Just because you’re trying to be vegan doesn’t mean you have to be vegan diet.
You already know all the good reasons to stop consuming animal products or at least to reduce your consumption. A standard American diet is bad for the environment and climate, it’s cruel to animals, and it’s harsh on your health. But it’s hard to change your habits when you feel disadvantaged. And going vegan can often mean feeling hungry.
In fact, it’s a common thread on vegan forums and a common topic of conversation among new vegans. As soon as you start looking for vegan lifestyle advice, you’ll find questions about how to deal with hunger. And if you’ve ever tried firsthand a “vegan”, a vegan trial, or just wanting an oatmilk smoothie for breakfast instead of eggs, you may have found your own stomach growling — or your head spinning — in defeat.
Want more health and science stories in your inbox? Subscribe to Salon’s weekly newsletter The vulgar scientist.
“Now that I’m vegan, I’ve found that when I get hungry I get so weak, dizzy and nauseous,” writes a typical commenter on a vegan site. Meanwhile, a Redditor in a 2021 thread asks what to do if you’re “new vegan and always hungry”! The commenter explains, “I never feel completely full and it drives me crazy.”
But regardless of your height, gender, age or appetite, you can Eat well and eat enough without eating animals. It doesn’t start in your stomach but in your head and by paying attention to what you need to add rather than take away.
RELATED: Not all calories are created equal — a nutritionist explains the importance of eating different types of foods
Let’s examine hunger. If you’ve unilaterally cut some of your daily calories from your plate – the chicken from your sandwich, the cheese from your pizza – then of course you’re going to be starving.
It may seem obvious, but “one of the reasons you may feel hungrier when transitioning to a vegan or plant-based diet is that you may not be consuming enough calories and nutrients,” explains Julie Barrette, a senior clinical nutritionist at Providence Mission Hospital. In other words, the innate understanding of how high-calorie food is suddenly changes. Barrette continues, “Abrupt dietary changes can result in initial negative side effects as certain nutrient-dense foods, such as animal proteins, are no longer consumed. The good news is that this will resolve as you adapt to the vegan diet — as long as a variety of nutritious plant-based foods are consumed.”
Not all of the new vegans (or long-time vegans) are choosing processed foods that mimic non-vegan foods, like vegan “cheese”, artificial meats, or alternative milks like soy and oats. However, some experts suggest this type of substitute to get used to a new diet. “Replace meat and dairy with plant-based versions,” nutritionist and recipe developer Rachel Lessenden advises, noting that “the vegan versions may contain fewer calories than their omnivore equivalents. . . This means larger portions must be eaten to get the same amount of calories. For most people, this isn’t a problem,” she says, “but if you need to fit more calories into your diet, adding nuts and seeds can help, as can avocados.”
Yelina Perez, a vegan wellness coach and creator of Yelli’s belly, agrees. “When I decided to go vegan six years ago, I felt hungry all the time,” she admits. “At the time I didn’t understand why and I immediately decided that I ‘must’ eat meat. But,” she says, “that wasn’t the case.”
So how can you avoid feeling hungry often and still eat healthy? The answer, says Perez, is simple: “Eat more! A cup of smoothie in the morning isn’t enough, that’s only about 200 to 300 calories”; which means “You’ll get hungry in about 45 minutes.” Instead, she suggests something like “at least six cups of smoothie, and make it high-calorie with assorted fruits, Medjool dates, and coconut water.” It takes about 30 minutes to drink, so be patient with it.”
Aside from making sure your calorie consumption doesn’t drop dramatically, another consideration is protein intake. As a qualified nutritionist Blanca Garcia explains: “Most people don’t know that animal protein is the basis for repairing tissues such as muscles and organs. Due to its composition, it also helps in feeling full and satisfied. To remove animal proteins, plant proteins must be added to perform this function of feeling satisfied and full.” She suggests sources like “beans, lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, quinoa, green peas and buckwheat”.
And what about that infamous new vegan buzz that can set in? If you are picky about vitamins, this can be warded off.
“Red meat and other animal proteins are rich sources of vitamin B12 and iron,” said Julie Barrette. “Not eating these foods can lead to vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies. This potential lack of vitamin B12 and iron can lead to fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and if left untreated, anemia. It may be recommended to take a vitamin B12 or iron supplement to ensure adequate vitamin B12 and iron nutrients are consumed.” And Julie LaPiana Evarts from PlantableRN, MSN, CRNP, points to an often overlooked culprit: not enough water.
“Often the brain thinks the body is signaling hunger when it’s really thirsty,” notes Evarts. “New vegans are often unaccustomed to the significant fiber load their new diet brings, and may suffer from constipation, gas and diarrhea as a result. All three can be resolved with time and adequate water intake. Drinking water is not only good for overall health, but it can help you feel fuller for longer.”
There may be something else at play here as well. Modern food culture has put millions of us on an endless treadmill of our own hunger and feasting, making it difficult to recognize and respect our body’s signals. But when it comes to feeding an omnivore, it’s pretty easy to eat satiating fats and calories without really thinking too much. Eliminating animal products may mean intentionally introducing more of these elements. And with the perhaps exception of avocado toast, America isn’t overtly embracing its fats and calories. According to a 2018 CDC estimate “49.1% of adults have attempted to lose weight in the past 12 months.” This was recently noted in a January industry report by market research firm Fact.MR, which cited the “increasing demand for low-fat diets.” “The global market for fat substitutes is expected to exceed $2 billion by the end of 2021.” In other words, not only vegans are hungry. It’s a wonder everyone isn’t.
One of the more pernicious aspects of our American relationship with food is the moral baggage we bring with us when we come to the table. We confuse removing or reducing certain foods with limitations and discomfort, making lasting habits difficult to learn. Whether we’re vegans, meat eaters, or somewhere in the middle, starvation is never a virtue, and you definitely can’t make a life plan out of it. “We can get so caught up in what we do tip eat,” says Rachel Lessenden. “But if we focus more on all the things we do can Food, it can expand our taste buds by trying new things we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
More nutrition reports from Salon: