My plant-based (vegan?) experiment!

We´re writing May 2017 and that means my 40 day plant-based-diet-experiment kicked-off about a year ago. But what was supposed to last about 6 weeks turned into something bigger… I´m somehow still on board and it´s going so well that I´m even accepting the fact that some people have started referring to me as ´that teetotal vegan`*.

A brief summary of the details of my experiment: 40 days no meat, no dairy, little sugar and practically no alcohol (hence the name teetotal vegan). Quick pause here to correct my friends. There are some differences between a vegan diet and a whole-food plant-based diet. To name a few: vegan means that you don´t consume any animal products (including honey for example). But more importantly, eating vegan is not necessarily healthy. You can still stuff yourself with a lot of sugar and processed foods. All vegan, but not that beneficial to your health.

A whole-foods plant-based diet means that you leave out animal products such as meat and diary, but more importantly, it implies eating loads of whole foods in the form of vegetables, fruits, legumes etc. and not so much refined foods such as white bread, white pasta etc. So it can in fact be quite different from a vegan diet. However, I can understand my name-callers´ practical approach to this situation: ´teetotal WFPBD-person´ doesn´t sound quite as impactful as teetotal vegan.

So then, what happened that turned me into this teetotal WFPBD-person that I am today?!

The effects…

The two most striking effects that I started to experience quite early on in the experiment can be summarized as follows: less mucus, more enery.

I´ve always had a cough, regardless of how good or bad I felt and how much medication I was taking. This was not only quite annoying in the sense that I sounded like a hardcore smoker (which I was not), but it also had an effect on for example sports and the quality of my sleep. I would wake up a lot because of blockages in my airways.

Already after about 3 weeks after I´d started the experiment I began to notice that my cough had become less aggressive and that I could breathe more freely throughout the night and during sports. Getting more sleep obviously meant that I felt more energized during the day, but I also noticed that my energy levels were way more balanced. I´ve always been skinny and I´d lose weight (unwanted) within the blink of an eye. I know this sounds wonderful to some people, but that lack of reserve was not supporting my immune system and I´m also not a big fan of the anorexic look. Thus, I´ve always been eating a lot in order to keep up with my metabolism. The downside of these food extravaganzas:, I´d have huge energy drops throughout the day. Especially the time between lunch and dinner was quite bad. I´d feel very sleepy and a few years ago I even managed to fall asleep in a meeting with about 15 people. It makes me laugh thinking back at that now, but it was actually quite embarrassing.

But those days already seemed quite long ago after just a few weeks on this new diet. I was so excited about these results that I got more and more interested in how this could be explained. And it even drove me into the arms of Cornell University´s course on plant-based nutrition.

Animal foods

Now, I learned a few years ago that cow milk-products might not be as beneficial as was once thought, so I had already replaced that with goat yohurt and -cheese where-ever I could (which was definitely not all the time). But the real change came when I let go of that too…

The thing with milk products is that they lead to increased mucus production. If mucus builds up it doesn´t only block your airways, it also becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, which can lead to lung infections such as pneumonia. The moment I turned my back on my old friends (feta, mozarella, parmesan, my morning cruesli with goatyoghurt  and the like) I started to feel better. And as mentioned before it was not just the cough clearing up, I also felt so much more energized

Now, animal foods are extremely hard to digest. And when the digestive system becomes overwhelmed, it sucks all the energy out of you. Leaving these products out was a simple way to enhance my energy since digestion became naturally easier. What helped as well is the fact that a plant-based diet (with the right carbohydrates – which means leaving out processed foods and refined carbohydrates such as white bread and white pasta)  slows down blood sugar, therewith avoiding sugar spikes and, in turn, the crashes that made me feel so sleepy.

This all sounds great, but in the beginning I was really struggling to avoid eating these products. Not just psychologically but also practically (if there´s one country in the world that seduces you to eat meat and dairy I´d say it´s Austria). But the positive effects were so striking that it became increasingly easier to work around them.

Plant-based all the way now?

That is not to say that I´m eating a 100% plant-based now. I´m satisfied with 90%, because I want to stay flexible in certain situations. For example earlier this week, I went out for dinner to a restaurant with colleagues. We were served a menu which included quite a bit of meat and dairy. In those circumstances I just go with the flow and enjoy it. As a consequence I did end up having a bloated stomach and cramps that lasted for about 3 hours and I ended up coughing more. The discomfort, however, told me that I´m on the right path. My body is giving me quite clear signals in terms of what it does and doesn´t like..

So does this mean that I´ve found my holy grail? Yes and no. Nutrition is helping me a great deal and it forms a wonderful base, but there are more things out there that are essential to keeping my lungs and overall health in check (for example exercising, breathing techniques etc. I´ll write more about this in future blogs).

Even though I´ve been able to get rid of almost all my medication -stopped my antibiotics completely a few weeks ago and only have an inhaler left- I do feel that there´s still room for improvement. The last CT-scan I had (about 2 weeks ago) showed more signs of inflammation in my lungs than the one I had before that (about 2 months ago). And that´s not just in the picture, I am also feeling a little more frail at the moment.

More experimenting needed…

So that means my quest for better (lung)health continues. With the plant-based-diet and a load of other things I´ve learned over the years in my backpack I´m motivated to continue my experimental lifestyle and learn about other possible ways, techniques, you name it, that are out there to be found to strengthen my lungs and overall health.

I´ll use my next blogs to share some of the non-food experiments I´ve undertaken so far, since they might prove valuable to others with lung-issues. And I have a few experiments lined up for the coming months aswell that I´ll write about. At the same time I´d like to invite you to share possibly relevant ideas with me for future experiments that might help boost lung-health. Bring it on!

* The people (let´s call them local friends) who´ve come up with this nickname do still voluntarily hang out with me.