Obviously working out is crucial to living a healthy lifestyle—and so is proper nutrition. There are so many kinds of nutrition plans you can follow, whether you choose to go vegetarian, pescatarian, dairy-free, gluten-free... the list goes on and on. With all of the information available, it can be overwhelming to find what works for you. And the only real way to figure out what you like (and to determine what's going to make you feel your best) is to try it! 

That's why our Director of Partnerships, Brittany Canaski, challenged herself and her boyfriend to follow a vegan diet for a month.

We asked her all about how she felt, what she ate, and why she started in the first place. Read on to learn more about Brittany's experience as a 28-day vegan, and whether she'd ever do it again.

Photo via @namasteupbeet

Why did you decide to go vegan for a month?

My boyfriend and I wanted to do a February challenge where we really pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone and could learn new healthy habits. February challenges are great because they keep you on that healthy New Year’s Resolution kick, but without as much pressure-- and it’s also the shortest month of the year.  To be honest, we decided to try being vegan mostly because a) we didn’t want to give up beer and b) we had recently been learning more about the negative health implications of eating meat and dairy.  We wanted to see if we could tell a difference in how we felt after changing our diet for several weeks.  

What was your primary diet prior to following a vegan diet?

I like to think that I was eating relatively healthy. I generally try to minimize grains when I cook at home (i.e. making zoodles instead of pasta) and don’t keep any junk food at home. But when I eat out--which is usually only about twice a week--I eat whatever I’m craving, whether that's burgers, sushi or any other "treat yourself" kind of meals.  

How did you feel before you began eating vegan?

I felt mostly healthy but definitely noticed that I had low energy levels during the afternoon.  

What did you know about eating vegan before you started?

Not much, really. I knew there were different kinds or "levels" of veganism, and that we were going to follow the “no eating anything made with animal by-products.” And I learned along the way that there are more intense levels which define veganism, such as avoiding all animal cruelty or exploitation--which would exclude eating anything with honey, or wearing/using any products made from animals.  

What did your day-to-day meals look like?  

I’m going to shock you with this: I only had three salads the whole month.  

Instead, I tried to make hot meals (it was February after all!) that would feel more filling and exciting. My go-to meals were:

  • Breakfast: Frozen waffles with peanut butter and jelly or oatmeal
  • Lunch: Veggie burger on romaine lettuce with sriracha and guacamole, and a side of sweet potato fries
  • Dinner: Vegetable stir fry (roasted vegetables over rice, sometimes including tofu or tempeh) or Jambalaya using soy chorizo (SO good!)  

How did your day-to-day change because of your decision to follow a vegan diet?
I definitely had to plan out my meals ahead of time, and I relied more on home-cooked meals. We found it was fairly difficult to eat out, and catered work meals were nearly impossible. We also frequented Trader Joe’s more than usual because they have so many great vegan options that are clearly labeled.

Photo via @namasteupbeet

What was the most challenging part of eating vegan?  
The first week was the hardest. There was a huge learning curve as we checked nutrition labels and learned how many products have milk or eggs in them.  

After we got in the groove and found some go-to recipes and products, it honestly wasn’t as hard as we expected. Overall, the hardest part was setting aside time to cook most of our meals.

What was the favorite vegan meal you tried?  
I made a delicious mushroom risotto that used nutritional yeast to give it a creamy, cheese-like consistency. I could not get enough. I think I made it three times throughout the month. Thank you pinterest, link to recipe here.  

What was the most surprising thing you learned was vegan that you thought wasn’t?  
Oreos! This was more concerning than exciting, really--because it means there are no milk or cream products in them, and instead it’s mostly just a bunch of flour, sugar, oil, and high fructose corn syrup.  

What did you absolutely think was vegan, but turns out it’s not?  
I assumed all veggie burgers would be vegan, but a lot of them are made with eggs.  

I also assumed my vitamins/supplements were vegan (honestly, I didn’t really think about it), but turns out one of my supplements uses gelatin, which is an animal by-product.  

How did you feel after going vegan?  
By the end of the month, I felt like I had more energy. It seemed like my meals were really re-fueling me instead of just making me sluggish (like that afternoon slump you get after a heavy lunch). I found myself looking forward to eating more vegetables and fruits.  

Since you only ate vegan for a month, how did you feel after returning to your previous diet? The first few times I had dairy again, I definitely felt sick to my stomach within a few hours. I also noticed myself feeling sluggish again after meat-heavy meals.  

I also had to ease back into some meats. I tried eating ribs the first week back and was a little grossed out by it. I couldn’t believe it!  

Could you see yourself following a vegan diet again?  
Definitely! My boyfriend and I agreed that we should continue to eat several vegan meals a week because we liked how great we felt while doing it, and we found a lot of yummy recipes we’d love to keep eating.  

What was your biggest takeaway?  
My biggest takeaway was that I don’t need to eat meat to feel full. I was impressed by the vegan recipes that were just as filling but were only vegetables and grains. I think we are trained to think that meat = protein = full, but in reality, vegetables also have protein.  

Going vegan also made me more aware of the ingredients in the food I eat because I had to check labels on everything I ate. These are both things that have stuck with me since going back to a traditional diet.  

What recommendations do you have for someone who is considering trying out a vegan lifestyle?
Make sure you do a little research ahead of time to find some recipes, products, and/or meal services that would work for your budget and schedule! Some brands and products I recommend specifically are:

  • Trader Joe’s - They clearly label vegan products on their price signs and packaging. And if you ask one of the employees, they can give you a print-out list by aisle of vegan products.
  • Hungryroot - A vegan, gluten-free meal delivery service. The meals are ready in under 15 minutes (microwave or stove top). They have some delicious sauces, cheese substitutes, and unique recipes.
  • Nutritional yeast - The perfect and super easy way to make savory dishes more creamy and cheesy!
  • Single serve guacamole cups - Makes for an easy topping or dip that is also super filling.
  • Larabars - Super tasty, gluten-free, and minimal ingredients

What are your tips or tricks for following a new diet?

Do you have any other tips for healthy eating? Let us know! Reach out to Danielle at danielle@workforyourbeer.com or take a picture and tag us on social media @workforyourbeer for a chance to be featured.