I've been vegetarian for a week and I feel awful. Should I give up now or stick it out?
February 9, 2012 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I've been vegetarian for a week and I feel awful. Should I give up now or stick it out?

I recently decided to switch to a vegetarian diet for the month of February as a kind of trial for maybe going vegetarian more permanently. This isn't a huge switch for my eating at home - I very rarely cook meat - but I definitely tend to order meat when I got out to eat (three to four times a week). My eating habits fluctuate from healthy (veggies and fake chicken or tofu at home) to terrible (fast food twice a week).

I'm about a week into the vegetarian thing and on the whole I really like it. Food tastes better, I'm loving all the veggies, and I'm glad to be doing something good for my body. The only problem is that my body does not seem to be liking it. For several hours out of the day, I am severely bloated and gassy to the point where it's painful. The other night I went to a movie and could barely concentrate because it was so uncomfortable. This morning I bought these. I took one and almost immediately felt better than I have in this whole week, but I just came back from lunch and it's started back again.

I read online that this is a pretty common issue for people switching to a veggie diet, since your body isn't used to all this fiber. But it's no fun feeling bad all the time when I'm supposed to be doing something that makes me feel better. Any tips? Should I stick it out and give up now?
posted by anotheraccount to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you have one meal a week or something that has meat in it? I think maybe some of the issue might be that you went cold turkey, as it may be. :)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:31 PM on February 9, 2012

I've been a vegetarian off and on for most of my life and I've not had that issue. I know I eat a fair amount of fiber but I don't think it's off the charts or anything - I'd track your food for a bit on fitday or myFitnessPal or something like that to make sure excessive fiber is the problem. It could be something else in your diet that is disagreeing with you. Have you added anything completely new to your diet, or are you eating more processed food? "Fake chicken" is not the healthiest stuff in the world, for example.
posted by something something at 12:32 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some people are really sensitive to Quorn, is that the fake chicken you're eating? Other people can't really handle tofu. Sensitivity to either will cause bloating and gas and general upset stomachs. Try other proteins/meat substitutes and see if that works.

In the meantime, GasX and Beano and the like (which you're taking) should help.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:34 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fake chicken is not all that healthy and can certainly cause the sort of gastrointestinal symptoms you're describing (it's often composed of almost pure wheat gluten, which many people are sensitive to even in small amounts.) Try ditching the fake meat and getting more protein from eggs, nuts and legumes.
posted by contraption at 12:34 PM on February 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

I haven't added anything completely new, since I've been eating a lot of this stuff at home for a long time. I'm definitely still not eating as healthy as I'd like; I work full-time and am in grad school part-time, so two nights a week fast food is my only option.

As far as the fake chicken thing, I have some in my freezer right now, but I haven't had any since before I went veg. I ate it even when I was not vegetarian, but only once or twice a month.
posted by anotheraccount at 12:35 PM on February 9, 2012

It's only been a week -- it's possible you just have a mild gastrointestinal illness whose start date coincided with going vegetarian.
posted by pie ninja at 12:42 PM on February 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree with pie ninja. It sounds like you hardly changed your diet at all, so I'd be really surprised if the bloating had anything to do with going veg.

If the yogurt pills made you feel better, maybe you should try eating more yogurt. When I went vegetarian I did not notice this problem at all, but I eat a lot of whole grains and dairy (did before and still do) and not enough vegetables. If you tried to go from a more normal American diet to vegetables and fruits only for every meal then I could understand the GI issues more, but it doesn't sound like this is you... could you give more details about what you've actually been eating for the past week?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:47 PM on February 9, 2012

Beano. Seriously, gas pain sucks, I've been so miserable I thought I was having a heart attack or something.

However! It is solveable, easily! If you want to eat more or primarily veggies its something that comes up for a lot of us. Your body will adjust and you will start feeling better. I'm not a feast or famine kinda of person, if you want to eat a little chicken do it. But its not the lack of chicken hurting your stomach, its the volume of vegetables. Bodies are amazing in their ability to adapt those enzyemes to get things digesting again. So, NO, don't give up, if you want to do this, you can and still be comfortable.


(BTW, dinner last night for two of us whole cabbage, head of broccoli, whole red pepper, whole onion, garlic, tomato, carrot, some oil, stir fried. If we didn't take something we might explode, not to mention not be able to be in the studio apartment together without annahilateing each other)
posted by stormygrey at 12:49 PM on February 9, 2012

I'd say to modify your diet and tough it out a bit longer - I'm vegan and actually I've had "adjustment periods" just from deciding "hey, I'm in love with lentils this month!"

Quorn is so delicious but it makes me feel really yucky.

Also, in terms of "fake meat": try to eat one suspect protein source per day and see what happens. Regular grocery store 'fake meats' often make me feel icky, but I have no problem with unlimited amounts of mock duck, tofu, tempeh and variants on those, for example.

