The Vegan Experience »

The Vegan Experience, Day 13: The Halfway Mark

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[Illustration: Robyn Lee]

Note: For the four weeks between January 14th and February 11th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!

Day 13: Thursday

Breakfast: Toast with refried beans, flax seeds, and avocado.
Lunch: A frozen, vegan, gluten-free pizza (ick).
Dinner: Chickpea and kidney bean chili with avocado, a big salad, and rasin-nut bread from Acme bakery with eggplant mayo.

Two weeks are almost up, so it's time to take a few self-assessments. It's a Friday, so I'll keep this short.

How difficult has it been?

After the first day or two, it's been pretty smooth sailing. Planning and shifting my mindset has been key. I can no longer go to any restaurant I want and expect a great experience, which may seem like a major downside, but on the other hand, I've started exploring restaurants I've never been to, and more importantly, exploring new sections of menus at restaurants I already know and love. This has led to a ton of new experiences with surprisingly delicious results.

There have been a couple hiccups along the way, but unanticipated situations are to be expected when making such a big shift in lifestyle. Every day is a new lesson learned, and every day it gets easier. Thus far I've not yet fallen into a rut of boredom—I assume that at some point I will—but due to the sheer diversity of vegetables out there, cooking at home has been an absolute joy.

As with anything, I've found that the more open I am about it, the more I enjoy myself, and the easier the whole thing is.

How has it affected my health?

Hard to say in the long run, but I've already lost nearly six pounds, which given my previous weight (I started at 176.2), is a great thing. If there's anything that every nutritionist can agree upon, it's that being overweight can have serious health consequences down the line.

My mother's been begging/cajoling/bribing me for the last couple years to lose ten pounds. Up until now, I hadn't been able to do that. Now it seems like a realistic goal, which certainly makes me (and my doctor) feel good. My belt size has gone down a hole. Folks I haven't seen in a few weeks have commented on my improved appearance. (But no, Mom, I'm still not getting my haircut.)

The question I keep asking myself, however, is whether or not it's really the veganism that has led to the weight loss. Would any shift in diet affect the same end result? I'm guessing yes: the vast majority of my weight loss is due to a huge cutback in my tasting and snacking.

After this whole thing is over and my weight has normalized (hopefully at a lower level), I'm going to try running a similar two week diet experiment in which I cut out all foods that contain the letter "B." I'm guessing a similar weight loss will occur due to the restriction. I'll probably also get a lot more frustrated, confused looks from waiters in restaurants.

There's absolutely no way to assess in two weeks the long term effects of how the shift in nutrients has affected my health, so I won't even pretend to give an answer for that. I can say that I certainly think my current diet will lead to a longer, healthier life, but I don't want to presume given the short time frame of the experiment.

How has it affected my energy level?

I know people vary across the board on how their energy levels are affected by a change to a meatless diet, though if the stereotypes are correct, vegans who make the shift for ethical or dietary reasons—reasons they should feel good about—report higher energy levels, while those that are goaded into it by spouses or family members against their will (or those who do it in the name of skeptical investigative journalism)—reasons they are predisposed to be againse—report lowered energy levels.

The placebo effect can be a powerful thing indeed.

Personally, I haven't felt much different at all. I was always a pretty light sleeper with relatively low physical activity but plenty of energy and I've remained that way. To be fair, I went into this as an omnivore who ate meat, but also loved vegetables. I didn't have a particularly great stake in either side, so it makes sense that if indeed much of how you feel is due to the placebo effect, that I wouldn't feel much change at all.

How has it affected my lifestyle?

For the most part, it hasn't affected it much. There have been a couple of situations—a trip to a bar to watch the game last Sunday, or a group outing to Steak & Shake, for example—that I've either had to think hard about going to, or decide to ditch altogether. I get some of the typical yank-my-crank style humor from my friends, but that's largely died down after the first few days. My wife has actually been very happy with it due to the fact that she loves salad, soup, and avocados, and we've been eating a lot more of all three of those recently.

Dealing with waiters and cooks has been a completely positive experience thus far. I've yet to have an eye roll, a curt response, a refusal to veganize a dish, etc. From this I can tell you one thing for sure: being a vegan in New York City is really, really easy. I'm not sure how true that is for the rest of the country or the world.

I know there are a lot of vegans and vegetarians following this thread, and a handful of folks who've gone vegan for brief periods of time. How have your experiences stacked up to mine? Pretty similar?

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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