When I went vegan last month, it was simply a test to see how I felt for a month on an animal product-free diet. I didn’t expect miraculous results, but I certainly noticed some changes. In the first few days, I felt more energized, and I told myself I’d never go back to dairy. I thought I was truly converted until things started going downhill. Owing to deteriorating health, my cravings and limited options in India, I gave up. 

Why Vegan 

Let’s start with a bit of background on my decision. Whenever I make a drastic decision like this, there are usually several things at play. 

4 years ago, I didn’t even know what veganism was. This changed when I moved to Sydney in 2016 and since then I’ve been inundated with pro-vegan content, from social media to street activisms. I attended many festivals, events, and food markets which were completely plant-based. And the plethora of vegan dining options in Australia convinced me that vegan food is indeed delicious. 

Most of the local friends I made were either already vegan or planning to become one. Now I’ve been a vegetarian all my life so the idea of turning vegan never crossed my mind. I always thought there’s nothing wrong with the dairy industry, a part of me was ignorant of the facts and the other part loved dairy. 

Until I saw this and this.   

With the new year arriving, I decided to take the plunge. If anybody asked genuinely my reasons to turn vegan, I responded with either of these: 

– It’s good for the environment/climate (read this)
– It’s good for the animals  
– It’s good for my health (read this and watch this
– It’s a new personal challenge 

I signed up for the Veganuary pledge and got ready for the challenge. 

Being vegan in India

I didn’t prepare much for my upcoming dietary transition. I thought it’d be an easy switch, just cutting off dairy from my meals, but it turned out to be a nightmare. 

I travel quite a bit, and on the 1st of January, I was returning from a NYE party back to Mumbai when I realized I’m vegan from today. After struggling to think of a vegan-friendly place to eat at, I managed to order in a sandwich at home, ensuring that the restaurant did not put butter and cheese. 

The next few days were more challenging. I was supposed to be in Mumbai for a week and went out almost every day, and again finding a vegan-friendly place was hard. Forcing a group of friends to go to a “boring” vegan joint didn’t seem right so we mostly went out to a regular restaurant or a café that had limited to zero vegan options. 

Best Vegan Dairy in India by Good Mylk

It was then I realized how dependent Indians are on dairy products. There’s ghee, milk or butter in almost everything. I remember my friends ordered garlic bread without cheese for me, and after the first bite that I realized it’s slathered with butter. Poor boys missed out on the cheese because of me. 

One of the most vegan-friendly cuisines I’ve found is Asian. So, in the hope of finding good vegan food, I went out with my sister to a fancy Asian restaurant only to find that they don’t cater to vegans and had paneer stuffed in most of the dishes. I managed with my beloved tofu. 

Eating at home was comparatively easier. My sister made separate almond milk tea for me in the mornings and I found vegan alternatives to cook with easily. 

Now don’t get me wrong with my India not being vegan-friendly rant. Vegan food and alternatives are available but not accessible and usually overpriced. To say the choices are limited is an understatement. It was a battle to explain veganism to the waiters. I found saying that I’m allergic to dairy was easier in some cases.

If I dare call veganism a trend, it has not yet picked up in India as much as in the Western World. Yes, there are vegan substitutes available in the market, but the majority of the population is unaware of the term. I don’t blame them, even I didn’t know about it until a few years ago. India needs to learn to be a better vegan. Not from Australia, the UK or Israel, but from its Asian counterparts. Thailand and Vietnam are a great example, having tons of vegan eateries and at least well-informed restaurateurs who can cater to vegans. 

While there are many food products available in India that are vegan without intention (check out the accidentally vegan list here), some products are stuffed with things like milk solids unnecessarily, making it non-vegan.

A few times I ordered Asian Bao’s when I went out. Now a Bao is generally vegan, it’s just a steamed bun filled with veggies/tofu. But the restaurants here operate on a different level of fusion, drizzling a ton of mayonnaise and chipotle sauce on a bao as well. Very annoying! 

Another big challenge was explaining your reason for being vegan to family and friends. Many were shocked and completely ignore logic while reasoning. I tried explaining and sharing content that influenced me, but most times, I said I just feel like it. 

