Someone switching to a vegetarian diet is bound to have many questions; what are the physical and mental effects and how will you manage them? Noticing physical and mental changes after becoming vegetarian is normal. Besides that, you should also think about managing the transition.
In this guide we discuss how vegetarianism changes you physically and mentally, and how you can manage it successfully.
What to Expect When Becoming Vegetarian
Your palate can change when you switch a vegetarian diet and stick to it. You might notice that you don't like the older foods as much, and there can be different reasons behind it.
It happens because you no longer consume food that overwhelms your taste buds, such as salty and processed foods. Going back can become almost impossible once you stop consuming them for a while.
Another reason can be that you become deficient in zinc, which is essential to taste anything. If you feel your palate has changed too much and you don't like the taste of your meals anymore, try to beef up (so to speak!) your zinc consumption. Some good vegetarian sources for zinc are spinach, whole grains, and chickpeas.
Longer Rest Times
Plant proteins work differently from animal proteins and take longer to break down inside your body. The result is that it takes time for you to use the energy they release. So, you may feel that your body is taking longer rest times to recover from workouts and is staying sore for longer than before. However, that doesn't mean you cannot do anything to alleviate the situation.
You can always add more plant protein to your diet to improve your recovery and have shorter rest spans. For instance, you can enjoy a soy protein shake after exercise to boost recovery and healing.
Energy can work both ways when you start consuming a vegetarian diet. Either you enjoy a boost in your energy, or you see it plummet, and both have different reasons behind them.
You may see an elevation in energy and improved digestion, thanks to the increased intake of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. You feel more active and energetic when your digestion improves.
On the other hand, you can also feel sluggish and low on energy after switching to vegetarianism. It happens if you become deficient in vitamin B12, vitamin D, etc. Moreover, exercising when you're nutrient-deficient makes things worse by making you even more sluggish and lethargic, subjecting you to painfully long recovery times.
The thing to learn here is that some important nutrients are more abundant in animal products than in plant-based foods. So, you have to ensure you take them in the right quantities and prevent their deficiencies.
You can consume vitamin K, A, D, and E, by eating healthy fats, as all of them are fat-soluble. Vegetarians usually don't require an iron supplement because they can get enough of it from their regular diet, such as dark green vegetables, legumes, dried fruits, etc.
To ensure better iron absorption, increase the amount of Vitamin C by eating citrus fruit, dark green plants, peppers, etc.
A highly positive aspect of a vegetarian diet is that you may see your mood improve after eating it. Although diet is not the only factor contributing to your mood, it definitely is an important one and must not be ignored.
Research suggests that non-vegetarian foods such as meat, fish, etc., produce arachidonic acid, which can cause mood problems. When you cut down their consumption, the amount of arachidonic acid comes down in your body, boosting your mood.
Switching at first to a vegetarian can be tricky for those who can't bear any digestive issues. Sometimes, plant-based foods cause bloating during the start because your body takes time to adjust to the good bacteria in the gut.
So, if you face bloating initially, don't panic and let it settle. You can manage the issue better by increasing your water consumption and avoiding problematic foods such as beans and broccoli.
Just like mood, a vegetarian diet can also improve your sleep. By getting rid of meat from your diet, you improve digestion and metabolism in the long run, enhancing your sleep. Similarly, adding minerals to the diet is also an important factor in sleep improvement.
In addition, vegetarians tend to have healthier lifestyles overall due to more exercise and reduced or zero alcohol consumption, factors that improve sleep.
Changes in Bathroom Habits
Although vegetarianism improves your gut health and digestion in the long run, the short-term story can be a bit different.
It is reasonable to expect changes in your bathroom habits once you switch to plant-based foods because your body needs time to adjust to the new reality. You may face different problems such as diarrhea, constipation, etc., depending upon how your body reacts to and adjusts to the new diet.
