Fellow blogger Janet from The Taste Space recently wrote a post on the side effects of deviating from one’s whole food, plant-based diet, and posed a sort of question to some of us who live and eat similarly. Rather than write a virtual tome in her comments section, I decided to address it here.
“Many bloggers have recently adopted a vegetarian, vegan or whole foods way of eating. I would love to know if you’ve experienced the same since changing. Before I went whole foods, I never really had any digestive issues. Now, a small deviation into junk can easily trigger something nasty.”
The short answer is: Yes, I experience this too.
The long answer: There are good reasons why.
Switching to a healthful plant-based diet does a lot of amazing things for your body. It floods it with nutrients, provides ample fiber to sweep all the bad stuff out of your system, and, especially if you’re incorporating a lot of fresh, colorful veggies, will cleanse your tissues of toxins. Provided a clean, nourishing environment, your entire system will flourish and function at optimal levels.
These are not hippy-dippy, rainbow-child imaginings. They are the natural processes that your body is designed to execute in order to keep you healthy. In most of the population, however, these processes are hindered by overconsumption of meat, dairy, sugar, refined fats, alcohol, and caffeine. All of these products are addictive, inflammatory, acidic, demineralizing, and nutrient-poor. They interfere with your body’s ability to keep itself clean and working properly, and many of them have been shown to not only raise your risks for but cause heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.
This is why some people don’t feel so hot for a little while after starting a whole foods, plant based diet. It’s called detox. All of those nasty things that were bound up in your gut and fat cells because your body couldn’t properly eliminate them are now being set loose, and it can take a little while for the cleanup crew to take care of the buildup.
Plus, the addictive properties to these foods can be hard to shake. For instance, if you’ve ever thought that you could never give up cheese, well, that’s because when you consume casein (the carcinogenic protein in dairy products), it breaks down into casomorphins—yes, like morphine—which have an opiate effect and are super addictive. This is a mechanism to keep baby cows coming back to mom for more, but it works on you too.
But once you’re whole foods, plant-based, cleansed, and healthy, your system runs like a shiny, well-oiled machine. And when you put things in it that are less than optimal? It’s going to let you know that it doesn’t like it.
Consider for a moment a kid—whose lungs up until this moment are lush and unadulterated—taking his first puff of a cigarette. In all likelihood, it’s not going to go down so smooth. He’s going to choke on the poisonous smoke and may even find himself getting sick afterward.
The same kind of thing happens to your nice clean body when you put crappy stuff in it.
Of course, everyone has varying degrees of sensitivity to these things, and that’s also not to say you should never put crap into your body. Well, okay, maybe you actually never should, but in reality you’re going to occasionally. Just know that it’s probably not going to feel so great and will likely be a reminder of why you don’t consume those things all the time.
For me personally, a side effect of becoming healthier through plant-based living was that I significantly reduced my consumption of coffee. Not entirely, mind you, but almost. This is because, when I drink coffee now, it feels like I’m pouring acid into my body and my digestive system doesn’t react so well. I still have a cup once or twice a week (that I often don’t even finish) because I enjoy the ritual and the taste, but I have no expectations of feeling awesome after.
Also, nine times out of ten, I now say no to a drink. I have maybe two drinks a month, and it’s always a compromise when I do. My head feels so clear normally that ordering a glass of wine is like agreeing to let someone dim the lights, take out my contacts, and put earmuffs on me. What I used to anticipate as a buzz now feels like a massive sensory downgrade, and, most of the time, it’s just not worth it to me.
Another, sort of inconvenient, development is that I can’t bring myself to eat junk food almost ever. This is extremely frustrating when Chris and I are both hungry, I haven’t planned a meal for whatever reason, and I don’t feel like cooking. We used to be able to pop over to the store for an Amy’s Organic frozen meal and call it good. Now, even when I sort of feel like I want to indulge, unhealthy or processed things just don’t sound appealing. And when I do go ahead and have it, I feel extremely unsatisfied and depleted.
Additionally, refined sugar = massive headache. This cake—despite its amazingness—had me reaching for the ibuprofen.
So, Janet, you’re definitely not alone. As much as it is sometimes a drag that less-than-ideal food makes us feel lousy, I think it’s ultimately a major sign that we’re doing something right. We just need to keep nourishing ourselves in the best possible way, and do the best that we can in imperfect situations and moments of indulgence. And when our bodies get a little testy about it, I’ve generally found that a nice, big green smoothie will quiet the complaining.