In mid-January of this year, I decided to switch to a plant-based lifestyle. I’d like to think that I was a pretty healthy person before the transition, but just wanted to take it to the next level after watching “The Game Changers” on Netflix and starting to read Dr. Michael Greger’s “How Not to Die” book. At 28 years old, I think I’m not doing too terribly. I never drink or smoke, watch my portions, didn’t really have much meat or dairy to begin with, and get plenty of sleep, for example.
However, all my life, I’ve suffered from horrible premenstrual cramps, along with other PMS symptoms that often get to the point of interfering with my day-to-day life. I check all the boxes of endometriosis symptoms, and it scares me. Those of you who know me, know I have major tomophobia and even just the thought of going under the knife (I don’t care how “minor” the surgery) petrifies me.
After doing some research, I presumed that maybe this pain that I experience monthly is caused by inflammation in my body. Then, I learned that dairy and meat are inflammatory foods. I don’t believe in diets because I hate thinking about restricting foods and not eating what I enjoy. So, I’ve definitely gotten creative with what I can eat and make vegan dishes I love so that this lifestyle change is sustainable for me in the long-run.
I am about three months in now, and really wish I could say it’s been all rainbows and roses for me. My body has undergone some changes (some good, some bad) that I am still working on comprehending. I’ll start with the good:
- Higher energy levels
- Significantly less bloat (my body feels “cleaner”)
- Reduced acne
- Feeling positive overall about my decision, willingness to stick with it
- Improved bowel movements
- Learning to love more foods and becoming less picky
- More bearable menstrual week?*
Considering I used to get majorly bloated after most meals, not feeling bloated all the time and having improved bowel movements is a huge plus for me. I still get hormonal acne here and there, but it’s much more manageable now.
I’ve also gotten really creative in the kitchen, experimenting with plant-based ingredients I love and making tasty dishes with them! I started sharing some recipes like my favorite Lentil Spaghetti and go-to comfort veggie noodle soup dish – and will continue doing so 🙂 My current go-to vegan ingredients that I cook with on rotation and sometimes on repeat, include onions, green beans, edamame, lentils, black beans, ginger, turmeric, chickpeas, wild rice, garlic, spinach, carrots, mushrooms, pasta noodles, oat milk, berries, and tofu (though I may or may not be allergic to tofu – can’t tell yet).
*I don’t think it’s been long enough for me to tell whether my periods are actually getting better on a plant-based diet. However, I’ve noticed the discomfort is much more bearable and I don’t need to take as many Advils to suppress the pain on the first day or two. Instead of taking two every four hours as instructed by my doctor, I’m able to get away with maybe 1 or 2 for the whole day, typically on the first day only! It’s been pretty impressive. But it’s only been 2 months of flow I’ve experienced… so we’ll see how things go as time progresses. I still dream of the day I can banish Advil for good and manage my menstrual cycles naturally. Not there yet, but I’m taking strides towards a more holistic lifestyle.
But now comes the concerning things that have come up since making the switch to a plant-based lifestyle:
- INSANE hives! They literally come and go as they please, and don’t seem to have a pattern except that they show up in my torso area 🙁
- PMS symptoms now start two weeks before period?!
- Struggling with putting on weight with my workout routine
- Having a hard time “eating more” to match a conventional diet
With the coronavirus in full swing, it’s impossible to get any doctor’s appointments. So more than ever, I have been anxious about my hives because 1) I’m unable to get an allergy test and just get to the root of the problem, 2) I’ve been reluctantly having to resort to taking antihistamines to calm my hives down in the mean time, 3) the elimination process and food tracking has not helped me identify what is causing them, and 4) not sure how long this virus is going to keep me from being a responsible adult and get myself checked. They are sooooo random! I’ve tried cutting out my magnesium & iron supplements, soy, other common irritants, and new foods that I introduced since this transition. No luck. For the first month, I thought that maybe it was my body detoxing as I heard that is a thing for some new vegans… but I’m almost 3 months in now and still totally clueless. Yikes.
I am not sure if my stomach cramps are significantly better on the week of my period because PMS symptoms now sometimes come up as early as two weeks before my period. Is the discomfort now being “spread out” across a longer period of time, making it more “bearable” for me the week of? I don’t know. I can say that I’m currently 2 weeks away from my next period, and am already feeling sore breasts and a bit of ovulation pain in the pelvic area. This was not as common for me when I was on the conventional diet. Again, it might be too soon to start judging. These are just my observations to date.
Finally, gaining weight has always been a struggle for me. My parents were honestly worried about me losing more weight when I told them about my new plant-based lifestyle. “How are you going to maintain a healthy weight and iron levels without meat?” And not going to lie… I worry for myself sometimes, too. My body does not feel good when I stuff her with a ton of food at once, no matter how healthy. I find myself able to eat a little more than before simply because veggies aren’t as filling, but having to eat 6 servings instead of 3, for example, is tedious AF. Not to mention keeping those meals interesting and enticing. Ugh. I’ve started having plant protein shakes (Orgain!) on most days and I feel like that’s helping me stay afloat. My goal to reach 115 lbs is going to take a little longer to accomplish now because I’m still trying to figure out a rhythm to this whole plant-based thing.
The only thing I haven’t cut out is gluten (because I have not had issues with gluten causing hives before, for example), and sugars completely. Soon, I might become that crazy person to eliminate desserts and only resort to fresh fruit to fulfill my sugar cravings. Honestly, I was never a big cake or cookie indulger, but occasionally enjoy dessert-type foods. Reading Lara Briden’s “Period Repair Manual,” I learned that gluten and sugar are inflammatory foods. If I reduce and/or cut these out and still don’t see results, then I don’t know what else I can do! I am struggling to find a realistic balance while looking after my body and helping her function optimally.
In the coming months, I plan to keep up with my current lifestyle, and modify for improvement in these areas:
- More WHOLE plant-based foods, less vegan “fast food” that may not necessarily be healthy
- More fresh fruit, less other dessert-type foods
- Increase intake of nutrient-dense, leafy green vegetables
- Track vitamin/mineral intake to see where my magnesium, Vitamin B, Iron, and Zinc levels are at, and supplement where necessary
- Create a schedule for eating so I get used to eating more without feeling like crap (6 smaller meals instead of 3 bigger ones)
- Be mindful of and reduce gluten whenever possible