When asked if I could do a vegan diet for a week, I considered my average diet of animal products: Four poached eggs, seven bowls of yogurt and honey, and a sprinkling of cheddar on a bowl of pasta is probably the bare minimum I get through. And that’s before I’ve even mentioned the chicken and fish also in my diet, plus the occasional burger—even if that is in moderation. However, when I was handed a challenge to see if I could be vegan for a week, I foolishly (no idea why) believed that I could do it with no problem.
I took on the task, as I was considering being vegetarian for environmental reasons anyway, and I felt constantly bloated with an often (sorry, TMI warning, guys) rather out-of-whack bowel movement—i.e. I wasn't regular, and I was fed up of it. While I wasn't sure if going vegan was going to cure me of this, I believed that paring back my diet and cutting out a few foodstuffs that are often associated with bloating would help. And boy, did it help. But before I get to that, it's important to start at the beginning and how I started my vegan journey.
Keep scrolling to read more about my vegan week and find out what I learned about getting a flatter stomach.
Starting a Vegan Diet
If you've never dramatically altered your diet, then the prospect of it can be daunting (and, we should note, if you have any health concerns speak to your doctor first). While you initially think it's going to be easy (or rather at least that's what I did), it turns out everything contains some kind of animal product. Of course meat, fish, cheese, eggs, and milk are out of the question, but it also turns out honey is not vegan. This was sad news to someone who loves putting honey on porridge every morning.
Thankfully, I had a couple of people to speak to who were recently vegan, and they gave me some invaluable advice, such as where to get some great tips on starting. PETA's website is a great source of recipes and tips, as is the Veganuary site too. Essentially, what you need to do is set a plan. Work out what you can and can't eat (the Vegan Society can help with that info), and then make a list of everything you like eating from the can-eat list.
I stocked up on almond milk and Pure spread to replace butter, and I read up a lot about which proteins I could eat (NB: Quorn contains eggs, so take that off the list immediately), seeing as you're basically getting rid of your main source. I spoke to nutritional therapist and founder of wellness brand Sweetly Simple, Jodie Brandman, about what I'd need to consider when going vegan, such as where to get my protein intake for a balanced diet:
"As there are very few plants with complete protein, you’ll need to combine different sources. For example beans and rice or lentils and quinoa." She also warned me that it's important for someone with particular issues to be more mindful about their diet: "People with stressful lifestyles, hormone issues or pregnant women may need extra protein, so it needs to be monitored. Including clean protein powders like hemp, brown rice, spirulina, and pea protein can be really helpful to include in smoothies, and having things like tempeh (fermented soy) can be easy to use as meat."
Bearing this all in mind, I began my week full of ideas and tricks to ensure I did the diet justice.
As a beauty journalist, I’ve experimented a lot. I’ve dyed my hair fully blonde (I’m naturally a very dark brunette), I’ve tried out medical acupressure and been happy to slap on various products on my face without any hesitation. Diet-wise, I’ve also gone lactose-free and tried just eating chicken for a week. But despite all this, I've never been completely surprised by the changes I've undertaken. That was until midway through my vegan week.
Initially, I was bloated. I found that all that veg and fruit I was eating was the cause. But then halfway through the diet something that I never thought would happen happened—my stomach became flatter and it's remained that way ever since. I felt lighter than I had in ages. It's hard to explain if you haven't done it, but I felt that all the meat I'd been eating had been weighing me down.
I’ve often suffered from feeling bloated, and while I’ve always put that down to varying hormones, I’d never chalked it up to my diet. I think I eat a relatively healthy diet, so I thought that wouldn’t be the case, but it turns out I was wrong. Again, I turned to Brandman who told me why this could be happening.
"In terms of bloating, this can happen when your microbiome (your gut flora) starts to change," she told me. "Including a lot more plants can initially create a bit of fermentation as your body starts to get used to it. However, at the same time, plants are rich in antioxidants, and all good nutrients, which can help support detoxification and clear excess estrogen [as it bloats you] that may be circulating in the body."
As if that wasn't enough, I noticed another plus point: My skin was glowing. I should add that my skin is generally very good, but now it was totally clear and blemish-free. Brandman suggests that this is because I'd completely removed dairy from my diet. "Dairy is very mucous forming and can put a lot of strain on the digestive system, not to mention it can be packed full of hormones (if not organic), which can affect your own hormone levels, and it’s one of those things that a lot of people can be intolerant too without realizing, so removing this from your diet may hugely explain the skin clearing up."
While I was happy with the flatter stomach and the glowing skin, I found eating on the go really tough. When I was out and about during the day, a dash to Pret would result in a near meltdown in the sandwich aisle—as there's nothing you can choose that's vegan. Hangry didn't even cover it. You can also feel a bit tired initially as a result of the lack of protein. To combat this, Brandman recommends taking a B12 supplement.
I also didn't like the initial bit of bloating. Also, (again, TMI, people) because I was eating a lot more fruit, I found that there was a little more movement in my stomach as it got used to the new diet. However, as I said above, the fact that it gave me a flatter stomach has done wonders for the way I think about food and how I now approach my diet.
The Final Takeaway
A week on from following the diet and I still continue to have a flatter stomach (yay!). Now, while I haven't gone back to eating meat, I have decided to incorporate fish back into my diet, as well as eggs, butter, and cheese. As for milk, I'm sticking with the almond variety, as I feel that had a lot to do with my bloating.
I think if you can stick to the diet, and have time to prep as much as possible, then this is for you. But as I'm constantly on the go and time-poor, it's a much tougher ask. Plus, vegan protein isn't all that exciting (or easy to track down); I missed my poached eggs. But if there was ever a diet that combines caring for the environment and yourself, then surely this is it.
What do you think of the vegan diet? Would you do it?