Making the choice to switch to a plant-based diet (or better yet, a plant-based diet emphasizing whole foods) is one of the best health choices anyone can make, or even aspire to transition into. Just the concept of eating more plants in place of animals is a remarkable way to enhance your longevity, optimize your taste buds to crave healthier foods, balance your mood and hormones, and increase your chances at preventing disease with every single bite. Or, maybe you’ve made the choice to do so for your budget, the environment, and the animals that a plant-based diet benefits. Whatever the case, know that you’ve made the right choice and are likely to experience more health benefits than you ever imagined such as cancer prevention, blood sugar benefits, digestion improvements, and even a more energetic and happier mood thanks to all the nutrient-dense properties a plant-based diet has.
Even The Best Choices for Our Health Come With Challenges
But let’s be honest — not everything is rainbows and sunshine when you make the switch, even if you’re completely stoked about the diet and are witnessing several health benefits. Many people who transition into a plant-based diet go through a detox period. Not your typical detox diet where you skip out on meals or just drink juice all week, detoxing from animal-based products is a real issue that you need to be aware of. It can include headaches, digestion changes, and even feelings of sadness as you learn to let go of old traditions surrounding meals with meat, dairy, eggs or poultry and get used to the concept of eating different foods than you might be used to.
Many people assume these are signs their body doesn’t deal with a plant-based diet well, but this is always true. Detox is a real issue that most people go through; it can last a week, a month, and for some people it can occur off and on every few months for a couple days as the body continues to clean itself out from old toxins, hormones, mercury, pesticides, bacteria, and other harmful things found in most all animal-based foods.
How to Deal With Detox Emotions
Many people don’t realize how much they’re emotionally tied to certain foods. For instance, if one of your most favorite memories is sitting down and enjoy chicken or beef burgers at the table with your parents as a kid, or having a plate of mom or grandma’s bacon and eggs on Saturday mornings makes you just smile with warmth and good emotions, the idea of not eating these dishes anymore can be a little depressing. But realize that you’re not attached to the food; you’re attached to the memory around the food that enhances the strength of that emotion.
Physiologically speaking, your body’s hormones also change when you quit eating animal products and many people’s bodies are more sensitive than others. As hormones change and stabilize, realize that emotional changes are normal. One unique thing to point out is that a plant-based diet can be very mind-clearing due to the way it sweeps out excess hormones from animal-based foods in the body. As it does this, the body can go through almost a shock emotionally and physically. If you are experiencing emotional changes, know that it’s completely normal, and don’t be afraid. See some tips for transitioning away from your favorite traditional meals, and explore How Your Food Choices Affect Your Hormones to learn more about the physiological changes that happen when you quit eating animal proteins.
How to Deal With Bodily Changes
As your body cleanses itself from many sources of harmful animal protein stored in your cells, keep in mind that your liver, digestive system, kidneys, and lymph system are in major “cleaning house” mode. Be aware of this and know that because they’re sweeping all that out without you eating any more of those foods to slow the detox down, you’ll likely be a little (or a lot) more tired than usual, may experienced increased bathroom time (which is a good thing!), and may even have headaches. It feels a little like the flu and can be exhausting in the beginning if your diet was especially toxic before. These are all signs your body is cleaning itself; be patient and wait things out, they do get better!
Be sure you eat a very clean diet with very little processed foods during this time if possible. This will better allow your body to do its job so you can feel your best much more quickly. Remember, the cleaner the food you give your body, the better it can use food to detoxify and supply you with nutrients for fuel. Greens, fruits, vegetables, raw nuts and seeds and their milks and butters, complex carbs from gluten-free grains and root vegetables, beans, legumes, along with healthy fats like olives, coconut, nuts, and avocado are all great choices. Be sure you take in adequate protein from seeds, greens, many grains, and keep in mind that all greens and vegetables have protein too. See some digestion troubleshooting tips here if you have some especially uncomfortable issues going on.
How to Deal With Skin Changes
As your body cleans house, it may expel some of those toxins from your organs and cells through your skin. This is normal, but not always fun to deal with when you’re showing up for a big meeting or presentation at work or going on an important date! However, keep in mind this is usually short-lived and typically goes away in a week so long as you’re not eating a food you’re allergic to (such as gluten, soy, nuts which are many of the most common).
Eat a variety of foods high in vitamin C which will clear your skin and speed up detoxification even further. Vitamin C rich foods include broccoli, citrus fruits, berries, spinach, kale, apples, pineapple, papaya, sweet potatoes, and peppers. Also be sure to eat foods rich in beta-carotene (vitamin A), which clears the skin and promotes a healthy glow; it also supports your immune system which will help you during the transition. Vitamin A rich foods include sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash, carrots, spinach, kale, turnip and collard greens, Swiss chard, spirulina, and goji berries.
Lastly, don’t forget your healthy omega-3 fats; these fats promote healing to the skin and inner organs, reduce inflammation, stabilize your blood sugar (which will also benefit your skin), and they’re also great for the mind to improve emotional health. Omega-3 rich plant-based foods include walnuts, chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocados, and acai fruit. Be sure you also wash your skin with a natural cleanser and for those that use makeup, wash it with something free of chemicals such as coconut oil.
How to Deal With Transitioning Your Meals
When it comes to changing up your meals, there are so many ways you can learn to replace animal-based proteins with plant-based foods. Open your mind to the concept of getting to choose between limitless amounts of produce, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, legumes, and fruits. Then come up with all types of combinations that best suit your needs and taste buds’ desires. Check out our FAQ section in our Plant-Based Nutrition Guide to see how to transition more easily; you’ll also get plenty of information you need about nutrients your body needs.
Always keep in mind that your body needs adequate sleep, with no less than eight hours a night. Your body detoxifies, heals, and repairs as you rest; let it do its job and you’ll also feel much better the next day. Be sure to maintain a regular exercise routine and try detoxifying activities like yoga and hot baths. Spend time in nature, with friends laughing and communicating (which most of us don’t do enough of), and have fun in the kitchen! All of these things keep our bodies healthy even though we often seem to forget about them.
Remember, detox is temporary, but a positive healthy change can be life-altering.