits, without realizing that my honeymoon period with the vegan diet was approaching an end. About 6 months into the diet things started to take an unhealthy swing. Despite my body screaming for something different, I chose to listen instead to my morals screaming at me to keep eating a fully plant-based diet. But not before long, I started noticing physical indicators of this diet not working for me. And I couldn’t tune deaf to the screams any longer. One of the first signs I noticed, around 6 months into the diet, was massive hair fall. Bouts and bouts of hair falling everywhere; the shower, the bed, chairs I sit on, E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E.
A vegan diet lacks nutrients like iron and zinc, the deficiency of which can significantly contribute to hair fall.
As superficial as it may sound, hair loss as a young woman is extremely terrifying. So, I immediately turned to my doctor, who advised a blood test. The results pointed to low levels of four main nutrients:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
So he started me on a couple of supplements. These did help reduce the hair fall to an extent, but I still ended up losing a significant volume of my locks.
A nutritional science professor from the University of Connecticut, Storrs stated that a lot of first-timers on vegan diets tend to find loopholes in the diet to reach out for not-so-wise foods—highly processed carbs, sugary and fatty foods, that are labeled “vegan-friendly” to compensate for the restrictions that come with this diet.
On this diet, I kind of felt hungry throughout the day. And I also had increased cravings for junk foods. I did try my level best to not succumb to the cravings, but after a while I found myself googling “vegan-friendly snacks”. Next thing I know, I was filling my shopping cart with “vegan” chocolate sauce, “vegan” ice cream, “vegan” chocolate cookies. The pounds that I’d shed, were quick to re-latch to my body determined to never leave.
Tiring Gym Hours
The restriction that the vegan diet imposes on meat and dairy consumption results directly in a significant decrease in protein intake. Without the 20 essential amino acids that you get from a high protein diet, the body starts to experience the subtle signs of low oxygen, which typically manifests itself as low energy levels, fatigue, and tiredness.
I personally love aerobic workouts and run on the treadmill for a good 60-90 minutes before exhaustion begins to set in. Even then, a 2-3 minute rest period would put me back right on track for my next workout. A couple of weeks into the diet, I could see myself underperforming in the gym with exhaustion setting in 20 minutes into my work out, and not the kind of exhaustion that a 2 minute rest period would resolve. The exhaustion was accompanied by nausea and dizziness that did not allow me to resume my workout after that.
Weakened Immune System
A low protein diet can have a harmful, weakening effect on your immune system. Without the full range of amino acids, particularly glutamine and arginine, your immune system cannot function effectively.
I often found myself down with flu or some infection while on this diet. A blood test that I decided to take up indicated low counts of my WBCs. My doctor later explained to me how low protein intake could deplete the WBCs leaving the immune system at an inability to fight off infections. When I read up further on this, I also came across a study that linked a deficiency in protein to HIV infections, as the body is less prepared to fight off the virus, leaving you more likely to become infected. And oh boy, did that put me on the edge of my seat. Scary, right?
So basically yeah, all this ended up in me bidding adieu to veganism. But as I’d mentioned in the very beginning, this is just my experience with the vegan diet. It works for some and for others, it simply doesn’t. In all honesty, nothing you read will ever prepare you for the commitment you need to make this work and that is why there are a lot more former-vegans than vegans itself.
Of course, I did enjoy a few perks of being on this diet. So instead of turning a blind eye to this whole thing, you can instead borrow some aspects of vegan and vegetarian eating, such as eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and incorporate them into your diet, to get some health benefits.
And always keep in mind, before you start any diet, check for your nutritional deficiencies and consult a doctor to take appropriate supplements.
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