What happens if you go VEGAN and SUGAR FREE for a whole month?

29th of December, 2018

First off, to absolutely no one’s surprise, you’ll lose weight. 

So, if that’s your goal, you have the recipe right here.

Also based on a smart recipe: this vegan bowl sold at UF Poké Bar, Europapassage Hamburg
Also based on a smart recipe: this vegan bowl sold at UF Poké Bar, Europapassage Hamburg

My goal wasn’t to lose weight, much rather it was about finding out what will happen to my body in general. Losing weight is one outcome. But what else happened? And what is it like every day? What’s the unforeseen challenges? Here’s my experience.

A Third Attempt

Yes, I have tried and failed this month-long project twice before. The vegan month, that is. In 2017 I set the challenge for March and got too frustrated and lazy after just three days, if I remember correctly. I started another attempt in June of 2017 and made it to the 15th, half-way through, having learned a few minor things that helped. I also realized that tiny mistakes are not avoidable. 

My first sugar free experiment started in September of 2017 and it was hard to do just the same. After 20 days I called it quits again, already having had used a few cheat days in between. 

Changing Habits is Tough!

I’m talking about quitting smoking, taking up running, or just regularly flossing – you know, those healthy things to do. Why is it so hard? Is there something inherently good about habits, regardless their questionable benefit? Is it an evolutionary stable strategy to keep habits? How long will it take to forcefully changes one’s habits? I don’t know, but smart people researched this and found out, it’s somewhere between 21 and 66 consecutive days, apparently. 

Why Vegan and Why Sugarfree?

Not only do I find it interesting to experience the consequences for myself when trying new habits or breaking with old ones, but I also would just like to be healthier in order to be able to live a longer and fuller life.

The war on sugar is raging, and more and more world-class athletes are going vegan or have been for years. Eliminating industrial sugars and basing your diet on veggies seems to be good for you, there is consensus about this to be found everywhere.

After I turned vegetarian in 2016 and felt tremendous improvements to my health, energy levels, and athletic abilities, I had the motivation in my pocket to take it to the next level. A more extreme level, that is.

At the same time, I was a bit reluctant because I “feared” I might enjoy the benefits so much so that I won’t be able to stop being vegan and/or sugar free after that trial month. And I knew that would unavoidably get annoying day-to-day and maybe even become a defining characteristic of myself of which I’m not sure I’m comfortable with. 

It seems to be seen as a personality trait to live vegan. I find that unfitting. Some people choose to dislike eating olives – but that’s not regarded as a part of their personality, usually. They don’t identify in public as “non-olivers”. In my opinion, being vegan shouldn’t be treated different from that. 

And what’s downright annoying is the general hostility that you receive for choosing to eat differently. Especially the elderly have no respect for it and find it hilarious or weird at best to omit eating meat and animal products. The reason for it being deeply rooted in their post-war motivation of just getting enough to eat, no matter what it is. It’s the same for poorer areas and more rural areas. Eating anything apart from meat confuses their inhabitants – there’s just no knowledge about nutrition present. At least that’s what I have experienced. 

We’ve Got Enough Food, Now It’s Time to Choose

My research showed that opinions about the best possible type of nutrition vary a lot. But there is some common ground to be found everywhere, and that is eating vegetables is the most important thing and should be maxed out to come as close to 100 percent of our daily diets as possible.

Also, most studies are certain that humanity’s amount of meat consumption is much too high for the planet being able to take the amount of people in the years coming. Creating meat is a highly inefficient way of nurturing humans – most of the energy created gets lost in the animals. 

Animal products like milk / dairy products or chicken eggs have played a big nutritional role for humans in the last thousands of years. And while it’s a more efficient way, it’s still a little weird to drink the milk from a different animal meant for its own offspring, if you really think about it. Imagine the first person ever trying to drink a cow’s milk. Ridiculous, right? Or steal and eat other animals’ menstrual products. Anyone must admit this doesn’t seem natural

Then again, nature is weird. There is no limit to the stuff other species do on this planet in order to get by.

Man is solely dominating nature, sure, but do we really have to rub it in the faces of the other living beings on earth so much?

B12 or not B12

Mankind is not reliant on any of the nutrients in animal products and could live on plants alone. There’s just one exception. Vitamin B12. We can live without it for many years, but after a certain period and constant malnutrition, it will lead to serious damage to the central nervous system.

What a cruel joke! 

There were many efforts to find plant-based alternatives rich in B12, because it’s everywhere, just not in sufficient amounts for humans. Soy looked promising, and the process of fermentation helped to increase B12 in several other plants as well. It can be created synthetically, though that’s a bit of a complicated and therefore expensive way. 