(a very good resource for answers to common vegan myths – click here)

It started messing with my energy and general health

There were times I was tempted to give in, but my strong will prevailed, mostly. The only time I had dairy products was a mistake or a quick bite to curb my temptations. 

One week in, and I woke up to a blaring headache. It was unusual and never happened before. I avoided it for a couple of days but eventually saw a doctor who prescribed me a brain scan and angiogram.

I had to fly to Bangkok the next day, so I avoided her advice and popped a few pills to feel at ease. Playing with a diet change when feeling sick is the worst. It was a weird headache; my head would hurt only when I moved, sitting down and getting up or even when lying down. So, I ordered in a cheesy pasta bowl and a cup of filter coffee to comfort myself.

Now Thailand is a heaven for vegans. I think Thai Food was crafted especially keeping vegans in mind. I had no trouble finding good food and engaged in bowls full of green curry, pad Thai, fried rice and Som Tam. But I was still sick. Weird symptoms started showing up and I made the mistake of googling. Turns out I had symptoms of a CSF leak, which freaked me out. 

Again, to feel better, I cheated and had a few cups of coffee with cow milk. 

Now I am a relatively healthy person. I don’t fall sick that often, so all of this was a surprise and logically the only change in my lifestyle was becoming vegan. I did not want to assume things, so I googled again and it turns out there are some withdrawal symptoms in some cases. 

Me, being heavily addicted to dairy, I thought my body is just covering up and getting used to plant-based dairy. 

Now, fast forward 3 weeks in Jan, I’ve had a decent first few weeks being a vegan, but my headache did not go away. I could still sense it at the back of my head, especially when I exercised. Even jumping jacks or easy crunches would trigger the pain. 

I had cow’s milk coffee or a cheesy pizza now and then after returning from Bangkok. The desire to drink a filter coffee was too hard to resist, and starving at an office event didn’t bring out the best of me.

Even after several fallouts, I had a strong desire to finish strong. The daily emails from Veganuary were very helpful, especially the one below:

You’re three weeks into your vegan challenge now. Maybe you’re starting to struggle? Maybe you’ve already had one or two non-vegan moments? Or maybe you’ve even given up completely?!

All sorts of factors can make your transition to vegan a little bit challenging:

. A hectic home-life can make it tough when planning vegan meals ahead of time.

. Stresses at work could leave you reaching for familiar non-vegan foods.

. Maybe you just had a few drinks and munched on a slice of pizza when your will-power was low!

It’s OK. We’re here to help you, not judge you.

Veganuary email

But the inflection point came on 24th Jan when I suddenly became sick with a 103 degrees fiver. I started shivering on a sunny afternoon and didn’t stop for an hour until I took medicine and went to the doctor. 

The doctor said it’s just viral fever. I wanted to ask if turning vegan could’ve been a reason for my ill health, but, to my surprise, the doctor didn’t know what veganism is. I was too sick and annoyed to explain in detail, so I went home, took my pills and passed out. 

Welcome back dairy

Yes, at first, I felt a burst of energy (but most likely because I had cut out processed foods automatically). After a few weeks, though, I was cold all the time, and my blood sugar was always crashing, and headaches came in announced. 

Following that, I got strict instructions to stop the vegan challenge from my family and I was too tired to continue anyways.

I “caved” and went back to eating dairy for the sake of my health. It felt like all my cells were rejoicing in unison. I never really missed cheese that much, but paneer was a big part of my meals. It’s been almost a month to that now and I’ve been having paneer regularly and my headaches have disappeared.

In retrospect, I could have prepared better, but I guess my motivation wasn’t strong enough itself.

Now, I still consider myself plant-based, meaning I try to pack a ton of veggies into my diet, but I do eat lots of paneer and milk. I feel so much better, and my health is much more stable. I drink plant-based milk with cereals and smoothies, hoping to prepare for a slow transition in due time.

I SO respect anyone vegan, I don’t know if being vegan messed with my energy and general health, but I had to listen to my body.

Thanks for reading! Are you a vegan or aspiring to be a vegan? Got any tips for me?

If you have any questions or comments on the post, please feel free to drop a line below!

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