New Vegetarian Feeling Sick
November 26, 2009 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Hive Mind Vegetarians, I need your help.

I changed to vegetarianism (lacto-octo) two weeks ago (cold turkey) and ever since have been feeling sick. Symptoms are vague...just feeling "blah", if that makes sense. It's that feeling you get when you're on the edge of getting a cold or flu.

I take multiple vitamins, eat a lot of vegetables and fruit, beans, legumes, grains, etc.

Is the timing a coincidence or is something else going on? Thanks in advance for any help.
posted by gb77 to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Considering the season, it's most likely merely a slight illness coinciding with your meatless undertaking--but one should never underestimate the power of slight deficiencies of iron or protein in his or her feeling less than tippy-top shape.

Also, it may be unrelated in a different way--Vitamin D defs also make people feel very much bleh.
posted by opossumnus at 3:52 PM on November 26, 2009

I also changed cold turkey, but it was so many years ago that I don't remember if anything like that happened.

But my best guesses would be:

-You're not taking in enough protein
-You have started to eat something you never ate before, or a lot more of something than you used to eat before.
-It is a coincidence.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:54 PM on November 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

The rest of that sentence should have been: You have started to eat something you never ate before, or a lot more of something than you used to eat before, and it's something you're allergic to or your body finds hard to process.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:55 PM on November 26, 2009

Is it worth visiting the doc? There maybe something else going on.
Alternatively are you drinking enough water? Dehydration makes me feel bleh.
posted by WayOutWest at 3:55 PM on November 26, 2009

Coincidence. Although.. a lot of new vegetarians worry that they're no longer getting enough protein, so they binge on plant protein and dairy. Maybe, as Ashley801 says, you're overeating something you're not used to.
posted by media_itoku at 4:23 PM on November 26, 2009

how are your iron levels?
posted by pintapicasso at 4:41 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

If your change-over also meant a drop in the levels of sugar (and even caffeine-type substances) you're consuming (as ingredients or garnishes for your former meaty diet content - because sugar is in EVERYTHING) you could be feeling a little withdrawal from that.
posted by peagood at 4:46 PM on November 26, 2009

I changed to vegetarianism (lacto-octo)...

It is probable that you mean lacto-ovo, unless your diet also includes arachnids.

My guess is also that this is a coincidence.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:49 PM on November 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

Did you just start with the vitamins? I always found they made me feel like crap.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:04 PM on November 26, 2009

It's likely coincidental, though it could be protein-related. I changed my diet overnight when I gave up meat, but didn't feel ill for it. See how you feel in a week or two, then determine if you need to see a doctor or nutritionist (for effective planning).
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:47 PM on November 26, 2009

Well, there a lots of possibilities. The most obvious is that your body is still getting used to a major dietary shift.

Sometimes vitamins can make you feel like shit. When are you taking them? I've found that if I take them in the morning without eating anything they make me feel sick all day. In my experience, I've had the bet luck taking not a multi-vitamin, but just some specific ones I need since I don't eat meat or dairy (vitamin B, iron - more important if you're a lady).

It's also likely, as aforementioned, that it's simply coincidence. I would argue that it is NOT because you are lacking protein intake. The body needs much less protein than is usually promoted in the popular literature, and besides dropping off in protein intake probably won't make you feel sick.

Perhaps you've started eating things you didn't before? Certain veggies. like broccoli, are difficult to digest, esp if eaten raw because of the cellulose content.

IAMAD, so if it keeps up, defo see a doctor. You might try something like a non-dairy probiotic, such as Good Belly, which often helps me. Also, depending, sometimes things like coffee and tea, once you stop eating meat, can make you feel a little queezy, IMO.

In any case, I don't think there is anything inherent in a vegetarian diet that would cause this. In fact, most folks I know who have switched have actually experienced better digestion and an overall improvement in health and energy. YMMV, obvs.

Best of luck!
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:54 PM on November 26, 2009

B12 and the other B vitamins are a factor in energy levels, among other processes (it can be a factor in depressive episodes, too). Check and make sure your multiple vitamins (do you take a multivitamin, or just a lot of single vitamins??) are giving you B6 and B12. If you aren't already taking anything with B vitamins, a B-complex vitamin might help. I can't say for sure since I don't know the other supplements you're taking. Vitamin D is also important, like opossumnus mentioned above.

Also check out what specific times of day you feel the most bleh. If that time is 1.5 hours after breakfast, and you always eat a frozen waffle with lots of maple syrup, you may want to add some protein to your breakfast (smoothie/protein drink/soy 'sausage' links/whatever you like). If it's in the evening, something else might need to be changed around.

Lastly, take notice of any food cravings you might have -- sometimes you can get good clues from that.

(I'd also suggest that this might just be a coincidence . . but just keep informed . . you could start a simple food journal if you want to keep better track of things.)
posted by oldtimey at 6:02 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pintapicasso makes a good point about iron. Make sure spinach is one of the vegetables you consume regularly, and don't forget nuts. Also, what bonobothegreat and Ashley801 said.
posted by Hdog at 6:10 PM on November 26, 2009

Might just be that you're used to much higher energy-density foods. You have to eat much more volume of vegetables and grains to get the same amount of food as a steak. Perhaps you're just not used to eating that much food, so you're low-level hungry all the time? Just a theory.

Perhaps if you posted some representative meals from your day so we can see what you're eating, it might help us armchair-diagnose the problem.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:46 PM on November 26, 2009

It could be a coincidence, a mild bug. It could also be that you're not eating enough calories. This is surprisingly common when people first go veg. Also, are you eating a lot more raw food? I know a lot of people get energy from a raw or mostly raw diet, but I feel like crap unless a certain percentage of my food is cooked, and served hot.
posted by zinfandel at 7:51 PM on November 26, 2009

I think it's too early for this to be any kind of deficiency - iron, B12, whatever. There are two possibilities that seem realistic to me:

1) You're coming down with something - total coincidence.