We need 3 µg of B12 per day but our body can store 2,000 to 5,000 µg of it. That means we’re safe for a few years without getting any of it. But of course, that’s not sustainable. 

Red meats and innards are over the top rich in it, but fish and dairy products suffice to do the trick as well. Tough luck for long-term vegans: there’s no choice but to buy products like soy milk with synthetically created B12 added to it, for example. If you care about your central nervous system, that is. 

Things I Found Out Early On

Lots of salad, homemade vegan dressing based on almond butter with agave syrup and mustard
Lots of salad, homemade vegan dressing based on almond butter with agave syrup and mustard

The Rules

A month of a vegan diet is easy to write rules for. No meat, no fish, no animal products whatsoever. 

But what about the sugar free part of the experiment? Everything has a bit of sugar in it, hasn’t it? Yes, this one is a lot tougher. So I decided to draw a line at 5 percent of the product. If the product has more sugar than 5 percent, it’s off the table. That’s usually easy to spot because of the nutritional labels.

Sure, many products have a higher count in their natural state. Think of fruits or pure fruit juices. So I decided to except all products which are in their natural state. The main thing I wanted to eliminate were the industrial sugars that are added to every processed food it seems. 

At just 4.6 percent of sugar on average, my beloved coconut water made the cut on both accounts!
At just 4.6 percent of sugar on average, my beloved coconut water made the cut on both accounts!

The Tough Situations

I went on a weekend trip to Dresden with two of my kids. We stayed at a hotel that had breakfast included. I really like the convenience of this, every time. But breakfast at a hotel, is that even possible to have vegan, I wondered. Turns out, yes it is.

I left the room full with several servings of veggies. My kids stayed with eating everything.
I left the room full with several servings of veggies. My kids stayed with eating everything.

The Huge Cravings

The Mistakes

That’s a long list of mistakes. I think though, they’re all rather minor. I made it through all big meals staying vegan and nearly sugar free for a month. So I will give myself a pass on this experiment month.

What Changed For Me

First, the sugar downs of the early afternoons were gone. That’s directly related, I’m quite sure. Second, I slept a little better, but that varies a lot and is hard to know exactly. As I’ve said, I lost a bit of weight. That wasn’t intended and isn’t necessary for me, but it happened. 

Down 2 percent, reaching a perfect BMI is a nice result though.
Down 2 percent, reaching a perfect BMI is a nice result though.

The inconvenience of it all made me very reluctant to say that the benefits outweigh the extra effort needed. After all, the benefits weren’t huge. Also, it’s hard to separate the benefits of the less-sugar-aspect from the vegan advantages. Obviously I knew about that problem before it and this is far from anything remotely resembling science here. 

When I cook now, which I still enjoy to do regularly, it’s always vegan. So that has stayed with me after this month. I’m also still very interested and will buy a lot of the vegan products. 

As a celebration, Sophie gave me a Vegan Cooking Class ticket for December 1st.
As a celebration, Sophie gave me a Vegan Cooking Class ticket for December 1st.
“Mayonaise” potatoe salad with crunchy salsify
“Mayonaise” potatoe salad with crunchy salsify
Pumpkin soup with battered chestnuts
Pumpkin soup with battered chestnuts
Artichoke pancakes with lots of veggies
Artichoke pancakes with lots of veggies
“Steak” made from nuts and soy with potatoes, red wine sauce
“Steak” made from nuts and soy with potatoes, red wine sauce
Pancakes Austrian style with cherries, chocolate and yoghurt ice-cream
Pancakes Austrian style with cherries, chocolate and yoghurt ice-cream

All of the above 100 percent vegan. Looking delicious, right? It all tasted delicious.

The chef told me he’s been vegan for 11 years and has made a bunch of mistakes during that time as well. It’s not avoidable, he said. 

The Verdict

I have one data point to compare it to, though. And that is turning vegetarian three years ago. That had a comparatively much bigger impact on my well-being while requiring next to no special efforts in daily life at all. 

That makes me say, that right now, I can highly recommend going vegetarian (with the occasional good fish), but the vegan diet seems to not make sense for the general personal benefit. If it’s better for the environment – which it clearly is – is a different aspect. 

As for the sugar free part, I also didn’t feel like the missing afternoon lows where such a huge benefit that I would love to quit the deliciously sweet soft drinks and sweets forever. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

After the Experiment

The first product I enjoyed that broke the rule was a fritz! kola right on December 1st. So good. I just haven’t found another way to imitate the great feeling of a sugary soft drink without the health disadvantages they come with. 

You can’t do the perfect thing for your body all the time! But it’s fun to try.


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