It’s not always rainbows and butterflies once you decide you want to go vegan. You hear from people near and far who have gotten amazing results, beautiful bodies, and strong health. Who were happy and invincible overnight. But nobody tells you about the side effects of going vegan.
It all sounds too good to be true, in a world that knows "a pill for every ill" to find this one diet that could not only keep us human beings strong and healthy until old age, but also save the planet, countless of animal lives, and maybe even solve world hunger.
But there are a couple of reasons why so many people are hesitant to try out a new way of eating and living. We read stories about babies who have died because of vegan parents, we see people turning their backs to veganism after trying it out for a short time, claiming it’s unsustainable and makes you tired.
Our own transition to veganism hasn’t been very easy either and we tried out many different ways of following plant-based diets – some were more successful and enjoyable than others. Because we don’t want you to fall into the same traps and neglect the idea of following a vegan diet very soon, here’s what we have found can be the biggest reasons that might hold you back.
1. Energy and weight issues
When you switch to a more plant-based diet, you automatically consume less calories because plants have a lower calorie density than animal-derived foods. This means that you actually have to eat a larger volume of food in order to get all the calories you need.
Whereas it’s easier to eat a lot more micro nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants – all of which will make you healthier and more easily satisfied – we shouldn’t neglect the necessity of getting enough energy as well. Track your food intake for a few days to see if you eat around 2000 calories from plant-based foods.
By undereating (eating the same small portions you would when eating meat and dairy), you don’t just risk health problems, but it’s also very likely to dismiss veganism and go back to eating animals and their by-products.
Many people claim that they feel very sluggish when switching to a vegan diet, but this can only mean that they either undereat or choose a lot of vegan junk food which doesn’t have any more nutrition than a meaty burger with fries.
Weight loss can also come easily when you don’t eat enough – either because you don’t really know what to eat or because you skip meals. Whereas it’s easy to lose weight in an enjoyable way on a plant-based diet, undereating is not the way to go.
The opposite is true for people who get excited about all of the new vegan convenience foods they can try. By falsely assuming that these foods are much healthier than “regular junk”, they allow themselves to eat more and more of it – which is followed by energy crushes and weight gain from both fat and increased salt intake.
What To Do
Make sure you choose whole vegan foods instead of processed ones. You need to eat a higher volume of these foods to avoid unwanted weight loss while getting tons of energy and good nutrition. Avoid processed sugar, oil, and anything that has countless of items on the ingredient list.
2. Having to cook and experiment
Going vegan means cutting out foods like meat, fish, dairy, cheese, eggs, and butter. So naturally, you feel like there is not much left to eat for you! This is when you need to start experimenting with new foods.
Did you know how many different sorts of squashes, apples, and potatoes there are? Try a new one every time you buy some food. You also need to learn how to prepare and cook them (apart from the apple, obviously).
If you’ve never been much of a chef before, you better start getting used to heating up some pots and pans, chopping up food, and mixing your own sauces. Although you could live off of vegan convenience food like pasta marinara, sandwiches, and cookies… it won’t bring you many benefits and you’ll likely to end up like we described above.
It doesn’t take much to become an epic cook when you learn some simple techniques – they can often be used for many different types of foods. Start adding foods to your diet before you subtract all of the animal products at once.
Vegan food can be very delicious – after all, it’s the spices that make everything taste great. Just like you seasoned your meat or drowned it in barbeque sauce, you can do the same with veggies. Experiment with different flavoring and sauces, there are many you can buy at a normal store that are already vegan.
Even if you like to keep it more convenient or fun and eat out more often: there are quite a few options for you at most restaurants. Order a veggie pizza without the cheese or a bean burrito. Go for stir-fry veggies with rice or some pasta marinara. Vegan doesn’t mean that all you can get is a salad.
What To Do
Get an easy cooking 101 book or look up some techniques online. Dare to choose some fruits and vegetables you’ve never had before – it took me 22 years to try my first mango and it’s one of my favorites these days. If you don’t like a food, try another one the next time, or just another brand.
3. Huge cravings
Changing your diet away from the foods you were eating for years on end isn’t easy. We are habitual creatures and like what we’ve always liked or done. Our taste buds are also in alignment with that and vote for the foods we’re used to.
So if you change your diet and become a vegan, you can be sure to have some cravings for non-vegan food at some point or another. It becomes increasingly difficult if you don’t eat enough (side effect 1) and are just always on the lookout for (calorically dense) food.
