I Went Vegan For a Year. Here's What Happened

From 2017-2018, I went entirely vegan. No meat, eggs, dairy - nothing, not even once. I definitely had my fair share of ups and downs over that year as a result, so today I thought I'd share them with you. So after being vegan for an entire year, here's what happened...

Note: This article is about my personal and honest experience. Every person is different and I am to no extent saying that you should or shouldn't do anything. Enjoy.


The First Three Months

In the beginning for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to go from fully relying on animal products one day, to eating not even one the next day. As a result the first meal was a bit of a lol. I had no idea what to eat. I hadn't done any research really at all, so I ended up eating toast (turns out a lot of bread has milk in it so I ate the one type of toast we had that didn't).
After a few too many pieces of toast, I decided it was time to hit up the supermarket and buy some proper vegan food. After about an hour of staring at labels hoping I wouldn't see the dreaded "contains dairy" or "contains eggs", I found myself holding the holy grail of vegan food - tofu. A few cartons of soy milk and a slab of vegan cheese (yes, it exists) later I was back at home to try out my new foods.
Lesson #1: Tofu actually tastes good.
Lesson #2: Vegan cheese smells horrible, but it tastes okay melted.
Lesson #3: Soy milk is a staple of the vegan diet.
Despite going cold turkey (pun intended), after a week or so I actually started to feel good. While I ended up eating the same thing a lot, I'd found a few solid meals that I could enjoy everyday. Most notably I was gravitating towards tofu and rice, and cereal with soy milk.
In the two or three months which followed, I still felt good. I was still eating a lot of the same meals and a lot of carbs but I also wasn't complaining. I was still running for an hour or so everyday and hitting the gym every now and then, and to my surprise I felt completely normal. A lot of people said I wouldn't be able to keep up my exercise routine, but I seemed to be okay (keep reading)!
One thing which I didn't think about was sweet food. I wouldn't consider myself a sweet food connoisseur, but occasionally I like myself a lil' treat.
Lesson #4: Oreos are vegan, dark chocolate is vegan (I know wtf), and not a whole lot else. Good thing both of those are delicious.


The Middle Six Months

During the middle six months of the vegan endeavour, I started to feel like I was needing more sleep. I'd now done a lot more research on being vegan and I'd started taking daily supplements for iron, B12, and calcium.
I started to try some different foods like tempeh, coconut bacon, and vegan chicken nuggets. They all tasted pretty good to my surprise.
Lesson #5: Vegan chicken nuggets taste and look almost exactly like normal ones. This was a revelation which made me consider what actually is in normal nuggets to make this possible.
As the months passed by and I ticked over into the latter half of the year, a lot of people were telling me I looked thinner. As an 18 year old male who liked the gym, being told you look thinner wasn't particularly reassuring or ego-boosting, but my reply was always that I was weighing myself all the time and I hadn't lost any weight - I was the exact the same weight as I was when I started.
Coming up to the ninth month of Code Vege (I decided it needed a cooler name), I started to properly notice that I was more fatigued both when I was running, and when I was going about my day-to-day life. As a guy who was often running off of seven or eight hours of sleep through high school, I was now needing closer to nine to feel satisfactory.
So, I got a blood test. Turns out that my B12 levels were still in the normal range, while my iron level had dropped from about 200 to 50 - which is about as low as you'd want to get.

The Last Three Months

On the home straight, I couldn't really cope with my level of exercise. Even on my easiest runs I felt like I was working real hard and I was often short of breath. I felt like things with my iron levels hadn't been getting any better even though I was taking a prescription only iron supplement, and I had done hours of research into getting your iron levels up. I was eating lentils, spinach, chickpeas, and tofu - and eating vitamin C rich foods to try and increase absorption of the iron. I even cooked the foods in a cast iron pan - that's dedication. Despite this, I had started falling asleep in class and taking naps during the day even though I was sleeping for nine hours.
In the mean time, the food still tasted good, and I was enjoying making different foods from time to time. One thing I did enjoy from start to finish was the whole 'clean' feeling that plant-based products give you. I'd also been to the odd restaurant and bakery that made vegan options, and of course everything tasted great.
Lesson #6: Vegan food isn't just tofu and lentils, and it all tastes pretty damn good.
In month number 12, I decided it was time for another blood test (or my GP did).

Lesson #7: Supplements don't always do their job. Despite my intense efforts to stay afloat, my iron level had dropped to 23. My B12 was getting too low to be normal too, although I was surprised it wasn't worse.


Going Back

First going back to an omnivorous diet, I found out a few things:
  1. I felt pretty sick (not cool sick, like actually sick unfortunately) after eating red meat again for the first time.
  2. Fish and chicken felt like I'd never gone vegan in the first place.
  3. Milk tasted pretty nasty the first few times I had it, then it tasted normal again.
After a few weeks of being back on my old diet, I felt like my iron and B12 had returned to their former glory.
In about a month, I put on 4kg (of muscle I hope). What I had failed to realise during the vegan endeavour was that although I hadn't lost any weight, I should have been putting it on.
For anyone who is interested in trying a different diet, I would recommend that you learn a lot about the diet before you begin. Talk to people, think about what food you may need more of, factor the diet into your exercise, and be smart with how you go about starting the diet.
On the whole, going vegan for a year was a very interesting experience. The start was enjoyable and the end was not so much - overall it was a fun challenge to change my lifestyle and see how I coped.

1 comment

  • Liam

    Let me know what you thought of the article here in the comments! Have you ever tried a different diet? I’d love to hear!

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