Also try changing your portions - a totally vegetarian meal when you're hungry, well, if it involves a LOT of lentils it's perfectly healthy in a technical sense but may leave you feeling a bit off.
posted by Frowner at 12:49 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I get the same gassy/bloated feeling when I eat too much dairy (for me, "too much" is more than a 1/4 cup of any dairy product at one time). It is possible you are eating lots more of gas-producing vegetables? Some of these include onions, broccoli, carrots, peas, green peppers, corn, potatoes, and cucumbers...also coincidentally the veggies that most pre-prepared food or fast food favors.
posted by holyrood at 12:53 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

What, specifically, are you doing differently this week?

Are you eating more vegetables and/or beans? If so - ease up a little bit - your body isn't used to that amount of fiber yet. A more gradual transition will be easier on your body.

Are you eating exactly the same but you cut out the meat? If so, there's no reason that you should be having any reaction at all after only one week, so I agree with the above-mentioned idea that you might be having an unrelated illness. Just wait it out.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:56 PM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

This sort of adjustment is pretty common when changing your diet. Your gut flora need a little time to adapt. You may be eating larger amounts of high fiber foods like beans and whole grains, which are famous for causing gassiness. When you were eating those same foods in smaller quantities (because you were also eating meat), they didn't cause you any problem. Now your gut suddenly has to process more veggie stuff, and the meat-processing bugs have nothing to do. Your body can usually adjust to these sorts of changes within a few days to a few weeks. Give it a little time, and Beano with each meal.
posted by Corvid at 12:58 PM on February 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

It may not be any one thing you added or changed since going veg, but the proportions. You're probably just eating more to feel full enough. Cut down the bulk in your meals, and add a little extra fat to make things filling. Think 1/3 cup rice or quinoa or whatever cooked with coconut milk instead of 1/2 cup cooked with water. Sautee your veggies in liberal quantities of olive oil, etc. Fat is not inherently bad, just a way of getting calories, and right now it sounds like your meals are not calorie dense and all carb. Coconut milk, avocado, and plant oils will fix that easily and your meals will be tastier, cause hey, it's FAT, and fat is flavor and love.

The other way around this problem is eat really small portions, and eat 5-6 meals a day.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:06 PM on February 9, 2012

My body also hates fiber overload and I've been vegetarian for seven years. That's why I tend to avoid the super-duper hippied-out stuff like turnip-quinoa-lentil-tempeh stew, etc. Maybe to start out with you should use some kind of meal-tracking system (there are a lot of free ones online, like Weight Watchers or SparkPeople) and make fiber one of the things you watch - because an overdose of anything isn't good for you.

Also, maybe cutting out all those hard-to-digest animal fats and proteins is just making you notice the effects of heavy fast food more clearly than before?
posted by Mooseli at 1:06 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing Beano. It really does help, if you take it with the first bites of food as directed. Other than that, just give it some time. I've really upped my bean intake over the last few months, and while the first few weeks were miserable I've noticed recently that I'm not nearly as bloated and gassy as I was.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:21 PM on February 9, 2012

Tempeh is a great meat-substitute, since it is fermented and will be easier to digest. Bonus: it has a slightly nutty flavor.
posted by mlo at 1:32 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Water can't hurt.

Also, I am a fierce meat eater but also picky and often go one or two weeks without meat. No ill effects.

My guess would be that this is a coincidence or you are eating more of something and you'll become accustomed to that something soon.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:35 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Been vegetarian for years- it's worth it- don't give up! :)
posted by timpanogos at 1:36 PM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Keep at it, you'll adjust! ~ Have you really increased your fiber intake? Or have you just quit eating meat? ~ New vegetarians often increase their intake of refined carbohydrates a great deal and don't even notice it. Track your intake meticulously (use SparkPeople or something) to see what you're really eating. ~ Reduce or avoid lab-made meat analogues for awhile. Reintroduce them slowly. ~ Walk. It aids digestion. ~ Eat fresh vegetables, beans, and legumes. Brown rice. Nuts. Avoid processed foods when possible.
posted by goblinbox at 1:50 PM on February 9, 2012

Nthing that I don't think it's anything to do with being a vegetarian since it sounds like your diet is still the same. Maybe see a doctor?
posted by vegartanipla at 1:52 PM on February 9, 2012

Enzymedica Digest - Spectrum is so so good. It is THE best digestive enzyme supplement I have tried. It makes short work of everything I eat, so my digestive system is now awesome.
posted by blargerz at 2:53 PM on February 9, 2012

Throw some epazote in your food - the traditional answer to bothersome beans.
posted by RollingGreens at 2:59 PM on February 9, 2012

What will you gain from going vegetarian in the long run? As someone who loves food it is inconceivable to me to give up a major part of the food world—especially if it makes you feel this crummy. Life's too short.
posted by oxford blue at 5:38 PM on February 9, 2012