Many stop their vegetarian journey when this happens, but you shouldn't give up. It goes away, and you start feeling much better than before. However, if it doesn't change after a while, it's better to consult your doctor to ensure if the issue is indeed diet or something else.
Feeling Fuller for Longer
The fiber-rich vegetarian diet can be crucial in curbing sugar crashes and making you feel fuller for much longer. Your body needs more time to break down the fiber in your diet, so the longer it takes, the longer you feel satiated. What that does is that you feel energetic throughout the day instead of fluctuating between highs and lows.
Better Skin Health
Everyone wants clear skin, and a vegetarian diet can help you get it. Although it is not a guaranteed way of having clear skin, it can improve your chances of having it. That's because you improve your skin health when you consume more vegetables, fruits, etc., which is reflected in your skin's appearance.
The antioxidants and high amounts of water found in plant-based diets are usually credited for improving skin. Besides that, the antioxidants also protect your skin from premature aging.
It is no secret that the meat industry uses hormones to make animals grow faster than usual. So, consuming commercial meat can cause a hormonal imbalance inside your body.
After switching to a vegetarian diet, you restore your natural hormonal balance, and your body starts producing hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, etc., more effectively. Moreover, the healthy fats you consume from different oils, such as coconut oil, olive oil, etc., help with the hormonal balance.
Improvement in Disease Defense
There are multiple health benefits of vegetarianism, and one of them is disease prevention. Research has made it clear that plant-based foods are good for your health due to various reasons.
One is that as you consume more fiber, it lowers the bad cholesterol in your body and keeps your arteries free from clogging. Similarly, the Omega-3 fatty acids found in plant oils, nuts, and seeds are anti-inflammatory, which reduces the chances of heart issues.
Similarly, cancer risk is also reduced significantly once you switch to a vegetarian diet. The phytochemicals inside plants prevent free radicals from damaging your cells, thus preventing cancer.
Becoming a Vegetarian Side Effects
Being a vegetarian is one of the best choices you can make for your health. However, it does come with its share of caveats and side effects. It's healthier than other options, but it also requires more attention and monitoring from you.
If you don't have the required knowledge and don't focus on your diet much, it can have some serious side effects. Let's look at some of them in detail.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common problem vegetarians face, and it usually results from your food choices. Animal products, eggs, and dairy are rich in vitamin B12, but if you are a strict vegetarian who doesn't consume any of those, you will have a hard time getting the required amount of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 plays many crucial roles inside your body, such as forming red blood cells, smooth running of the central nervous system, etc.
If you don't consume enough vitamin B12, it can result in several health complications such as anemia. Vitamin B12 deficiency reduces red blood cells, meaning your organs cannot get proper oxygen, causing constant fatigue and weakness.
Iron is readily available in animal products such as poultry, fish, and red meat. However, vegetarians have to look elsewhere for their iron which causes problems. Iron deficiency can lead to several health problems such as anemia, weakness, and constant exhaustion.
It becomes almost impossible to complete even the regular daily tasks if it gets worse. Similarly, it can also hamper cognitive development and compromise your immunity. Children born from iron-deficient women are often underweight.
By consuming iron-rich foods such as spinach, raisins, lentils, beans, etc., you can fulfill your daily required iron. However, it is advised that you should take double the amount of non-vegetarians as plant-based iron is harder to absorb for the body. You can aid iron absorption by consuming vitamin C from citrus plants.
It is a major contributor to cell division and cell growth. Zinc deficiency can lead to hair loss, infections, and appetite loss.
Meat and poultry are rich sources of zinc, but vegetarians have to find other sources. Luckily, there are some excellent zinc sources in the vegetarian diet, such as legumes, peanuts, peanut butter, etc. However, zinc from plant-based sources takes more time to absorb.
Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth. It is also crucial for muscle movement, blood circulation, and message transmission through nerves. For most people, calcium comes from dairy products such as milk, yogurt, butter, etc.
However, there is a large variety among vegetarians and some refrain from dairy altogether.
