The Vegan-for-a-Week Challenge: How to Survive and Thrive

Going “vegan for a week” seems to be a new popular thing. Lately, quite a few blog posts and news articles on this phenomenon have been turning up in my google “vegan” search. These are usually written by people who have no apparent intention of going vegan, but want to see what it’s like. Or they want to prove to themselves or someone else that they can be vegan (for a whole week!).

My impression is that most of these temporary vegans have had reasonably good experiences with finding satisfying food. Most have also run up against challenges, due in part to a lack of preparation or knowledge.

I haven’t seen any of these experiments morph into an actual embrace of veganism. But some have said they will eat more vegan meals after their experience—which is good. And I suspect that in writing about the appealing vegan foods they’ve found, they may help others see veganism in a more encouraging light.

So, in the interest of keeping those experiences positive, here are some thoughts and advice for anyone who is trying on veganism—or at least a vegan diet—for a week or two.

You won’t develop nutrient deficiencies in seven days.  You can eat the worst diet in the world—vegan or otherwise—without doing yourself much harm over the short term. If you do find yourself deficient in iron or some other nutrient at the end of the week, blame your omnivore diet. It’s your usual habits that affect your health, not brief deviations from those habits.

There is no particular food you have to eat. You can be vegan without tofu or kale or green smoothies. (I’ve been vegan for 20+ years and have never once had a green smoothie for breakfast.) You should be able to find plenty of vegan foods that you like, so skip the ones that don’t appeal to you.

You will not detox or go through withdrawal. There is no known physical withdrawal from animal foods. And your body is processing toxic compounds all the time, no matter what kind of diet you eat. If you feel faint or cranky or fuzzy-brained, it probably means you aren’t eating enough. Or maybe that you need a little more protein or fat in your meals. There are plenty of both in vegan foods.

Fun foods are okay. The vegan experience is not about being an ascetic; it’s about not using animal products. Certainly you won’t feel especially great if you build your diet around chips and soft drinks. But it’s fine to have some treats and enjoy a little bit of decadence. There are vegan beers and wine, and (incredibly excellent) vegan versions of ice cream and cup cakes.

With a few exceptions, veggie meats and cheeses do not taste like their animal-derived counterparts, so don’t expect them to be the same. Instead, enjoy them for what they are. Reacting to his first experience with veggie bacon, meat scientist and temporary vegan experimenter David Hayden said that it tasted nothing like “real” bacon. But it was good, and he claimed that he’d eat it again.

Watch Meet Your Meat or read Vegan Outreach’s Why Vegan booklet. Veganism is more than a diet and more than a lifestyle. It’s an ethic. Understanding the “why” of veganism is just as important as experiencing the “how” if you want to know what it’s really like to “be vegan.”

Cut cravings with satisfying condiments. You may think you’re missing meat and cheese, but it could just be that you’re missing umami. Called the 5th taste, this flavor/experience is abundant in animal foods. And also in plant foods if you know where to look. It’s as simple as a sprinkle of ume plum vinegar or a dollop of ketchup.

These foods are your friends: hummus, peanut butter, almond milk, vegetarian baked beans, veggie burgers, soup cups, mixed nuts, fruit. They are convenient, mostly portable and mostly healthy. A PB&J sandwich and an apple can save the day when you are away from home and can’t find vegan food.

Vegan cuisine can also be as gourmet as you want it to be. The foods listed above will get you through the week with minimal effort. But, if you’re a foodie who loves to create elaborate meals, this can end up being an incredibly fun culinary experience. Check out the recipes at Olives for Dinner, Serious Eats, Post Punk Kitchen, and La Gusta, and start experimenting.*

You won’t like everything. Every meat eater has a bad meal now and then and the same is true of vegans. Don’t judge vegan food on the basis of a few negative experiences or a lack of planning. Vegan food is wonderful. Hopefully, you’ll keep coming back to enjoy it after your week-long experiment ends.

* Thank you to my twitter friends Angela, Jason, Danielle, and Mike for pointing me towards great gourmet vegan food blogs.

 

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19 Responses to The Vegan-for-a-Week Challenge: How to Survive and Thrive

  1. JL February 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    Thank you for writing this! I cannot believe how many “articles” I read from reporters who went vegan for a week in January and reported nutrition problems. No way!

    Great tips for week-long vegans AND transitioning vegans!

  2. David February 19, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    Great post and insight for people trying a short term vegan diet! Enjoyed it!

  3. Angela February 19, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    Thank you, Ginny! I’ll be sure to share this with people curious about trying vegan short-term. I have had a couple of people recently express interest in going vegan for lent.

  4. everydayathena February 19, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    I think people should also be told about changes in – um – bathroom routine. (I know it’s not a pleasant topic, but it’s important). A transition to a healthy plant-based diet causes some pretty major changes in the bathroom. Eventually everything stabilizes, but it takes more than a week for the body to sort it out. If someone is only going to ‘try it for a week’, they might be alarmed by the dramatic changes…

    • Ginny Messina February 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

      Yes, that’s definitely an important point. Especially for those who are experimenting a little bit with beans.

  5. James February 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    My favourite is “Oh I could never go vegan. I had a vegan cookie once that was AWFUL…”

    The whole reason I went vegan was because I used to go vegan for lent, and then one year I met Matt and when lent was oven I just… keep on vegan-ing! I wish I could just invite all the new vegans over for dinner and show them how to cook!

    Thank you for writing this: really important and useful.

    • Ginny Messina February 22, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

      Yup–I think that what most people need is just to be served a really great vegan meal! It would certainly change their mind about whether being vegan is do-able.

  6. Jan February 19, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    Thank you! I have to say that if I ate a “main-stream” diet for a week, I would surely become unwell!

    • Ginny Messina February 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      Jan, you’d probably be okay for a week. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for the long term, though!

  7. Jan February 19, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    Thanks Ginny! This was a great article for those ‘searching’ but afraid of what they might learn. I will definitely use this as a resource!

  8. Bertrand Russell February 20, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    Great column, Ginny. I do second the possible change to gastrointestinal system, if one goes all-in…..

  9. Mary February 25, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    On the flip side of there not being any negative nutritional effects from only a week of eating vegan, I have noticed repeatedly that I feel better after eating vegan for 4 or 5 days. As long as I stick fairly strictly to plant foods, I feel better and better over time. Not to mention the measurable improvements in weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. after a few months!

  10. crystal March 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    I went vegan for a week and loved it so much that i am now a full fledged vegan! i read many books about veganism and gave myself permission to quit if it wasnt for me. instead, i feel in love with my life again and feel very happy to keep being vegan.

  11. Holly March 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Great post! Be careful to read the ingrediants list when buying things like veggie burgers. i have found many with egg or milk solids. Keep up the good work. :)

  12. Sue Gollop March 20, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    Every time i go and stay with my vegan son and his family for a week I come back feeling so much better, in particular complete absence of long standing reflux and more recently an arthritic knee which scarcely registers. I also always lose 2kg in weight. I am now almost dairy free (Soya milk and nut butter and no hard cheese) but still eat yoghurt and eggs. I now have 2 meat and fish days, 2 vegetarian days (which includes eggs and yoghurt) and 3 vegan days, which I know is a compromise at the moment but as I learn better vegan cooking I think the vegan days will increase. Because I am so often asked out to eat with family and friends I tend to save my meat/fish days for these occasions

  13. Butterflies March 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Living proof that people can live long-term as vegans:

    http://thevegantruth.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-compilation-of-long-term-vegans-our.html

    Please share this historical document!

  14. Louise James January 4, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Great post, could be very useful even to short term vegans and vegetarians.

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