Woman in energetic mid-air jump on beach

What happens to your body when you switch to a vegan diet?

Congratulations! If you’ve landed here then it’s quite likely that you are considering switching to a vegan diet or, at the very least, you’re curious what all the fuss is about. If you’re wondering what happens to your body when you go vegan, then keep reading or check out more posts in our How to Go Vegan section. Whatever got you to this point, you can feel confident that eating a whole food plant-based diet is a great choice for your health, the animals and the environment – three birds with one stone, nice job!

Luckily for you, it’s never been easier to turn plant-based. Organisations such as Veganuary or Challenge22 are making it much more accessible for the hundreds of thousands of people who have already pledged to try out veganism for a few weeks. Veganism is grabbing international media attention like never before, which means that there’s an increasing number of support networks as well as a growing selection of plant-based alternatives on restaurant menus and supermarket shelves.

With all this said, if you’re about to embark on your first vegan adventure, it’s normal that you’ll feel a little apprehensive. After all, you’re probably stepping into a completely unknown world. Don’t worry! I’ve got your back. In late 2016 I decided overnight to cut out meat and dairy entirely from my diet, so I experienced all these changes firsthand.

This post will give you the low-down on some of the things you can expect in your first few weeks on a vegan diet. Before we get started, it’s important to note that the quality of the food you eat will affect the results you’ll see and feel. If you binge on processed vegan junk food and stodgy carbs, then you’re probably not going to lose weight! However, if you make sure you eat a balanced diet of healthy and nutritious whole foods, then you’re likely to reap more positive rewards as your body reacts. Check out our plant-based nutrition essentials section for more tips on how to stay healthy on a vegan diet.

Here goes! These are just a few of the changes you can expect to happen to your body in your first few weeks on a vegan diet:

Your skin will clear up

black and white photo closeup of woman's face with freckles

Within just the first few days of cutting animal products from your diet, you will notice your skin starting to clear. If you suffer from acne, you should see dramatic reduction in blemishes within the first weeks. In my first few days on a plant-based diet my skin was the first thing I saw improving. My complexion had brightened and my skin felt softer than ever.

Dairy is the main culprit that causes bad skin due to being full of animal hormones which set your natural hormone balance off. Removing dairy from your diet as well as consuming more fruits and vegetables that are full of antioxidants will naturally lead to healthier skin.

Your hair will shine

Woman with shiny brown hair.

Within a few weeks, I saw changes in the quality of my hair. I had never even considered before that the health of my hair could be so directly affected by my diet. The transformation, however, was noticeable as I shed the dull unhealthy strands and my locks became visibly healthier with a buoyant shine. Your hair will thank you for all those healthy, plant-based fats you get from consuming the likes of coconut oil, nuts and avocados.

You’ll have more energy

Woman in energetic mid-air jump on beach

Another change I noticed early on was that I suddenly had more energy. I went from constantly lethargic to positively jumping with energy. Without making any other changes to my lifestyle (I was still a heavy smoker and drinker back then too), my energy levels skyrocketed when I switched to a plant-based diet. It was most notable when I was able to climb the stairs to my 4th floor office way faster, whilst maintaining a conversation and without collapsing in a heap at the top! This increase in energy also had the knock-on effect that I had more motivation to become more active in general.

Your sleep will improve

Cat sleeping peacefully on the arm of a sofa

When I first cut meat and dairy out of my diet, the changes to my body and mind were overwhelmingly positive. Within the first 2 or 3 days I had already noticed that my skin cleared up and I had much more energy. By the end of the first week my sleep had improved dramatically too. I didn’t necessarily get more hours of sleep than before, but the quality of sleep was significantly better. I started to wake up feeling fresh and well rested.

There is growing scientific evidence that a plant-based diet improves sleep. One recent study suggests that “the high isoflavone and tryptophan content of these diets may be a mechanism by which plant foods may enhance sleep quality.”. Another study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that a diet low in fibre, but high in saturated fat and sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative, and more disrupted sleep.

You’ll lose weight

Woman measuring her own stomach with a tape measure

Soon after starting on a plant-based diet you will probably notice you begin to lose weight. The amount of weight you lose will depend on your starting weight as well as how healthy and balanced your diet was before.

Even if you don’t notice significant weight loss, plant-based fats are, in general, better for your heart health than animal sources. Dairy, eggs, meat and fish might provide protein, but they are loaded with “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) and trans fats. Plant-based proteins on the other hand naturally contain unsaturated fat and they are cholesterol free. They also tend to be lower in calories than their meaty counterparts whilst still filling you up (think lentils or chickpeas), so this could be another factor why many people experience weight loss.

In my case before I went vegan, I was eating cheese and meat pretty much every day as well as my fair share of takeouts and late night snacks. Therefore, the reduction in calories as I switched to a more nutritious vegan diet did have an impact on my weight, and I started noticing the kilograms drop off. Without changing any other aspect of my lifestyle, my weight continued to drop off slowly and steadily. Within one year I had gone from 86kg (189 pounds) down to 74kg (163 pounds).

I must note that Veganism shouldn’t be mistaken for a fad diet. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to lose weight, then eating plant-based for a few weeks is not going to cut it, especially if you then go back to eating animal products. However, sticking with a balanced whole food plant-based diet in the long term can help reduce your weight at a natural pace, whilst also drastically improving your health and your longevity. To top it all off, a plant-based diet significantly reduces your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

Your gut health will improve

A vegan diet generally contains much more fibre than a regular diet due to the increase in consumption of high-fibre foods such as lentils, beans and other legumes. Fibre helps to regulate the good bacteria in the gut which, in turn, reduces inflammation and your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Like me, you might find that the sudden change in diet takes your body a little by surprise. My personal experience with digestion in the first 2 weeks was “eye opening” to say the least. This was pretty much the only negative effect I experienced when I first switched to a plant-based diet. I ended up needing to visit the bathroom much more, and I had the occasional last minute rush to the loo. However, after the initial shock to the system, my digestive system settled down and my bowel movements became far more regular than they had ever been when I was eating meat.

So, there you have it. Depending on what your diet was like before, the impact of your new vegan eating habits will vary. If, like me, you go one day to the next from fully-fledged carnivore to plant-based herbivore, then you will most probably notice so many wonderful changes in your mood, body, skin and energy levels.

Within such a short period of time, so many positive effects encouraged me to stay motivated that, nearly 4 years on, I’m still reaping the benefits of my plant-based existence. I don’t miss any of the animal products I used to love nor the negative effects they had on my digestion and general wellbeing. Now, in my late 30s, my plant-fuelled body is the healthiest it’s ever been!

I hope this post helps prepare you for some of the wonderful and surprising changes you’ll notice in your body when you switch your diet for good. The first few days and weeks might be challenging, but the long term health benefits will be worth it. I’d love to hear about your own experiences in the comments below, so feel free to share tips on what helped keep you on track with your new plant-based eating habits.

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