One step to avoid this would be to not change your diet overnight but rather take reasonable steps and give up your favorite foods at the end of this transition. Start adding new foods which you might come to love so it doesn’t feel like you’re giving up a lot. When people jump right into a new diet, they often jump right out too.
Unfortunately, junk foods contain elements that your body does not know how to process, so they get stored in your fat reserves. So when you lose some weight while eating a vegan diet, these elements get released again and you might get stronger cravings for a short while.
It can be hard to choose veganism or a healthy plant-based diet anyways – so look out for delicious alternatives like coconut ice cream or rice milk chocolate to deal with these sweet cravings. The same goes for veggie burgers or pizza. Once you distance yourself from unhealthy foods, your cravings will become less and your body will actually start craving the healthy foods that you feed it!
What To Do
Set yourself up with your favorite foods but in a vegan version. This will make it easier to disconnect from animal products. Once you’ve switched to a predominantly whole food plant-based diet, your taste buds will adjust and you’ll find the healthy foods irresistible!
4. Bad state of health
When you decide to transition to a vegan diet, it doesn’t automatically mean that the food is going to be healthy. Oreos, fries, soda… they are all vegan. These foods aren’t much better than the SAD diet of course!
Even though such tasty convenience foods can help you to stay on track, they should only be the exception to the rule. When you slowly increase the amount of whole foods in your diet, these little treats will be stepping stones.
And not getting the best nutrition has many faces: your skin gets worse, your hair and nails become brittle, you get sick sooner, you have less energy, worse sleep, muscle cramps, a foggy head, and so much more. Veganism isn’t foolproof and if you choose to eat unhealthy food, you can still get a ton of serious diseases. So make sure you aren’t running into any deficiencies and start supplementing B12 soon after adopting a fully vegan diet.
It can be very encouraging to hear about the great benefits of a vegan diet and you start wanting all of this like yesterday… but just like anything, this takes time. The people who you admire might have been on a vegan diet for many years or they never ate many junk foods anyways.
On the other side, if you’ve consumed lots of unhealthy chemicals, sugary food, and animal products in the past, then it’ll take a little longer for you to reap all of the benefits and heal your body from the inside out. You will need to switch a lot of foods for healthier options and you think you’ll be missing out on many of your favorite foods – and end up having “one last supper” (aka binge) where you eat all of the things you fear you need to be cutting out, ending up with an even unhealthier body of course.
Unfortunately, some people view veganism as a quick fix or a fad diet. They go on it for a short period of time and make it unnecessarily restrictive, consume primarily vegetables and overall not enough calories. It can work for weight loss for sure, but it isn’t a fair representation of what a vegan diet has to offer.
Read More: Vegan Whole Food Principles
If you choose whole foods (being a vegan or not), you can be sure to get a lot of essential nutrients and avoid risking any deficiencies. We usually don’t need any supplementation other than B12 – unless you have some kind of illness that requires you to do so.
In order to understand the benefits a proper vegan diet can offer you, don’t just hop on the train for a month or two, then change back to what you were eating before. Claiming a vegan diet made you sick and tired is harmful to this beautiful and important movement, and can only be traced back to you not eating enough healthy foods.
What To Do
Be the shining example for veganism and eat your fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Whole plant-based foods give you all of the nutrition you need if you consume enough of them. But this goes for any type of diet and isn’t a vegan problem in itself.
5. Digestive problems
Have you ever experienced an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach after eating a salad or some beans? Well, it’s not the food’s fault. Our bodies adjust to the types of food we eat and our gut bacteria will be optimized for whatever it is confronted with the most – whether that’s healthy produce or processed junk.
So when you start replacing animal products with healthy plant-based foods like grains, vegetables and legumes, you suddenly get a whole different composition of food. Changing too much too fast can result in constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. But why?
One word: fiber. It is an indigestible part of plants that cannot be found in animal products and most processed foods, but which is crucial to our health and ability to digest food properly. It literally helps move out the junk and bulk up our food so we can be regular.
Furthermore, it helps ensure nutrient absorption and even lowers the risk for chronic diseases. The result is that you have to poop a lot more – if you’re lucky. Many years of improper eating habits might have caused you to get used to less fiber and therefore, your bowels will be pretty overwhelmed with the extra work they have to do.
This means you should get used to larger volumes and new types of food (especially cruciferous vegetables and beans, both some of the healthiest foods on the planet) over the matter of a few weeks. Transition and change your food slowly in order to avoid digestive distress.
Here is a thorough guide to dealing with digestive issues despite eating a healthy plant-based diet: How to Get Rid of Gas & Bloating
Not only will a smooth digestion help you feel lighter and have no stomach pain, it can also clear up your skin and build up elasticity, boost your energy, and keep you healthier overall.
