13 Weird Ways Going Vegan Changed My Health
When I went vegan three years ago, I did it for animals. I had no idea about the health benefits that were about to come my way, but when they started rolling in, I was definitely pleasantly surprised. It's almost common knowledge that a plant-based diet helps prevent heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and several forms of cancer, but many of the other health effects are less familiar — and sometimes even a little weird.
I Basically Stopped Getting Bloated
This was so amazing to me. I used to get bloated all the time, but when I cut out dairy, that pretty much stopped. (Who knew I had abs underneath!)
I never thought I was lactose intolerant, but the truth is, most of us are. In fact, 60 percent of us actually lack the enzyme to properly digest cow's milk. An estimated 95 percent of Asian peoples, 75 percent of African and Caribbean peoples, and nearly 100 percent of American Indians are all lactose intolerant. So even if you don't think you're lactose intolerant, you may be, especially if you're part of one of these groups. You may notice a change in bloating within weeks of cutting out dairy.
That said, since you'll probably add a lot more fiber to your diet if you go plant-based, be sure to drink plenty of water to help your body adjust. Otherwise, bloating can temporarily feel worse.
I Became More Regular
I used to get constipated all the time; I couldn't get moving without my morning coffee, and traveling would throw my digestion way off. Amazingly, once I went vegan, all that stopped, likely for the same reason I stopped getting bloated — cutting out dairy had improved my digestion. Many people on a healthy vegan diet experience more regular bowel movements because animal products like meat and dairy are especially constipating. A typical plant-based diet is also higher in fiber.
While people worry that a vegan diet won't give them enough protein, the truth is, 97 percent of Americans get plenty of protein. It's actually fiber that 97 percent of Americans get less than the RDA of. This is bad news for not just your BMs, but your overall health.
"Fiber helps you avoid minor health problems such as hemorrhoids or constipation while also helping to prevent major diseases like colon cancer and heart disease," Bruce Friedrich, coauthor of Clean Protein, tells POPSUGAR. In fact, one study published in the journal Stroke finds that increasing your fiber intake by seven grams a day can lower your risk of stroke, and Yale researchers find that premenopausal women who eat six or more grams of soluble fiber daily have 62 percent lower odds of breast cancer than women who eat less than four grams. Vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fruit all have lots of fiber — while meat has none.
I Unintentionally Lost Weight
I wasn't trying to lose weight, but it happened anyway — it's common when people make the switch to a vegan diet. You have to eat more to make up for the calorie-dense meat and dairy you omit (great — I get to eat more food!). I haven't continued to lose weight, but my resting body weight is about five to eight pounds lighter now, which is still in a healthy range for me.
Not everyone loses weight on a plant-based diet, but many people see a weight change after just a few weeks, especially if they are medically obese or overweight. One recent study found vegetarian diets to be almost twice as effective for weight loss than typical caloric-restriction diets — and that was a vegetarian diet, not a vegan one.
Dr. Michael Klaper, an internationally recognized authority on diet and health, explains that metabolic changes begin soon after adopting a plant-based diet. He says that after just a few weeks, "Obesity begins to melt away and people observe bloat and edema fluid leaving their tissues, especially in their legs."
It Got Harder to Tell When I'd Be Getting My Period
Disclaimer: I've always had irregular periods, and my cramps have always seemed less painful than those of many women. But after I went vegan, my cramps and other PMS symptoms — bloating, breakouts, etc. — became so much milder that it got even harder to tell when my period was coming. POPSUGAR Fitness editor Gina Florio backs my experience up in her piece on the topic: "After eating a strict plant-based diet for three months, though, I was shocked to see significant changes in my cycle. I was much less moody, less anxious, and less prone to crying for no reason. My cramps were minimal and my flow was much lighter."
While more research needs to be done, a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that a low-fat vegan diet significantly reduced pain and PMS for many women, likely because of reduced inflammation, improved hormonal balance, and decreased bloating.
My Skin Graduated From "Nice" to "Glowing"
Again, I was pretty lucky to have good skin before, but I'd always assumed a bad pimple or two was normal, especially before my period. Now, they are truly an anomaly.
I've also noticed that more people describe my skin as "glowing" since I went vegan. That's likely due to cutting out dairy — one of the leading causes of acne, according to numerous studies on the topic — and eating more skin-friendly fruits, veggies, and nuts.
I Pretty Much Stopped Needing Deodorant
I always used deodorant before I went vegan. Now, I often skip it, because there's just no need. I smell better.
"When humans consume flesh from animals, foul-smelling molecules, such as putrescine and cadaverine, are created and absorbed into the bloodstream — and then deposited in the fat tissues," Dr. Klaper says. "As people on leaner diets melt down their fat stores, these fat-soluble molecules flow back into circulation and find their way into skin oil, thus resulting in body odor. As weeks go by on a completely plant-based diet, most people notice that their previously gamy, 'locker-room' body odor becomes far less offensive, or, commonly, disappears altogether." The same thing happened to my partner after he went vegan — and I swear, we aren't smelly! (Here's another recent article on the topic that backs this up.)