Calcium deficiency can cause different health issues such as bone density loss, osteoporosis, weakened teeth, etc. However, vegetarians don't have to worry about their calcium intake if they eat the right foods. Calcium-fortified food, tofu, broccoli, and kale are some excellent plant-based calcium sources.
Brain Health Issues
Switching to a vegetarian diet can affect your brain health if you do not eat a balanced diet. Choline is a nutrient that keeps your brain healthy and helps it perform important functions. However, your body cannot make it, and people usually get it from animal-based sources such as meat and poultry.
Vegetarian foods usually have a lower choline amount, so they should be extra careful about their consumption habits. Eating more eggs can improve your choline intake as they contain a decent amount. However, every vegetarian doesn't consume eggs, so those who don't should look for a quality supplement to make up for the deficiency.
Although getting Omega-3 fatty acids is not a big problem for vegetarians, some might still encounter its deficiency. Plant-based foods are full of short-chain Omega-3 fatty acids, and your body converts them to long-chain Omega-3.
Your body can convert short-chain Omega-3 to EPA, but it can't easily convert it to DHA, which is crucial for our brain health. The problem with low levels of DHA is that its deficiency can lead to anxiety and depression. The way around this problem is to use a DHA supplement so that your brain doesn't take a hit.
Things you Notice When you Become Vegetarian
Switching to vegetarianism isn't just about witnessing physical and mental changes. It also involves facing transitions outside of your body, such as finding the right restaurants, managing people's expectations, etc. Let's discuss how your switch to vegetarianism affects everything around you.
A Changed Dining Experience
After going vegetarian, the first thing you notice is that most people don't know what to cook for you. Many still don't know a lot about vegetarianism and the foods that are part of it. Moreover, most people have meat in their diet, so they don't really know about its substitutes.
Even after months of becoming vegetarian, you may still encounter these issues among your friends & family. If you're invited somewhere, people may be unaware of your dietary preferences, resulting in you being unable to eat most of the dishes.
In addition to that, it's not just about friends and family. Dining out in restaurants can also be a tricky affair. The number of restaurants offering vegetarian meals is increasing, but most still focus on non-vegetarian meals.
Moreover, it depends on where you live and the type of restaurants you have usually enjoyed visiting. So, you may need to ditch your favorite restaurant for a vegetarian alternative. If you still face issues getting a satisfying meal, ask for vegetarian side dishes to fulfill your nutritional requirement.
Another, mostly unintended, change you notice after going vegetarian is that you become a much better cook. As you limit your restaurant visits and processed food consumption, you try to cook for yourself. Not only that makes you an impressive cook but also gives you the freedom to enjoy the foods of your choice.
Long Term Game
Change doesn't happen overnight, and the story of vegetarianism isn't much different. You have to learn about many things as you move forward in your journey, such as emotional and practical aspects.
For instance, buying something from the nearby superstore now involves reading the ingredient list carefully and looking for anything animal-based inside it. However, it takes time and effort to learn about all the animal-based ingredients used in products.
There's an emotional dimension to this episode, too, as you may feel guilty about consuming animals in the past or feel bad about others still eating animals.
Although the number of vegetarians in the world has gone up steadily, they still don't dominate the picture and are considered outliers by many. So, it is natural for you to be extra conscious about how others perceive you.
For instance, you are sometimes afraid to openly admit your vegetarianism in front of others, as it may make others feel you're judging them. Similarly, you may not be able to have an open discussion about the topic with some people. They may think of it as an aggressive and judgmental act from you.
In addition, some might ridicule you for your dietary switch and call vegetarianism a fad. So, you need to compromise in the end on lots of things to manage your relationship with others.
Becoming a vegetarian is a long-term game and results in many physical and mental changes. Similarly, it also changes your behavior towards others and how others perceive you.
Regardless of all these variables, you can succeed in your vegetarian journey if you stick to the basics and keep moving steadily. Don't rush and give your body enough time to enjoy the benefits of vegetarianism.