We're promised so much when we consider becoming vegetarians. Many non-meat eaters tell us that wonderful things will come to us if we join them — we'll develop clear skin, lower blood pressure, and, you know, the reassurance that we're doing the right thing. Well, so far, down my personal vegetarian road, I've been granted all these benefits — and more. However, not all the claims that I heard about vegetarianism before I stopped eating meat turned out to be true, and I also found that I wasn't quite given all the information I needed.
As much as some vegetarians may try to convince you that kissing meat goodbye will basically overhaul your whole system and give you a brand new body, Joan Salge Blake, clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University, told Yahoo! that nothing too dramatic happens in the body biochemically when you give up meat. Sure, you will probably see lots of overall health improvements — such as a spike in energy and a lower risk for heart disease — but you aren't entirely rewiring your body simply by dropping meat from your diet.
Also, what most people don't tell you is that some unexpected side effects may hit you when you suddenly give up meat. Yes, they don't impact everyone, and if you do experience them, they're temporary, and they should be on their merry way within a few weeks— but that doesn't make them any more fun to deal with. Stick with your veg routine, though, and you'll eventually find that the other side is rewarding enough to make you forget these weird symptoms ever hit you.
Intrigued? Then read on to learn about seven things that happen to your body when you first stop eating meat.
1. Your Sense Of Taste May Decline
Vegetarians need to keep an eye on their zinc intake, because it's easy to not get enough when you first give up meat. And as soon as you're not absorbing enough zinc, you could experience a temporary decline in quite a few bodily functions — primarily the sense of taste, as this mineral keeps your palate sharp and satisfied.
Eating lots of beans and other legumes can interfere with your body's ability to take in all the zinc it gets from other foods, so unless you immediately start taking supplements, don't be surprised if you temporarily lose your strong sense of taste. Don't worry, though: as the body gets past the adjustment period, you'll gain it back.
2. You May Experience Sleeplessness
Eating a lot of red meat is known to make you feel sluggish and low on energy, and yet you might not even realize that you felt this way until you start living the vegetarian life. Suddenly, you may feel like you've got access to a new source of energy — now you're bouncing off the walls, way too excited about life to lie down and sleep like a normal person.
But if you're having some insomnia after kicking meat to the curb, rest assured that your inability to snooze for 8 straight hours isn't permanent. Once your body gets settled in to the no-meat dance, its circadian rhythms will find their way back to normal. To lessen the blow, avoid that 8 p.m. spin class and try to cut out late noshes and other things that are known to impede our ability to sleep.
3. Your Stomach May Hurt
You have a unique makeup of bacteria in your gut, some friendly and others not so nice — and the combination of the two will end up looking a bit different whenever you make significant changes to your diet.
Many experts say that the more veggies you consume, the more healthy bacteria multiply in your tummy. This is great in the long run, but sudden changes in the digestive tract could cause indigestion and bloating at first (this could also be partly due to the fact that you're putting a lot more fiber into your system). These side effects are among the most common when folks dramatically switch from lots of meat to none, and while they're not pleasant, they're part of the cleaning-out process.
If you're experiencing these symptoms, there are a few ways you can dodge them. For starters, keep your meals smaller than normal and eat more of them, rather than eating three large meals; your stomach won't have to work so hard to break down stuff that isn't so familiar. Five little meals a day at the start of your new vegetarian life is a good idea. Also, stay away from the fatty stuff, like greasy French fries and carbonated drinks.
4. You May Have Some Emotional Ups And Downs
Because of all the recent intriguing research on the gut-brain connection, we know that it isn’t uncommon to experience some changes in mental health when you embark on a new, healthy diet. The microbiome in your tummy release neurotransmitters, and they quickly and powerfully communicate with your brain through the vagus nerve, meaning whatever is in your tummy directly affects your levels of stress and anxiety.
Though some research has suggested that vegetarianism has a positive impact on mood and a vegetarian diet has the potential to reduce stress, you might not reap those emotional benefits right away. In fact, due to the immediate shifts in the microbiome in the digestive system, some new vegetarians are warned that they may go through an emotional roller coaster ride, from feeling high as a kite one day, to finding themselves crashing and sobbing in their kitchen the next. This too is temporary, and once you've come out on the other side, you'll probably see bright moods above all else.
5. You May Snack More Than Usual
For many people, when their main source of protein has been unceremoniously taken from them, they go into survival mode — or, more accurately, snackaholic mode. Kristin Kirkpatrick, manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, wrote for Huffington Post that she sees a lot of vegetarians and vegans constantly filling up on chips and pretzels — anything nosh-like they can get their hands on, really — because they haven't figured out what else to consume in place of meat.
This might happen to you when you first give up hamburgers, so don't be surprised if you're desperately rummaging through your pantry for something crunchy and salty. Not to worry. This phase will pass quickly; soon, you'll actually experience a big decline in those cravings after a while. While you're stuck in snack town, though, keep your energy up with whole grain crackers, raw almonds, and Greek yogurt.
6. Your Face May Break Out
"But what about the perfectly clear skin all those vegans preach about?!" you may be exclaiming right now. It exists, don't worry. That being said, the first couple weeks after you stop eating meat may be dotted with a few zits — maybe a few full breakouts, too. Just know that others have experienced this, and it will be temporary.
If you've simultaneously picked up a B12 supplement to make up for the lack of steak — and if you haven't, you should — you might see a breakout from that as well. Pick up a solid acne face wash and if it keeps up, chat with a dermatologist about it.
7. You May Use The Bathroom More Often
Let's rewind back to the fiber conversation. More likely than not, you're eating more veggies now — and thus, consuming more fiber — than ever before in your adult life. Plus, the microbiome in your gut are rearranging themselves, resulting in indigestion, as we covered above. And what follows a serious tummy ache? Yes, that's correct: Number twos, and lots of them.
Some seasoned vegetarians suggest you eat more cooked veggies (rather than raw ones) at first, and slowly incorporate beans into your diet, as they can cause lots of pooping. These trips to the bathroom should settle down and you should get used to the new food pretty soon, so if you feel like you've been worshipping the toilet for too long, talk with a nutritionist or a doctor.
This all may sound like a lot — but rest assured that not all people experience all (or any) of these side effects when they become vegetarians. And even if you do get hit with all seven of these changes, know that the short-term losses are more than made up for by the long-term gains of living a vegetarian life.
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