I Had a Better Sense of When I Was Full and Hungry
I always felt disconnected from my sense of fullness and hunger, partly because before I went vegan, I had an unhealthy relationship with food and eating. While going vegan didn't eliminate all the baggage around body image, it did give me a huge gift: the ability to realize when I'm full and hungry. Because I'm almost never bloated now, it's easier to feel in tune with my body. Eating whole foods doesn't give me that "stuffed" feeling. I'm filling up with more high-fiber grains and vegetables instead of consuming smaller amounts of high-calorie dairy or meat, leaving me satisfied in a way that makes it easier to listen to my body's signals.
I Had More Energy to Work Out and Needed Less Time to Recover
Since I was feeling so much better in my body, I found I had more energy and motivation to work out after I went vegan. "A plant-based diet supports recovery by providing a deluge of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that are unique to whole-plant foods, enabling the body to repair healthfully," Julieanna Hever, aka the Plant-Based Dietitian, told POPSUGAR.
I definitely work out more and harder than ever before, and I rarely need time to recover. In fact, I have to make myself take rest days. That's how much more energy I have. It's no wonder more and more athletes are going vegan.
I Got Fewer Headaches
I used to get headaches all the time. Now, they're much rarer and usually only triggered by dehydration or eyestrain. We've learned that animal products are some of the most inflammatory foods for our bodies, and without them, headaches are less common. One study removed dairy from the diets of people suffering from either migraines or asthma and found that for most of them, their condition improved significantly.
I Stopped Getting Sick as Much
A vegan diet can reduce not only the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer, but also the susceptibility to viruses. I certainly get sick less than I used to, likely because I eat more immune-boosting foods.
"It should come as no surprise that vegetarians have stronger immune systems than do meat-eaters," the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine explains. "Studies of white blood cell samples from vegetarians have shown them to have more than double the cancer-cell-destroying ability of their nonvegetarian counterparts. The immune-boosting power of vegetarian diets is partly due to their vitamin content, their low fat content, and perhaps other contributors, such as reduced exposure to toxic chemicals and animal proteins." I'll take it!
I Started Getting Fewer BV Infections
My stronger immune system may also have resulted in fewer vaginal infections. I used to feel "out of whack" all the time — bacterial vaginosis was my most common issue. That's much rarer now and usually only happens when I do something dumb like wear sweaty gym clothes for too long.
"You appear more likely to get bacterial vaginosis if you have lower levels circulating in your bloodstream of phytonutrients, like vitamin C and beta-carotene, indicating a lower intake of fruits and vegetables," Dr. Michael Greger, author of How Not to Die,, explains on his site Nutrition Facts. Plants #FTW again.
. . . And Fewer UTIs
I've only had one UTI since going vegan three years ago, whereas I used to get them at least twice a year, no matter how religious I was about protecting myself. As you probably know, UTIs come from E. coli getting into the bladder. I'd thought that only happened from fecal matter getting into the urinary tract. Not so. The reason I may have noticed an improvement is really gross: E. coli in chicken.
"Researchers went to supermarkets and tested 1,648 different types of food — and they found it. We now think that urinary tract infections come from eating chickens. Half of retail poultry samples were found contaminated with the UTI-associated strains of E. coli," Dr. Greger says. "Scientists now suspect that by eating chicken, women infect their lower intestinal tract with these meat-borne bacteria, which can then creep up into their bladder. In addition to the traditional hygiene measures aimed at preventing urinary tract infections — wiping from front to back; urinating after intercourse — women can now add avoiding poultry as a way to help fend off UTIs." So there you have it — if you have chronic UTIs, steer clear of eating chickens.
My Cholesterol Became “Perfect”
Now, to be fair, I didn't pay much attention to my cholesterol before, and when I got it checked, the doctor always said it was good. But after I went vegan, doctors started commenting that it was "perfect" and wanted to know my secret. I told them: as a vegan, I have a cholesterol-free diet.
All meat, including fish, contains saturated fat and cholesterol. But a vegan diet is low in saturated fat and devoid of any cholesterol, so it makes perfect sense that studies have consistently shown that when people switch to a plant-based diet, their cholesterol levels drop and their risk of heart disease plummets. Considering heart disease runs in my family, I'm pretty stoked that I'm doing everything I can to protect myself.
If this all sounds good to you, but you're not sure where to start, I'd suggest checking out The Green Plate, which offers free live-chat coaching and extremely affordable meal-planning services to get you started. Many of these effects can be noticeable after just a few weeks, so it's certainly worth a shot!