2) You're eating something new (or more of something old) that doesn't agree with you. Possible culprits (that tend to cause discomfort for a lot of people) include beans, soy products, increased or different dairy products, meat substitutes such as seitan (wheat protein) or Quorn (weird fungus thing).

And congratulations on your new-found vegetarianism!
posted by serazin at 8:53 PM on November 26, 2009

There's no reason for you to be taking supplements if you are eating plenty of fruits, grains, and vegetables. Make sure you're getting enough protein. At most, take a multi-vitamin once a week or two. High doses of certain vitamins can lead to health problems.
posted by whiskeyspider at 9:28 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are a man, it's not a lack of iron. Men need very small amounts of iron in their diets, and iron supplements are actually detrimental to otherwise healthy men.
posted by NortonDC at 11:29 PM on November 26, 2009

Could be anything from the *multivitamin* you're taking - who knows what they put into it - which chemicals that you might be allergic to. What kind of veggies and fruits are you eating? Are they organic? Are you washing them sufficiently? With what?

You possibly could be coming down with something. All it takes is one person in the market to handle the produce who has a cold - you take it home, it's not washed well - and the illness gets past on to you. Not saying that's the case - but have I stressed washing the produce enough? Get a good non-toxic veggie/fruit cleaner. Or make it yourself. There are enough recipes on how to do that online. One with GSE is good.

Lastly, and this is the stance that most take when transitioning - is that many people experiencing the *detox syndrome* which essentially is your body detoxing from all the stuff you put into it x amount of years prior to going vegetarian.
posted by watercarrier at 12:47 AM on November 27, 2009

This is not any kind of deficiency after two weeks. In the unlikely event that you did get vitamin deficiency (through extremely poor diet balance), this would take quite some time to occur, i.e. I believe it is measured in years not weeks or months.

Part of this is probably psychosomatic, because you've made a big change and are worried about negative health consequences (meat-eater propaganda) and/or you have a mild illness, which you are attributing to the dietary change.

Vegetarian diet is absolutely safe, people all around the world live their lives this way. I myself became a vegetarian when I was 15 (16 years ago) and can report no negative consequences in that time.

So, to summarise, get well soon :-)
posted by Lleyam at 1:08 AM on November 27, 2009

It wouldn't be a b12 deficiency. The body contains b12 stores that wouldn't normally become depleted for a number of years.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:40 AM on November 27, 2009

In Pernicious Anemia there is an inability to absorb the B12 no matter how much you take - FYI.
posted by watercarrier at 1:59 AM on November 27, 2009

It's your body saying "Huh? New program? What's going on? Defense mode!"

On a similar note, I did a 4 week detox a few months back. I'm already lacto-ovo vegetarian, but I cut out all wheat, yeast, additives and refined sugar for the detox. I felt like CRAP the first couple of weeks, and then I felt absolutely amazing. I'd say the clue word is adjustment.
posted by heytch at 1:59 AM on November 27, 2009

As others have said, there is absolutely no way you could be vitamin deficient, unless you have a serious underlying disease that only just happened to appear 2 weeks ago. The RDA amount of a vitamin is enough to sustain the body for at least 30 days, or, in the case of B12 and some others, FAR longer than that. They are extremely conservative amounts and especially given B12's persistence in the body you have no vitamin issues to be concerned with now (or ever, probably, as an ovo-lacto vegetarian who will be consuming B12).

It *is* possible that a multivitamin may make you feel unwell. While I'm not against multivitamins, I wonder if you are taking it because you have been told that vegetarian diets are inherently deficient in vitamins and minerals? If so, you have been misled - that is not the case and there is PLENTY of evidence showing that vegetarians are not lacking in any vitamins or minerals. They tend to have lower body stores of iron than people who eat meat, but there is NOT a higher occurrence of anemia. Of course, if you ate nothing but white bread and peanut butter (I DO know a guy who did that once) you'll end up with all sorts of problems, but I'm guessing you're doing way better than that :)

Protein is also not likely to be the issue - there's a "pop health" rumor that vegetarians need to work very hard to eat enough protein, but that's not really true. It's actually pretty easy to consume an appropriate amount of protein, EVEN WITHOUT eating tofu or any kind of meat substitute. There are many foods that contain protein we don't typically think of as protein-rich - like, for example, potatoes, quinoa, broccoli, and apples. I've been vegetarian since I was 8 years old, and while I've never made any effort to Eat More Protein, I once spent a week tracking and analyzing everything I ate and was please to find that I was getting plenty of protein.

I think that your feeling sick could be a coincidence. It could (but this seems incredibly unlikely to me) be an allergy. It could be your body adjusting to your new diet. It could also be psychosomatic - but I don't mean that in any kind of derogatory manner. The mind is immensely powerful, and can create very real symptoms in the body which nobody should discount. Were you concerned when you became vegetarian that you would feel unwell? Did you have a sense that you weren't eating "real food" any more? If so, please don't feel bad about it - just keep in mind the possibility that such thoughts may be contributing to your symptoms.

If I were you, I'd just feed myself comforting, nutritious food that I know doesn't make me feel poorly - gentle soups, rice, whole-grain toast, steamed veggies, that sort of thing (of course, your list may vary). You've already made a big change - no harm in giving your body what you know it likes right now.

I hope you feel better really soon!! And I hope you enjoy exploring the wonderful world of vegetarian cuisine. There's all kinds of great stuff out there.

Lastly, because it matters, to me, thanks so much for being vegetarian.
posted by Cygnet at 5:11 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

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