Withdrawal symptoms are real and they're the #1 reason why some people do not sustain a vegan diet. You've probably heard stories from people stating that they've attempted a Vegan diet, but it made them feel sick, weak, or mentally cloudy, so they deemed the lifestyle unhealthy and unnatural. Most would assume that as soon as they start eating healthier, they'll start feeling better, too. That logic makes sense, right? Well, that's not exactly how things work. What a lot of people fail to understand is that they've been consuming toxins and highly acidic materials through animal products, and they've most likely been doing so since late infancy. Your body has built mechanisms and cells inside of you to tolerate, fight, and function with those toxins, and now you are going to throw that entire system out of whack at a cellular level.
This detoxing process takes place at different stages for everyone. The severity and length of time it will last is also unique to each person as well. Your detoxification will depend on the amount of animal products that you consumed regularly, your metabolism, your blood pressure, and your level of activity. So, while one vegan might get through his or her detox within the first two weeks of the journey, others may not even begin to detox for a few months. For some, the process can even last 2-3 months.
Your body has different pathways for detoxification, too and understanding what may happen during that process may prevent you from abandoning veganism altogether. The human body rids itself of harmful toxins through your blood, lungs, urine, bowels, and even skin. Let’s take a look at how each process works and discuss the symptoms you may experience from each area.
It is well known that a Vegan, whole food, plant-based diet has many positive effects on your blood. Your blood sugar will stabilize, your cholesterol will decrease significantly, and your blood pressure will normalize in practically no time. These are all great things, right?! YES! They are! But, it doesn’t happen at the snap of a finger. Your body will be working hard to restore health to your red blood cells and push out the plaque and sugars that have been building up on the walls of your arteries for years. Your blood will dispel these toxins through your liver and your kidneys. For this new, awesome, healthy blood to kick the bad blood out of your body, a lot of work needs to happen inside. This amazing hyperactivity that you’ve initiated can result in severe fatigue, headaches, muscle soreness, and general fogginess. It’s during this time that people confuse such feelings with being protein deficient. But, as your blood levels normalize to healthier values, your energy, strength, and clarity will return and be even better than ever! To get you through this time, try drinking natural energizing fruit juices, eat nuts and seeds, exercise (I know, it’s difficult, but push yourself!) and get plenty of sleep.
Some believe dairy to be the cause of increased mucus production. So, it's fair to assume that when dairy is removed, the body will rid itself of said mucus through coughing. Some Vegans note that a cough and cold-like symptoms go hand in hand during dairy withdrawal, but there is little evidence to support that hypothesis. The coughing and phlegm purge that people experience is reportedly due to the increase in "lung healthy" foods, not the absence of dairy. Foods like cilantro, ginger, carrots, lemons, and garlic rid the lungs of free radicals and excess carbon dioxide. Additionally, pineapple has been known to loosen mucus and lubricate the bronchial passage. You're about to start eating this stuff by the boat-loads, thus exceeding the benefits you may have noticed from them in the past. These foods are cleaning your lungs. But, the process, much like with your blood, is a lot of work on your body and may cause some uncomfortable symptoms at first. Be patient, get lots of vitamin C, and rest. If you need to, take an expectorant, but not a cough suppressant. Coughing means you're getting it out. It will pass and you will be breathing better in no time! Here is a really great natural expectorant that does a great job at loosening mucus with no harmful added chemicals! It comes in a Tincture or Tablets!
Your kidneys will most likely be in overhaul during this whole process. Your blood and your interstitial fluids will be dumping most of the toxins from animal products there. There will also be an increase in vitamins (that you'll be receiving through proper nutrition) that may take your kidneys by surprise at first. You will notice an increase in urine production, and it may even have a dark yellow or brownish tint. This is normal and it will pass. Drink a LOT of water. Eat foods that have high water contents like cucumbers and celery. NOTE: If the color of your urine is severely abnormal, does not improve with hydration, or has any signs of blood, consult your physician right away.
As a Vegan, you’re going to 'poo' a lot more than you used to. You'll be increasing your fiber intake and ridding your body of the animal fat and protein that has been clogging your small intestines for ages. You will most likely notice a foul smell, diarrhea, and/or increased flatulence in the beginning. That's all just part of the process, my friend. It's unpleasant and inconvenient at first, but it will even out. Try cutting back on sugary drinks and caffeine during this phase as they only add to what your body is trying to dispel. Be sure to include whole grains, like quinoa and barley, to help calm everything down. Your BM's will usually return to a more manageable schedule within about 2 weeks, and they will continue to be even more productive moving forward. Find yourself a good book to keep in the bathroom and stay hydrated! NOTE: If you experience prolonged diarrhea, coupled with a fever or vomiting, seek medical guidance immediately.
By now, we should all know that humans remove toxins from their body via sweat glands and pores. As you being this journey, you may notice an increase in sweat and, possibly, a stronger body odor. You may also experience a re-appearance of blemishes or acne (simply because you will be sweating more). Do not try to subdue the sweating. This will only lead to more breakouts and hinder the release of toxins. Instead, try exercising or hopping in a sauna for 15-30 minutes to produce even more sweat and to let your body work. Just be sure to quickly shower or wash afterward to remove the toxins from the surface of your skin. Sweating, while often embarrassing, is a very good thing for your health! And, don't worry– the odor will subside!
So, let's recap...
To help you power through your detox, remember to implement some of the following tactics:
Drink plenty of water!
Stick to whole, fresh produce (organic).
Add lemon, garlic, and ginger to accelerate the process.
Add plant protein and fruit juices to increase energy.
Eat hydrating foods (like cucumbers and celery).
Sweat it out!
Shower promptly after sweating (stay fresh & clean!)
Get plenty of rest (when in doubt, just sleep it off!)
Bring a book to the Loo and relax! ;)