What To Do
Read our thorough guide on dealing with bloating. Find out what causes the trouble by using a food diary and go low on common trouble makers like beans, Brussel’s sprouts, and onions. Find out which foods work well for you, drink enough, and move your body to encourage proper digestion.
6. Tough social life
Let’s face it: we live in a carnistic society. Carnism is the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals. Carnism is essentially the opposite of veganism, as “carn” means “flesh” or “of the flesh” and “ism” refers to a belief system.
So if someone comes along and wants to follow the concepts of veganism, there’s going to be backlash. Not just the curious “But what can you eat?” or “How do you live without cheese?”, not even excuses like “I could never be so strong and do that” and “Good for you, I respect your choice but everyone is different” are the worst.
Sometimes, you are openly mocked or ridiculed, people might try to sneak some animal products into your food or even hold up a steak into your face. You are also asked over and over again if you’re still “on this diet” and why you do this. More often than not, people suddenly turn into nutritionists and tell you that you’ll be very sick and exhausted soon from missing out on all of the important nutrients found in animal products (hint: there aren’t any you wouldn’t get from plants).
Especially in the beginning stages, this can become a real test. You might be accused for not being able to do everything perfectly, for still stepping on insects when walking the street or for killing animals that live in the fields when the crops are being harvested. Don’t let these arguments keep you from following a lifestyle of causing the least harm possible! It’s better to do something than to do nothing – and the latter is most likely what carnists are doing.
If you feel like changing your diet when you’re at home and still eat like you're used to when being out with friends, then this is another option. Though we would never recommend eating any animal product, this is a reasonable step for some people and should be taken into account.
It can get awkward when people offer you non-vegan food which you want to decline or that you often have to ask what’s in a specific food or dish. But it raises awareness to your cause and how even “a little bit of butter” matters. We need to understand that eating animals is such a deeply ingrained social norm that not everyone can see it’s wrong. After all, most of us grew up eating meat and dairy too.
Make sure to tell people what you will or will not eat before coming over to dinner and never be afraid to ask your waiter whether a certain food is vegan or not. By now, they sure have heard of the term and it’s not the first time they deal with this question.
What To Do
Prepare yourself and be ready to answer both legit and stupid questions around veganism (more on that in the next part). Stick to your values even when eating out and don’t give others a hard time for choosing meat if you cannot handle the confrontation. Remember that you don’t have to save the whole world just because you went vegan, feel empowered because you’re making such a huge impact just by choosing one food over the other.
7. Constant education
It might seem a little annoying, but with every cause and change, there needs to be a solid foundation. Otherwise, your vacation into the vegan world might be short-lived. There’s a lot of things you have to learn in order to succeed: eating the right foods, choosing cruelty-free cleaning and beauty products, and most of all – answering all kinds of questions from non-vegans.
Do you know which ingredients to look out for in packaged products that are not vegan? Besides the obvious milk powder, gelatin, and eggs, there’s also whey, honey, pollen, casein, lactose, rennet, and some more. Make sure you don’t accidentally buy any foods with these ingredients.
In order to meet your requirements for nutrients such as iron, calcium, and zinc, you should know which foods to eat. Then, there are animal rights issues and the environmental destruction, which are also connected to veganism and that people use as an excuse for not going vegan when confronting you (ever heard of the “ethical meat”?). Remember a few numbers and legitimate sources to quote.
Overall, it’s a good idea to get a few books like How Not To Die, The Starch Solution and The China Study to learn more about the health aspects of a vegan diet. Not that it is complicated or hard to be a healthy vegan, it just requires some knowledge. If you haven’t watched the documentaries Forks Over Knives and Cowspiracy yet, we would encourage you to do so (mostly non-graphic videos).
It can be very tiring to answer the same old “where do you get your protein” question, but like stated above, we do live in a society that thinks eating animals is normal, natural, and necessary. It’s on us to prove them wrong and tell them how it can be done.
Not everyone thinks it’s logical and better to spare lives and not kill an animal if we don’t have to. Not everyone makes the connection and is empathetic. Sometimes, we need big studies and more arguments than “animals are sentient” in order to make people think and change.
What To Do
Get your facts straight and don’t listen to half-baked advice from others who have heard or read something somewhere. There is a lot of confusing information out there and people like to hear good news about their bad habits (aka butter and bacon is good for you). Tell and show them how it can and should be done the right way.
About the Author
Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.
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