Maybe it is not in your best interest, health-wise, to be vegetarian. Maybe you should listen to your body and stop. I am of the opinion that people evolved to eat some animal foods, and that all the rationalizing in the world about environment or animal rights is not going to change that. I'd also recommend The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith, for a really nuanced discussion about why vegetarianism does not make sense or really help anything in the end.
posted by parrot_person at 7:02 PM on February 9, 2012

I absolutely love food and I also love being vegetarian. Although as I mentioned above, I didn't have any uncomfortable symptoms when I changed my diet, I did have a hard time making the change. Took me over a year to become a 'good vegetarian'. I really like it now and I have no regrets, actually I regret that I did not make the change sooner. I would agree with the above posters who suggest that if you need some time to sort of ease into it instead of making one major change, then do that, you'll get there in the end. Depending on why you are doing this, you could go to a farmer's market and try to get some of the best local meats from family farms in your area, put them in the freezer and break them out once a week or so as needed.

Check out Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian for a great book with details on a lot of different types of foods you can try. I do not feel deprived because of being a vegetarian, in fact, as a physician I have been quite convinced by the evidence in favor of plant-based diets and I think that this diet choice is going to make a long term positive difference in my health. I haven't read the Vegetarian Myth, but I did find a review by a dietician, and I'm not impressed. If you want to take a look at some things that will remind you why you're doing this as you get through the first stages, try "Forks Over Knives" (movie) or "The China Study" (book). I also read 'Eating Animals' by Jonathan Safran Foer, which made some really interesting points from a very animal rights-oriented perspective, but I found that a bit condescending and tangential.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:55 PM on February 9, 2012

If it is not gluten or fiber, it could possibly be fructose.

You might want to investigate this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fructose_malabsorption

It is very likely that in becoming a vegetarian you greatly increased the amount of fructose you were eating. If you have fructose malabsorption, this could have triggered it.

However, it is possible to be a vegetarian with fructose malabsorption, you just have to avoid some things (the one that sucks most for me is onions, although the fructose is all in the solid part so I make onion broth for the flavour. I also had to cut out apples. I'm not a vegetarian any more though).

One thing that is true for me, and anecdotally for others with this, is that if you are currently having symptoms you may have to reduce fructose quite drastically for a while until your digestive system goes back to normal. Then you can increase it again.

The ratio of fructose to glucose is as (or more) important as the absolute amount of fructose, which can make this syndrome really hard to intuitively correlate with your eating habits.
posted by lastobelus at 2:34 AM on February 10, 2012

Agree with the above that there's likely a specific culprit, rather than general fiber-from-everything overdose. Here's some things that have caused problems for me in the past when I eat too much of them (none are a problem in moderation):
  • Oranges/orange juice (I used to eat the whole box with no problems as a kid--alas, no longer).
  • Sorbitol (ingredient in sugar-free things).
  • Breakfast cereal (specifically, Raisin Bran or other high-fiber cereal).
  • L-Lysine supplement.

posted by anaelith at 4:39 AM on February 10, 2012

Definitely try some Beano! There are a couple different versions so it's pretty user-friendly - drops to put in your food, pills, melt-aways, etc.

There are actually a bunch of foods besides beans that can make you gassy. My mom uses Beano before broccoli.

Are you consuming more dairy than before? You might also be lactose intolerant. Lactaid pills are a great product, and they also make de-lactosed milk, yogurt, etc.
posted by radioamy at 8:36 AM on February 10, 2012

It probably could be anything...are you eating more dairy, beans or soy?

Soymilk + soy products can make my stomach hurt. Tofu, for whatever reason I am okay with, but soymilk ice cream is not so kind.

If you're cooking with canned beans, try rinsing them well before using them.

It seems like vegetarian options at restaurants usually are based around carbs + dairy instead of vegetables, maybe you are eating more dairy that you were before without realizing it.

I don't think a week is enough time for this to happen, obviously, but I've been a pesca-vegetarian for 15 years (i will eat fish maybe 1-2 times per month). If I have any meat now, even if it's just broth, I get really, really sick. There are a few times I wish I could just eat meat, like when traveling, but it's not worth how sick it makes me. Something to think about if you're thinking about cutting meat out permanently.

I would stick it out another week and eat a yogurt every day (the real kind, not the super sweet stuff) and see if that helps.
posted by inertia at 8:43 AM on February 10, 2012

Vegetarian for 3 years now. Cooking a lot of vegan food at home. Went through many, many vegan cooking books... From experience: ''Whole foods to thrive for'' (from Brendan Brazier) is the best out there. Whatever I cooked in there was delicious and healthy. I really feel a difference.
posted by Ahhhnouck at 11:08 AM on February 10, 2012

Yeah, something else is the culprit. There's just no way that removing 3-4 servings of meat in a week would make you feel this ill.
posted by barnone at 3:42 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

For an opposing viewpoint on the book "The Vegetarian Myth", check out this website. I have no relationship with either the book or the site.

In terms of the OP, just sounds like you need to adjust a bit. Go with beano to resolve your symptoms.
posted by reddot at 10:40 AM on February 11, 2012

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