I've successfully completed the fourth and final week in my month long vegan challenge. As for eating, this week was smooth sailing, with plenty of delicious vegan food. There was, however, a very huge, life-altering realization. Here are a few personal observations about my fourth week*:
- I've had very few cravings for non-vegan food this past month (and even they were quite fleeting). The first week of the challenge I was worried about missing my favorite foods so much that I sought out vegan alternatives—which weren't very good. I worried for naught. Occasionally I'd get a pang of nostalgia for some of my favorite foods, like Fettuccine Alfredo, but the feeling passed as quickly as it came. Without non-vegan cravings, going vegan was really quite easy and I didn't feel like I was missing out.
- I accidentally ate half a chip that had milk listed on the ingredient label. I never expected potato chips to contain milk; in between popping a broken one in my mouth and turning over the bag to look at the nutritional information, the damage had been done. It was half a potato chip and whey was the last ingredient on the label, but I felt guilty about it for days. In fact, I still kind of do, which is why I'm confessing it to you.
- The day after my vegan challenge ended, I went out for a celebratory brunch with my sister and re-introduced myself to dairy and eggs. I had scrambled eggs (without cheese), cream cheese on a bagel, french toast, and half a slice of bacon. After a month of avoiding animal products, I was not expecting that I wouldn't actually like non-vegan food again. They tasted differently than I remember, with a texture that was strange and completely undesirable (especially eggs/meat). I didn't get sick afterwards, but it was an unexpected experience for me.
- Since the vegan challenge ended, the vast majority of the food I've eaten has been vegan. Here or there I'll eat an old favorite, such as my favorite turkey sandwich or ramen noodles (a guilty pleasure), but they don't taste right and I find that I have to force myself to get it down. While eating turkey sandwiches, I dream of eating humus and vegetable ones instead—a sandwich I didn't even like all that much when I was vegan. Maybe my taste buds have changed? Is that even possible? I wonder.
- After growing to love vegan food, I think it will definitely have a new role in my diet. It's generally healthy, tastes delicious, and my body feels good when I eat it. Just as there was an adjustment period when I went vegan, there is an adjustment period going back. It may be a few weeks before I can eat and enjoy meat again, but the recipes and lessons I've learned from going vegan will stick with me for a very, very long time.
- Lastly, it's time for the big realization. I've been plagued with uncomfortable and sometimes painful digestive issues my entire life. While I won't go into detail, it's a condition I've seen several different doctors about, been prescribed different treatments for, and gone through a colonoscopy to try to resolve. No method has fixed the problem and the doctors couldn't sort out what was wrong—for all intents and purposes I was "normal," even though I clearly wasn't. I assumed this was just a problem I would have to live with for the rest of my life.
- Two weeks into my vegan diet, the problem I had faced continuously for twenty-four years disappeared. Disappeared. I could have cried. For the first time in my life, I had a normally functioning digestive system and it was glorious. While there aren't many allergies associated with eating meat, there are quite a few associated with consuming dairy. After a little research, the symptoms I had been plagued with seemed to match up fairly well with a milk protein intolerance. It is a hypersensitivity to the proteins, casein and whey, which are found in milk; this is not the same thing as lactose intolerance, but the treatment, avoidance of all dairy products, is the same. I've always been a big milk drinker, typically consuming 1 1/2 cups every single day with breakfast. If I really did had an intolerance to milk proteins, I never would have gone long enough without milk to notice a difference until now.
- Over the next few weeks, I'm going to continue to cut dairy out of my diet while re-introducing meat to see how my digestive system reacts. If it's true that I do have a milk protein intolerance, the diagnosis is really a double edged sword. On one hand, it will shape the way I eat and the way I approach baking for the rest of my life. On the other hand, it may solve my digestive issues, making me feel healthy for the first time in a very long time.
After the fourth and final week, I am sincerely glad, in a hundred different ways, that I took on this challenge. It introduced me to a new lifestyle, new recipes, new flavors, and a new outlook on healthy eating. If I hadn't gone vegan for a month on a whim, I never would have discovered a potential solution to a lifelong health problem. I feel greatly indebted to my time spent as a vegan and urge you to give vegan dishes a chance. You might just like it.
*I mean no offense to those who have gone vegan for moral beliefs and obligations (in fact, you have my utmost respect). This is just a record of my personal experience with the lifestyle.