Transformation that works

A New Frame-of-Reference: 30 Days as a Vegan

Categories  |  Shared Decision-making, Patient Education, Practice Tools, Patient Engagement

 |  By Rebecca Andrews, MD, FACP

I am a hands-on visual learner so, as a doctor, I like to draw information for my patients and occasionally join them in making healthy lifestyle changes. Already this year, I have done the 30-day ab challenge, 21 days to a new healthy habit, and started running again to support two patients doing a “Couch-to-5K Program”. So, it was an easy decision to join a fellow doctor in trying a vegan diet for 30 days.

Day One was a disaster. Was this a cruel April Fool’s joke? I had whimsically agreed to go vegan without buying the proper food. My nice warm coffee that I love to have with milk? Black. My preferred yogurt breakfast? Replaced with peanut butter toast (and white toast no less). I considered the value of a diet in which I could eat white bread over wheat, potato chips over chicken, and no dairy for my bones. Dinner was the worst part. I salivated over the chicken I couldn’t eat while looking at my plate of veggies.

On Day Two, I did what any self-respecting Generation Xer would do: I turned to social media. I posted my new diet on Facebook, and the outpouring of support and recipes made it feel possible to make it through the month. I also stocked up on rice, beans, tofu, and peanut butter.

At the end of the first week, I realized my long-term relationship with dark chocolate was becoming less important to me; I even stopped craving sweets at my most trying time of the work day. I found myself enjoying vegetables and using more spices, and although I became hungry more quickly after meals, I had lost that over-stuffed sensation at the end of a rushed lunch or dinner. More importantly, I reconnected with a good friend as we went through the challenge together.

During the second week, I had to travel to a conference, where I whispered my new dietary restrictions to conventional center staff. I felt high maintenance, difficult, and embarrassed. I learned that larger airports have more vegan options, but at small airports it’s just nuts and juice. I also learned that coffee shops in some areas do not carry soy milk (although I am pretty sure the young man behind the counter will never crack that joke again about the cow named Soy). I longed for the over-priced Connecticut grocery stores with an array of options. I was hungry, tired, and cranky. Was this how my vegan patients felt every day?

I had to make some concessions during the conference, like eating veggie lasagna even though there was cheese in it and not checking to see if the mushrooms were cooked in butter. But, I thought, I can manage to do this for 30 days.

Now I’m at the end of the month having just traveled again, but this time more prepared (those humus and pretzel containers are wonderful). I admit: I actually feel pretty good. I can see how healthy my diet has become, I have lost my sugar and carb cravings, I eat the right amount but more frequently, I can cook meat for my children without wanting to steal it off their plate, and I have more than enough energy to exercise. I did have to answer the “Why?” question 40 times at our family Easter dinner and I have even run up against people that are angry with me for doing this. I have been told I am trying to make a political statement, make others look bad, or just be difficult.

One of the biggest lessons I learned is that it is important to better understand my patients who have restrictive diets for health or religious reasons. I am more equipped to counsel them on food choices, commiserate on being thought of as “difficult”, and help them avoid junk food that does not violate their “diet”, but is not good for their health.

So, I challenge you to try it. It is amazing how much your frame-of-reference changes, and how much that affects the doctor-patient encounter.

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